How Tesla Cracked The Code On EV Road Trips: Model 3 Performance

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A big battery plus the Supercharger network equals a car capable of long-haul travel.


I have a confession to make. In more than seven years of driving an electric vehicle, I had never taken a long-distance, all-electric road trip. But that changed a few weeks ago when I got behind the wheel of a Tesla Model 3 Performance with 310 miles of range. The combination of the Model 3’s big battery pack and easy access to the Tesla Supercharger network enabled my emissions-free 515-mile journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Moreover, it completely changed my concept of what adequate EV range could mean.

Continue on to learn how Tesla cracked the code on EV road trips.

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Routing Integrated with Charger Locations

Information is the key to a confident EV road trip. That’s where the Tesla Model 3’s navigation system comes into play. It factored my desired location, the battery state-of-charge, and the location of Supercharger locations to provide the info I needed. My plan was to stop for lunch in Monterey. At the onset, the large touchscreen informed me that I would be at that Supercharger location in one hour and two minutes and that I would arrive with about 40 percent state of charge. I could also see that several Superchargers were open and available there. Off we went.

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Seamless Consumer-Friendly Supercharger Experience

Upon pulling up to a Supercharger, the experience of plugging in was as easy as a home-charging event. After plugging in, the Supercharger identified the car, so RFID cards or credit cards were unnecessary. DC quick-chargers that I previously used with a Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt required a membership card and had an industrial feel. Those chargers made clunkity-clunk sounds when engaged and emitted a high-pitched buzz. Using a Tesla Supercharger meant backing the car up close enough to a relatively short cord, but otherwise it was a completely consumer-friendly experience.

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Not Just Range But The Ability Drive at Desired Speed

The focus of a discussion about EV road trips is usually range. Can you make it to your intended destination or not? But perhaps the biggest and least discussed advantage of having a big battery pack like the one in the Model 3 was the ability to drive as fast as I wanted (within reason) without the fear of running out of juice. Of course, driving fast sucks down the electrons and thus reduces the number of miles you can travel – but with so many spare kilowatt-hours and the awareness of accessible Supercharger locations, I didn’t need to compromise a brisk cruising speed for range.

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Tesla App Tells You SOC While You’re Stretching or Eating

Most Tesla Superchargers are located next to amenities. When I stopped in Monterey, it was easy to find a decent lunch spot. We ordered, and I placed my phone with the Tesla app on the table. In that way, I could see that the car was charging at a decent rate. Before the food had arrived, the estimated range was back to nearly 200 miles. I was not yet finished eating when I got an app notification that read, “Supercharging almost finished.”

The Supercharger was faster than the restaurant’s service, so the car was waiting fully charged well before I paid the bill. Seeing its progress from the convenience of the restaurant table was vital.

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Charging Location Redundancy

The road trip experience would be unpleasant if there were only enough Superchargers available to limp between one station and another. But on the next leg of my trip, I could choose between two or three available Superchargers to strategically select a location along my route where state-of-charge would be lower upon arrival. Empty batteries add miles faster than full batteries. The navigation system made those choices easy – for example, to go another 80 or 100 miles before charging. Ultimately, I decided to drive to my friend’s house near San Luis Obispo for a slow and easy overnight top-up using his Level 2 charger.

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Smart Dynamic Re-Routing

Waking up to a full pack with an estimated 300 miles of range, I set the destination to downtown Los Angeles. It seemed like I had a ton of juice to traverse the 200 miles to LA. But I must admit that it’s hard to drive a Model 3 Performance in the most fuel-thrifty manner. Because I was driving faster than the onboard computer had anticipated, I received a warning about being able to reach my destination with a comfortable amount of excess charge. Duly noted. I added an impromptu 15-minute pit stop in Oxnard where I added 105 miles of range in just 15 minutes. That brought the estimated range to 183 miles – more than enough for the remaining 65 miles of my road trip. The goal doesn’t always have to be topping up. Sometimes you can add just the amount you need for some cushion.

