When I wrote up the review of the Tesla Model S P85D I omitted one important detail: range. It was a bit of an experiment. I wanted to see if people would freak about not including something that, in internal combustion cars, rarely gets mentioned. It didn't happen, and I think that's important, particularly given this week's range anxiety announcement from Tesla.
Tesla is using its latest software update to provide more granular data to drivers to eliminate any chance of them running out of juice. By using a combination of charging locations, environmental and road conditions, and smarter route planning, the goal is to end the dreaded "range anxiety." But I don't think it's necessary, and Elon Musk agrees.
During today's call, Musk said that, "most people, when they have a Model S, don't have range anxiety." The reason for that is simple: it's got a massive battery compared to every other electric vehicle on the market.
Since day one, the biggest advantage of the Model S hasn't been the speed or the space or even the Supercharger network, it's the range. While nearly every other EV can't crack into the triple-digits, the Model S landed three years ago with a minimum range of 200 miles.
The lowest spec 60 kWh model is rated at 208 miles, while the range-topping 85 kWh version hits 265 miles. Even the batshit P85D, with its 3.2-second 0-60 run and 691 combined horsepower, is still rated at over 250 miles – all more than enough to be considered a "real" car.
(Side note: You might remember Tesla originally planned to offer a 40 kWh model, but killed it due to a lack of interest. That was partially because the people that have the cash to drop on a Model S didn't need a budget option, but it also became clear to Tesla that offering a car with only 150-160 miles of range might negatively impact perceptions early on.)
When electric vehicles first started hitting the streets, every review devoted multiple paragraphs to range, projected range, range anxiety, and charging infrastructure. These are all valid things to consider if you're looking at an EV as your primary car. Most people that decided to go electric looked at their daily driving habits and came to the logical conclusion that they don't really need more than 80 or so miles to go about their business. But then the "what ifs" come.
Forget about the odd (or mythical) trip across country or across the state – that's where the Superchargers come in. No, the 200-mile range is there as a buffer. It's peace of mind, graphically represented on the dash to assuage fears and remove the black cloud of dread. If you get a call that you need to stop by C on your way between A and B, you're covered. And just knowing that is sometimes enough, even if you rarely use it.
This came into stark focus during my time with the P85D. There was never a point during my multiple trips – including a run to Monterey using the Gilroy Supercharger – where the pang of range anxiety reared its head. I employed the same tactic I used for my phone: opportunistic charging. Plug in when I can and don't sweat it. And I never did.
I also used the navigation system for nearly everything, including trips I've made dozens of times. I didn't need directions, but a little battery icon would pop up with the estimated amount of juice I'd have when I arrived based on my current battery level and "projected" driving habits (read: like a bit of a tool). It worked well, but it could've worked better. And that's where today's software update comes into play.
Range anxiety is a product of ignorance (mainly from people who would never own an electric car or people who buy one as a fashion accessory). Most people who buy one know what they're getting into, they aren't going to be anxious about the range since they don't expect a miracle. But the current tools employed by most electric cars still don't do nearly enough to inform the driver.
One step to address that is to employ more detailed data and use it to provide a more accurate depiction of range. Right now, these systems only track mileage to the destination and include some historical driving data to make a prediction. However, if the algorithms can take in more data points – driving style, elevation changes, outside temperature, projected traffic, or the things Tesla is starting to do – you can get a much clearer picture of exactly how much juice you'll need to get where you're going and back. It's something Better Place played with nearly three years ago, and now Tesla has more data and even more resources to put real range into clearer focus.
It's a move in the right direction and something Model S drivers will benefit from. But it's not a game-changer. Because even in its current form, the Model S tends to keep range anxiety in check with the simplest solution right now: a big ass battery.