Recently the Pocono Record had a Chicago Tribune article outlining the current market for electric vehicles (EVs). Affordable plug-in vehicles aim to recharge marketplace. The article talked about EV sales being down in 2015 and that they account for 1% of annual sales in the US. This is probably for two reasons, the price of gasoline is down under $2 a gallon this past year and also most of these vehicles have limited driving range. Almost all of the cars listed were either gasoline/electric plugin hybrids or all electric models with a range of 75 to 100 miles on a full charge. These are mostly for city driving or short commutes. The gasoline engines extend range but hybrids are very complex machines.
I had a Toyota Highlander Hybrid for over 7 years and while it was a reliable, great car, it had the same maintenance requirements as any other internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. It needed oil and filter changes, engine air filters, coolant system checks, transmission system checks and fluids changes and of course weekly trips to get the gas tank filled. I originally bought the hybrid when gasoline was over $4 a gallon and the hybrid system was supposed to give about 30% better mileage according to the EPA MPG rating. For most of the years I owned it, especially the later years I got about 23-24 MPG which was more like 20% better mileage than a standard Highlander. I was never able to drive very long as an EV, at most a mile, since the Highlander is a 7 seat SUV, and the hybrid system was pretty much the same as in the much smaller Toyota Prius, only with 2 electric motors (front and rear). With more current, smaller plugin hybrids you can drive 20 miles or so on pure electric, but then it has to switch over to the gasoline engine. So even the plugin hybrid still has to use gas for more than a single short trip. The BMW I3 and Chevy Volt also use gas and electric, but the gasoline motor is just to boost the range of the electric motor. Better and able to drive on electric for longer trips, but still not able to go long distances without eventually using gasoline or stopping frequently to charge the battery pack.
But in the past few years we are seeing new fully electric vehicles that can go from Florida to Maine without using gasoline. Why should anyone care about this? Well for starters we have heard for a decade about how we need to become energy independent and stop relying on a product that is manipulated by markets that frankly don't like us. In addition electric motors are more energy efficient and require no general maintenance. They also have the potential to outperform internal combustion cars because an electric motor is only constrained by the amount of electricity it is fed. Finally there are no emissions so driving an EV is potentially cleaner, depending on your source of electricity. While a lot of electric providers still generate using coal, oil or natural gas, renewable energy is becoming more available. I use Ethical Electric as my provider and they use locally sourced wind energy. There are several other electricity providers, that offer clean alternative energy options and if you have your own solar panels then your EV is powered by the Sun.
The 3 vehicles with a long range of 200+ mile range mentioned in the article include the Chevy Bolt which is supposed to be available later in 2016, and the Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X which are on the road right now. I can't speak to the Chevy Bolt, but for the past month or so I have owned a Tesla Model X so I will outline the highs and lows of this fully electric vehicle. One of the main advantages Tesla cars have over all others is the Tesla SuperCharger network that is available across the US, Canada Europe, China and Australia. That is one thing the upcoming Chevy Bolt will need to match to compete. And Tesla will be revealing its own lower cost all-electric vehicle, base priced at $35,000, on March 31st. An EV in every garage is still a bit of a stretch but as the technology improves the use of EVs will expand, and our environment will benefit. But for now I marvel at the technology in my own newly delivered Tesla Model X.
After an over 2 year wait I finally took delivery of a Tesla Model X Signature P90D at the beginning of February 2016. This vehicle has a 90KW Lithium Ion battery pack with an EPA rated 250 mile range. The Model X comes standard with a 48 Amp on-board charger. My Model X has the optional 72 Amp on-board charger. With the 72 Amp charger and the Tesla 80 Amp High Powered Wall Charger (HPWC) the 90KW battery takes about 5.5 hours to fully charge. Using a standard 110v 15Amp electric outlet would take about 80 hours to fully charge.
