Electric cars are no good for long distances, right? They'll run out of juice and leave you stranded during your road trip, right? Just ask Roberts Jones and his fiancee Bridget, who made it around the entire country in their Tesla Model S. It can be done!
Centrifugal force pressed my fiancé against the passenger door as the Tesla Model S stuck to a hairpin curve in the Hollywood Hills. “Road Trip,” Bridget said a second time with greater certainty - more of a statement than a question.
A few weeks earlier, Bridget left her job working at a marquee hospital in Los Angeles, she long ago lost her passion for the politics and the grid. This could have been a terrifying moment in my fiancé’s life, not just because I was driving like a total idiot on mountain roads, but for the first time in her adult life, she was without job security. It was also the first time she was without obligations and constraints; what better time to take an extended road trip and see the country?
A few weeks later, we packed our new Tesla and left L.A. - with virtually no agenda, planning or good sense. Although we downloaded a few apps to help locate public chargers for Electric Vehicles and RV sites, we made little additional planning or concessions for our car’s electric motor.
- Our Charge points getting to the farthest corners
Sure we had range anxiety – the fear that we would be unable to find charging for our electric vehicle – but eagerness to set off and explore the country trumped this concern. Just in case, we brought our 40lbs dog, Maggie, a mascot and contingency sled dog if the battery ran dry.
We timed the departure perfectly to maximize LA’s rush hour traffic, but once the freeway cleared, the Model S had the chance to stretch her legs.
The power of this car is amazing, especially accelerating from acceptable highway speeds – to speeds only slightly less obnoxious than the crooked smile I get driving these speeds.
We own the 60kwh battery, Tesla’s smallest battery and slowest car. I use the word “slow” only comparing the 60kwh’s Zero-to-Sixty in 5.9 seconds to the top of the line Performance(+) Model S - which accelerates a full two seconds faster, besting most sports cars.
Oh yeah, this is the first year of Model S, they are going to get quicker – limited only by the traction and grip of road tires.
Normally jaded automotive writers already exulted Model S’s speed, torque, and performance, not much I can add. Reviews of the car’s acceleration and handling are spot on, it kicks ass.
What I was surprised to discover over thousands of miles driving highways, country, and gravel roads - the Model S with air suspension is exceptionally comfortable, especially for someone tall – I stand 6’5, slouch 6’1. I’ve spent my adult life uncomfortably crammed into car seats that make Spirit Airline’s legroom seem indulgent. The driver’s seat in the Model S has tons of wiggle room and slides far enough back that I barely touch the pedals. With the cruise engaged, I can cross my legs or even stretch my right leg into the passenger area, contortionists would love this car.
Over the course of the trip, we pushed the range of the 60kwh battery. Sure, it was stressful the first few times we ran the battery past Zero into “Charge Now”, but using apps like Recargo and RV Parks, we always found somewhere to charge, even in rural States. Realizing range anxiety is irrational, we made a game of who could get more milage from a charge, my personal best was 254 miles, surpassing the 60kwh’s expected range by 24 miles.
Like any proper road trip, we visited Graceland, Beale Street, South of the Boarder and watched a breathtaking sunset in Key West.
But we also got off the beaten path and saw Biosphere2, tried diamond mining in Texarkana, went spelunking in Sonora, and spent a week exploring rural West Virginia. The Model S carried us to some spectacularly horrific roadside kitsch far off the interstate, and we savored every minute.
I’ve spoken to people who dismissed electric cars as impractical due to lengthy charge time - and they're right, at first, charging for eight hours at 50amps was mind-numbing. But gradually I learned patience. Soon, we appreciated this downtime as a gift, we spent the hours together and really talked. Although Bridget and I have been in a relationship for nine years, I learned something new about my fiancé on every day of this trip. All newly engaged couples should cross country in an electric car. Taking a dog is optional.
The downtime also encouraged us to meet locals, which is kind of what a road trip is about, right? We met retirees with a lifetime of advice, a cave diver who explained his passion for the underworld, watched professional diamond miners in Arkansas, even helped shear alpaca – Oh yeah, Alpaca fleece tastes terrible.
In West Texas, two EMT’s took one look at our California license plate and surmised, correctly, that we were stereotypical vegetarians driving an electric car and asked us what we thought about gun control; although their views were completely different than mine, they articulated their reasoning for gun rights, and we found common ground once we got away from the usual talking points. Traveling in an electric car forces you to interact with locals while the car is charging - it was like a mental switch was flipped, this is brilliant.