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Comfortable Highway Cruising

By the time I completed the 515-mile trip (513.8 to be exact), I had used 159 kilowatt-hours of energy. Considering the many stretches where I pushed the limits of the Performance model’s capabilities – and the average overall speed – I still managed a more-than-respectable efficiency above three miles per kWh. 

But the real kicker was the road manners of the Model 3. I would never have imagined how pleasant a compact car could be on a coastal highway. The level of interior comfort, roadway refinement, and passing power was on par with experiences I’ve had driving the coast in a Mercedes S-Class and Rolls-Royce. Not once did I worry about range.

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67 Comments on "How Tesla Cracked The Code On EV Road Trips: Model 3 Performance"

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I kind off agree with this statement. Tesla navigation with car battery status and trip info working together is a big selling point for Tesla. However, in Europe at least, there are so many company’s that have fast chargers network. Fastned in The Netherlands has the whole country covered, more or less. Ionity is putting more and more chargers “online” in Western-Europe. So for EV traveling here it is already pretty good. And it will get better over the next few years.

Its not like there are not other charging stations in the US, but Tesla charges significantly less money and you don’t have worry about it workiing When you get there. I have looked enviously at Tesla stations across thee lot while screwing around with other charging networks, it is a HUGE advantage.

Yes, this is what people don’t get if they don’t drive an EV. Coverage of fast charging stations is getting pretty decent here in BC. There are fast chargers every 80km or so and more in the cities. The problem is that there is usually exactly one fast charger. And a very significant proportion of the time, when you get to that one fast charger it is either:

1. Broken
2. In use
3. Blocked by gas vehicle.

This makes it impossible to rely on fast chargers for road tripping unless you have no plan at all and are happy to spend several unexpected hours on a L2 if something goes wrong.

Tesla has less density of fast chargers, but you can rely on them almost 100% because they have at least 6 stations at every location and you can almost guarantee at least a few of them will be available.
I’d say in real world use a Tesla driver has at least 10 times higher reliability on road trips than anyone else around here.

You paid for all that premium experience in the up front expense of buying a Tesla. It’s part of what makes them a “premium” brand and why they can charge so much for their cars.

this premium is really worth it…

Unfortunatelly, in Spain we have only around 30 chargers (no fast chargers) for an extension which can be comparable to California.

The shills, shorters and haters will never admit it but Tesla’s success is built on this foundation of a compelling EV plus ecosystem that is better then LICE cars.

If you would open your eyes you would realize that EA and others will offer natuonwide high-speed charging in NA within just 12 months from today:

New CCS stations popping up weekly.

No advantages left for Tesla. Similar for Europe by 2020 with companies like IONITY and Fastned (already mentioned by another commenter above).

In addition, many gas stations will add fast-chargers as well.

PS: Many of those stations are at up to 350kW, much faster than Tesla’s SC.

some day – we are talking right now…

Will be interesting to see how this plays out. Tesla Superchargers have avg 10 and up to 40 charging pedestals tho.
Session fee $1.00 / session — Charging Cost $0.30 / min. to $0.35 / min — Idle fee $0.40 / min (if applicable)

I don’t think you drive an EV if you think the current or planned EA network is an equal to the current SC network. I don’t own a Tesla and never will, but I am not fooling myself that they aren’t way ahead on charging network.

If they allow you to see if there are spots available before getting there, are kept in good working order, and are priced near the Tesla SC prices, you are correct, they will be good alternatives, eventually. We shall see.

My current experience with the existing CCS charging network has been frustrating, to be kind. Granted, that’s just been in Colorado and in Illinois, but I commonly find broken chargers, offline chargers, ICED or in-use single head stations with no way to access or know when/if the person charging will return. Essentially, too sketchy to rely on for travel when you MUST charge.

If as you say, it’s just a matter of opening eyes, right now, all they see are promises.

I see “tftf” is another of the vanishingly few serial Tesla bashers who didn’t get the memo.

