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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Traveling Oregon in a Tesla - Photo Journal (Part 1 - Painted Hills)

This is the first summer that I've owned a Tesla. Our Model X 90D arrived in October and we've put about 12,000 miles on it since then. To put this into perspective, most years I only drive about 8,000 miles. This vehicle is a lot of fun and we've been using it.

Our first trip vacation trip was to eastern Oregon to see the Painted Hills. We found lodging in Prairie City that has Tesla destination charging (and charging for other EVs too). It was not too far from the Painted Hills, and it had nearby bike paths and hiking.

From Beaverton to Prairie City 
The trip planner said that we could make it to Prairie City with just a single charging stop in The Dallas. I was less certain. We had our CHAdeMO adapter and connectors to plug into RV campgrounds if things didn't go as planned. I decided to play it safe and head to Pendleton instead. This allowed us to arrive with more charge remaining. If there were any issues with the destination charging, we'd still have enough charge for our next day's plans. It added some time to the drive, but better safe than sorry.


The trip was an easy drive. We stopped in The Dallas for a late lunch while we charged. We headed to Pendleton and had a bathroom break and a drink while we charged. That evening, two thousand dead bugs and 360 miles later, we arrived in Prairie City. We checked in, plugged into the destination charger, and made our way to our room.

The next day we were charged up and after breakfast, we headed to the Painted Hills.
Tesla Model X w/ Bike Rack at The Painted Hills in Oregon





The hills were great, a part of nature that's a rare sight. I'll spare you the description of the cause, if you're interested, feel free to google it.

From here we went to the Little Pine Cafe in the town of Mitch. As we parked and my daughter opened the falcon wing door to get out, one of the locals asked if our car was a Dodge. I told him it was a Tesla, to which he replied, "That's the future right there."


Cowboy Boots in Mitchell Oregon


We stopped at the nearby fossil museum and learned a few things about the massive weather pattern changes to the region over the eons. The next day we explored Prairie City and John Day on foot and bike. The visitors center in John Day has level 2 charging with places to explore and eat nearby.

On day 3 we drove into the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness area.Traveling Oregon in a Tesla - Photo Journal (Part 1 - Painted Hills) https://buff.ly/2w88EVS

It was a dusty drive.

From the parking area, it's a hike to the lake.


The next day we packed up to head home, we were fully charged thanks to the destination charging at the hotel. This time, I was confident that the navigation system was correct and that we'd make it to The Dallas on a single charge. The bikes on the rack on the back mean that it is not accurate and I would just need to have a little buffer, but the nav system said that we'd have more than 30 miles left when we arrived. You can always stretch the range a little by slowing down a little if needed. So we headed north.

Going home we passed through the town of Fossil, Oregon. The town's name has nothing to do with fossil fuels, but I quipped that they'll need to change their name to Renewable, Oregon if they want to survive. Speaking of renewable energy, on the drive back we passed through the Biglow Canyon Wind Farm, as you can see below.


We made it to The Dallas with about 20 miles of range left. From there, after lunch and some charging, it was an easy drive home.

Look for parts two and three of southern Oregon and the Oregon coast coming soon.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Towing w/ A Tesla

Yesterday I moved my camper to a new storage facility. The trip was only about 45 miles and mostly on Interstate 5. This gave me a chance to see the range impact of towing on the Tesla Model X.

2016 Tesla Model X towing a Coleman Tacoma pop-up camper 
Before connecting the camper, I had to go buy a trailer ball mount and ball. The Tesla tow package only comes with a hitch receiver, not the complete tow kit. This is standard in the industry since they don't know what you may be towing and what type of tow kit you'd need. Perhaps you are just getting this for a bike rack and the receiver is all that you need.

Here is the installed tow ball.
Tow Kit Installed in a Tesla Tow Receiver
Now the part of the story that you've been waiting for: How much did this impact the range? Here is the energy data from the Tesla when we finished the trip.

Trip energy info from the binnacle display at the end of our towing trip 
Let's unpack this a little. I usually see around 335 Wh/mi, so 458 is a 27% increase in "fuel" consumption compared to my typical driving. Using just quick math, at 458 Wh/mile with a 90 kWh pack (85.8 usable in the 90D) results in 187 miles of range. Compared to the 257 miles of range rated by the EPA, this is a 27% reduction in range. A 27% reduction in rated range is not bad, I was expecting a ~40% reduction.

To be clear, this was not an EPA range test, it was one short drive on a mostly flat part of I-5. I may not even get the same results if I were to reverse the trip, but it is one example that can give you a good idea of the scope of the range impact.

187 miles is plenty of range for the places where I typically camp and if it is farther, there are Superchargers to extend the range (although this may be complicated with the camper attached). Also, assuming there is service where we're camping, I'll be able to use an RV outlet (NEMA 14-50) as a "destination charger" to recharge the car overnight.