Sadly, these extended charge times will soon be a thing of the past – Tesla SuperChargers fill the car’s battery in about an hour, and Battery Swapping only takes 90 seconds. By mid-2014, it will be free to drive from New York to California using SuperChargers. As chargers become ubiquitous along the interstate, my anecdotes about spending a working day charging will make me sound old and dated. “Back in my day, there wasn’t SuperCharging. We had to wait, and we liked it.”
Oh, the Model S seats seven, but did you know it also sleeps two comfortably, and there’s even room for a dog? Although some RV sites are near hotels, most are remote. Bridget and I often car-camped as the battery charged. We brought a fine tent, expecting to glam-camp, but never used it, instead, we folded down the rear seats, blew up a couple thin air mattresses and used the car’s heater at night. Sleeping in a climate controlled car is way more glamourous than sleeping in a freezing tent.
Since the car is electric, we ran the heater nightly without worrying about asphyxiating on exhaust. We set up a driver’s configuration called “camping”, and with one touch, the driver’s seat slid forward and folded out of the way. The rear of the Model S is big enough that I could stretch out completely without touching the seat or rear lift, and I’m giant sized.
One suggestion, 50amp tie-ins at RV parks are often old and battered, occasionally they’d need to be reset. To alleviate this, we reduced the car’s power draw from 40amps to below 35amps.
When we set off on this trip, I wrote off the leather interior, figuring it would be destroyed by a very active 40lbs dog spending weeks hopping between open windows - but it held up without a scratch. Even the 17” touch screen shows no sign of wear-and-tear. Miraculously, the Tesla even kept a vague new car smell, albeit sweetened by an odor of wet dog.
Over the course of the trip, I’d often stop at Tesla Galleries and Service Centers since they provide free and fast charging in many city centers. I spent hours chatting with sales and service techs, while they answered my questions, I’d notice how quick they were to jump in and explain the advantages of an electric car to a customer clearly just kicking tires – even the service techs were happy to spend their lunch break walking someone through the car.
In Boston and Texas, I drove to service centers after midnight looking for a charger and was unexpectedly greeted by members of the delivery team eager to chat about my trip. Even after midnight, even after working 16+ hours, these guys still wanted to talk Tesla and inquire about an owner’s experience traveling in the car. Tesla’s in their blood. What most surprised me over 15,000 miles isn't just an amazing car, but the Tesla employees’ unfaltering passion for car and company.
I've seen lead engineers explain the car’s aerodynamics to customers during an Amped event, even the Manager of Marketing led the factory tour.
Run like a startup, understaffed and over-worked, employees seem willing to give it all to fulfill Elon Musk’s vision to build aspirational electric vehicles. Guided by this mandate and the force of sheer will, I’m convinced Tesla Motors will continue to out-innovate other automotive and tech companies due to the across-the-board passion of its employees.
Tesla’s culture is contagious and Bridget was quickly swept up in this passion too. She applied for jobs throughout Tesla Motors. At the trip’s halfway mark in Pennsylvania; she was offered a Delivery Specialist position. The only hitch, things at Tesla happen quickly, she had to start the following afternoon, across the country in Los Angeles. It was a difficult choice, pass on the job and continue the trip with me or start working with enthusiastic people revolutionizing an entire industry.
Well apparently the choice wasn't that hard, at 6am the following morning, I dropped Bridget at the airport. If you happen to take delivery of a Model S from LA, make sure you tell Bridget hello.
Still wanting to explore the country, Maggie and I continued the trip to see the farthest corners of the US, passing through Maine, Quebec City, Blaine Washington. After I toured the Tesla factory in Freemont California, Bridget flew up to San Jose to join me on the last leg - rocking a new Tesla Shirt.
Together Maggie, Bridget and I drove to the fourth corner of the U.S. – The International Friendship Park along the Mexican border South of San Diego - which is entirely walled off from our “friends” south of the border.
This was an amazing 15,000 mile Road Trip, we caught up with friends and family, met some intriguing people and saw a bit of America along with some really spectacular roadside kitsch, ticking loads of stuff off our bucket list. All the while, we drove the Model S without compromise, never running out of battery, we always found a place to charge, even in rural America. Now I completely disregard range anxiety as an unnecessary fear.
We drove to the farthest corners of the continental United States treating the Model S like, well, any other car – all I had to do is completely ignore that the Model S is like no other car.