Hey, “tftf”! Tesla won. You lost. Get over it!

I’m very glad Electrify America is adding many new fast-charging stations. But that will be funded for a limited time only, and when the money runs out, will the system be maintained? Or will it be abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair and disuse? I certainly hope the EA network will be sold off to some company which plans to use it to generate profits, so the company will have an incentive to maintain the system. But I don’t think there is any guarantee that will happen.

Tesla is moving target. Please compare current Tesla with current competition or future Tesla with future competition.
Comparing current Tesla with future competition is disgusting

Tesla is like Atlas holding up the ev world, hope they don’t shrug.
They are so far ahead of the pitiful competition that is always just coming.
But it will eventually happen perhaps when Tesla has produced 5 million or so evs years
from now there will be decent alternatives that can offer something that competes with
the full value of the Tesla package.

Right now, there are things I don’t like about Tesla, but when considered all in all, there is no competition for now…

My nearest Supercharger is great. It is 5 miles away, but happens to be in the parking lot of a department store surrounded by Starbucks and many restaurants. I like that it is located two blocks from a famous local aetesian well where I regularly fill up with 35 gallons of free pure water for my family, nicely fitting inside Lightning Mcqueen’s trunk. One issue I’ve encountered is paying for overstaying. The parking lot is large and the walking distances to all those amenities are a bit long. Great fir stretching of legs and exercise, but also can get stressful as charging up usually goes faster than the app projects. Case in point, my two daughters wanted to stay in the car whilst I ran off to go do some shopping. They are stuck to their phones and I drilled them on how to unplug. My app said one hour to my charge limit. 30 minutes later, my app says 10 minutes to full and I book into top gear to get into checkout. I call my daughter to be ready to unplug. After checking out ( 4 minutes ), I’m getting panic calls from embarrassed teenagers as the car… Read more »

If it’s 5 miles away, you should be charging at home. No over-stay fees 🙂
That doesn’t change the fact that when you are on a trip away you might get charged.

This person may live in an apartment without home charging. The urban superchargers open up another huge market for Tesla.

I hope the “market” for those depending on Superchargers for daily charging of their Tesla car is, and remains, extremely tiny. The last thing we need is a bunch of freeloaders hogging stalls on a daily (or even weekly) basis in a charger system designed and built to support long-distance travel!

why freeloaders?? All new cars have to pay for electricity.
Urban chargers are designed to charge urban cars… And get paid for the service!

I believe there was some talk about making the idle fees not apply if the supercharger location was mostly empty. I guess that hasn’t been implemented yet.

Yes, it has. This poster must have been done charging when the station was at least 1/2 full.

There are idle fees and they are documented on their page:

Tip: If you get close to hitting your daily charge limit while shopping, change your charge limit to ‘Trip’ (100%) in the app and that will give you a lot of extra time. (those last few percent take ages.)

yup. but do NOT go to 100%. Just touch the trip area. As you said, it will go REAL SLOW.

No doubt Teslas can meet the need, but this article was a bit Pollyanna-ish. A SF-LA drive for me is not a 2-day adventure. He ‘decided’ to stop at a friend’s house overnight which changed it from a single day trip to multiple days. By myself I do SF-LA non-stop in 6-7 hours not 2 days. When with the kids it’s 8+hours with a stop or two. My PHEV can do this without a fill-up.

Side point – the superchargers with short cords require backing in. If you’re towing a trailer you have to find a place to drop the trailer to charge – a royal pain. Many cities it is illegal to park a trailer on the street without being hooked up to a vehicle. Are there any non-charging spots available at superchargers?

Tesla is building new superchargers with some front in stalls for this reason, see Cle Elum Washington that just opened up this month.

We drive from Seattle to Chelan regularly and there is no problem with range if we are fully charged, or it’s warm. The Cle Elum charger is awesome to add 30 miles of charge while getting a coffee and using the bathroom (five min). This is a nice range anxiety reducer during the winter, even though not absolutely necessary!

