My Tesla Road Trip
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Hybrid Electric Cars and Buying Guide
Road Trip in a Tesla Electric Motor Vehicle
My Tesla Road Trip in May 2015 By Van K. Tharp, Ph.D. Investing Trading Education Institute
For the last several years, I had been ready to buy a new car because the two cars that sat in my garage no longer met my needs. One was a 2003 NSX with less than 10,000 miles. It was basically a show car — it had no back seat and it only had luggage space for perhaps one medium sized bag. Furthermore, the total weight for two passengers plus luggage was limited to 400 lbs. Once I drove it for about 300 miles and it was very uncomfortable. So basically, the NSX was not a driving car.
Car number two was a 1999 Jaguar XK8. It had less than 50,000 miles but the last time I took it for a long trip, it broke down when I was crossing the Canadian border. I had to leave it for repairs which were going to take about two weeks so I flew back home and I no longer trusted it for long trips. As a result, I wanted a new car.
My criteria for a new car included: 1) lots of power (400 hp or more); 2) exciting — both of my last two cars were exciting so I wanted that again; 3) capability for long trips — I planned to drive it around the country, so I wanted one that could do that; 4) high tech — all the latest bells and whistles; 5) a reliable dealer that I could trust; and 6) I wanted good gas mileage even though this criterion was incompatible with the first one.
Last summer I heard about the Tesla Model S: 471 hp; infinite gas mileage; everything about it is high tech; it seemed very comfortable; and it had over 60 cubic feet of storage space. Furthermore, Tesla had plans for supercharger stations (where a charge takes 30-60 minutes and is free) all over the country. In addition, a Tesla doesn’t use oil and it has no transmission so maintenance is practically nothing more than changing the water, checking the battery, and making sure the tires are okay.
So I ordered one last July with a delivery date in the fall. About two weeks before delivery, however, Tesla announced the P85D with 691 hp and the ability to eventually become a fully automatic car. I knew I wanted the new model but my car was about to be delivered so I talked to the local dealer. What did Tesla do? They simply accepted my first car into their stock and allowed me to order the P85D at no additional charge other than the price difference for the new model.
My Tesla Driving Experience
Last December I took delivery on my Tesla Model S, P85D. This is the one that goes zero to 60 in 3.1 seconds. I drove it for four months and learned the following:
• It is totally silent and all that power is there instantly as soon as you step on the accelerator. It’s fun to go from zero to 45 in about 2 seconds.
• When I walk up to the car, the recessed handles just present themselves. And as long as I have the key fob in my pocket, the car starts just by pressing on the brake.
• It has regenerative braking so taking your foot off the accelerator acts like a brake and returns energy to the battery. Driving around town you hardly have to use the brake at all so my brakes should last a long time.
• I use about 350 watt hours (whr) per mile around town but use as little as 330 whrs/mile driving long distances. That means on a full charge I could drive for about 250 miles. My record on my recent road trip was 205 miles with 49 miles left in the battery.
• In this area, electricity costs about 12 cents per KwH. That means charging my car in my garage costs about $10
• The driver sees very easily a 17 inch monitor in the dashboard that has a 3G phone signal for Internet service. This provides me with Google maps and Internet radio.
• Tesla updates my car’s software about once a month and quite often gives me all sort of new capabilities. With 12 sonar sensors, a front camera, a rear camera, and front radar, the car is ready to drive totally automated. I think some owners are already beta testing the capability.
• Plus, when I make an appointment for service, Tesla drops off a loaner car, takes my car, then returns it after the service and picks up the loaner. The loaner is always another Tesla.
I absolutely love this car and so you can imagine how excited I was to take it on a road trip to the West Coast and back. The figure below shows you pretty much the route we took.
We had to take the supercharger station route so the distance totaled just over 8,000 miles. We visited 57 different superchargers and the total cost to me for electricity for our trip was zero. My MDX gets about 24 mpg, so that trip would have required 333 gallons of gasoline. At $3.50 per gallon that would have been $1,166 in fuel. Plus there were no exhaust fumes from the Tesla to pollute the environment.
Most of the superchargers are located at very interesting places like shopping malls or outlet malls. Twice we stopped at Tesla locations (Fairmont California — the factory; and Salt Lake City — the Tesla showroom). The best and worst locations are at super nice outlet malls. I say worst because my wife and I probably spent about half of what we saved in gas at those malls.
By the way, the average supercharger starts out at 400 volts and about 400 amps. It takes about 30 minutes to get 170 miles worth of charge. But towards the end of the process, charging stays at about 400 volts but slows down to as little as 70-80 amps.