A Tesla SuperCharger like the ones recently opened at the Crossings Outlet in Tannersville and the one at the Whitehall Shopping Plaza in Allentown, can fully charge in about 2 hours. But since I never run the battery down to zero, those are all maximum charge times. Since Tesla SuperChargers are spaced about 50 to 150 miles a part they are meant for people to only spend 30 minutes or so charging. Since SuperChargers are meant to be used to travel, this time would be used to eat a quick meal or do some shopping. Tesla also has a destination charger program for hotels, restaurants and places of interest like museums. They provide HPWC units for the destination to install and make available for patrons to use while using the facility. People say “What a waste of time”, but the reality is I wake up almost every day and my Tesla is ready to go. I only need to charge it every 2 or 3 days depending on my usage and I schedule the charging when I'm sleeping. I never waste time standing in the cold or rain pumping gas. And the navigation package shows where the SuperChargers are located and you can plan your route around them. Oh and the cost of using the SuperChargers is part of the purchase price of the car.
The Tesla Model X SUV is chock full of technology, much of which is available on its older sibling the sleek Model S sedan. The most striking features of the Model X are its look (no engine so no front grill), its huge panoramic front windshield, the dramatic Falcon Wing doors, and its incredible acceleration and handling. The car itself drives just like any other high performance luxury car, except it can seat up to 7 people and has lots of space in the back and in the front trunk (the Frunk, remember again no engine) for storage. In addition it has a host of innovative safety features including a huge HEPA air filter that has a bio-defense mode that not only filters air to hospital standards but can be used to create a positive air pressure inside the cabin.
Since it has regenerative braking, as soon as you take your foot off the accelerator the car slows down rapidly, and adds charge back to the battery. You only have to use the brakes sparingly. But it is the instant torque of the dual electric motors that is the hallmark of this car. Step on the accelerator (don't call it a gas pedal), and the car launches down the road. The “D” in P90D stands for dual motor drive. The front and rear axles each have their own electric motor so this car is All Wheel Drive and Tesla has tuned this system for very energy efficient driving. The performance version I have can do 0 to 60 MPH in 3.8 seconds. The one option I declined was the Ludicrous option that speeds that up to 3.2 seconds. Since the battery pack lines the floor this auto's center of gravity is very low for such a large, rather tall vehicle and handling and cornering are very crisp with no shudders or shakes for passengers. Just the g-forces that pin folks to the back of their seats whenever you accelerate rapidly. YouTube has a lot of videos showing all kinds of sports cars attempting to drag race a Tesla and losing. Instant torque of large electric motors is truly something to be experienced.
OK the main attraction that draws attention in parking lots are the rear passenger Falcon Wing doors. These are not the gull wing doors of the Delorean of past glory that everyone remembers from the Back To The Future movies. These are double hinged doors which open up and out to allow passengers to actually step up into or out of the car. These doors can be opened even if there is very little room (less than a foot) between cars or walls. The doors have ultra-sonic sensors which can detect obstacles which prevent them from hitting objects in their way. This is ideal for families with small children who need to be put into baby or booster seats. No crouching over to do this in the Model X. This also allows for very easy access into the third row which has two seats that are comfortable even for someone like myself who is 6'2”. all the seats are comfortable, but the biggest downside of the X is that the middle row seats do not fold. Instead they just move all the way up until they almost touch the front row seats. I was told this was done to allow passengers to access the rear seats without removing child seats. So you lose some rear storage as in most other SUVs like my Highlander, but you have additional space in the Frunk and the third row seats do fold giving ample storage for most of my needs. I'm not going to be able to get 4×8 plywood panels in this car, but it does have a tow hitch option which allows me to pull up to a 5,000 pound trailer, so I can pretty much carry whatever I will need outside the car. In addition the 6 seat layout has about 15 inches of space between the seats to allow long objects to be stowed inside even with the use of 4 occupied seats.