Stop and enjoy the journey.

You got down voted because you said the truth. While it is true that Tesla is the ONLY EV which allows for a half way reasonable road trip in the US it is also true that it nowhere near as convenient as a gasoline or diesel vehicle. This is reality that many EV buffs deny and why widespread EV adoption is further out than the enthusiasts imagine.

Taking EVs mainstream will require a charging infrastructure that is universal (all gasoline/diesel light vehicles can use all (most for diesel) fuel stations) and transparently priced (that would be by the kWh not by time connected and with a nice clear/large digit sign that tells the price per kWh).

I’m a PHEV driver who may soon go EV but not with any illusions about the cost and utility thereof. If you are happy with 0-60 in 10 sec. the Prius Prime is unbeatable for now and the foreseeable future. It would be even better with the battery under the back seat instead of in the trunk.

In that same 7 year timeframe did you take any long distance road trips?

Why the downvotes? I’m asking a legit question to understand how often the author does road trips. The language was clear in the article that he hasn’t taken road trips in an all electric vehicle in the past 7 years. Did he take a second car that was a PHEV? An ICE? Fly (which most people do if the trip is 500miles or more).

Maybe he rented a car?

This unnecessary obsession with being able to do long road trips is just creating expensive EVs that many can not afford.

My suggestion to you is work harder so you can afford a proper EV and stop obsessing that the adults get to take a road trip with their EVs. In the real world, everyone doesn’t get a trophy.

You are assuming I can’t afford one. I suggest you don’t assume. It makes an ass out you.

What you call an “unnecessary obsession” is what many others would call a necessary requirement.

It sometimes saddens me how many people posting to social media seem to think there is something wrong with others having an opinion which differs from theirs. 🙁

Imagine how dull the world would be if everyone thought the same about everything!

150 MPC is a decent low-end city car. For simple road trips say 1x / month, I think that 250 MPC is plenty there. I find it funny when ppl insist on 400-500 MPC and cheaper than ICE. At that point, you KNOW they are liars.

I’m hoping for 500kWh batteries, something I think will be required for towing and range. Plenty people in my country travel long distances and tow caravans. Easy to do with a big diesel 4×4, but nowhere near for an EV yet. I’d say we are 50-100yrs away for the whole fleet of vehicles to transition to EV’s, this includes the required DC charging infrastructure.

I was hoping you were comparing the range and recharge time for the Model 3 against a Model S to see if there was an reduction of charge time for the Model 3. My experience with the Model S is that the average travel speed is 50-55 mph due to the longer recharge time compared to gas pumping.

Unfortunately, this article had little value as others have pointed out that a 2-day roadtrip from LA to SF is not a roadtrip. I wonder what compelled you to write it other than an opportunity to read your own words, not to provide any value to other readers. Please do a proper roadtrip and then write a review.

I’ve traveled over Thanksgiving in our Model X 100D in conjunction with our sons LR (75) Model 3. He was also done (letting him get to next SC) charging before I was by probably 10 minutes.

“2-day roadtrip from LA to SF is not a roadtrip”

What? Who says that? 200mile trips represent less than1% of trips taken and trip miles. LA to San Fran is ~400miles. He traveled there by road. Therefore, road trip.

I have driven from NorCal to SoCal (1100 miles round trip including local travel in SoCal) via I-5 in my Model 3. It took the same or a few minutes less time then when I drove my Windstar minivan (just over 8 hours). I left home with my car at 90% and stopped twice for 15-20 minutes each. I don’t like to drive more than 2-3 hours without a stop. I travel with one or two German Shepherds and we all like to stop to stretch our legs, have a potty break, have something to drink, and have a snack or meal. All of that takes 15-20 minutes no matter how fast it is to “fill up”. The “3” gets better mileage than the “S” or “X” (about 4 miles per kWh compared to about 3 miles per kWh), so it can charge about 470 mph if you start at a lower state of charge, especially with the bigger battery of the LR version (compared to the MR). You only have to fill up enough to make it to your next stop. If your next stop is another Supercharger, then that means you usually leave without filling it all the… Read more »

