How Tesla Is Addressing Range Anxiety And Sticker Shock And Global Warming

Tesla Motors and Elon Musk have been in the news a lot lately, receiving coverage of their recent successes — Climate Progress certainly included.

Musk took a serious gamble to start an American electric car company, kept it going with help from almost half a billion in Energy Department loans, and has seen Tesla rise from shaky uncertainty into a profitable luxury electric automaker whose products earn the highest ratings from Motor Trend and Consumer Reports.

But should clean tech outlets and those watching for advacements in zero-emission transportation hold Tesla aloft as the Next Big Thing? Some conservative outlets have abandoned their attacks on Tesla or ignored its successes.

Yet there are understandable criticisms of the company’s business model. “Range anxiety” is a concern for many. And no matter how highly rated it may be, the vast majority of people will never be able to afford the Model S, currently priced between $60,000-90,000. The profit that Tesla reported in the first quarter of this year was not achieved entirely through selling cars, but through selling $68 million in Zero-Emissions credits through California state law.

Is Tesla here to stay? And should it be the poster car that so many have recently lauded as a sign of a new gasoline-free transportation system?

One hurdle for Tesla is range. It excels as a city car. But unlike new car companies that can rely on existing gas stations to give drivers peace of mind when it comes time for refueling, a Model S is tethered to the network of charging stations on a long road trip. Tesla essentially has to build the recharging infrastructure more quickly than their cars can drive. Which is what Musk said Tesla is trying to do.

A company press release announced last week that this year it will vastly expand the supercharger network its cars use to refuel — for free. This year, the network will “connect most of the major metro areas in the US and Canada,” and a year from now, the company says the network will stretch across the continent. The chargers themselves have been upgraded to allow for a full three hours of driving in less than a half hour.

What this means is that in 2014, a Tesla owner will be able to drive from coast to coast and all places in between, for free, stopping every three hours for a 20-30 minute pit stop. As the nation decarbonizes and states increase the portion of their electric grid sourced from clean energy (through renewable energy standards), the net carbon pollution from Tesla vehicles will drop steadily over time.

This network would be very helpful for Tesla drivers, and only Tesla drivers. What happens to the rest of the population that may see the supercharger network, gets over “range anxiety” but comes face to face with a new level of sticker shock? Why not just get a relatively cheaper gasoline hybrid like the Prius or even a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt?

Musk sees this as a concern too, and appears to be moving to meet that challenge. He told Blooomberg West: “What the world really needs is a great, affordable electric car. I’m not going to let anything go, no matter what people offer, until I complete that mission.” He said the idea was to have the car ready in three to four years, with a price below $40,000, and a range of 200 miles per charge.

Those watching Tesla’s stock price spike should be comforted by long-term investments in charging stations and Musk’s commitment to making new kinds of electric cars the more people can afford. A Tesla version of a Smart Car would be a sight to see. Those watching Tesla make profits from California Zero-Emissions credits might keep in mind that a nascent technology like the electric car industry is not only competing with established gasoline-powered vehicle infrastructures. The industry is also, at least implicitly, trying to cut the amount of oil required to move people around, along with the emissions the current system generates.

Musk certainly wants to make money, and create something lasting in America. He also sees climate change as a “catastrophic” threat, explaining to the Climate Leadership Gala last month:

If you were to ask any scientist, ‘Are you absolutely certain about anything,’ they would say, ‘Well, no. There’s a .001 percent chance it could be different.’ So it’s better to actually say, ‘Look, how certain are you that it is not catastrophic?’ And then you’ll get the correct answer.

He then advocated for a carbon tax, and after an applause, said “It’s funny, when I was talking to Congress about this I didn’t nearly get that much applause.”

21 Responses to How Tesla Is Addressing Range Anxiety And Sticker Shock And Global Warming

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    Ryan wrote: “A Tesla version of a Smart Car would be a sight to see.”

    The Smart EV is aleady available. Of course, it only costs $25,000. The “Tesla version” would cost at least twice that.

  2. Spec says:

    Range Anxiety? Are you kidding? If “range anxiety” is problem with the Model S then we might as well give up on EVs. With a 200 or 265 mile range it is just fine on range. You need to go further, well consider an airline ticket or rent/borrow/own/carshare a hybrid car.

    Most EVs out there have ranges of 70 to 80 miles. Those need to be moved up but only to a around 100 miles. If you go much beyond 100 miles, you just price most consumers out of the market.

    You need to realize that 98% of daily driving is less than 100 miles a day. It is foolish to pay an extra $10K for a much larger battery that you only need 2% of the time. Just spend a few hundred to rent a gas car for those long trips.

  3. Lore says:

    Good point, we not only have to get off of oil, but the automobile kick too. Anything beyond a 100 miles should be picked up by some type of affordable low impact mass transit.

