Tesla's done so much right with their vehicles, it's easy to give them a pass on some of the smaller things that they may not have executed perfectly. However, there is one thing that Tesla got wrong, and it's a pretty significant oversight. Luckily, there's an easy fix that we hope Tesla implements at some point.
We're talking about Tesla's implementation of the range estimator on the Model 3. Unlike pretty much every other EV manufacturer (although it's not necessarily good to follow what the others are doing!) Tesla's main range display on the Model 3 is a "dumb" estimate, based solely on the amount of energy in the battery and the vehicle's energy consumption rating.
We say dumb because it doesn't consider factors that will affect the range like temperature, use of the heating or air conditioning system, topography and most importantly, recent consumption history.
In the Model S and Model X, Tesla has an added feature that allows the driver to switch between "typical" and "rated" range. That's not available on the Model 3, there's no option to switch the readout to typical and the vehicle only displays the rated range.
So why's that a problem? It's problematic because there are many factors that affect an EVs range and thus, the rated range will rarely be very accurate. But Tesla knows that, and they do have an excellent tool to predict the real driving range you are likely to have for any given day or specific trip, you just have to search a bit to access that very important information.
The range estimator on my BMW i3, for instance, adjusts the estimated range based on a number of factors including temperature and past driving consumption. If the navigation system is in use it would even factor in the topography of the route, and change the estimated range as conditions change. For instance, when you turn on the heating system, the range instantly drops a few miles, to factor in the energy the heater would use.
You just need to access the energy screen and you'll see a range prediction based on the average consumption of your driving over the last 5, 15 or 30 miles. After driving 12,000 miles in my 2019 Long-Range AWD Model 3, I've found this projected range estimate to be extremely accurate, as good as in any other electric vehicle I've owned or driven.
The problem is, you need to access the energy screen to see the range, and that takes up the majority of the main center screen. Plus, it directly conflicts with the main range estimator that is permanently located prominently next to the speed indicator. That in itself causes confusion among some of the new Model 3 owners.
In fact, the reason I decided to take on this topic was because I've had to explain the discrepancy in range to quite a few Model 3 owners. This week alone I had two new owners message me and ask me to explain how the Tesla range estimator works, and why there are two conflicting range estimates.
The good news is Tesla already has this issue solved. They have a great formula to calculate an accurate projected range, they just don't allow the owner to select it as the primary range display.
The Model 3 allows owners to select between distance and energy (the state of charge percentage of the battery) to be displayed on the main driver's information screen, just to the right of the speed indicator. I'd like to see Tesla add a third option, one that estimates the range based on the recent past consumption when the navigation system isn't being used.
When the navigation system is being used, then the range estimator should also factor in the route's topography and speed limits, which it already does. When using the navigation system, the driver gets to see the estimated state of charge they will have when they arrive at their destination. This is a great feature, I use it all the time and like the predicted range on the energy chart, it's usually very accurate.
Tesla's already done all the hard work. They have all the data and predicted range calculations but you can't have it displayed on the main range estimator display. Just give us a third option that allows the driver to select a range estimate that uses all the consumption and trip data that the vehicle already has. Owners can then select the one they want and everybody is happy.
In the meantime, for the people that find the static range estimator to be inaccurate, I recommend they switch the display to energy instead of distance. That's what I personally do, especially now that it's winter and the car cannot get anywhere near the rated range. With heavy use of the cabin heat and highway-speed driving and a full charge, the range estimator can be off by as much as 100 miles, rendering it mostly useless.
I fully expect to get a bunch of comments from people saying they find the estimator very accurate, and I don't doubt their honesty one bit. They most likely drive in moderate temperature areas and are efficient drivers. Not everyone's driving efficiency has the same profile, so the range estimator shouldn't be the same for everyone, that's the point. Tesla should offer the option and let the owner select the one that works best for them.
Hopefully, Tesla will make this easy fix, and we'll soon have a more accurate range estimate baked into a future software update. Are you a Model 3 owner? We'd like to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.