Guest essay by Eric Worrall
First I want to make it clear that I think Tesla responded to Hurricane Irma with exemplary good faith, sacrificing their future profits to send drivers of cheaper Tesla models a free range upgrade, to help them escape Hurricane Irma. But the urgent Florida hurricane evacuation may have inadvertently highlighted an unexpected and potentially catastrophic risk associated with government policies which seek to switch drivers to electric vehicles.
How did Tesla make some of its cars travel further during Hurricane Irma?
The electric-car giant gave customers a lifeline by remotely boosting their vehicles’ battery capacity. But this act of kindness also highlighted that it had been selling identical cars at different prices
Tesla drivers who fled Hurricane Irma last weekend received an unexpected lesson in modern consumer economics along the way. As they sat on choked highways, some of the electric-car giant’s more keenly priced models suddenly gained an extra 30 or so miles in range thanks to a silent free upgrade.
The move, confirmed by Tesla, followed the request of one Florida driver for a limit on his car’s battery to be lifted. Tesla’s cheaper models, introduced last year, have the same 75KwH battery as its more costly cars, but software limits it to 80% of range. Owners can otherwise buy an upgrade for several thousands of dollars. And because Teslas software updates are online, the company can make the changes with the flick of a virtual switch.
Why do I think owning an electric car is a risk?
The distance between Miami and Valdosta, just over the border in Georgia, is 439 miles.
This 300 miles maximum represents the range of a top electric car in perfect driving conditions. I suspect in the stop / start traffic jam conditions of the Florida Hurricane Irma evacuation, the range of even the best electric cars would be substantially reduced.
I don’t know how many car drivers heeded the call to evacuate. But at the height of the Hurricane Irma crisis, according to CNBC twelve million Florida residents were ordered to leave.
A gasoline car typically has 300 – 400 miles range. Unlike an electric car, a gasoline car can be fully refuelled in minutes. Refuelling lots of gasoline cars does not place a massive strain on the electric grid. If fuel stations are too busy, a well prepared gasoline car driver can carry their own refill in the trunk – a few cans of gasoline would almost double that 400 mile range, for the price of a quick 5 minute stop by the side of the road.
Imagine if the government banned gasoline cars, so all privately owned cars were electric. Imagine if every one of those evacuees had an electric car. Imagine the chaos if millions of electric cars pulled up at the same roadside charging stations at the same time, each expecting their half hour “fast” recharge, each driver utterly desperate to bring their families to safety before the hurricane struck.