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Shocking: The New York Times Kills An Electric Car

When covering the Obama administration, The Gray Lady is a pretty easy date. But when it comes to electric cars, the paper of record is apparently doing Woodward and Bernstein level journalism. Earlier today, the Times published a piece by automotive writer John Broder who chronicles his attempt to drive a $100,000 Tesla Model S from Washington DC to Boston. His trip gets cut short because, well, it’s cold outside. 

I began following Tesla’s range-maximization guidelines, which meant dispensing with such battery-draining amenities as warming the cabin and keeping up with traffic. I turned the climate control to low — the temperature was still in the 30s — and planted myself in the far right lane with the cruise control set at 54 miles per hour (the speed limit is 65). Buicks and 18-wheelers flew past, their drivers staring at the nail-polish-red wondercar with California dealer plates.

Nearing New York, I made the first of several calls to Tesla officials about my creeping range anxiety. The woman who had delivered the car told me to turn off the cruise control; company executives later told me that advice was wrong. All the while, my feet were freezing and my knuckles were turning white.

Read the whole thing as they say, but to make a long story short (or a short trip long), it takes Broder two days, a number of calls to Tesla’s Tech Support, and hours of charging stops to compete a trip that normally takes about 8 hours. If this is the future of motoring, call AAA immediately.

Look, all new technologies have issues, especially when batteries are involved (ask Boeing). These things generally get fixed over time. So until this one gets solved I have a simple, low tech fix for the engineers at Tesla: equip each Model S with a really long extension cord. 

  1. Fastflyer

    That tow truck driver now counts as a green job.

  2. outstripp

    I hadn’t thought of that. In a regular car, your heat is sort of free. It comes off the engine. In an electric car you have to “pay” for it.

  3. John Hanson

    The best battery technologies available (driven by Physics and Chemistry) still have an energy density trade-off that is unfavorable against liqued fuels by about a 3:1 ratio, meaning the range is too short, and no one has solved the refueling time, 7-8 minutes for gasoline/disel but several hours for batteries.   One can envision battery packs designed for swap-out at fueling centers, but with costs per pack in the 10s of thousand dollars,  and one getting a pack withoout a history, even for a short time is questionable.   For these reasons, an electrical car MAY be an option if one has a short commute, and only needs the car for that, but is never going to be the best option for distance travel.

    I doubt that liqued fuels will be displaced anytime soon.  If they become more expensive, the first cost point that is reached is likely synthetic fuels from algae, not electrical, and on the horizon, Hydrogen fueled cars have better physics than electrical, but still need to solve about a 2:1 storage volume problem, with some indications that engineered storage materials might solve that.   Syn fuels would last forever.

  4. Valiuth

    I feel electric cars are a metaphor for all liberal ideas. They seems fancy and futuristic, but when taken for a test drive they leave you waiting in long lines and feeling cold. 

  5. iWc

    I called it! Almost a year ago, I said the Electric Car was dead.

  6. Larry Koler
    Fastflyer: That tow truck driver now counts as a green job. · 6 hours ago

    Very good — made me laugh out loud (you know: lol).

  7. Larry Koler
    iWc: I called it! Almost a year ago, I said the Electric Car was dead. · 2 hours ago

    I used to think so, too. But, I don’t know…. I think there is a place for them in our lives and cities. They have severe limitations, yes, but what I think is smart about Nissan’s Leaf is that the owner is not saddled with the batteries — rather they are leased from Nissan and that way Nissan has to handle that single thorny issue and it relieves the buyer of that concern.

    Here’s another thing to think about: electric cars are going onto the race tracks and competing. This enthusiasm points to the future. Incredible acceleration, lighter cars that can put the weight (especially the location of the batteries and the number of them) exactly where the performance driver wants it. Lots more going on.

    I think there was a good discussion in your post you mentioned — for people who are interested in this you should read that post. 

