Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday! Maybe this is more of “EV Tuesday” but we’ll go with it.
Let’s talk about energy efficiency. We know that 30-40mpg is good for an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle. But how good is it when you consider all the available energy in the gasoline? The EPA says that a gallon of gasoline is equal to 33.7 kWh. That’s a huge amount of power but the engine only converts 25-30% of that into useful energy. The vast majority of the energy in gasoline is lost to heat.
To put that amount of energy into perspective, there’s theoretically enough energy in a gallon of gasoline to power our house (minus EV charging) for 1.5 days. When full, my F150 has almost a megawatt of power in the gas tank!
EVs on the other hand are more like 80-90% efficient. That can vary more widely though because, for example, in cold weather, heat isn’t free like it is in an ICE vehicle, so you have to use extra energy to generate heat. In an ICE vehicle you’re generating way too much heat year-round whether you want it or not.
Our Model Y LR is one of the most efficient EVs you can buy, and over the first 37,000 miles, it has averaged 278 Wh/mi (Watt hours per mile) or 3.59 miles/kWh. With the energy in one gallon of gas, it could go 121 miles.
This is exactly how the EPA generates their MPGe metric. It’s a bit of a silly calculation because you’re never going to build a car that can extract 33.7 kWh from a gallon of gasoline, but I think it is useful to understand how all those calculations work. And when you hear about how efficient a particular car is, remember that 70% of the energy it’s consuming is lost as a byproduct.
The Tesla Cybertruck was released last week. It was announced all the way back in 2019 and now customers are finally taking deliveries. Let’s start with the positives…
The truck is an incredible feat of engineering. The AWD version does 0-60mph in 4.1 seconds and the “Cyberbeast” model does it in just 2.6 seconds. It does all that while having almost as much payload and towing capacity as my maxed-out internal combustion F150. As a visual to help explain how wild it is to cover both ends of the speed/towing spectrum, Tesla released this video of a Porsche losing a drag race to a Cybertruck… while the Cybertruck is also towing the same Porsche model.
There’s a video showing it in winning handily in a pulling competition against other EV trucks and a diesel F350. There’s also a video of the truck being “bulletproof” or at least bullet resistant. During development it was claimed that the truck would also be able to cross open water though I haven’t seen that independently tested yet.
So yes, it’s a technological marvel, but (and this is a big but)… yuck. It looks like a Pontiac Aztec had a baby with a kindergartener’s drawing of a truck. Teslas have extremely low coeffecients of drag and I’m sure that factored into the design, but still, I know that design is subjective, but I have zero interest in driving this eyesore.
When it was announced four years ago, I disliked it so much that I worried it would sink the whole company. Now we’re in a world where Tesla is probably going to claim the title of best selling vehicle on the planet of 2024. They will probably be ok even if the Cybertruck is a flop.
But will it be a flop? I doubt it. It might level out to be the lowest selling of their models after the initial hype, but I think they’ll sell enough of them to cover their development costs. Tesla incite a fan reaction only seen in companies like Apple. They can make anything they want and people will line up to buy it and rave about how great it is.
If I was replacing my internal combustion F150 today, I’d probably end up buying another gas truck. Rivian is good but their trucks are small for what I want. The electric F150 is intersting but I don’t trust the traditional manufacturers to make a good EV or back it up with a good ownership experience. We’ll get to a point where big trucks make sense as EVs, but I think today the best we can do is smaller trucks like the Rivian R1T.
These Tesla Tuesday posts usually talk about experiences with our Model Y and reasons why I’m happy with our decision. Tesla has the highest brand loyalty, but that doesn’t mean I recommend them to everyone or that I’d buy one myself in every situation. So who would I NOT recommend get an electric car?
If you live in an apartment, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a lot of charging options. Landlords are quickly realizing the importance of this amenity, but if I couldn’t charge where I normally park, that would remove a lot of the convenience for me. Even if the complex had a few chargers that people could share, I still probably wouldn’t go for it. I love coming home, plugging in the car, and then ignoring it until the morning when I walk out to a full charge.
If you have expensive electricity, it can change the math a lot. We pay $0.11/kWh hour here in the Seattle area, but in New Hampshire it’s $0.29/kWh! That’s getting close to Supercharger rates which are around $0.45-0.55/kWh. While all of those are still a lot cheaper than gas, it’s a wide range and needs to be part of your math if you’re doing this to save money. Then again, California has the most expensive electricity in the country but they’re also gaga for electric cars so there are more factors at play than just electricity costs.
If you get a new phone and spend the next six months grumbling about how everything changed, this probably isn’t for you. Electric cars usually get the fanciest new tech.
