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Chevy Volt credit: GM.com

Chevy Volt
credit: GM.com

The promise of EVs, like virtually every other promise made by Mr. Obama, has turned out to be false, or at best, misleading. They’re just not ready for prime time, as The American Interest observes: 

There were supposed to be one million electric vehicles (EVs) cruising America’s roads this year, but we’ve fallen well short of that 2009 goal. Today there are just 300,000 EVs in the U.S., and in March the government quietly revised downwards its EV goals for government fleets.

That nice, round target was set in the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse. The newly inaugurated President Obama was full of hope and still promising change, and desperate auto company CEOs had been forced to beg Washington to save the auto industry with massive bailouts. Those circumstances allowed the President and his allies to set what, if we’re being kind, might be called a ‘stretch goal’: one million EVs by 2015. But here we are, and less than one third of the President’s 2009 target have been purchased in the past six years. By contrast, it takes Ford fewer than six months to sell as many F-150s, a single truck in its entire fleet of autos.

Consumers aren’t buying EVs, despite the generous heaping of government support such eco-friendly purchases might net them (each electric vehicle buyer gets a federal tax credit of $7,500 plus state incentives, all of which can add up to several thousand more depending on the circumstances). For its part the federal government has bought more than its fair share of electric vehicles, as Bloomberg reports:

The U.S. bought about 24,816 electric and hybrid vehicles during Obama’s presidency, or about 7 percent of government purchases in that time…. U.S. consumers bought about 286,814 of those models from 2009 to 2014, or 3 percent of overall sales.

By all means, take the link and read the rest of the brief article.

The point, obviously, is that vehicles like the Chevy Volt, selling in the $40,000 dollar range before various federal and state incentives, are not recognized by the public as practical vehicles. Certainly there have been some that have the money to buy one as an occasional transportation toy or to buff of their greenie street cred, but Volt buyers tend to be in the top 7% of American wage earners.

Tesla Model S credit: teslamotors.com

Tesla Model S
credit: teslamotors.com

What happens with EVs that approach, and exceed, $100,000 dollars per copy? The reality of Tesla is instructive. Teslas, by all accounts, are well made, attractively styled vehicles, which have several times the base range per charge of other EVs. However, one certainly pays for that extra range.

Wired.com recently published an article on Tesla’s claim that it has eliminated range anxiety. As we’ll see shortly, this is bovine excrement on an Obamian level.

ELON MUSK JUST took away your biggest reason for hating electric vehicles.

Today, Tesla Motors announced it can, with a simple over-the-air software update to every Model S on the road, make it impossible to run out of juice while on the road, essentially eliminating range anxiety as an excuse for not going electric.

The company’s latest software update has two key features, Musk says. The car’s estimate of how far it can go before being plugged in will be more accurate, accounting for things like heavy winds and terrain. A new ‘Trip Planner’ proactively warns drivers before they head out of range. By communicating with charging stations in real time, it will provide the best options for powering up and reaching your destination as quickly as possible.

The goal, Musk says, is to provide peace of mind by eliminating the perception that your car will run out of power.

The Model S already has by far the best range of any battery electric car. The base version, with a 60 kWh battery, has an EPA-rated range of 208 miles, the 85D can cover 270 miles. Most competitors offer 80 to 100 miles.

Real world experience suggests actual mileage is substantially less. And how does Tesla, apart from a software update in its very expensive cars, hope to banish range anxiety?

Tesla Model S and Supercharger station. credit: caranddriver.com

Tesla Model S and Supercharger station.
credit: caranddriver.com

More significantly, it has built an international network of 403 ‘Supercharger’ stations (enough to serve 2,219 cars simultaneously), where Tesla customers (and only Tesla customers, as the technology is proprietary) can charge a depleted battery to 80 percent in 40 minutes, for free. The idea is that drivers who charge up at home each night should always have enough juice for daily driving, and the Superchargers are there for the occasional road trip.

That road trip is where the anxiety kicks in. Last summer, I drove a Model S P85 from San Francisco to LA and back. Even with a string of Superchargers along my route, I felt the creep of range anxiety (mostly expressed as sweatiness), because the projected range suggested by the car didn’t always hold up. If I started out with enough mileage to get to the next station and then got stuck in traffic (accelerating and stopping repeatedly can sap power) or wanted to cruise I5 at a totally reasonable 80 mph, the buffer zone—the difference between how far the car can go and how far I needed to go—would shrink significantly.

Predicting things like elevation change (a range killer with serious ninja skills) and headwinds will make that number more accurate, which should mean less worrying, and less mental math. ‘All the complexity is taken out automatically,’ Musk says.

With the new updates, Musk says, ‘It’s basically impossible to run out.

Right. And how are these “supercharger” stations powered? Does all of that electrical energy just appear out of thin air? Watts Up With That explains: 

Bishop Hill points us to this video of the Tesla Supercharging station at the Harris Ranch exit of Interstate 5 in California. He writes: ‘How can one resist posting a video of Tesla electric cars being recharged (so it is claimed) using a diesel generator? These people love the environment you see.’

The video shows a portable diesel generator next to the charging station and some Tesla automobiles. Watch this short video:

The video is captioned: Teslas charging off a diesel generator behind the Harris Ranch battery swap station. Filmed by Edward Niedermeyer on 5/22/2015 at Harris Ranch, CA as part of Daily Kanban’s investigation into Tesla’s battery swap program.