This article is way too long

Tough crowd. I guess I missed the mark on my overarching goal with the post: to identify the individual ingredients needs for trips exceeding EV range on a single charge. In a nutshell, I was trying to say that you need a big battery, a comfortable ride, a network of fast chargers, a capable navigation system that considers destination/SOC/charging locations, etc. Without all of the pieces mentioned in the article, it’s not convenient (or even advisable) to drive beyond your region. Maybe that’s a no-brainer for you guys and a road trip is only legit if it’s one Supercharger after the next for a long day. It’s a fair point. On the other hand, I would not have considered even a two-day SF to LA trip in my 84-mile first-gen Leaf or my RAV4 EV. And I don’t do it in my 2017 Bolt either because there aren’t enough CCS Quick Chargers on that route — even in late 2018. Yep, I have to resort to flying or taking our ICE car that barely gets used. One minor point that I hoped to make is that road trips don’t have to be extreme but they should be comfortable and anxiety-free… Read more »

Right in a 100D S/X or LR 3 you can drive with the traffic at 75 mph or even 80 (IN, WY, MT, etc, etc) without worry of getting to the next Supercharger. 75 mph is probably closer to the trade-off point (charging time/travel time).

Bradley, I appreciate you taking the time and trouble to write up your driving report. But you pretty thoroughly undermined your “Tesla cracked the code on EV road trips” assertion, by choosing to stay overnight at a friend’s house and charging up on a L2 charger. Anybody could do that with any plug-in EV.

You also demonstrated that you were in no hurry to complete the trip. You made “an impromptu 15-minute pit stop” to add “105 miles of range” which “brought the estimated range to 183 miles – more than enough for the remaining 65 miles of my road trip.”

Tesla car owners serious about road tripping without wasting time aim to get to their next charging station — or to their destination — with a safety margin of only ~10%.

Overall, what your article actually communicates is that depending on the Tesla Supercharger system is okay if you’re out for a leisurely drive, but doesn’t support driving long distances in a hurry. That is, arguably, the truth… and is rather at variance from the rose-colored view shown by many of your comments in this article.

Our maybe he’s just a regular Joe who shows that the Tesla can work comfortably for the average Joe. So often it seems the die hard EV owners poo poo these articles. They are not the people we need to educate/convince, it’s the average Joe’s of the world.
Without doubt, for one reason or another, Tesla is still right out in front when it comes to distance driving. 350kW chargers, CCS, all the range of EV’s coming onto the market make no difference if you get frustrated because charges are blocked, broken, not convenient, all the reasons that Tesla seems to have resolved to a huge degree.

Hey Brad. You write: “I would not have considered even a two-day SF to LA trip in my 84-mile first-gen Leaf or my RAV4 EV. And I don’t do it in my 2017 Bolt either because there aren’t enough CCS Quick Chargers on that route — even in late 2018. ” Ahem. You need to get out more often. In the past 2 years I’ve made the following trips from the SF Bay Area in my Bolt EV using essentially entirely DC charging (and overnight J1772 AC at hotels): 11 trips to Los Angeles (personal & business) 1 trip to Moab, Utah (Arches National Park) 1 trip to Seattle (July 4 vacation) 1 trip to Oregon (solar eclipse) 1 trip to Edmonton, Alberta (vacation) 1 trip to Las Vegas (CES 2019) These trips typically averaged 400 miles a day which is about what I used to do in a gas car. I rarely had to wait for a charger to free up and on the rare occasions when equipment was out of order I easily worked around it. The trips to LA are done at speed limit or slightly above depending upon conditions. Driving to Moab was slower to improve… Read more »
I am a first time EV owner having taken delivery of my Tesla 3 Performance in September last year. Last thanksgiving, my wife and I decided to take a road trip from Fremont to LA. Normally we will be driving our ICE SUV with our daughter and two dogs. This time I decided to take the 3 for the trip. I planned ahead with locating all the Tesla supercharging stations (free charging by the way) along the way and also signed up for accounts with ChargePoint and PlugShare as backup. On the outgoing trip, I visited Tesla at Dublin and had the 3 fully charged to 305 miles. After 2.5 hours and 192 miles, we got to the Kettleman City supercharging station to recharge for 40 minutes. Another 1.5 hours and 93 miles, we stopped at Lebec for dinner and also charged the 3 at the Tesla Lebec Supercharging station. 45 minutes later, we hit the road and got to our LA destination, an Airbnb rental with destination charging at Wilshire Blvd after 1.5 hours and 81 miles. Including the two stops, we made the trip in 6.75 hours covering 386 miles. The time for driving is quite similar to… Read more »