If you’re thinking about getting anything other than a Tesla, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re literally never going to take it on a trip that would require you to charge away from home. The non-Tesla charging networks are unbelievably horrible and I wouldn’t take a road trip if I had to rely on them. If you think I’m exaggerating, watch this fantastic comparison video or the many videos like it. Once all the non-Tesla muggles can charge at Superchargers, this becomes a non-issue, but then we’ll have to see what kind of crowding problems we have and see which of the other companies die off in the shakeout.
If you hate electric vehicles because… just because, then obviously I wouldn’t even be talking about this to you. Multiple times, even in this area, I’ve had some truck get in front of me and purposely “roll coal” to cover me in exhaust. Maybe they still wouldn’t want one if they had more info, but so many people blow off all EVs due to talking points from 24-hour cable news that simply aren’t true.
If you’re an expert car mechanic and you enjoy the work, there won’t be much that you can do on your EV. Being able to do most/all of your own car work also changes the math when considering how much an EV could save you.
If you drive more than 200 miles a day, you probably wouldn’t want an EV. I wrote a long post about choosing an EV with enough range, but the takeaway was to consider the high end of your common daily use case and then multiply that mileage by 1.5 or 2 to get the target EPA range to have stress free drives in all conditions.
If you take a lot of road trips and you don’t want to do any extra planning, an EV is probably not for you. While the car will tell you exactly where to stop and for how long, our trips go a lot smoother when I have tweaked that plan a bit for stops with good bathrooms, restaurants, etc. A long road trip feels like hopping between islands so there’s not a ton of flexibility if you’re trying to be efficient with your time.
If you’re going to do a lot of towing or hauling, a gas/diesel truck is still your best bet. Rivian makes an electric truck and Tesla has something sort of truck shaped coming out soon, but despite what the marketing materials say, you’re not going to be asking a front-end loader to dump a yard of gravel in the back. And even if you could tow your camper with it, you’re going to stop so often for charging (and you’ll have to unhook every time) that it’s silly.
One thing that’s not on this list is “if you don’t live close to a charging station…” The area within 75-100 miles of my house is the area where I care least about charging stations. In fact, I think that living far from a charger could be a good reason to get an EV because you’re probably live away from a city and getting anything (including gas) requires a significant amount of time. Instead, you could wake up every morning to a full charge. The only time I care about public stations is when I’m on a long road trip somewhere.
As I wrap this up, my text editor is complaining about all the uses of “probably” in this post, but I’m going to leave them in because there really are a lot of factors. However, I do think that the list of reasons to not get an EV is shrinking as the years go by. Millions of people are making the switch, but it will take time for to cover everyone’s unique scenario.
As I’ve explained before, we jumped into a Model Y because my math convinced me that we’d at least break even when compared to the gas powered Ford Escape that we would have bought instead. That required us to save about $20,000 over the first 100,000 miles. All my calculations were done with gas prices at $3.50 and since they’ve been so much higher, our little experiment is working out quite well. We’re on track to save more than $16,000 in gas alone so if prices keep going up, we might make most of that $20,000 savings in fuel prices alone without even considering lower service costs and higher resale value.
Here’s the kicker: Our same Model Y now costs $8500 less! Plus some buyers will be elligible for a $7500 federal tax credit for a potential savings of $16,000 over what we bought. This means that the “will it save me money” decision is a no-brainer now. Obviously there are plenty of other factors that go into whether and EV fits your situation, but cost isn’t one of them if you’re comparing against other similar new cars.
The average price of a car sold in the US today is $48,000. A Model 3 starts at $38,990 and the Model Y starts at $43,990. The Long Range Model Y that we have starts at $48,490 which is just over the average price. All of these numbers are without the potential $7500 tax credit too. The chart below shows the delta between the Model 3 and Model Y compared to the average new car purchase price. (We got our Model Y price locked in around October of 2021.)
Priced used to be a sticking point when getting people into an EV because you had to pay up front and trust that the savings would come. Now we’re moving into a world where they compete on sticker price and THEN you get bonus savings on top of that over the life of the car.
Cars in general are still expensive and there are easy ways to spend way less than the average US car price by fixing the car you have already, buying a used car, or buying a lower priced new model. There’s still a gap in good EV options towards the lower end of the price spectrum, but the way things are going, that will get filled too. Lower priced cars will be important as countries inch closer to the mandated cutoffs for sales of gas vehicles. The chart below (via notateslaapp.com) shows when various areas are planning to change. It’s notable that nobody has fully hit their dates yet and these do get pushed back so we’ll see if/when we fully get there.
