Ben Tesla

It was finally time to prove the concept.  If you can drive your electric vehicle (EV) not just around the corner, but also a thousand miles down the highway to south Florida in one day, then I think you’ve proven you really don’t need petroleum any more.  Here’s how it went.  (Well, you may not need petroleum in Teslas but, to be fair, most of the other 250 million US vehicles still do!)

But first, the theory.   It turns out that EV owners and their drivers invariably depend on petroleum.  Aside from Tesla’s long-range Model S, drivers of all popular versions of electric traction need the support of gasoline or there won’t be much of a ride.  This happens in three ways:

  1. Today’s Gas-Electric Hybrids.  Toyota Priuses, Ford Fusions and other hybrids have broken a wide, important technological path to the future.  Even though they fuel only with gasoline, hybrids introduced millions of drivers to electric drive, regenerative braking and cool visual displays.
  2. Plug-in Hybrids.  Chevrolet Volts, Ford Energi’s and even snazzy Fisker Karmas are optionally plugged in – or they’re optionally gasoline-powered if driven locally and faithfully recharged every 15-30 miles.  In ordinary private car service in the US, which includes some cross-town and vacation driving, they depend on gasoline, even if they use less of it.
  3. Urban EVs.  Nissan’s Leaf, the Mitsubishi iMiEV, and other pure EVs use no gasoline at all, thus they represent a very clean break (so to speak!).  But their 10-20 kwh batteries limit their dependable highway ranges to about 100 miles, less in some cases – the failure penalty is the tow-truck.  For this reason, most share the garage with a petroleum vehicle that is used in tandem, i.e., for longer drives, drives to places without recharging, driving while recharging the EV, carrying heavy or bulky stuff, etc. 

All of these are (or were) breakthrough vehicles, and their drivers, pioneers.  But none can make it to Florida without gasoline, or else make numerous, lengthy stops to recharge at a rate of about three hours charging for each hour of driving.  That’s right, public charging is a very slow process, more on this later.  For example, it would take 8 hours just to get past Richmond in an urban EV.  Relaxing yes, meeting new friends yes, but not a working scenario.

To really remove petroleum from EVs at the vehicle, you need a very long range and a very fast recharging network.  Tesla has both in place now, as of 2014, along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and cross-country, so it was time to give it this try.

So here goes, via repeating and supplementing tweets throughout the drive (#BethesdaFloridaAllElectric) on Friday, March 14th, with stops at seven Tesla Supercharging Stations along the way.  Mileages are cumulative, i.e., distance from Bethesda.

