Saturday, January 14, 2017

Getting Really Close

So, you don’t think self-driving autonomous electric cars are going to happen anytime soon, especially in the practical real world. Think again.

Below is an artist’s rendition of Tesla Motor Company’s “Gigafactory” currently under construction in Nevada. When completed it will have the most square footage under one roof of any building in the world. It will soon begin production of Tesla’s Model 3 all electric self-driving car with expected delivery of its first car before the end of the year and maximum capacity of 500,000 cars per year within two years. This factory will also manufacture the batteries that will power the Model 3, as well as Tesla’s other models that it has been producing since 2008.

Speaking of batteries, Tesla and its partner Panasonic recently announced that batteries produced at the Gigafactory will contain new super-cell technology which will allow the Model 3 to travel 370 miles on a single charge. Tesla also announced that they are currently upgrading its nationwide network of charging stations to new “Supercharger” fast charging stations. These stations will have the capacity to fully recharge a Tesla 3 battery in 20 minutes. Imagine, that’s about as far as you can go on a full tank of gas and about the same amount of time as it takes to fill up and grab a burger. Here is a map of Tesla’s current network of charging stations which will all be upgraded with Superchargers in the next few months.

Now lets look at another piece of the puzzle. Below is a Chrysler Pacifica minivan equipped with Google’s self-driving technology. This vehicle is also a hybrid plug-in. Chrysler produced the first 100 of these minivans for Google’s self-driving fleet which includes its own in-house prototypes as well as a fleet of Lexus SUV’s. John Krafcik, Google’s lead on self-driving vehicles and now CEO of Waymo, said that his company would focus on integrating Google’s self-driving technology into vehicles made by automakers instead of developing its own vehicles. Waymo is a new company created by Google as the result of its self-driving efforts over the past several years.

Now let’s put the pieces together and go on vacation. We’ll take Tesla’s battery technology and put it in the Chrysler Pacifica self-driving minivan. Then we’ll pack up the minivan with the family in New York City and take a trip to Los Angeles and back. You’ll notice from the Supercharger map above there are several routes to choose from and any one will probably result in a round trip of approximately 6,000 miles.

Tesla has had their charging network in place for some time now and declares that the cost of electricity to charge our minivan on their network during our round trip will be $240. Now let’s compare that to the cost for gasoline in a conventional minivan. Let’s assume the average price of gas during our trip is $2.25 per gallon and let’s assume we average 25 miles per gallon. That’s $540 for the trip. I don’t know about you but, the $300 my electric vehicle just saved me would come in handy buying Big Mac Meals for the kids. By the way, remember I said that a full battery re-charge takes about 20 minutes? Well, most of Tesla’s Superchargers are located such that you can plug your vehicle in, go next door and get something to eat if you want. Then 20 minutes later you come back, unplug the charger and be on your way. When you stop to get gas you have to wait at the pump and then you can go next door to get something to eat if you want.

But the really cool thing about our coast-to-coast family trip is that we’ll have the luxury of a chauffeur...almost.

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