While it’s fun to see more people agreeing with the choice that we made, the bulk of my enjoyment comes from watching our “total savings calculator” spitting out bigger and bigger numbers while we bop around in a car that’s fun to drive with almost zero maintenance.
Now if you’ll excuse me, after 30,000 miles, we’ve had our first part in need of replacement: wiper blades.
For this Tesla Tuesday, I’m going to talk about taking a road trip that wasn’t in a Tesla!
Back in June we took a ~2500-mile road trip to Moab, UT in our Model Y and I did a full writeup about the experience. Recently, due to some unforeseen circumstances, we ended up driving to northeast Montana, and given the complete lack of charging infrastructure in that area, we took our F150 on the ~2000-mile trip. We spent two days getting out there and two days coming back. This was a rare opportunity to take two multi-day road trips in very different vehicles. So how did the F150 fare after our experience with the Model Y?
If you’re not familiar with northeast Montana, you should know that it’s extremely difficult to get to. An Oxford University study listed Glasgow, MT (our destination) as the hardest city in the United States and they have proudly adopted the “official middle of nowhere” slogan. Glasgow has a population of 3300 people making it the 23rd largest municipality in Montana. The closest city with at least that population is Lewiston, MT 200 miles away. The interstate doesn’t go anywhere near Glasgow. About half of the trip is on two lane highways. The train is a viable way to get from Seattle to Glasgow, but given the rules about Amtrak having to cede right of way to freight trains, your 20-30 hour scheduled train ride might be doubled. When an electric vehicle did venture into Montana away from the interstate, it ended up on the front page of the local paper. Thankfully we still have one foot in the world of internal combustion engines and the truck makes a great road trip vehicle.
Pros of driving the truck on a long road trip:
Gas stations are everywhere. While there are long stretches of road with no gas on this route, it was easy to find one whenever we needed it.
We could drive over 400 miles without refueling. This meant we had the option for more bathroom-only stops at rest areas. While the Model Y has a theoretical range of ~330 miles, I rarely planned anything more than 200 between charges given the relative lack of charging infrastructure.
There was tons of room to carry our all our gear. We even threw a full size cooler in the back to keep snacks and lunches cool. We ate breakfast and lunch in the car on all our travel days which sped up the trip and saved us money.
There is more room in the cab for us to have things like pillows and snacks.
When we drove the Tesla to Moab, I would plan on getting to the midway stopping point hotel with a low battery and then while Tyla and Elijah swam in the pool, I’d go out to charge again. One night with the truck I did go out to fill up the tank but that was much faster than putting a big charge on the battery.
It’s nice stopping at travel plazas where we can wash the windows, use the bathroom, and get some snacks all in the same spot.
It was nice to blend in when we were in northeast Montana. A Tesla would have stuck out like I was Elton John in a sequin jacket.
Cons of driving the truck on a long road trip:
Gas is expensive! Montana has significantly cheaper gas than Washington, but we still spent over $400 on gas alone. We averaged 19.8mpg on the way out and 19.1mpg on the way back due to a major headwind for the first ~5 hours of our trip. If we could have used chargers on the way, we would have only paid around $150 in charging fees.
You’ll never believe this, but I had to manually steer the truck! What nonsense is this? Joking aside, I did miss the autopilot features of the Tesla.
The Model Y is AWD and the truck is RWD. It does have four wheel drive but I don’t think it would be a good idea to leave that on for hours on the highway at high speeds. The AWD system gives me a lot more confidence especially on windy, wet roads.
While the truck does have Android Auto, it means that I have to leave my phone plugged in to the car all the time. Sometimes when everyone else is sleeping or listening to their own thing, I like to pop in one headphone and listen to a podcast. I can’t do that without disconnecting Android Auto which means we don’t get traffic alerts and nobody else can listen to music. In the Tesla, the default maps are great and we have Spotify built into the car.
The truck doesn’t have automatic climate control so I kept having to futz with the temperature controls.
But how about our travel speed? Did we get there faster since we didn’t have to stop to charge? I kept a detailed log on the way out so I could analyze things. Our average overall trip speed with the Tesla was almost identical to the truck with the truck being a few mph faster on our return trip. We made a total of 5 stops (plus our overnight stop) that averaged about 9 minutes each. The distance between the stops is about the same as if we had needed to charge, but we saved time by not having to charge. Most charging stops are 10-20 minutes so some of the stops were ~10 minutes faster than they would have been in an electric car. Your results may vary depending on how much of an iron bladder your occupants have.
