Epic Electric American Roadtrip shatters world record, reveals truth about Supercharging

What are the three biggest factors affecting battery life? Are Superchargers as fast as Tesla claims? The record-breaking driver answers these and other questions.
Written by Alyson Windsor, Director of News & Features


portland mile zerosmaller.JPG
Norman Hajjer, mile 0, in Portland, Oregon.

Norman Hajjar is a man on a mission--in a Tesla. He’s currently crisscrossing the United States in a 12,000-mile journey to break an electric vehicle (EV) Guinness World Record, while stumping for better charging infrastructure and educating curious onlookers along the way.

When SmartPlanet spoke to Hajjar, he was somewhere west of Cleveland, Ohio, nearly three weeks into his Epic Electric American Roadtrip, having already traveled 9,253 miles, using 3,278 kwh in the process. (The stats on the site aren't updating correctly.)

That record he’s trying to break? It’s for longest traveled distance in a non-solar electric-powered vehicle and it stood at 3,534 miles. He blew right by it on his eighth day of driving.

Hajjar is managing director for Pluginsights, an EV research firm and the trip is sponsored by its parent company, Recargo Inc, which provides EV software and information services. Hajjar used the Plugshare app to help plan the roadtrip.

In traveling to all four corners of the U.S., Hajjar’s Tesla Model S sedan, powered by an 85kWh battery, has been put to the test by weather. Tire chains were even necessary in Vail, Colorado.

To see photos from his journey, click here

Has he ever been worried he won’t make it to the next Supercharger? No. Hajjar says, “You have to watch the calculations to see what the drain rate is on the battery on a mile to mile basis. You do a bunch of tests as you go to be sure that you’re not going to be in trouble. It’s relatively simple math.”

And what can you do if you notice you're not getting the efficiency level you expected from the battery? You slow down. Hajjar says, "There’s an exponential increase in drag as your speed accelerates north of 50 or 55 miles per hour. When you get up into the mid and high seventies, you’re really feeling the pain on the battery."

According to Hajjar, the three biggest variables affecting battery life are temperature, wind, and elevation. Temperature is easy to plan for, wind is out of driver control, but elevation is where things get tricky. “There’s this stretch in South Dakota where you might be rising 2,000 or 3,000 feet but you do it so gradually that you can’t see it. It’s insidious. So you have to really look at what the starting elevation is and the finishing elevation to get a sense of what’s going on.”

The flip side is that when you’re traveling the opposite way, you save energy. “You can shift the vehicle into neutral and coast and consume zero energy or you can use regenerative braking to actually create energy in the battery when you’re going downhill. You need to take advantage of those things to really optimize your range.”

But is the average driver able to handle calculating battery drain rate and checking elevation?  Hajjar says, “It’s a good question. Is that kind of a geeky thing to do or something the average person can do? I don’t really know. I do know that, because I’m doing this for such a long distance, I just want to be as efficient as I can.”

Of course, once the U.S. charging infrastructure is more built-up and fast chargers are as numerous as gas stations are now, the average person won’t need to worry about all of these energy-saving techniques.

On their site, Tesla projects that by the end of 2014, 80 percent of the U.S. population will be within range of a Supercharger. Tesla’s model price range is going to have to expand if it wants 80 percent of drivers to be able to choose to drive a Tesla but that’s supposedly in the works as well.

What about Tesla’s claim that drivers can get a half a charge in as little as 20 minutes? He hasn’t seen it. Hajjar says he stops every two to two-and-half hours and it takes an hour to get about a 200-mile charge. 

“There are diminishing returns. When you get north of 210 miles on a 260-mile battery, the amount of electricity going to the battery slows down. That’s a requirement of the way the battery charges. So it’s a lot harder to get the last 20 or 30 miles. It’s a lot slower. But if you really need them, you have to wait it out,” he explains.

Ultimately, Hajjar hopes this trip will show people that EVs are past the point of being experimental and that even though state and local authorities need to focus on strategically building out charging infrastructure, meaningful long-distance EV travel in the U.S. is already here.

“When you live in California, you have the misguided sense that EVs are at least known about by other people in the country but when you get out here and you get into states that are a little further to the east...the average person seems to know quite little but their curiosity level is extraordinarily high," Hajjar says. "The degree to which they are really optimistic and really hopeful that they can see the EV in their own future is very high. 

"I get peppered with literally hundreds and hundreds of questions. I have probably spoken to 300 to 400 people easily. They come right up to you and say, “What is this thing that you’re driving?” I encourage it. I roll the window down and bring them inside the cockpit and let them look around and I really make it an opportunity to explain to them what EVs are all about.”

Want to catch up with Hajjar or read more about his journey? He'll be on the road for about another week. Check out the Epic Electric Roadtrip website or you can follow him on Twitter

Images courtesy of Recargo Inc.  

Related on SmartPlanet:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards