In less than four months, I have put more than 10,000 miles on my fully electric Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) Model S -- enough to get a good feel for whether Tesla vehicles live up to all the hype. From taking a 2,200-mile road trip to driving on hilly snow-packed streets, I've pushed my 85 kWh Model S to the limits. Here are my four biggest takeaways, so far, about life with a Tesla.
1. Charging is easier than you might think.
With the Model S's 265 miles of range, my wife and I rarely have to charge the car anywhere but home. Minus the charging stops we made at Tesla's high-speed Supercharger stations and free overnight charging at hotels on a round trip to California, and the free Supercharging we use at a nearby mall while shopping (Why not? It's free and we get parking right by the entrance), we've probably stopped to charge somewhere one time. To be fair, there were a few times we charged at free public charging stations when we were running errands or shopping nearby -- but not because we had to. The rest of time, we simply plug in at home and let the car charge overnight.
The freedom of not having to stop frequently to fill a gas tank is absolutely worth the one time in 10,000 miles I've needed to stop somewhere to charge the car when I'm out and about.
2. Tesla's Supercharger network is a game changer.
Without Tesla's network of Supercharger stations, Model S ownership wouldn't be the same. The fast-growing network continues to make long-distance travel easier for Tesla drivers.
Replenishing half a charge in as little as 20 minutes, or an 80% charge in about 40 minutes, Supercharger locations make life with a Model S much more enjoyable than it would be without them. Best of all, free Supercharging for life is included with the purchase of any Model S with an 85 kWh battery. Owners who opt for the smaller 60 kWh battery version of the Model S will have to pay $2,000 up front, or $2,500 after delivery.
On our trip to California, plenty of charging stations were available at every Supercharger location. I have heard from some Tesla owners, however, that they occasionally have to wait for a charging station to free up at some busy California locations. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Tesla recently launched a beta battery swap location in the state.
Currently, there are 145 Supercharger locations in the U.S. and 338 globally. Eighty percent of the U.S. population is now within 150 miles of a Supercharger location, well below the 208-mile range of even the smaller 60 kWh Model S battery.
3. Range anxiety is overstated.
One of the key arguments against electric cars is "range anxiety," or the fear of getting stranded on the side of the road because the battery has run out of charge. But is this really a problem?
I have on a few occasions worried about the range left on my battery. One time can be blamed on negligence, when I simply ignored the miles on my battery before I returned home on a 60-mile trip after driving more than 200 miles. The other two times were different lessons I hopefully have to learn only once: One involved lots of uphill driving, and the other freezing temperatures and a snowstorm (running the heater and driving up hills both take a meaningful -- but manageable -- toll on the range for a Model S).
To put the impact hills have on range in perspective, Nick J. Howe explained in his book, Owning Model S, that "gaining 5,000 ft of elevation in Model S takes the same amount of energy as driving 30 miles at 60 mph." That's a pretty nasty dent! But here's where the Model S makes up for this drawback: As long as the driver comes back down the hill, much of this loss is regained with regenerative braking. "Model S gains most of that energy back (about 80%) when you come down," Howe writes.
To illustrate scenarios like this, this image shows 30 miles of energy regenerated, used, and regenerated again while driving on I-70 through the Rocky Mountains.
It's also worth noting that, unlike the gas-powered cars around me, not once during these 30 miles did I ever have to use my brake pads, since I could use regenerative braking going downhill to slow the car.
Using the range calculator on Tesla's website: An 85 kWh rear-wheel-drive Model S driving at 70 mph in 0 degree Fahrenheit with the heater running will have a range of 218 miles. This compares to 263 miles with no climate control and an outside temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit at the same speed.
I doubt I'll repeat mistakes related to projecting energy consumed by running the heater and driving up hills. Overall, I have found that since I can charge at home each night, managing range is incredibly easy.
4. Most people are clueless about Tesla.
It seems like my wife and I get an endless stream of questions about our Tesla. Even more surprising, I often meet people who have never even heard of Tesla.
One of the most common initial questions we get from strangers and friends is, "Who makes the car?" After we explain the car is made by Tesla, they often persist: "But who makes Tesla?"
Furthermore, most people don't know Tesla now has an all-wheel-drive version of the Model S, are completely unaware of the fast-growing Supercharger network, and have never heard of regenerative braking.
I can say that driving a Model S for 10,000 miles has made me more confident in Tesla's future. There is a strong value proposition in driving a fully electric car. As consumers are educated about Tesla and the price to buy one of its cars comes down with the launch of the Model 3, I believe demand will be robust enough for the company to grow rapidly for years.
But investors should note that I'm not alone in my optimism about the future for Tesla vehicles. Indeed, judging by Tesla's $26.4 billion market capitalization, the market seems to share the same rosy outlook for the company. So, huge growth for Tesla is already priced into the stock. While owning the car has helped me confirm that I prefer to hold shares for the long haul, I'd tread carefully when it comes to buying shares of Tesla given the stock's pricey valuation.