  • 4:42 AM Bethesda, Maryland, 0 miles – It’s early, but the day is long!  
  • 6:10 AM Glen Allen, Virginia, 103 miles – Brrr, 26 degrees out.  Must be a nice mall when it’s open, but everything is closed here, no coffee!  Limiting supercharge time to 22 minutes at Tesla station; next stop, Rocky Mount, NC. 
  • 8:37 AM, Rocky Mount, NC, 235 miles – It’s still really cold out, 34 degrees, and the battery hasn’t been running efficiently, quite low on arrival.  Charge time: 53 minutes long, in order to be conservative.   I’m not into range anxiety.  Breakfast at Texas Steakhouse.  Swimming in coffee!  
  • 11:10 AM, Lumberton, NC, 355 miles – weather broke to 58 degrees, another Texas Steakhouse.  More coffee!  Charge for about 1/2 hour.  Posted speeds in North Carolina change frequently, roads well patrolled.  Kind of a change-up deal, which costs some time. 
  • 1:32 PM Santee, SC, 488 miles.  Trees are budding; they’re into Springtime here way ahead of Polar Vortex Washington!  35 minutes charging time, as next stop is close.  Tesla’s Santee Supercharger is located in the Clark’s Inn & Restaurant parking lot – best stop of the trip! 
  • 3:38 PM Savannah Airport Short-Term Parking, 596 miles.  Next stop is 171 miles down the road, thus this was the longest charging stop of the trip, taking 78 minutes to charge battery from very little up to capacity, even though weather is lovely, in the high 60’s. 
  • 6:32 PM Cross into Florida 11 hours 50 minutes after leaving Bethesda!  Hello, Guinness (the brew, that is!).  Bikers on gasoline-reeking hogs have been giving thumbs-up, they seem to really like the Tesla – probably because there’s no smoke! 
  • 7:25 PM St. Augustine Outlet Center, FL, 767 miles.  I know where the wife will want to stop en route home – the wise woman flew to Florida this afternoon!  Supercharge for 20 minutes only. 
  • 8:45 PM Port Orange, FL, 832 miles.  Relaxing pasta and salad dinner at the Olive Garden while supercharging for 40 minutes. 
  • 11:12 PM Port St. Lucie, Florida, 963 miles, about 20 miles north of West Palm Beach.  I declare victory and pull in for the night!  Mets are everywhere with spring training underway at Tradition Stadium down the road.  Jog in the morning and head to the in-laws in Delray Beach. 
  • About 8:00 AM Saturday morning, necessary stop at Palm Beach Detailing, as the car has picked up a good deal of grime.  Best quote of the trip, by stunned manager, gazing into the empty cavern under the hood. – “OK.  Carlos, give him his engine back!” 
  • Next day, Sunday, walk with the wife in Delray Beach, recharge at two locations, one of which, a ChargePoint, cost me $0.61 for about 11 minutes.  So that was it, people – that was the only cost for fuel on the entire round trip of 2,139 miles! 
  • After returning home in a more humane two-day drive, was honored that my final tweet “Sweet cruise to Florida, 963 miles in one day – total round-trip fuel cost? $0.61!!” gets numerous retweets, including one by Maye Musk, Elon’s mother!  Wow! 

So what does all this prove?  It proves that petroleum is completely out of the picture for this car and this driver.  This is also true for the nearly 40,000 lucky Tesla owners, a group that is growing by about 600-700 per week.  The number of Tesla Superchargers will probably have surpassed 100 by the time you read this.

All great, but petroleum is a powerful, very storable fuel that will be around in vehicles for a long, long time.   And, indeed, thinking of the places I charged the car between Bethesda and Florida, it’s most likely that some fossil energy was used to produce the electricity I consumed.

Geek patrol!  Here are the stats:

Total miles in one day to Florida:

963 miles

     Driving time and average speed

13.8 hours; 69.8 mph

     Charging time

4.7 hours

Total elapsed time:

18.5 hours

Ratio of driving time to charging time:


Gross average speed:

52 mph

Total round-trip miles, including weekend errands, touring and visiting in Delray Beach:

2,139 miles

Total cost to charge on entire trip:

$0.61, for 11 min. at a public EV charger in Delray Beach, FL

Average number of miles charged per hour spent at Tesla Stations:

183 miles


As we learned in Part 2 of this series – taking the Model S out to Indiana, which involved no Tesla Superchargers at all – public charging takes a very long time, as it typically adds miles at a rate of 16-19 miles per charging hour.  Nissan’s new “fast chargers” and the CHADEMO system used in Japan can double that.  Neither will replace petroleum.  By contrast, Tesla’s Superchargers added 183 miles per hour of charging time on my drive, which partly involved slower charges due to freezing temperatures in the Northern part of the drive.

From a lifestyle perspective, public chargers get repetitive; they’re best used when parking your EV for some other good reason, like sleeping, working all day, airport parking on a long trip, etc.  These are vital to urban EVs, which can’t live without them.  They’re less vital to plug-in hybrids, since there’s always that gasoline tank and piston engine on board.  But with a 300-400 build-out of Tesla Supercharging Station in the works, Tesla drivers really won’t need public charging stations for long.

Bottom line:  It will be many decades, if ever, before petroleum loses its grip on vehicles.  But driving an EV 963 miles from Bethesda, Maryland, to Port St. Lucie, Florida in one day proves that there is one technology that has actually hit escape velocity.  Hopefully, LNG trucking systems in urban regions and over long distances will show there’s another way as well.