One of the Finest All-Electric Cars is Beaten by the Cold Temperatures of the East Coast

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 16th, 2013

Week in Review

The all-electric car is great as long as it’s warm and you don’t plan on driving great distances (see Tesla stock dips on poor Model S review by Maureen Farrell posted 2/11/2013 on CNN Money).

The idea of a driving an electric car has always intrigued me, but after reading a New York Times review of the Tesla (TSLA) Model S on I-95, it sounds like a total nightmare.

According to the writer, the battery on the Model S drained much quicker than promised in cold weather during a recent trip up and down the East Coast. With only a few charging stations in the Northeast, the writer was forced to turn off the heat in 30 degree weather to conserve power. And that didn’t help him much. At one point he needed to get towed for 45 minutes to the next charging station.

Here are some excerpts from the New York Times article.

The 480-volt Supercharger stations deliver enough power for 150 miles of travel in 30 minutes, and a full charge in about an hour, for the 85 kilowatt-hour Model S. (Adding the fast-charge option to cars with the midlevel 60 kilowatt-hour battery costs $2,000.) That’s quite a bit longer than it takes to pump 15 gallons of gasoline, but at Supercharger stations Tesla pays for the electricity, which seems a reasonable trade for fast, silent and emissions-free driving. Besides, what’s Sbarro for..?

I began following Tesla’s range-maximization guidelines, which meant dispensing with such battery-draining amenities as warming the cabin and keeping up with traffic. I turned the climate control to low — the temperature was still in the 30s — and planted myself in the far right lane with the cruise control set at 54 miles per hour (the speed limit is 65)…

At that point, the car informed me it was shutting off the heater, and it ordered me, in vivid red letters, to “Recharge Now…”

I spent nearly an hour at the Milford service plaza as the Tesla sucked electrons from the hitching post…

When I parked the car, its computer said I had 90 miles of range, twice the 46 miles back to Milford. It was a different story at 8:30 the next morning. The thermometer read 10 degrees and the display showed 25 miles of remaining range — the electrical equivalent of someone having siphoned off more than two-thirds of the fuel that was in the tank when I parked.

I called Tesla in California, and the official I woke up said I needed to “condition” the battery pack to restore the lost energy. That meant sitting in the car for half an hour with the heat on a low setting…

The Tesla people found an E.V. charging facility that Norwich Public Utilities had recently installed. Norwich, an old mill town on the Thames River, was only 11 miles away, though in the opposite direction from Milford.

After making arrangements to recharge at the Norwich station, I located the proper adapter in the trunk, plugged in and walked to the only warm place nearby, Butch’s Luncheonette and Breakfast Club, an establishment (smoking allowed) where only members can buy a cup of coffee or a plate of eggs. But the owners let me wait there while the Model S drank its juice. Tesla’s experts said that pumping in a little energy would help restore the power lost overnight as a result of the cold weather, and after an hour they cleared me to resume the trip to Milford.

Looking back, I should have bought a membership to Butch’s and spent a few hours there while the car charged. The displayed range never reached the number of miles remaining to Milford, and as I limped along at about 45 miles per hour I saw increasingly dire dashboard warnings to recharge immediately. Mr. Merendino, the product planner, found an E.V. charging station about five miles away.

But the Model S had other ideas. “Car is shutting down,” the computer informed me. I was able to coast down an exit ramp in Branford, Conn., before the car made good on its threat.   Tesla’s New York service manager, Adam Williams, found a towing service in Milford that sent a skilled and very patient driver, Rick Ibsen, to rescue me with a flatbed truck. Not so quick: the car’s electrically actuated parking brake would not release without battery power, and hooking the car’s 12-volt charging post behind the front grille to the tow truck’s portable charger would not release the brake. So he had to drag it onto the flatbed, a painstaking process that took 45 minutes. Fortunately, the cab of the tow truck was toasty.

At 2:40 p.m., we pulled into the Milford rest stop, five hours after I had left Groton on a trip that should have taken less than an hour. Mr. Ibsen carefully maneuvered the flatbed close to the charging kiosk, and 25 minutes later, with the battery sufficiently charged to release the parking brake and drive off the truck, the car was back on the ground.

And this is perhaps the finest all-electric car in the market.  And it is a modern marvel.  But even as high-tech as it is it still can’t change the law of physics.  Batteries don’t work well in cold temperatures.  It takes time to charge a battery.  Even at 480 volts.  And it should also be noted that charging lithium-ion batteries is itself not the safest thing to do.  For if they over charge they can catch fire.  These are the same batteries they have on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  That the FAA grounded because their lithium-ion batteries were catching on fire.

Had he been driving at night he probably would have gotten a message that the car was shutting off its headlights, too.  To conserve battery charge.  Which would probably be a little more hazardous than driving without heat in the dark.

If you drive where it is cold the last thing you want is for your car to shut down.  Unable to get you home.  And this is the warmth and security a gasoline engine gives you.  You can top off your tank the night before to be extra safe you won’t run out of fuel.  And if the temperature falls to 40 below zero over night you will have the same amount of gasoline in your tank in the morning.  If you get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic in 40 degree below zero weather you will be able to stay toasty warm.  And if you’re driving after dark you will even be able to see where you are going.  Thanks to gasoline.  And the internal combustion engine.

Or you can try to save the environment and die of exposure instead.  Your choice.  Gasoline.  Or electricity.  Range anxiety or carefree driving.  Shivering in the cold to squeeze out a few extra miles.  Or sitting comfortably in your car with your coat off.  Killing an hour every time you charge your car perhaps once or twice a day.  Or spending 10 minutes pumping gas maybe once a week.  Pain in the ass.  Or convenience.  Your choice.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,