Teslas’ Estimated Range Does Not Reflect Driving Conditions ⇥ reuters.com
Steve Stecklow and Norihiko Shirouzu, Reuters:
Tesla years ago began exaggerating its vehicles’ potential driving distance – by rigging their range-estimating software. The company decided about a decade ago, for marketing purposes, to write algorithms for its range meter that would show drivers “rosy” projections for the distance it could travel on a full battery, according to a person familiar with an early design of the software for its in-dash readouts.
Tesla supervisors told some virtual team members to steer customers away from bringing their cars into service whenever possible. One current Tesla “Virtual Service Advisor” described part of his job in his LinkedIn profile: “Divert customers who do not require in person service.”
Such advisors handled a variety of issues, including range complaints. But last summer, Tesla created the Las Vegas “Diversion Team” to handle only range cases, according to the people familiar with the matter.
Tesla also updated its phone app so that any customer who complained about range could no longer book service appointments, one of the sources said. Instead, they could request that someone from Tesla contact them. It often took several days before owners were contacted because of the large backlog of range complaints, the source said.
A large portion of this report conveys Tesla’s internal decision-making based on the word of a single source. I am a little surprised Reuters decided to publish it.
Scott Case, of Recurrent, which is a service that monitors electric vehicle batteries and provides information to current owners and buyers of used vehicles:
The reality is that the laws of physics apply to Tesla, too – Tesla is not much different than other automakers. When you need to heat and cool your car – and your battery – in hot and cold weather conditions, you can’t drive as far. That impact is substantially lessened when a car is equipped with a heat pump and advanced thermal management, which many newer Teslas (and other cars) are.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not like other manufacturers have perfected accurate range estimates either. Actual range varies according to all kinds of different factors, like speed, temperature or use of climate control. Every other automaker has a different approach to sharing those estimates, but it often tends to be closer to reality than Tesla’s approach.
All electric cars are affected by temperature because people turn on the heater or air conditioner. So, too, are cars with internal combustion engines — the Canadian government estimates fuel consumption is increased by up to 20% because of air conditioners.
But there are chemistry changes which are specific to electric vehicles, and the combined impact on range is notable. Recurrent’s data indicates the Chevrolet Bolt and Ford Mustang Mach-E both get around 65% of their EPA-estimated range in sub-freezing temperatures, while Tesla models get less than half their estimated range. Even at more temperate spring or autumn temperatures, Teslas only give around 60% of the range estimated by the EPA, while it is between 90% and a little over 100% for the Bolt and Mustang. What is unique about the Tesla models is how they consistently display a range of around 90% of the EPA sticker, no matter the conditions.
The Reuters report portrays the range estimate as deliberately misleading in the sense that it is intelligently giving drivers an optimistic number: it uses “algorithms for its range meter that […] show drivers ‘rosy’ projections”. But I think the reality is even worse — it is actually a very dumb estimate which is not adjusted based on any real-world factors. These cars are supposed to be so smart they nearly drive themselves, but they use a range calculation that is the definition of ‘ignorance is bliss’? Choosing to use this misleading estimate is obviously beneficial to Tesla because it is not affected by actual driving. Even in a best-case scenario, the data collected by Recurrent suggests a Tesla’s displayed range is not actually achievable.
Recurrent’s data also shows why so many electric cars seem to be overbuilt, and please forgive me for this slow-to-realize lightbulb moment. There are plenty of people for whom a car with a 100 kilometre range would be acceptable, and it would make electric cars more affordable.1 But if it gets closer to 50 or 60 kilometres on one charge for several months a year when it is brand new and at its best, that is a severe compromise in the ugly sprawling car-centric cities of Canada and the United States.
Reuters’ source also told the reporters that customers complaining about range problems would be denied an appointment for service. That makes sense: Tesla allegedly knew its range estimates were not a reflection of reality, so there really was nothing wrong with the cars themselves. But it is horrible for customer trust. Just two days ago, Tesla settled class-action lawsuit which claimed the company would sign a contract for installing solar panels on customers’ homes, then argue their roofs had too many angular bits and increase the cost. This does not appear to be a company that prides itself on service or communication.
Whether there is a buying market for these cars is another matter entirely. Most buyers of pickup trucks and SUVs do not need a large vehicle with those capabilities. But they are routinely the best-selling vehicles in Canada and the U.S. because people buy what they want, not what actually fits their life or their garage. ↥︎