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Tesla Model S: Yes, Writers, Higher Speeds Use More Energy In Electric Cars

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2013 Tesla Model S on Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies [photo: owner Vincent Argiro]

2013 Tesla Model S on Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies [photo: owner Vincent Argiro]

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Just when you thought it might be safe to assume no more journalists would do silly, uninformed things with electric cars...comes proof that blissful ignorance knows few bounds.

In this case, a writer for the respected print and online outlet The Atlantic took a Tesla Model S for a test drive--and ran out of charge, leaving him stranded by the side of the road.

Now, to be fair, it's true that electric cars operate somewhat differently from their combustion-engined counterparts.

DON'T MISS: Electric Cars' Secret Advantage: They're Just Nicer To Drive

They're quieter, smoother, and often torquier off the line.

2013 Tesla Model S with owner Bruce Sharpe in Canada

2013 Tesla Model S with owner Bruce Sharpe in Canada

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They also have range limited by the size of their battery pack, although the Tesla Model S--with rated ranges of 208 and 265 miles depending on model--has the longest range of any battery-electric car sold today.

Tesla's fast-growing network of Supercharger fast-charging sites now makes any number of longer-distance trips practical, with 80-percent recharging possible in 20 minutes.

But when writer Nate Berg took a Model S luxury electric car for a high-speed drive from Barstow, California, to the Supercharger site in Kingman, Arizona, he ran out of charge just a handful of miles short.

The distance between the two cities is 209 miles, and his Tesla showed a range remaining of 247 miles--a 38-mile buffer--at the start.

Berg notes in his piece that he cut his speed to 63 miles per hour when he noticed the capacity remaining had fallen to 20 miles. Then he describes the range anxiety that ensued.

In the event, he fell short by 3 miles--leaving him parked at the side of the highway at 12:30 am.

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

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Cue visions of the "psychotic trucker" coming to kill him.

The key sentence, however, may be this one: "I'd been driving as I normally would, not realizing that higher speeds and the rising elevation would drain the battery faster — that 'estimated' range really is just an estimate."

And it appears that "driving as I normally would" apparently translates to speeds approaching 100 mph.

Add those two together, and we'd suggest that Berg was at best ill-informed and at worst foolishly negligent in not bothering to learn anything about energy use in the $80,000-plus electric car he was testing.

Berg ended up just 3 miles short on a 209-mile trip that may have been driven at an average speed of more than 80 mph (109 miles at 100 mph or more, then 87 miles at 63 mph).

Not investigating whether that might conceivably use more energy than seems rather...lazy for a journalist.

Berg summarizes his journey as follows: "Coupled with the Supercharger network, [the 265-mile range of the Tesla Model S] made the idea of taking a battery-powered road trip feasible — even cross-country."

MORE: Tesla's 100th Supercharger Electric-Car Charging Site Now Open

But, he suggests, "Feasible, I quickly find, is not the same thing as simple."

Tesla Motors Supercharger network in Winter 2014 - map as of January 22, 2014

Tesla Motors Supercharger network in Winter 2014 - map as of January 22, 2014

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The Supercharger network has grown considerably since a similar article was published in The New York Times in February 2013, complete with photo of dead Tesla Model S being winched onto a flat-bed breakdown truck.

The author of that piece, John Broder, has been memorialized by electric-car advocates, though not in a way he may enjoy: The short-hand "Brodering" describes the results of a writer running out of charge in an electric car through not having the basic common sense to learn about its range limitations.

And it's fair to say that Berg "Brodered" his Tesla--although his article, published two days ago, is otherwise a fairly decent summary of what it's like to travel long distances in a Tesla.

But we suspect electric-car advocates may miss that part, amidst shrieks of "RTFM !!!"

Which, if you didn't know, stands for, "Read The [#$%&*#@] Manual !!!"

It's good advice for anyone getting into a car he's never driven before--especially one with a completely new and different powertrain.

Journalists: You have been warned.

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