So which vehicle will we take on the next trip? The Tesla. It’s not much of a contest. Nothing on the “pro” list for the truck is worth the extra price of gas, and the Tesla has those other items in its favor too. The only sticking point is, like the Montana trip, if charging will be hard. Situations like that are already rare, and they will be decreasing more over the next 5-10 years as the US standardizes on the Tesla charging connector and more charging stations get built both for fast charging and for overnight charging.
I live in a bubble of the highest per-capita EV ownership in the country. This trip was a good reminder of the huge amount of land that the EV infrastructure needs to cover and the diversity of people that it needs to win over. All of that will take time, so for now I’m sticking by my general statement that an EV can save a lot of people money today, but I’d be hesitant to recommend one to a single car family in most cases.
EV batteries are made up of many lithium-ion cells. Lithium is light and it can store a lot of energy which is a great combination for an electric car. However, extracting lithium from the ground requires a lot of water, energy, and chemicals and a lot of the world’s lithium is found in places that are already very dry. There are additional chemicals like cobalt, nickel, manganese, and aluminum which have their own problems including human rights issues.
So these batteries are full of nasty materials. Aren’t we just trading one fossil fuel (oil) for these other limited resources? The difference is that when you burn gas, it’s gone. When you use up an EV battery, there’s still a future for it.
First, EV batteries might not be suitable for the high demands of an electric car anymore, but they might be plenty for a lower drain application such as providing backup power for your house.
Second, EV batteries are incredibly recyclable. Estimates vary but around 95% of the material in an EV battery (and in any lithium battery from your cell phone, power tools, etc.) can be reclaimed through recycling. Recycling also releases fewer greenhouse gases than mining new minerals.
The current challenge is that recycling is expensive, but today the raw materials are abundant, and mining can roughly keep up with the demand, but the economics will change in the future as materials are harder to find, the demand for new batteries increases, and more EV batteries are nearing the ends of their lives. Additionally, some of the recent economic incentives for US battery production can be applied to EV battery recycling as well.
So yes, EV batteries are bad for the environment, but we should be able to keep reusing the materials that are being mined. And just because this process is messy doesn’t mean it’s worse than what is happening with gasoline today. The process of extracting oil, refining it, and burning gas is plenty nasty but comparing the two is beyond the scope of this post.
If you want to see this in action, check out this short YouTube video walkthrough of a battery recycling plant in Arizona, or check out the links below it for more reading materials:
We recently put 2500 miles on our Tesla Model Y and the road trip was a great experience. However, there was one stretch where I had some range anxiety for the first time. We left Twin Falls, ID with 82% charge which should have been enough to get us into Meridian, ID with 25% remaining. However, as we set out, our range was decreasing rapidly, and I was predicting that we’d get there with around 10-15% remaining. That’s still plenty of buffer, but it was disconcerting. I say this not to scare anyone off of EV’s but to make sure I’m not all roses and butterflies when I talk about driving one. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what happened, but I suspect a combination of the following based on the minute-by-minute data that was logged from the car.
It was HOT. Temperatures were between 99 and 104 on that stretch of the trip. HVAC can consume quite a bit of battery when it’s that hot.
The speed limit was 80mph and I had the cruise set at 85mph. More on speed’s impact on efficiency later.
We were driving into a headwind.
Traffic was heavy-ish so there was a lot of slowing down and speeding up.
I expect the car’s estimation to take all these things into account, but something was definitely off. About 5 miles out from the supercharger in Boise, we spotted a Tesla with lights flashing going about 60mph trying to conserve energy and I assume they hit the same issue but didn’t notice it soon enough. My guess is that our trips were flagged by the engineers at Tesla and hopefully our experience will help improve their estimation models.
For my part, I decided early on to back off my speed and set the cruise at 78mph. This felt about as slow as I could go without being an annoying rock in the stream. That quickly helped to stabilize the estimate. Click on the link below to see all the charts from this stretch of the trip.
We made it with no trouble, but it was the first time that I had thought about what would happen if we didn’t make it. Some stretches of these roads also had signs about “no gas for X miles” but it’s easier to bring a gas can to your car than it is to bring your car to a charger.
I do think it’s interesting how much easier it is to calculate the exact impact of driving at different speeds and heats. When we cruise at 85mph, we were using 360-380 watts per mile but when we cruise at 65 it’s more like 250-270 watts per mile. That’s a ~40% increase in energy usage for an extra 20mph. This same thing happens in a gas-powered car too, but with a bigger tank and less data, you don’t always notice it as easily.
