Six years later, in technology years, Tesla's Supercharger networks have grown tremendously. And Tesla has started the production of the new Tesla Model S Long Range, which gives 370 miles of full charge.
It seemed like a good time for another road trip. But Washington to Boston would not be interesting today. New Jersey now comes pretty well with chargers. So I decided to take the new Tesla Model S Long Range from CNN's New York office right up to the CNN headquarters in Atlanta, with a few side trips thrown in for fun.
With a base price of $ 88,000, the Tesla Model S Long Range is not just a Tesla Model S with larger batteries. It's a Model S where Tesla was able to think of all the efficiency improvements their engineers could think of. For example, it has more energy-efficient electric motors as well as improved lubrication and gearing. It also does not have Ludicrous Mode, a setting that consumes a lot of energy to accelerate so quickly that it has no practical purpose except to make your friends instantly incontinent.
The efficiency improvements do not detract from the Model S experience. It's still a great car to drive, with powerful performance and incredible interior space. I covered about 950 miles in two days and learned how today's zero-emission tripping really is.
The first day I planned to drive from New York City to Richmond, Virginia, a distance of about 345 miles. I had picked up the car the day before with a full charge from Tesla's New York City Meatpacking District. It then spent a quiet night in a parking garage near CNN's headquarters in New York.
In the morning I met photographer David Williams and we took some spinning around Columbus Circle for pictures and headed for the Lincoln tunnel and out of town. It was 10:45 right after the morning rush.
About 160 miles into the trip, we did our first – and only – stop at an Aberdeen, Maryland, rest stop. I did some work, looked at souvenirs in the gift shop – lots of t-shirts, mugs and shotguns emblazoned with crabs – mumbled on an auntie Annie's pastry and continued to check the Tesla app on my phone to see where much longer it should go before the car was charged enough for us to get started.
I still had 167 kilometers range in the battery when I pulled in, so it wasn't a long stop – about 20 minutes. The car's navigation system strategically planned the charging stops, and they were automatically included in my route.
The thought was never to charge the batteries completely on a Supercharger because it would have been a waste of time. Quick chargers fill a car battery up to 80% fairly quickly. To prevent battery load, the charge slows down to a relative herring for the last 20%. So it is more sensible to disconnect a mostly charged battery and drive to the next charger instead of sitting around and waiting to peak.
Tesla now has hundreds of Supercharger stations in America, most of them with multiple chargers. They are well maintained and nice looking. The advantage of good design is not to be overlooked. Tesla Superchargers are only cooler than other EV chargers, many of which look like vacuum cleaners attached to poles and left to die. Teslas, on the other hand, looks like something you didn't mind having in your living room. They are also fast. At most, the Supercharger stops were 40 minutes, which feels like always compared to pumping petrol, but not so long that the break from the road was unwelcome.
Along the way to Richmond we did a couple of side trips that took us off the main route. First we stopped for a crab cake at Duda's Tavern on the Baltimore seafront. A few hours later, in Vienna, Virginia, we stopped in to visit my brother and check out his Triumph TR6 sports car. Then we went a few hours south to see another brother in the small town of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia .
We pulled into the parking garage of my hotel in Richmond around 11pm with 83 miles of reach left in the battery.
Then things became ugly. I had chosen the hotel in Richmond because it had a Tesla destination charger. (Destination chargers are different from Superchargers because they do not charge at particularly high speeds, but they are excellent for overnight charging.) When we drove through the parking garage, we couldn't find it. The hotel staff was also not sure where it was. The most likely explanation was that someone had parked their gas-powered SUV on the Tesla charging station and they blocked it.
At least there were two non-Tesla EV chargers there, and I had a special adapter tip in Tesla's front of the trunk that would let me use one of these. Only one charger worked, but even one looked like it had been beaten. I was a little worried about safety, but the damage seemed to be cosmetic. I managed to put at least some power into the Model S, and nothing caught fire.
Next morning we stopped at a waffle house for a breakfast with high cholesterol and a lot of coffee. After charging nine hours, the car had a 236-mile range in battery power. It seems like it is a lot, but we had now left the heavily traveled northeast corridor and entered a zone with fewer Superchargers. I could tell right away we would cut it close. The car's navigation told me that I had less than 20 miles back in the battery when we reached the Supercharger station in Burlington, North Carolina.
I didn't sweat it, because the margin of about 20 miles remained consistent while I was driving. All the time, the car's range of predictions proved accurate. I was warned that I should stay close to the speed limit to do it. (With electric cars, which with every vehicle moving fast, eat speed power due to increasing wind resistance.) It just meant that I had to keep it below 70 to 75 miles per hour, but still a reasonable clip.
I had 17 miles left in the battery when I pulled in at the mall's parking lot where Supechargene was hidden in a remote corner. This would be a longer stop – about 35 minutes – so we got out and went to a Barnes & Noble on the other side of the mall. I worked a little, drank some more coffee and bought some books. In between, I checked my phone and waited for it to tell me it was time to start driving again. The cost of charging the car, about $ 20 at a long stop, was automatically billed to an account.
I used Teslas Navigat on Autopilot a lot on this trip. Autopilot holds the car in the lane and keeps a safe distance from other cars. It can even change lane if you ask for it by pressing the indicator light. Navigating on Autopilot takes it even longer – if you want to – by switching paths for you and taking highway ramps and swapping to follow the route of your car's navigation system.
So you might think I don't want to use Autopilot. But based on my own experience, I decided that I was safer on a long, monotonous drive using the system than not using it. I was safer, that is, if I used Autopilot as intended and not, as some people have, as a replacement for driving. Autopilot does not make you a passenger. It makes you a less tired driver. I was still driving all the time, but with the help of cameras and sensors to keep the car in the lane, maintaining a safe distance from other cars and helping with lanes. My eyes were still on the road, my hands were still on the wheel.
It was a long drive. I was on the road 11 hours that day, including two charging stops of about 40 minutes each. All our stops – except perhaps the Waffle House – were of pure necessity. And maybe the one stop in South Carolina to take a picture with the giant peach. Our second stop was at a hotel car park and we went five minutes to get lunch at Whole Foods.
One thing that surprised me during my electric drive was how often I found myself looking for gas stations. Of course, we didn't need gasoline, but we still needed all the other things petrol stations offered, like baths, drinks and cheap snacks.
Another thing that surprised me: When we stopped at a Supercharger, I'd see all the other Tesla drivers just sitting in their cars. There were rarely any readily available baths or places to buy soft drinks or beef. So where else would they go?
Seems like a business opportunity for me. Some can fill more than just batteries at these stops.