Before signing off, here are three misc. things I learned on while towing for the first time in the X. One, the car automatically switches into tow mode when it detects something plugged into the 7-pin outlet used to control the trailer lights and braking. Two, when the X is in tow mode, Autopilot is not available to be enabled. You have to actually drive yourself when you are towing (#FWP). Third, our X has smart air suspension and it adjusts the suspension height as you drive and it also undoes this adjustment after you have been stopped for a few minutes. We were unhooking the trailer when the car decided to lift up a couple inches. This was annoying and a little dangerous as I was unhooking the camper at the time.

Stay safe, have fun, charge on.

UPDATE: I was informed by a reader that the tow kit shown above has a 2" drop and that is not recommended by Tesla. According to the reader, the ball can be straight or have up to a 3/4" rise. Luckily, the mount kit shown above is reversible and when reversed, it goes from a 2" drop to a 3/4" rise. I have now moved the ball and flipped it over. Next time I pull the camper, the trailer tongue will be 2 and 3/4" higher.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Tesla Semi Speculation

Battery swap, solar roof, conveyor floor, glass cab, and more. Tesla has an opportunity to reinvent the semi truck.

Tesla is known for their fast, luxury, long-distance EVs. This month they are shipping their mass production Model 3 and branching into a new market. This fall they will be showing off their new venture into semi trucks.

Tesla has scheduled the big reveal event for their all-electric heavy-duty long-haul semi truck in September of this year. Until this event, we are not likely to know much about the vehicle. Let's look at the market requirements and see if we can use this and what we know about Tesla's first principles approach to make some guesses about the Tesla Semi. Then, for fun, we'll round out the list with some things that would be cool to see.

Tesla Semi - What We Know

Elon Musk has said few things already, “It is a heavy duty, long range, semi-truck. So it has the highest weight capability and with long range. So essentially it’s meant to alleviate the heavy duty trucking loads.”

Musk says it will be heavy duty, how heavy? He said it will be long range, how long? Below we'll try to put bounds on these superlatives.

Musk continues, “And this is something which people do not, today, think is possible. They think the truck doesn’t have enough power or it doesn’t have enough range. And then with those with the Tesla semi we want to show that no, an electric truck actually can out-torque any diesel semi and if you had a tug-of-war competition, the Tesla semi what will tug the diesel semi uphill.”

How Long Is Long Range?

How far will Tesla's semi truck need to go on a single charge?

Eventually, Tesla's semi will be fully autonomous, but for now, let's assume that they will be human-piloted and they will need to conform to the national laws for semi driving. Here are some of the relevant US laws:
Legal drive time is 11 hours of driving with 10 hours of break thereafter. Additionally, drivers are restricted to 70 hours in an 8 day period.  via TruckersReport.com
Driving for 11 hours at 60 MPH is 660 miles of range. At first glance, this seems like an impossible range. It's more than double the range of Tesla's longest-range vehicle on the roads today. Is it possible? For comparison, consider that BYD has a 60-foot bus with a 270-mile range. To achieve this, they use a 547 kWh battery pack. Assuming Tesla's semi would have a similar efficiency as the bus, the semi would need about 1300 kWh in its battery pack to achieve a 660-mile range. That is the equivalent to 13 packs in a Tesla Model S 100. That is a massive battery pack, but not impossible.

How Heavy is "Heavy Duty"? 

In the trucking industry, heavy duty generally means Class 8. A Class 8 truck has a total weight limit of 80,000 pounds. Typically the load maxes out at 40,000 pounds with the truck itself weighing at ~35,000 pounds.

By this definition, a Tesla semi would need to be capable of carrying the same 40,000 pounds of payload.

Based on the few scraps of information that we have, to be considered long-range and heavy duty, our best guess is that this vehicle will be capable of 600+ miles range and 40,000 pounds of payload.

Tesla has reinvigorated the auto industry. The trucking industry is now on their radar. What other cool things might Tesla do in the semi truck space.


Trailer 2.0

The trailer that semis pull has been generally ignored by the industry. It is just something that the truck connects to. It has been an idle passenger. Tesla could change this.

What if the trailer had motors of its own. We know that the Tesla semi will be using “a bunch” of Model 3 electric motors. If these are placed on the trailer as well as the truck, there are a lot of cool things the trailer could do.

18-Wheel All-Wheel-Drive

If Tesla is going to use the Model 3 motors, it will need several of them. Putting them on the trailer as well as in the semi would allow for more power and control. This makes the trailer a vital part of the vehicle system. 

Once the trailer has its own motors, it makes sense for it to have its own batteries too. If they are going to put 13 cars worth of batteries someplace, the floor of the trailer seems like a place with ample room. 