While TeslaMate does show me average efficiency by temperature, it doesn’t have a dashboard for efficiency by speed. It’s tricky to calculate because of all the various factors at play (temperature, elevation, traffic impact, driving style, etc), but if we take a naive approach and look at average efficiency in kWh based on average speed in mph for an entire trip segment, it looks like the chart below. Take this with a grain of salt because as I mentioned, this is a very rough estimate. I would expect an exponentially increasing line. Below about 35mph, there’s not a lot of data since I only used trips of at least 20 miles and I don’t often drive that far that slowly.
With a gas car, your efficiency peaks around 45mph and at slow speeds, you waste a lot of extra energy, but with an electric car, you can go almost as slow as you want and keep using less energy. However, at high speeds, they act similarly: drag increases with the square of speed. Driving a car with a very low coefficient of drag does help, you’re still bound by the laws of physics.
My big post about our long road trip covered a lot of data, but later, I wondered about our average speed including all the stops. When I planned long trips with the family, I would shoot for 60mph including stops. On my motorcycle, I planned 50mph because I would stop a lot more often. Even with some silly stops where we knew we were being very inefficient just to take things slower, our 2000+ mile road trip averaged out to 58.1mph. So for our family, driving an EV gets us there just as fast as driving a gas car. Your mileage may vary depending on the size and strength of your bladders!
Over the last few weeks, a flood of car makers and charging networks have stated that they will adopt the NACS charging connector, otherwise known as the Tesla connector. Previously there were two main standards for fast charging: NACS and CCS. There were also a flood of slower chargers.
Having all the automakers in North America adopt the NACS connector means that Tesla will proceed with opening their supercharging network to all electric vehicles as they’ve done in other parts of the globe. That’s great for non-Tesla owners as the Tesla supercharger network is in a different league compared to other networks. It’s extremely rare to pull up to any Tesla charger and find it working. Conversely, it’s rare to pull up to something like Electrify America and find all the chargers working. We just completed a 2500-mile road trip in our Model Y, and while I was confident in the Tesla network, I don’t know that I would have even attempted it with a non-Tesla purely because of the lack of reliability in non-Tesla charging networks.
Having all the networks use the same plug is great, but it doesn’t mean that the other networks are going to be any more reliable. That needs to be a major focus for them in the coming years. The infrastructure needs to be rock solid for people to trust it. They need to not only adopt the charging standard, but the reliability standard that Tesla has set.
As a Tesla owner, I want to see the industry grow and build standards, but it’s a bit of a bummer to have “muggles” at my supercharger. Part of the reason I paid a premium for a Tesla is specifically because of the fantastic charging network. Now it’s more likely that I’ll pull up to a station with no empty chargers. That should be a temporary problem, and with a single standard, we should start to see more people getting creative with their charging stations. I look forward to the day when I can pull into a standard travel plaza on my road trip and charge my car while I use the restroom, get some food, and clean my windshield.
Up until our trip to Moab, we had never done a trip that required multiple charges away from home, but we sure put that behind us with this trip. Our total drive was around 2500 miles there and back. The video at the end of this post covers the drive to Moab.
There are a few things that I didn’t cover in the video:
Supercharging is almost irrelevant for daily life. I wrote this whole post and made a video about this because we’ve gone 20,000 miles in our car, and we’ve only used a supercharger a few times. Charging like this is a novel experience for us! I often hear people say, “Oh I can’t get an electric car because there are no chargers around me.” The chargers near you don’t matter. You’ll probably never use a charger within 100 miles of your house because you constantly have a charged car when you wake up (assuming you can charge where you park.) The only time you need a good charger network is if you decide to take your EV on a long road trip, and even then, if you have two cars, you could just drive your gas car. So the “what’s it like to charge an EV?” question is something I thought a lot about before I got the car, and now I hardly think about it at all. My car is always charged and it requires about 5 seconds to plug it in when I get home. It only comes into play when we’re taking a long road trip.
Charing at a supercharger is extremely easy. When we stopped to charge, the car was charging before my family even got out of the car. I’d park, hop out, grab the charger, and plug it in. There’s no fumbling with a credit card or an app. The charger communicates with the car and automatically charges the credit card associated with the car. The car knows how far it needs to charge before you’re ready for the next leg of your trip or you can manually set your own limit.
Very little of the planning that I show in the video is something a normal Tesla driver would do. You could easily complete this trip while being completely oblivious of all the optimizations that I made. When you punch in your destination, the car tells you where to stop and how long to charge at each stop. It will give you many warnings if you try to leave the charger too soon or if something changes en-route and you’re unlikely to make it. This short video from Tesla explains how that works:
I had a data logger recording every datapoint from our car every few seconds and I took some video during each leg of the trip. I put it all together into a video about the trip along with my thoughts about whether I’d do it the same way again. Enjoy!