2013 Tesla Model S: Electric Holiday Road Trip
January 13, 2014
Twice a year my family heads north to Oregon to visit my parents on the spectacular yet remote southern Oregon coast. Each time we take a different car from the long-term fleet, and this time it was the 2103 Tesla Model S sedan.
We couldn't have done this in August because the Tesla Supercharger network hadn't yet been finished north of Sacramento, California. Our long-term 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe was drafted instead.
By November Tesla had added Superchargers all the way north to Canada. Engineering Editor Jay Kavanagh beat me to trial-run honors by traveling to Corvallis, Oregon during the Thanksgiving break.
But I was still curious. Would the Tesla Model S and its battery charging requirement significantly alter our usual trip timing, Supercharger network notwithstanding?
There was only one way to find out, but my wife and daughters were not terribly excited about being roped into this experiment. Would I regret this decision after subjecting them to unwanted extra travel time? Would it take forever? Would I never hear the end of it?
It must be said that my wife and daughters are not fans of the banzai run. For starters, they don't like rising from bed well before sunrise and lifting off at zero-dark-thirty. And there isn't a seat made that my wife is happy in for 15 hours straight. She likes to stop, get out and walk around now and again. And given the choice she'd rather eat her meals while stationary, preferably in a restaurant booth.
For my part, I tend to get antsy about getting there, but I'm less of an iron-butt than I used to be. So I'm OK with the idea of overnighting somewhere along the way. After all, it's an 890-mile trip via the most direct route.
Still, we took a 650-mile chunk out of the trip on the first day, traveling from Santa Ana (Point B) to Mt. Shasta (Point K) and winding up a bit farther north than we usually get on the initial push. Our journey began at a civilized 7:45 a.m. and ended at 9:30 p.m. Along the way we took our food and bathroom breaks at Tesla Supercharger locations, though the reality of free refills at our chosen eateries led to a couple of extra potty-only rest stops in between.
We left our home in Santa Ana with a full battery. The initial 115 miles saw us traverse the L.A. basin and climb over Tejon pass into California's great central valley. The Tejon Ranch supercharger (Point C) stands at the base of the pass on the far side, and we arrived with 117 miles remaining. We stopped for 20 minutes to stretch, use the washroom and walk around while the Model S took on another 61 miles of electricity. Our new driving range of 178 miles was more than enough to cover the middling 116-mile gap to the next Supercharger.
The range meter was down to 41 miles when we wheeled into the Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant parking lot (Point D), whereupon we plugged in and went inside for an unhurried sit-down lunch while the battery charged more completely. The next run was to be the longest of the trip, but the new Vacaville Supercharger was still only 198 miles away. Our P85 Tesla's large 85kWh battery made it unnecessary to wait until the bitter end, so we paid the bill when we were done eating and left when we felt like it. We were there about an hour and we left with 245 miles in the tank.
About three hours later we rolled into Vacaville (Point M) with 24 miles left. We plugged in for 35 minutes, but 25 minutes would have been enough. This was the first of the new 120 kW Superchargers we'd encountered. Tejon and Harris had been slower 90 kW units. But this was also an outlet mall. We needed a Christmas present for my mom and my wife saw this purse at the Fossil store. You know how it goes. We exited the lot with 176 miles on board and 113 miles to the next station.
It was time for dinnertime when we arrived in Corning (Point L) with 29 miles to spare. Here we ate another sit-down meal while the battery charged more fully. Our overnight stop at Mt. Shasta was only 108 miles up the road, but the elevation gain was going to be significant and I wanted to make sure we had some margin. We were there about an hour, and we left with 228 miles of range. In hindsight 35 minutes would have been enough charge time because this was another new 120 kW station.
Mt. Shasta's Supercharger is located in the parking lot of the Tree House, a really nice place to stop for the night. We arrived at 9:30 p.m. with 68 miles left over and plugged in knowing the Model S would be absolutely full by the time we left the next morning. In reality it was full before my head hit the pillow.
Next day we slept in, knowing we only had 239 miles to Grandma's house ahead of us. The first 118 miles took us over the Siskiyou summit and into Grant's Pass, Oregon (Point J), where we arrived at our final Supercharger stop with 107 miles left. We lingered longer than necessary as we posed for silly pictures in front of the nearby Caveman statue and chatted with curious patrons coming out of the Black Bear Diner, in whose parking lot this Supercharger is located. After 30 minutes we finally departed with 221 miles in hand, much more than we'd need to cover the 123 miles between us and our final destination.
We arrived at my folks' place (Point I) in the early afternoon, about an hour or sooner than we usually make our appearance.
It had been a relaxing and stress-free trip, and it hadn't cost us a dime in electricity. I doubt our choice of the Model S added as much as an hour to our usual travel time. Day one's figure is closer to 40 minutes. Day two wasn't affected much at all, 10 minutes, tops.
Much of our downtime would have happened no matter what car we drove. We would have stopped to eat. We would have stopped to stretch. The difference here is the location and certainty of those stops is known by all parties in advance.
It turns out this has a calming effect on the proceedings. The conflict between those that want to press on and those that want to take a break now vanishes completely. Supercharger travel in a Tesla has a go-with-the-flow quality to it.
Also, eating and pumping gas are two separate operations in a normal car. In a Tesla these happen simultaneously. You don't stop to refuel so much as you drive to a place to eat that happens to have a means to fill up. The car is plugged in and charging before the passengers have even collected their things and gotten themselves out of the car.
Get into the rhythm of the thing and the pattern of stops and charging is thoroughly manageable. Here's how that rhythm played out for us.
Day 1: Drive two hours, potty break/stretch/short charge.
Drive two hours, lunch/long charge.
Drive three hours, potty break/stretch/shopping/medium charge.
Drive two hours, dinner/long charge.
Drive two hours, overnight stop/full recharge
Total distance: 650 miles
Total Time: 13 hours 45 minutes
Stationary time: 3 hours 15 minutes (meals, bathroom, shopping, charging)
Drive time: 10 hours 30 minutes
Day 2: Drive two hours, potty break/stretch/short charge
Drive three hours, arrive at destination
Total distance: 240 miles
Total time: 5 hours 30 minutes
Stationary time: 30 minutes
Drive time: 5 hours
Before you ask, there's never a need to fill up 100%, so the question of "Yes, but how long does it take to fill a Tesla at a Supercharger?" is irrelevant. The better question is "How much time do we need to spend here to have enough to comfortably get to the next Supercharger?"
We don't yet have enough experience with Network travel to answer the second question accurately. In hindsight we could have trimmed 10 minutes or more off many of our stops. That said, on this trip the car was generally ready before we were, not the other way around.
Upon arrival we plugged into the NEMA 14-50 socket Dad has in his garage for his welder. We'd recharge there during our stay, waking up to a full battery every morning.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 16,067 miles