Trailer Summons & Tank Turns

Now that the trailer has its own motors and batteries, there are many more cool things that could be done with the trailer. Imagine a yard where the trailers can be summoned. To do this, the trailer would need its own camera system, so let's put 8 or more cameras around the trailer. 

With the independent motors, the trailer would be able to move in ways that are impossible when they are being towed by a semi. For example, they could turn in place like a tank. This would allow for maneuverability that is important in crowded yards to move to loading docks and connection points. 

Trailer As Battery Swap

Tesla has tried battery swap before and some people have speculated that the idea will be resurrected for the semi truck. To me, it seems unlikely that they will retrace this ground, at least not in the same way.

Above we have two assumptions: one, the vehicle will have a ~1300kWh pack and, two, some (perhaps a majority) of these batteries will be in the trailer. If these assumptions (or something like them) turns out to be true, then here's an interesting possibility: What if a driver could pull into a loading dock, drop off a trailer with a depleted battery, hook up to a trailer with a fully charged battery and get back on the road. Depending on the split of the battery pack (say 350/950), this could restore a majority of the vehicle's charge in just a few minutes.

If the load needs to be transferred from the depleted trailer to the charged trailer, there are many options. With a flatbed, the cargo could be stored in a standard shipping container, then moved from trailer to trailer with a crane. Another option would be for the Tesla trailers position themselves next to each other and to have a conveyor floor on the trailer to slowly transfer the container from one trailer to the other.

Solar Roof (and sides)

On a car, you don't have a large roof and solar is just not that effective at adding significant range to the vehicle. You are far better off spending that money to put solar on your home, if you are interested in powering your commute with the sun. A semi truck is another story.

The conveyor floor mentioned above is an option for flatbeds, but there are other options for enclosed trailers (dry vans, and refrigerated trailers/reefers). An enclosed trailer is typically 45 to 53 feet long and the width is 92 to 98 inches wide. For a larger trailer, this is over 400 sq ft; that's a large roof, large enough to put about 8kW of solar panels on the roof.

Depending on the sun exposure, this could add 40 miles of range to the battery pack each day. For refrigerated trailers, these solar panels could be used to keep the contents cool without depleting the range of the truck.

They are less optimally angled to the sun, but solar panels on the side would add more energy. Would that make it a panel van? ☺

Semi 2.0 Misc.

I'm sure Tesla will have some surprises for us in September. Tesla is known for their glass roofs. The Model X has the largest windshield of any passenger vehicle currently in production. We are likely to see a plentiful use of glass on the semi too. The big screen that Tesla is known for will also likely be in the semi with a new utility. The cameras that surround the cab and trailer could also give the driver a view of the lane next to them or a view of blind-spots.

What other things could this trailer include:
  • Air suspension - this would raise and level the trailer to align it to loading dock platforms. This is a common feature in many trailers. Loading docks are typically anywhere from 48 to 52 inches high. Tesla has air suspension in the Model S & X, the semi and trailer will likely have it too. 
  • Ramp - Ramps and lift gates are common features in many trailers today. Tesla is likely to have these options too, but what innovation twist might they add? 

Market Size

About 250,000 semi truck cabs are sold in the US each year. And the US is just one of many markets of course. The average selling price for a cab is ~$155,000. Tesla's semi is likely to cost much more than this, but it will be far cheaper to fuel and there will be far less maintenance. Fleet owners are generally more concerned with the total cost of operation. Lower fuel and maintenance costs would give them headroom for a higher monthly vehicle payment. And after the vehicle is paid off, they will still enjoy the lower monthly fuel bill and increase their profit for moving goods. 

Wrap Up

This is highly speculative, but it's fun to guess. We'll learn more in September and there may be some more hints in the quarterly financial calls or Musk's tweets. We'll see if any of these guesses turn out to be accurate.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Ultimate Nerd Road Trip 2017


This summer I'll be taking the Model X on several road trips. One of them I've dubbed The Ultimate Nerd Road Trip 2017.

It's a road trip from Portland, OR to San Diego to attend Comic-Con. I've never been to Comic-Con. This should be fun. A friend and I are leaving from Portland. After a few charging stops, we'll arrive in San Jose to pick up our third amigo. After a night in San Jose, all three of us will continue south the next morning.

We'll spend several days at the con and in San Diego then head back north. While we're heading back, we have scheduled a tour of the Tesla factory in Fremont.

This will be my longest road trip in the Tesla Model X. I've made a page on facebook where I'll be posting photos and updates from the road, the con, and the factory (at least as much as the NDA allows). If you'd like to follow my trek, like the page here.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The 80-20 Rule of EV Driving


The Pareto Principle or as it's better know, the 80-20 Rule, has been applied to many things. The principle says that 80% of a business's sales come from 20% of their customers and that 80% of revenue is from only 20% of the products offered. The generalized version says 80% of results come from 20% of the causes. Among the things this rule of thumb has been applied to include wealth distribution, spending habits, and even infidelity.

