I’d Love To Try This Road Trip In A Tesla Model S

Last week I wrote about a family trip to the north of Israel that got a bit complicated. The following week Better Place opened another couple of switch stations, one of which puts Tiberias on the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) easily in range from Tel Aviv.

Despite this I managed to talk my business partner (and brother in law) into us using my Better Place electric Fluence Z.E. for a big trip the next day. A newly opened battery switch station to the north east of Haifa called Vulcan Junction (seriously yes, we have a place called Vulcan in Hebrew) made this trip possible.

At the bottom of the post is the Google map trace for most of the 306km 190 mile trip.

A post over at Green Car Reports about a particular forthcoming owner of a Tesla Model S high performance electric car made me think of an angle for this post. The author is asking if he really needs to spend an extra $10,000 on top of the $50,000 base price of the car because of a range drop in cold weather (heating the car takes power from the battery). This made me think of how far that $10,000 extra would get me!

After my usual few km of kindergarten run in the morning I had a 95% full battery. With this we set off for the first destination, Vulcan Junction and a battery switch.

This took around an hour with a little traffic through Haifa but nothing unusual. It’s just shy of 100km or 60 miles and we arrived with more than 25% battery. We switched quickly and carried on

The next leg up to a local office of my company is a relatively short distance but a big climb. Vulcan is at sea level and the destination near the town of Ma’alot is at 640m or 2000ft. The distance is 50 km or 30 miles.

That leg took the best part of an hour (which is completely normal as there are a few traffic pinch points). All in all the trip took us only 15 minutes longer than the best time possible with a petrol car.

At the top of the hill we had more than enough battery to reach the same Vulcan station outside Haifa for our way home but, for traffic reasons in the afternoon, we’d rather come back on the Kvish 6 toll road. The most reasonable station for that is Elyakim right at the start of the toll road. To reach that from Ma’alot is around 66km or 40 miles.

Public charging spot at a hotel in Northern Israel

Going down is easier but I was still a little nervous about this stretch. I looked around and 4km away was a hotel with charge spots. I called up customer service to really confirm they were there and decided to take a chance on them. Had they not been available to me the extra 8km return trip to check them would have caused me some issue. As it was they were fine and my colleague brought me back.

My car charged for 3 hours while we did what we needed to do and when we were done (and following a great lunch in an Arab shipudim (skewers) restaurant with a view toward Lebanon) we picked up my car from it’s happy stay at the beautiful looking Hacienda Forest Hotel and Spa.

We drove easily the 66 km  40 miles to Elyakim and arrived with enough battery to know that while the Hotel stay helped, we could have made it without that. A learning point. From Elyakim back to Tel Aviv is easy and fast on the toll road and we were home by 17:00.

All this was done in a loaned Better Place car as mine had been taken for a couple of days. We arrived right on time to find a car transporter waiting to give me back my car and take the loaner.

Total drive that day was 306 km or 190 miles. Unless you started with a full tank of gas, most petrol cars would need to refuel once on that trip or just after. I had to stop twice for batteries.

Is there any other electric car that could do this? My Renault Fluence Z.E. has a 22kWh battery. The Nissan Leaf has a marginally larger battery but can’t swap. It can fast charge to 80% in 30 minutes so my two 5 minute swaps could be replaced with two 30 minute charges if suitable infrastructure existed, but I’d rather stop for 5 mins not 30 mins.

There is one car that could do this today without stops: the new Tesla Model S. But not the base model. Tesla offer this car with a choice of battery sizes. Some aspects of performance change between the models but leaving that to one side your choice is 40kWh / 160 miles, 60kWh / 230 miles or 85kWh / 300 miles. The base prices are $50k, $60k or $70k.

So we can drop the 40kWh model as it couldn’t do that day’s drive and move up to the 60kWh model. We gain a slightly quicker 0 to 60 time of 5.9s instead of 6.5s and it can go a bit faster. But essentially it’s $10,000 more to make possible a journey I did with a far cheaper electric car coupled with infrstructure outside the car.

And the complete Better Place subscription cost for 4 years 80,000km or 50,000 miles is around $9,200 and that is all the electricity and switches I’ll need. Less than the battery price difference. So if you want to carry around $10,000 extra worth of huge battery even when only driving 20 miles a day, Tesla is your dream car.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the Tesla S. I would dearly like to own one, but it’s a luxury, high performance, small volume car for now. And even though it is a wonderful demonstration of engineering excellence, it does almost nothing to change the way we drive. It is the car the big car companies should have produced, and probably will start producing, but it’s not a new way of travelling. It’s just a better mouse trap, not a better transport solution.

Mike Granoff, one of the founding VC investors in Better Place and the man who gave the demonstration one night in January that got me hooked, gives a great example. Remember the first cellphones? They were huge, heavy and they didn’t have very good battery life. Today in the same form factor we could make a phone with a 6 month standby time but you still wouldn’t want it. You’d rather have something slim enough to slip in a pocket but that you can recharge in a short time! It turns out that occasional maximum range isn’t nearly as important as how fast it can be recharged.

But don’t get me started on the mess Apple created by fixing the battery inside: I used to love having the ability to carry a spare battery for my Nokia!

For the rest of us, investment in infrastructure outside the car, the use of which we rent, is definitely a better option in my book.

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Brian of London

Brian of London is not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy. Since making aliyah in 2009, Brian has blogged at Israellycool. Brian is an indigenous rights activist fighting for indigenous people who’ve returned to their ancestral homelands and built great things.