Besides the driver side digital dash display of standards like speed and warning lights, the X has a 17 inch tablet display in the center of the dash which controls all the settings and functions of the car by touch. Here you can change settings, select your radio (FM, XM and Internet) stations, open doors, view your energy usage, navigate to your destination, view your rear view camera, control your phone and even use the browser app for Internet access via the bulitin LTE cellular connection. There are only two physical buttons on this dash, the emergency flashers and the glove box opener. This car is really a computer with 4 wheels, two powerful electric motors and a floor full of batteries. and a lot of updates occur simply by updating the cars software over the Internet. I updated the software a couple weeks ago and the next morning my car opened my driver door as I approached it the next morning. Check out my YouTube video of this.
So many other things I could mention about this car, the autopilot that allows this car to drive itself on highways, park itself, summon my driver-less X from the garage from my iPhone. But how is the efficiency of this all-electric car? To get the rated 250 mile range they assume you will use about 330 Watt-hours per mile. The first couple of weeks I had my X I was averaging more like 400 to as high as 600 Wh/Mile. But that was because of the utter fascination with stepping on the accelerator pedal and getting that amazing burst of speed. I've now calmed down and only use the power when I have to, so my energy usage has fallen to a range of 300 to 350 Wh/mile and at times even less than that. So at an estimated average of about 10¢ per Kilowatt-hour, 30 miles of travel costs about a dollar. In my Highlander Hybrid where I got about 23MPG, 30 miles at the current $1.99/gallon price of gas, would cost about $2.60. But I'm also driving a lot more since driving is again a pleasure I haven't experienced in decades. In less than a month I have over 1,400 miles on the odometer and I'm planning driving trips starting with a trip to Niagara Falls and then down to Florida this summer. Maybe I will drive across our country and visit the Tesla factory in Fremont, California. I would never have attempted the later in my previous cars.
You can get more information about Tesla models at their web site http://teslamotors.com. Tesla manufactures their cars in their state of the art factory in Fremont, California and sell them direct either through Tesla showrooms and galleries or on their web site. I actually have never been inside a Tesla store. I test drove a Model S over two years ago (before Tesla was allowed to open a store in Pennsylvania) at a test drive event in Harrisburg. I reserved my car online a couple months later and finalized the order the same way. I picked my Model X up at a Tesla Service Center in Springfield NJ. So Tesla has also changed the auto buying experience as well as the driving experience.
Advantages of the Tesla Model X include:
- Incredible acceleration.
- Electric drive is much more energy efficient than a gasoline engine.
- 250 mile range on a full battery charge.
- Lower carbon footprint (assuming we continue to decrease the use of coal and natural gas to generate electricity).
- Zero emissions.
- Fun to drive.
- Extensive SuperCharger network to allow long distance travel.
- Can refuel anywhere there is an electric outlet.
- Comfortable, roomy interior, especially in the 6 seat option.
- 17" tablet display controls all functions.
- Autopilot technology, adaptive cruise control. includes auto lane keeping, auto lane change, auto parking, emergency braking.
- 5+ Safety rating on all aspects of the NHSTA.
- Low center of gravity makes it impossible to flip this car.
- Amazing view out of the huge panoramic windshield.
- Auto-presenting doors.
- Easy access for up to 7 passengers.
- Lots of storage (64 cu ft. including the frunk).
- Falcon Wing doors attract attention.
- Able to tow up to 5,000 lbs if optional towing package ordered with 20” wheels (3,500 lbs with 22” wheels)
Disadvantages of the Tesla Model X include:
- High price, the base Model X starts at about $80,000, up to $145,000 for the fully optioned Ludicrous version. There is a Federal Tax Credit of $7,500 available as well as a very limited $2,000 Pennsylvania EV credit. Less expensive Tesla Model 3 to be revealed March 31st but probably not available until 2017 or 2018.
- Lack of folding second row seats.
- Falcon Wing doors prevent use of a roof rack.
- Falcon Wing doors attract attention.