Checking Out the Country
Part of my motivation in taking the trip was just to see what’s going on in the US. For example, we probably visited about 10 different Barnes & Noble bookstores at various charging stops. Most of them had about one bookcase (five shelves) devoted to investment books and personal finance. Those shelves were dominated by the usual types of books you might suspect from authors like Robert Kiyosaki, Jim Cramer, and Suze Orman. I think my favorite title for the category still has to be Jim Cramer’s How to Get Back to Breakeven (perhaps the subtitle should have been “After following my advice not to sell”). I never saw one of my books. For that matter, however, I don’t think I saw any truly good investment/trading books. We have a record bull market right now in the US but the American public has not been part of that and is still not participating. The bull is being fueled by the Fed funneling money to the banks to prop up the stock market.
We noticed that about 20% of our Interstate Highways are under construction. Perhaps this is Obama trying to put people back to work, however, in many construction zones; we didn’t actually see anyone working.
I lived in California from 1975 through about 1990 and I moved away for two reasons. First, California was not a friendly state in which to do business (the state income tax forms were as complex as the Federal government). The second reason was the traffic. Driving on a Sunday morning for 10-15 miles on the LA Freeways took about 40 minutes. I can’t imagine trying to do that every day in rush hour traffic. On this trip, we left Marin County (above San Francisco) on the Friday of the Memorial Day weekend at about noon. Driving out from that area reminded me of LA traffic - our average speed on the freeways was probably 30 mph. The only other area with traffic resembling that was the metropolitan Washington DC area during rush hour (and that goes on for 50 plus miles).
I did get to tour the Tesla factory in Freemont California which was quite amazing. We saw all sorts of robots in action building the car. They told us we couldn’t take any pictures (and I didn’t) but the Internet is full of them. The tour guide said that Tesla’s goal wasn’t to build the best electric car ever (which they do) but to build the best car ever. I’m totally convinced that they have done that also.
My understanding is that the state of North Carolina has the second highest number of Teslas after California. I’m not sure why, but I quite often hear from people, “I’m thinking of getting one of those, how do you like it?” My response is that I think it’s the best car ever made.
I subscribe to articles on Tesla stock from the website Seeking Alpha. It’s interesting to read that half the authors are short Tesla and talk about its eventual demise. The other half love the company and talk about how great it is. I don’t own the stock, but I would if it dropped below $200 and started to go up again.
Driving on the Trip
We drove through two passes in the Rockies when it was snowing. They hadn’t shut down the roads yet but cars and trucks were starting to skid. My wife was terrified. I wasn’t worried about the Tesla though because I’d seen a picture of the amazing traction it had on the ice beds in Finland. And that test used only a two wheel drive model — I have the four wheel drive model. We experienced no skidding on the snow/ice nor any hydroplaning when we drove in rain that was coming down so hard that you couldn’t see.
We drove through a lot of farm country and plains. I used to think that type of totally flat landscape was absolutely boring. But my wife is an artist and she always looks for barns to paint and wanted me to stop a lot to take pictures. So I grew to appreciate those parts of the country that used to bore me. Overall, most of the trip was full of breath taking scenery.
I never used cruise control in a normal car because I had to adjust the speed for slower cars. On this trip, it took me about 6,000 miles before I discovered the adaptive cruise control on the Tesla. You set the speed you’d like to drive and you also set the number of car lengths you want to maintain between you and the car ahead. When a car ahead of you is going slower than the cruise speed you have set, the Tesla slows down and maintains the set number of car lengths you want. Move into another lane and almost instantly, the Tesla starts going the speed that you set. When I was within 10 miles of our home at the end of the trip, a car was actually stopped in my lane while we had the adaptive cruise control on. The Tesla came to a stop behind that car without me doing anything. So now I can see why a fully automatic car is not that far away.
My wife drove about 20% of the trip and after we got back she said, “I want a Tesla too.” Driving my MDX now with 300 hp seems like it has hardly any power and it feels weird — I feel like “What’s wrong with this car?” It also seems strange that you have to put your foot on the brake so often to stop with any internal combustion engine car. When you take your foot off the gas on a normal car, it just seems to keep going and that seems strange now.
To me, one of the really brilliant things about Tesla is the supercharger network that they are building. I’m planning to take another trip later next year — this time around the periphery of the US and perhaps into the Canadian Rockies. The figure below shows the projected network for the end of 2016. If you live in Europe, you can see the supercharger network there at http://www.teslamotors.com/supercharger
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