Tesla’s Not So Secret Weapon

For a recent trip up to Reno, about 215 miles away, we needed 6 seats, and our Q5 only has five seats, so we rented a Tesla Model X from Turo. While the distance would normally be within range of the 75kWh battery version we rented, two attributes of the trip make it impossible on a single charge: firstly, the trip involves climbing over the Donner pass, some 8000 feet above sea level (where we started from), secondly, the temperatures over that pass drop well below freezing.

While even a Tesla might be subject to the laws of physics reducing the effective range of their EVs, they have a secret weapon that makes it far less of a problem.

Superchargers

Our drive up ended up taking three charging stops. The last was perhaps not necessary, but the estimate of the charge remaining at our hotel was dropping fast, and when it said we’d have just 3% left and had to stay under 55mph to reach the destination, we decided a short top up stop was in order. Luckily, Tesla has plenty of superchargers along the route.

Not only are there plenty of locations with chargers, there are also many charging bays at each one. In Vacaville, our first stop, there were 16 rapid charging bays. The Rocklin location had 18, and our Truckee stop had 11, with another 8 on the other side of the freeway.

I looked at the ChargeHub map for rapid chargers using CHAdeMO or CCS, and while there are plenty of locations along the route we took, in fact more than there were Tesla supercharger locations, each one had only 2 or maybe 3 ports. So, while making the trip in something like a Jaguar I-Pace, which has similar range to the 75D Model X we rented, would be possible, the chances of finding charging bays occupied, and having to wait for it, would be much higher.

Alameda Supercharger

Recntly, a new supercharger location opened here in Alameda. They chose to install it at the South Shore shopping center, where previously there had been just a couple of very heavily used (and, I suspect, often blocked) level 2 Volta chargers.

For some time now I have been hoping the mall and/or Volta would see how over subscribed those two chargers are and install more. It is very rare now that we can use the charger there. To be honest though, even locations with 6 or 8 level two chargers are usually fully occupied, meaning we cannot journey further from home than half the range of our B Class since we are very unlikely to be able to plug in when we get there.

Tesla did not install just a couple of bays. They installed twelve. Twelve rapid chargers. That means on average they can charge more than 12 cars an hour. The Volta bays will take 3-4 hours to charge a short range car like our B Class or a Nissan Leaf. That is less that 0.5 cars per hour with the two bays.

GM, VW/Audi, Jaguar

GM just hit the 200,000 EVs sold in the US, which Tesla hit earlier last year. Nissan cannot be far behind. VW, Audi, Jaguar, Mercedes, Porsche and more are starting to sell EVs, and yet none of them has even started to build a network of rapid charging locations that comes close to Tesla’s.

Companies like EVgo are installing rapid chargers, but with just two or three ports per location they will not be able to support busy routes like the SF area to Tahoe/Reno. At Rocklin, with its 18 bays, we had to wait in a line of about 8 cars to charge. At Truckee we took the last open bay when we arrived, and when we left there were several vehicles waiting. The second location in Truckee was showing as full on the map too. If these other car manufacturers are serious about EVs, which they at least claim to be, then they will need to seriously invest in charging infrastructure too.

While most daily use driving will be covered by home chargers for those who have that option, longer trips and those without their own charging facilities at home are going to need rapid chargers they can rely on being able to use with minimal waiting. Clearly, Tesla understands that. The others, it seems, do not, yet.

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