  8. Daniel Jeyn

    I have worked construction on job sites where we had a generator working that lasted six hours on one gallon of gasoline or less, essentially meaning that for $2 (at the time) for fuel we were able to fuel rotohammers, a radio, a hot-pot for our lunch, and a space heater.

    I asked many times HOW you can run a heater just off a battery?  Had it ever been tried before electric cars?  I said this is why they cannot work in “flyover” states.

    You’d have a heart of stone not to laugh.

  9. Kervinlee

    Don’t electric cars still consume carbon because, the electricity to store in the batteries has to be generated somewhere, like a coal or oil-fired power plant? Wouldn’t they only really be “green” (and still with lousy range) if the juice came from nuclear or hydropower? (Our greenies in California are trying to tear down our hydroelectric dams.)

    Why not take the low-hanging fruit? Dr. Bill Wattenburg has long advocated for running the U.S. government fleet on liquified natural gas, of which we have plenty, and we’re the Saudi Arabia of coal; can’t we run cars on methanol as an alternative to imported oil? (Not that I care that we import oil, if it’s for sale, buy it.) 

    Oh, I know why: doesn’t fulfill “The Vision of the Anointed”, as Thomas Sowell would say.

  10. Sisyphus

    On later trials, optimal travel time and cabin comfort was achieved by utilizing a tow truck for the entire distance.

  11. Sisyphus
    Daniel Jeyn: …

    I asked many times HOW you can run a heater just off a battery?  Had it ever been tried before electric cars?  I said this is why they cannot work in “flyover” states.

    You’d have a heart of stone not to laugh.

    In flyover country? Have you ever roamed the Pennsylvania-Boston corridor in January?

  12. Daniel Jeyn
    Sisyphus

    In flyover country? Have you ever roamed the Pennsylvania-Boston corridor in January? · 39 minutes ago

    I read about an engineer who built his own electric car with giant barrel home-made batteries in the back of a pickup truck.  His solution was to have a small portable propane heater attached inside the cab for heater.

    Of course that works brilliantly.  Which also leads to the speculation that maybe the whole thing would be better off run on some kind of natural gas…

  13. Joseph Paquette

    They should do a story about a way to recharge a car with over 300 miles of energy in under 5 minutes.  It’s called gasoline. 

  14. BlueAnt

    You can’t imagine how hilarious I find this from an engineering perspective.

    Tesla is a California company.  Their plant, headquarters, and testing facilities are in California, land of famously mild weather.

    Why did this guy have trouble?  Because Tesla, the green company with such fashionable “vision”, never thought to stress test their products in the cold.

    Myopia is a great source of hilarity.  Except when it creeps into federal policies…

  15. 1967mustangman

    I want to step in an defend Tesla.  What they are making is not perfect but it is a lot better than a lot of other electric cars out there.  Batteries are a problem but we need people buying battery powered cars to push the research (and Elon Musk himself says it will probably be super-capacitors and not batteries that will make electric cars a viable technology).  If you get an electric car you should know its current limitations…working within that limitations the car is really great.

  16. I’m actually a fan of Tesla as well. I’ve driven a couple and the experience was amazing. Full disclosure: I also own a Prius (or as Rob Long calls it whenever he’s in it, “a golf cart with a nice sound system”). 

    1967mustangman: I want to step in an defend Tesla.  What they are making is not perfect but it is a lot better than a lot of other electric cars out there.  Batteries are a problem but we need people buying battery powered cars to push the research (and Elon Musk himself says it will probably be super-capacitors and not batteries that will make electric cars a viable technology).  If you get an electric car you should know its current limitations…working within that limitations the car is really great. · 21 minutes ago

  17. Annegeles

    For $100,000, is heat too much to ask?  

  18. Update: Tesla CEO Elon Musk is not pleased: 

    musk-tweets.png

  19. Sisyphus

    Yes, yes, this data over here that only we can access (and manipulate) proves that we are vindicated and the Fay Lady is, well, the Fay Lady.

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