Charging Ahead on an Electric Highway

Los Angeles

LAST Monday I drove the Model S, a full-size sedan recently introduced by Tesla, the California electric-car start-up, from Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles. I covered 531 miles and the drive took 11.5 hours, during which the car consumed zero gasoline and produced no tailpipe emissions.

My route, the first a Model S owner might take using Tesla Motors’ network of so-called Superchargers, previewed a significant advance in the practicality of battery-electric cars. Tesla’s string of strategically placed high-speed chargers made possible something that has not been available to American E.V. drivers: the ability to make a long-distance drive in a single day.

The Supercharger, Tesla’s name for a proposed nationwide network of electric-car filling stations, outlines the most tangible blueprint so far of petroleum-free driving in the United States. “The one big holdout with most E.V.’s today is that you can’t take a road trip,” said J B Straubel, Tesla’s chief technical officer. “What happens if I want to go across the country? I can’t tell you how many times we get that question.”

Tesla’s answer is to install powerful charging stations — pumping electricity at 90 kilowatts, adding about 250 miles of range in an hour — at key locations between major cities. There’s plenty of range for intracity travel. The goal of the charging network is to enable intercity journeys, eventually on a nationwide basis.

Before the end of October, the company plans to open its first charging locations to customers who have bought the Model S. Owners with the 85-kilowatt-hour battery, which comes equipped to use the Supercharger system (the fast-charge capability is optional on the 60 kilowatt-hour model) will receive free electric fuel for life at the stations.

Mr. Straubel said he saw the high-speed chargers as “the final piece of the whole technology suite” enabling Tesla to “take on an enormous part of the market we couldn’t reach before.”



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