80% of Driving Needs

Since this principle has such broad applications, I started wondering how this might apply to EV driving and charging. In the How Much Range Is Enough story<<Link TBD>>, we looked at how much range your EV would need. One of the big factors is will the EV be your only car? If so, how easy is it for you to make other arrangements if it will not work for you?... For most people, it is relatively easy to find an EV that will meet 80% of your driving needs. Almost no vehicle meets 100% of a person's transportation needs. So the question is, how much are you willing to pay for something that meets 90, 95, or 99% of your needs.

80% Charge

The first similarity is that 80% of a batteries capacity can quickly charge. Whereas the charging rate slows down for the last 20% of the charge. Technically, I don't think this is an application of the Pareto Principle, but it is an 80-20 rule for batteries.

Daily Drives

On any given day, about 80% of people drive less than 40 miles. For a long-range (200+ mile) EV, forty miles of driving will use about 20% of the capacity. There are multiple uses of the 80-20 rule here.

It's less wear and tear on lithium batteries to move energy in and out in the middle 60% of a batteries capacity. This is the reason that long range EVs have a trip mode and a daily driving mode. If the principle holds, 80% of the miles driven and kWh used, will come from the top of this daily drive region of the battery charge range.

Range Anxiety

When you have less than 20% charge left, you might start getting concerned that you could become stranded with a drained battery. This means that 80% of your battery is comfortably usable. Of course, this number is different for every person, but this is a good rule of thumb.

Home Charging / Public Charging

The Idaho National Lab studied 125 million miles of EV driving. The study included 6 million charging events. They found that 20% of drivers were responsible for 75% of public charging events. The other 80% of drivers charged primarily at home and rarely if ever used public charging.

What Can We Learn

There are many lessons to be learned from the patterns of charging and battery use. For example, the fact that most charging is done at home could teach us that efforts to pre-wire garages with high amperage 240 Volt outlets would encourage EV ownership better than deploying Level 2 public charging stations. Similarly, deploying charging infrastructure in multi-tenant dwellings may be the best way to allow apartment and condo dwellers to also become plug-in vehicle owners. This is just something that the data hints at and more study would be needed to confirm or reject this, but it seems intuitive that making home charging easy would make EV ownership simpler and more attractive.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

When Will Tesla Hit 200,000 Sales in the U.S.? [Q2 2017 Update]


We've been tracking Tesla's sales for some time now. Specifically, the sale of the 200,000th vehicle in the US is an important milestone since it will trigger the US Federal incentive to begin a phase out 3 to 6 months later.

There are hundreds of thousands of people with Model 3 reservations, the timing of the incentive phase out could impact many buyers, so it's an important question.

Earlier this month, Tesla released their Q2'17 sales numbers. They have now sold more than 130,000 vehicles in the US. The Q2 sales numbers were slightly lower than we predicted three months ago and lower than the Street expected and the stock price was punished accordingly. Although the Street was not happy with the Q2 sales, these lower than expected sales did not impact the 200,000th sale forecast significantly.

Here are the historical sales and our forecast.


Just as our forecast from 3 months ago, this new forecast predicts that the 200,000th US sale will occur in the second quarter of 2018. If that is the case, the incentive will phase out as shown in the below image.


Tesla Model 3 sales start with a token amount this month and depending on how fast they ramp, this forecast could change significantly. We'll have a much better idea where the 200,000th sale will likely fall by the end of this year.

Assuming that the above forecast is correct, the incentive would remain in full effect until the end of September of 2018. This would afford Tesla more than one year of Model 3 deliveries that would be fully eligible for the US tax incentive. This should include delivery of the dual motor all-wheel-drive and performance versions of the cars that are expected to start delivery in early 2018. So if you already have a reservation, there is a good chance that you could have your car in time to qualify for the $7500 federal tax credit.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Tesla Model 3 Countdown Begins


Thanks to a tweet from Elon Musk, we now have a date for the Model 3 event and it's the 28th of July. The first Model 3 owners will be handed their keys by Elon Musk on stage.

From the Tesla investor newsletter, we have even more details about the Model 3.
The first certified production Model 3 that meets all regulatory requirements will be completed this week...
Combining the above with Musk's statement that this is two weeks ahead of schedule and we can see that, so far, things appear to be on schedule for Model 3.


Other things we learned from Elon's tweets include, "looks like we can reach 20,000 Model 3 cars per month in Dec." Depending on how fast the ramp to 20,000 occurs, this likely puts the year's production in line with our earlier estimate.

My factory tour is scheduled for July 25th. I might be able to see some of the first full production Model 3s to be produced.