At first I thought maybe this was simply a backup generator for power outages, then I dug deeper. It seems the charging station is a converted car wash at the Shell gas station there. It turns out that it is not just a charging station, but also a battery swap station, part of Tesla’s much touted battery swap program. [skip]

So much for “emissions free” driving.

So much indeed.

Tesla Model X credit: teslamotors.com

Tesla Model X
credit: teslamotors.com

Timelapse footage of Tesla’s battery swap station not being used during the busiest driving holiday of the year. Also visible: two backup Superchargers hooked up to a Doosan diesel generator. Filmed by Edward Niedermeyer at Harris Ranch, CA on Saturday, May 23 2015 as part of Daily Kanban’s investigation of Tesla’s battery swap program.

In response to a wide range of questions about Tesla’s battery swap program, raised primarily by Alberto Zaragoza Comendador of the blog Doubting Is Thinking, Daily Kanban has conducted an online and on-the-ground inquiry into Tesla’s battery swap program that failed to alleviate our concerns that the electric car maker’s battery swap capability exist largely as a way to maximize California ZEV credit revenue.  A four-day investigation of Tesla’s only battery swap station over the Memorial Day weekend revealed no evidence that the station is actually being used to swap customer batteries. Though our investigation did not conclusively prove that the station is not being used at all, it is yet another data point in a large and growing body of evidence indicating that Tesla is not serious about deploying battery swap as a viable option for customers. More here:

But what about Teslas in the real world? How does Tesla’s new software wizardry work in eliminating range anxiety for the tiny portion of the American public that can afford a Model S? Car And Driver provides at least a partial answer. It’s headline–Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Tesla Model S p85D Road Trip–is, should we say, suggestive?

When we took possession of our long-term Tesla Model S two short months ago, the honeymoon was sweet. “Insane mode” launches! Svelte styling! Cruising the streets of Ann Arbor in a $140,000 luxury electric car that, thanks to state franchise laws, can’t actually be sold in Michigan equals exclusivity! Then we remembered that the Model S is here to cover 40,000 miles, a specious task given the sedan’s EPA-rated 253-mile driving range and Tesla’s sparse Supercharger network.

Cognizant of the reality that we’d reach 40,000 miles in roughly 47 years relying on successive Insane mode blasts to 60 mph, we got to work planning the Model S’s first road trip. Tesla owners have been silently passing through multiple states since before the Supercharger network was sort-of fleshed out, but to us, the task still seemed steep. Our only long-distance experience with the Model S was limited to a road test in 2013 (when Superchargers were only in California) and, one year later, a long-distance endurance race against a 1915 Ford Model T, when the Supercharger network still was more of a patchwork with not a single charger along our 700-mile route from Detroit to New York. Today, Tesla boasts that it has more than 400 charging locations—with 2000 Superchargers—worldwide, 100 of which are located in the U.S. Eager to put some miles on our powerful EV, as well as check in on the state of long-distance electric travel in the Supercharger age, we decided to drive our long-term Tesla from Ann Arbor to Virginia as a support vehicle for C/D’s annual Lightning Lap track test (look for the results in our upcoming October issue!).

Do take the link and read the entire article, where you’ll discover that the Tesla’s navigation/battery monitor system is fanciful, at best, often sending the driver on routes off a direct line of travel to find a charging station. Covering the same distance in a conventionally powered vehicle, unsurprisingly, takes far less time and is far more convenient. Also interesting is the author’s reminiscence of the fiercely humming transformer at each charging station, reminding us that electricity has to come from somewhere, such as a diesel generator or a coal-fired power plant. Here’s C&D’s summation (in part):

Of course the Model S can be road-tripped. Whether it can be accomplished with the sort of ease we assume buyers of a $140,000 luxury sedan expect, well, that depends on your planning. Lessons learned on the trip south were applied to the ride back to Ann Arbor, namely ignoring the navigation system’s recommendations for anything. In a last-ditch effort to give the system the benefit of the doubt (a wireless update was performed during the car’s stay in Virginia), before departing for home I set C/D HQ as my final destination to see what it would do. The Tesla inexplicably recommended I drive 45-some miles south to a North Carolina Supercharger where—and we’re not joking here—no charging was required, followed by a 109-mile trek northeast to the South Hill, Virginia, charger that was my final stop before VIR on my drive down. Huh? Why not drive the 72 miles to South Hill? Or, as I ultimately chose to do, drive straight to Richmond, a doable 150-mile haul? [skip]

Did the trip suck? Not necessarily, but range anxiety mixed with frustration over the Tesla’s lousy navigation skills left a taste in this driver’s mouth not unlike what you might get after licking an alkaline battery. The Model S is the best worst car for a road trip, with a highway behavior that’s equal parts German luxury sedan and GE locomotive, not to mention a supremely comfortable driver’s seat that left nary a sore spot or a numb butt cheek, but limited range. The travel itself was grand. The execution of that travel didn’t go nearly as smoothly as it was supposed to. Some choice words were uttered, both about the car and the miserable environs some of the Superchargers occupied, and after leaving Supercharger number eight, standing near the humming transformer began to feel unsettling. As our comfort with the Tesla’s ability to faithfully travel more than 200 miles on a charge grows, and perhaps if Tesla updates its nav system and beams it to our car as it does with running software updates, we’re hopeful that long trips like this one won’t include as much man-versus-machine stress fighting and mental calculation.

Keep in mind that for most of America, there are no Tesla charging stations, which are proprietary. One can’t just pull a Tesla up to a generic charging station–which also mostly don’t exist and never will–for a charging that takes many times that of filling a car with gas.

And all this for only $140,000 dollars.  If I bought one, I’d have to live in it.

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