  4. Howard says:

    RANGE ANXIETY is a media invention !
    People who own EV’s do not suffer from it.
    How did my friend Rafael de Mestre drive his
    TESLA ROADSTER 2.5 that has none of the high end built in charge tech the Model S has and with no Supercharger infrastructure drive
    28,000KM around the world in 3 months last summer ? Well he did it. RANGE ANXIETY is total bollocks !!

  5. Brian R Smith says:

    Agreed. If I want range I could hop on Musk’s proposed Hyperloop mass transport system (or board the 1st Space X ship to Mars). Meanwhile what I need is a bare bones, short range, all wheel drive, small pickup that likes rough roads into town – & back, where my own solar system does the charging. Under $10k please, otherwise an old dirt bike with a lumber rack on a sidecar will be competitive.

  6. Dave Allison says:

    Two additional things are necessary to complete the revolution in power for cars as well as households: First is a substantially improved battery. Musk has the funding to research and develop the battery we need. Second is a carbon tax; clear, simple and effective.

  7. FarmerZita says:

    Yep, I am still waiting for an EV AWD small pickup. With you there, Brian Smith.

  8. colinc says:


    How will you make any EV go anywhere when (not if) the entire grid goes dead, permanently? How many of you believe that won’t happen by 2020?

  9. Omega Centauri says:

    the real extended range competition is between plugin hybrids (i.e. gasoline or diesel range extender), or large batteries with fast charge networks. Some people tout generator trailers, where you tow a running generator -turning your EV into a hybrid for your trip. It is unclear which will win, a plugin hybrid has the additional expense/complexity of two drive systems, whereas battery capacity is pricey. We will have to wait and see how the market develops.

  10. Brooks Bridges says:

    How long will a gas powered car go if grid dies and can’t pump gas? Ask Sandy victims.

    How long will ANYTHING keep going if grid dies?

  11. Endofmore says:

    commenters on here miss the point
    over a century ago, when Ford and Daimler and the Wright brothers were tinkering around with ways of using the internal combustion engine, they were just–‘tinkering’, they had no concept or intention of altering the global system of living for everyone, and kickstarting the industrial economy of the 20th century
    Above all they did not have billions of people waiting expectantly for them to ”come up with something” to maintain a ‘way of life’.
    But that is where we are right now. We have the odd expectation that somehow we can continue our wheeled lifestyle pretty much unchanged into infinity. Tesla cars are brilliant piece of technical innovation, but ultimately they are a product of hydrocarbon energy input, both through their manufacturing and the subsidy needed to make them viable. Ultimately private transportation is a symbolic spinoff from the industrial prosperity of our developed society, it does not make society itself viable or sustainable in the long term.
    The apparent wealth of our society has been created in basic terms by the conversion of (cheap) fossil fuels into food, private cars are a pleasant extra benefit. ie we have been able to afford them.
    We are not going to be able to convert battery power into food production. Our problem is not transport, it going to be finding enough to eat.

  12. Joan Savage says:

    Living in an urban neighborhood, I don’t have much range anxiety, but I have what could be called connection anxiety.

    I could do without my car on most days if delivery trucks and mini-buses were common, both of which can be EV. I’d like to see an EV taxi service. But at present, connections are difficult so the car still has a niche.

  13. rollin says:

    The rich play while the world burns.

    I still think the only practical vehicle is the hydraulic hybrid, no need for a heavy expensive battery made from rare materials and gets great city mpg. Imagine using almost no gasoline in stop and go traffic.

  14. Gingerbaker says:

    If we have to go 100% electric transportation (and we DO), we don’t we simply electrify the road, not the car?

    Instead of manufacturing millions upon millions of heavy, expensive car batteries and millions and million of expensive car battery chargers, why don’t we simply electrify the road?

    The technology to do this is almost ready to go. It would be much less expensive than the current approach.

    Once again, large-scale publicly-funded projects like electrifying the roads is a much better answer to society’s problems than a decentralized approach (like putting a billion batteries in a billion cars)

    How come we don’t read more articles about this approach?

  15. Gingerbaker says:

    No, our problem is too much greenhouse gases in the air. These come from fossil fuels. So, we will have to convert sunlight and wind into tractor fuel to grow our food.

    Do you see that as an intractable engineering problem, because I sure don’t.

  16. SecularAnimist says:

    Gingerbaker wrote: “why don’t we simply electrify the road?”

    It’s been done. It’s called “rail”.

  17. Calamity Jean says:

    What is a “hydraulic hybrid”? I’ve never heard of it.

  18. Endofmore says:

    better get the patent application in before anybody else thinks of that

  19. rollin says:

    It’s a combination of an ICE (diesel or gas) engine with a hydraulic motor. There is a high pressure storage vessel that stores braking energy and reuses it through the hydraulics. This has been used in large vehicles such as garbage trucks and buses, getting up to double the efficiency.
    Here is an article showing this technology in cars.

  20. Gingerbaker says:

    They already have. It’s called biofuel. Or batteries. Or hydrogen. Take your pick.