Two valuable takeaways that I will second here… one is that you don’t need to charge to max while in-route and you can use that to greatly cut down on your charge times. Pay attention to where you are going and anticipated SOC when you arrive so that you are maximizing your time usage. Pit stops and short charges when possible, around meal time you want to be at a very low SOC to maximize value of time spent charging while you are otherwise engaged.

The other less intuitive strategy is that it can be FASTER to go SLOWER at least for us early EV adopters… that extra 5-10 mph at highway speeds will not make up for an extra 20-30 minute required charging stop. I like driving fast just as much as the next guy but the math doesn’t lie; sometimes doing 65 mph behind a semi-truck will get you to your destination faster than 80 mph in the fast lane.



And if you really want to stop the CO2, then start screaming about nations that are ADDING new coal plants, ore replacing old ones with new ones that are multiple times bigger and will burn a great deal more coal.
Think Germany, Poland, India, South Africa, and most of all CHINA.

How does it hurt the eyes.

Tesla cracked the code of EV road trips six years ago. I posted proof:

I drove my first generation Model S (a 6 year old design) to take my family on a 946-mile road trip between Orange County and San Francisco back in May 2013. Tesla and its customers have been at this for a very long time. Today there are so many more Superchargers along that corridor than in 2013 it’s a piece of cake by comparison.

I can say I’ve taken it much further than California. This summer I took that same 6-year-old design of a Model S on a 20-day 4647-mile family road trip:

I took my family of four traveling through 10 western states to see National Parks and sites including Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Devil’s Tower, Mt. Rushmore, Petrified Forest, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and the Million Dollar Highway using both Supercharger and Destination Charging. Everything worked and we had a great time!

That’s 10,767 miles of all electric family road trips under my belt, so yes Tesla’s formula definitely works.

is this me, or are others having issues?

Continue on to learn how Tesla cracked the code on EV road trips.

Continue where?

It’s a slideshow. You have to click on the arrows to proceed through.

Model 3 is a Mid Sized car per the EPA, not a compact car.

It would only be compact by 1950’s standards. 🙂

When will the ev manufacturers wake up to the possibility of interchangeable batteries, so recharging can be just a swap and go process and without the necessity to coincide a lunch break or similar.

I took a 7,000 mile road trip around the eastern half of USA in 2016. 55 Supercharging sessions and 19 states. Was fun and free 🙂

Did a 3,000-mile trip and a 4,000-mile trip last year, the latter of which was during super-cold weather (12°F without wind chill)… car performed perfectly

I have a 5,000-mile trip planned for Easter/Spring Break.

You didn’t even talk about how awesome it is to use the auto pilot on the highway!

well written
nice car

I wouldn’t call it zero emissions, assuming100% of your electrical energy came from a natural gas plant at best you created 67% less CO2 emissions. If your energy came entirely from Nuclear, Solar or Hydro then there would be relatively zero emissions.

We purchased a Tesla Model X 90kW in March of 2017 and made a round trip of approximately 8000 miles ( 13000km)
from Utah to New York State to North Carolina and New Mexico using the Supercharging infrastructure.