A few years ago Tesla Motors, the American electric car maker sued the BBC’s Top Gear over faking the car ‘running out of battery’ (sic) during filming for the hit show. Tesla representatives present during the recording of this 2008 piece were rightly furious at the way the story was twisted, the car did not run out, the whole thing was a set up ‘for entertainment purposes.’
Anyway, it’s all boring and it’s been chewed over ad-nauseam , but now there’s a new story to get all frothy about.
Tesla launched the Model S seven seater sedan in 2012, it immediately won plaudits across the motoring press and eulogising from new owners across America. Everyone loves the Model S, including The New York Times reporter John Broder, who wrote an article about driving the car over long distances using Tesla’s supercharging system.
Tesla have installed numerous solar powered charging stations on key routes across the USA with the eventual intention of allowing drivers to cover huge distances.
John Broder managed to run out before he got to the last one, the Model S had to be towed. Yes, another electric car fail. Let me speculate just how long it took for this story to be seized upon by the screaming hoards of the ‘electric cars just don’t work’ brigade. No point, it was instant and deafening.
The New York Times had previously published glowing reviews of the car when driven in California, one journalist covered just over 300 miles on one charge. They loved it, it was ‘spectacular,’ ‘game changing’ and ‘pivotal technology.’
So what happened? It seems Mr Broder claims one thing, and now Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla claims quite another.
The Model S, along with most modern cars, is fitted with a tracking device. New owners have to give specific permission for this to be turned on but after the debacle of the Top Gear test drive, the company now always enables tracking when they loan the cars to the media.
Interestingly when Top Gear’s old men in jeans reviewed the Nissan Leaf the tracking was turned on which revealed the car had been driven in circles for a couple of hours before filming to help drain the batteries so it would ‘run out’ at the required time. Bit embarrassing for the Top Gear team but they don’t mind, it’s just entertainment after all.
Elon Musk claims the tracking data shows that the NYT journalist drove over the speed limit and took detours on his 200+ mile drive from one charging point to the next. When he stopped overnight he didn’t plug the car in to trickle charge it and keep the batteries at optimal temperature as any regular EV driver would have done without a second thought. It seems to be implied that this would a) have been simple and b)
would have made an enormous difference.
The test took place in very cold weather which as any electric vehicle driver will tell you will reduce the car’s range by 10-15%. I just want to point out that when an ‘eco’ diesel with a 60+mpg rating is driven in cold weather, it’ll be realistically getting 40 mpg if you’re lucky.
Anyway, the point is, does a journalist driving an electric car for the first time and ‘running out’ prove anything anyway? The simple fact is that if you can afford to buy a Tesla Model S and you drive it 1,000 miles and only charge it from the Tesla super chargers, for one thing it will cost you not a penny for fuel, and the vehicle will release not 1 micro-gram of CO2 emissions. It’s an incredible achievement, for the regular drivers of these cars who have learned to judge distance, time and energy economy with a little more wisdom, those long journeys are very low stress.
I have never ‘run out of battery’ in driving over 44,000 miles in electric cars, I’ve got fairly close on a few occasions but it’s truly not that hard to work it out. You need to be used to the car and the way it behaves, it’s not the same as a fossil burner, it requires a slightly different mind-set from using an old fashioned car. But the advantages are enormous, the running costs are so low they don’t count, the extra hassle of having to remember to charge is no more arduous that plugging in your phone.
I’m personally not bothered that one journalist managed to run out of electricity on a very long drive, he still covered spectacular distances in a large, comfortable and very safe electric car in mid winter in the North Eastern USA. What is clear from his article is that with a bit more knowledge of the vehicle he could easily have made the entire trip without mishap. So we have to learn how to use a whole new technology? That’s scary, we just want to stick with the one we know, burning fossils and the immense strain that puts on our economy and environment is of course, of no consequence. Drill, baby, drill.