Since 2009, I have been the Washington bureau reporter responsible for coverage of energy, environment and climate change. I have written numerous articles about the auto industry and several vehicle reviews for the Automobiles pages. (In my 16 years at The Times I have served as White House correspondent, Washington editor, Los Angeles bureau chief and a political correspondent.)
Before I set out in the Model S, I did speak with the company's chief technology officer, J B Straubel, about the charging network and some of the car's features and peculiarities. Neither he nor the Tesla representative who delivered the car to me provided detailed instructions on maximizing the driving range, the impact of cold weather on battery strength or how to get the most out of the Superchargers or the publicly available lower-power charging ports along the route.
About three hours into the trip, I placed the first of about a dozen calls to Tesla personnel expressing concern about the car's declining range and asking how to reach the Supercharger station in Milford, Conn. I was given battery-conservation advice at that time (turn off the cruise control; alternately slow down and speed up to take advantage of regenerative braking) that was later contradicted by other Tesla personnel. I was on the phone with a Tesla engineer in California when I arrived, with zero miles showing on the range meter, at the Milford Supercharger.
Beginning early in the morning of my second day with the car, after the projected range had dropped precipitously while parked overnight, I spoke numerous times with Christina Ra, Tesla's spokeswoman at the time, and Ted Merendino, a Tesla product planner at the company's headquarters in California. They told me that the loss of battery power when parked overnight could be restored by properly "conditioning" the battery, a half-hour process, which I undertook by sitting in the car with the heat on low, as they instructed. That proved ineffective; the conditioning process actually reduced the range by 24 percent (to 19 miles, from 25 miles).
It was also Tesla that told me that an hour of charging (at a lower power level) at a public utility in Norwich, Conn., would give me adequate range to reach the Supercharger 61 miles away, even though the car's range estimator read 32 miles – because, again, I was told that moderate-speed driving would "restore" the battery power lost overnight. That also proved overly optimistic, as I ran out of power about 14 miles shy of the Milford Supercharger and about five miles from the public charging station in East Haven that I was trying to reach.
To reiterate: Tesla personnel told me over the phone that they were able to monitor the state of the battery. It was they who cleared me to leave Norwich after an hour of charging. I spoke at some length with Mr. Straubel and Ms. Ra six days after the trip, and asked for the data they had collected from my drive, to compare against my notes and recollections. Mr. Straubel said they were able to monitor "certain things" remotely and that the company could store and retrieve "typical diagnostic information on the powertrain."
Mr. Straubel said Tesla did not store data on exact locations where their cars were driven because of privacy concerns, although Tesla seemed to know that I had driven six-tenths of a mile "in a tiny 100-space parking lot." While Mr. Musk has accused me of doing this to drain the battery, I was in fact driving around the Milford service plaza on Interstate 95, in the dark, trying to find the unlighted and poorly marked Tesla Supercharger. He did not share that data, which Tesla has now posted online, with me at the time.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Note to Self: Don't Buy a Tesla Electric Car
I always thought electric cars are supposed to be "plug in and go", but based on what happened to this New York Times reviewer (who is currently being attacked by Tesla for giving a bad review after being stranded on the side of the road) it sounds like it's a nightmare. The fact that he had to place a dozen calls to Tesla employees on such a short trip and then still got stuck on the side of the road is pretty telling. Even worse are all the machinations he had to go through to try to maximize the range (going faster and slower, suffering through the cold while the car charges). And in the end, if the electricity you are getting is coming from coal fired plants, you might be creating more pollution than you would with an internal combustion engine. Anyway, here is his account in response to Tesla's accusation that he was out to sabotage his own review: