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Triumphs and Challenges of the Electric Vehicle

It’s hard to get a fix on Tesla.  On the one hand, the January 23rd, 2018 announcement of founder Elon Musk’s new “all or nothing, long-term performance award” confirming he will remain chief executive for the next ten years aiming to make Tesla one of the most valuable companies in the world and Mr. Musk “the richest man on the planet” sent the already well performing stock to a high of $360.00 per share.

On the other hand, speculation about production and performance difficulties and glitches abound.  But why would they not?  We are witnessing the growth of one of the most ambitious and revolutionary companies ever developed.  There is no playbook. 

Tesla’s Autopilot System

in the morning of January 22nd Tesla Model S traveling at 65 mph (approximately 105 kph) on the stretch of California’s Interstate 405 through Culver City rear-ended a stationary fire truck parked on the road to attend to a separate crash nearby.

The Tesla driver, who was unharmed, claimed the vehicle was on autopilot but the US National Transportation Safety Board is investigating whether or not the autopilot suite, including Traffic-Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer, was in fact activated.  Further details indicate the Model S, with autopilot engaged, was traveling behind a pickup truck that obstructed the Tesla driver’s view of the road ahead. When the pickup truck swerved suddenly to avoid the parked firetruck, the Tesla driver didn’t have enough time to react, —the very scenario that Tesla’s Model S Owner’s Manual warns is undetectable by its Traffic-Aware Cruise Control.

Electric vehicle Tesla

Cross country trip on Tesla

Another instructive story: Tesla’s Model 3 recently made “the quickest trip across the United States ever in an electric vehicle”— 50 hours, 16 minutes, and 32 seconds from Redondo Beach, California (southern LA) on December 28 to a Manhattan parking garage not far from the Empire State Building during a period of unusually wide-spread, well below freezing weather.

This cross country trip was a significant accomplishment highlighting both the build-out of charging infrastructure across the US as well as the latest high rate of charging speed.  As one reporter explained it: Google calculates the 4,288-kilometre drive takes just … over 40 hours, which means [the charging time was] only about 10 hours … Not so long ago that was the time it would have taken for a single overnight charge of its (optional) 75 kilowatt-hour battery.”

The same reporter noted, however, that “buried deep in [the] treatise on [this] adventure is the following little tidbit: “It’s too bad we kept the heat off for most of the drive.”  And herein, this reporter observed lies “the elephant in the room” when it comes to EVs in cold climates.  Unlike inefficient internal combustion engines capturing waste heat for ‘free’ cabin warming, “an EV’s heater on full blast uses anywhere from 20 to 40 per cent as much power as propelling the automobile”—hardly an insignificant footnote to current predictions about charging range and charging infrastructure build-out.

Road Rules by Cedric Hughes and Leslie McGuffin

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