Electric Lemon Aid

by Eric Peters Recently by Eric Peters: Let's Enforce the Law

Elon Musk is brave. You’ve got to give him that.

After all, the PayPal billionaire and co-founder of Tesla Motors was ballsy enough to provide one of his six figure electric lemons (produced courtesy of $465 million in taxpayer-extorted “loans” to the company) to a writer for the New York Times. Who proceeded to write about it.

Just not in the way that Elon Musk probably hoped he would.

The NY Times writer – John Broder – decided to fact-check the Tesla’s claimed 265 mile range by driving the thing from Washington, D.C. to Norwich, CT. He barely made it – and that’s with extended pit stops along the way at Tesla-provided electric IVs.

Broder wrote (see here for the full rant) about having to turn off power-sapping accessories such as the heater (in the middle of winter) and cut his speed to 56 MPH (on the NJ Turnpike, where traffic routinely runs 70-plus) in order to avoid running the batteries dry before the car could gimp itself to the next “supercharger” recharging station. When he got there, he “tanked up” the batteries to an indicated 186 mile range, drove another 80 miles and parked the car overnight. The car’s range-meter (the electric car equivalent of a gas gauge) indicated 90 miles remaining, Broder wrote. Sufficient to make it to Norwhich – or so he thought.

Next morning – after sitting in the cold all night – that 90 mile range had plummeted to just 26 miles. The car conked out before it got close to Norwhich – and had to be flatbedded away.

When Broder’s article appeared, sparks flew over at Tesla’s HQ. Elon Musk went so far as to accuse Broder of lying about the car’s performance. In a Tweet, he wrote: “NY Times article about Tesla range in cold is fake. Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn’t actually charge to the max and took a long detour.”

Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy fired back, stating that Broder’s piece was “completely factual.”

As a car journalist who has test-driven several electric cars, I’m siding with Broder and the NY Times. Let me first deconstruct Musk’s Tweet:

He claimed that Broder “didn’t actually charge to the max” and that’s like “starting off a drive with a tank that’s not full.” Well, except when you start off with say half a tank in a gas-burning car (the equivalent of an indicated 186 mile range in an electric car) it doesn’t plummet to an eighth of a tank before you actually begin your drive.

One of the biggest functional/engineering obstacles to electric car viability is that batteries lose power in the cold – while gasoline doesn’t. If you leave your car parked in the garage with half a tank, it’ll still have a half-tank tomorrow morning. And range isn’t affected greatly by weather.

An electric car’s range is.

The colder it is, the shorter your range will be. Not just because batteries are less efficient in the cold, but also because in the cold, you’ll be using electricity for other things besides moving the car. Things like the heater – which in an electric car is powered by electricity – and if it’s dark out, you’ll be burning headlights longer – which also means burning juice. Which you have a finite amount of.

There is only so much juice – and once it’s gone, you are stuck. As happened to Broder.

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