My Supercharged Trip to LA

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The vacillations in the stock market have made me not want to write anything about charts, so let me share with you a positive anecdote about Tesla (which is reporting earnings this afternoon, I believe).

One of the big appeals of the Tesla is its relatively long driving range. Whereas a Nissan Leaf, the other all-electric vehicle we own, will realistically get you about 70 miles on a full charge, the Tesla will give you about 270. This means that driving from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe or Los Angeles becomes practical in an all-electric vehicle.

0508-chargersTesla’s brilliant founder, Elon Musk, went a step further and is having Tesla Supercharger stations set up all over the country. In California, these charging stations are strategically placed at the midpoints of all the major trips most Californians would want to take. And, whereas a charge at home is an overnight affair, the Supercharger crams juice into the vehicle with big-time amperage, meaning you can get a full “tank” in about half an hour.

Last Friday, I embarked on my first long-distance trip in my Tesla. I was excited to make the journey because I had never even seen one of the charging stations, and I wanted to see how it worked. One nice aspect of these is that they are totally free. It’s just like getting free gas (except, of course, that these Superchargers are in remote locations and are only useful during infrequent, long trips). But it’s hard to argue with free electricity, because you’re essentially able to make long-distance trips for $0.

I made the first leg of the journey with no problem – the Tesla is a blast to drive – and I pulled in to Harris Ranch, halfway between Palo Alto and Los Angeles. Several other Tesla S owners were cheerfully juicing up their cars:

0508-tsla

I pulled in to an open space and plugged in the charging cable. The voltage meter on my dashboard quickly zoomed up, but I noticed something strange – – the amp level was reading 0. Now I know very little about electrical measurement, but I at least know that 0 amps is not a good thing.

Those of you who use Apple products know that sometimes you can plug in an iPad or an iPhone and it will say “Not Charging” at the top of the screen, when in fact it absolutely is charging. I’ve never bothered researching the story behind this, but I know enough to not be bothered if an Apple product claims it’s not charging, because it’s lying. I figured, hey, maybe Tesla has a similar situation. Perhaps there’s a bug in the software, and it really is juicing up, and once I unplug it I’ll see I’ve got a full charge. So I went inside the restaurant to get an early dinner.

After a little while, I went outside to check on things. The dashboard didn’t indicate any improvement. There was still very little mileage available, and it said 0 amps. I decided to pull the plug out to see if that changed the readout, so I press the Disconnect Charge Port button on the screen and went back to pull out the plug.

So I pulled on it. And it didn’t budge. I tugged again, harder. No dice. I clicked the Disconnect button, tried pulling again. Nope. So I stood there, tugging,  yanking, pulling, and grunting (this sounds exciting to some of you, perhaps, but I assure you, it wasn’t), and the damned plug wouldn’t come out.

Now I was starting to get worried. Not only was I in the middle of nowhere, but my car was basically out of gas, and the charging unit wasn’t helping. Plus it was stuck in there, chaining me to the location. I started to ask myself troublesome questions. Did I not buy a particular option that makes the supercharger work? Was my car broken somehow? And how was I going to get out of here?

To their credit, Tesla has people to answer the phone pretty much all the time, so even though it was Friday evening, I nervously called, and a real live person – – and a native English speaker, no less – – was on the phone.

I explained the situation – – and my frustration – – and he calmly asked me to try a variety of things to pull the cable out. I had already tried them, but I wasn’t about to argue with a person trying to help me. So we tried this, we tried that, and I was getting increasingly agitated. However, long years with computers have taught me that if you’re in a pinch, the one person you want to be polite to is the chap on the other end of the phone, so I didn’t flip out at him.

After struggling for ten minutes or so, he told me to reset the car. This is basically the equivalent of a Ctrl-Alt-Del on the vehicle, since it’s basically a big computer that happens to have wheels. So we did that. I went back to pull out the plug……….no dice. But after some wiggling and waggling, voom, like Excalibur, it finally came out.

Now, the moment of truth……….I drove the car to a different charging plug (all of ten feet away). I plugged it in………..and………….zoom!……….the amp level went racing up to levels I had never seen before. The electron flow had gone from absolutely nothing to a waterfall, and the miles available on the dashboard were accumulating in a big hurry. I announced to the guy he was now my favorite person in the world, because all the things I had worried about (stuck in Coalinga? Dead car? Umbical-imprisonment?) vanished instantly.

I tell this tale to say that not only does Tesla have a great vehicle, they have great customer service as well. Fantastic car, free electricity, wonderful customer care – – – I say again, I think this company has a great future ahead of it!