This weekend, a Tesla Roadster will make the journey from Lands End to John O’ Groates, an 870-mile drive spanning the full length of the island of Great Britain. This drive has been done by EVs many times before, but in this case, it’s in a special vehicle: the very first car that ever did the drive, the same 2010 Tesla Roadster, still on its original battery, to make a point about EV battery longevity.
The drive also serves as a fundraiser for Zero Carbon World, a UK charity pushing for carbon reduction and EV adoption. Zero Carbon World is chaired by Formula E driver Alexander Sims, who has done a similar drive before in a Model 3. If you’d like to toss in some coins, you can donate to the cause through JustGiving (for £30 you can get your name on the car).
We’ve all heard it before – “I’d like an electric car, but what about road trips?” Nevermind that electric cars are already great for road trips, this is still one of the things that people are most afraid of losing if they switch to electric.
Another concern for EVs is battery longevity. Everyone has some made-up story about their buddy’s brother’s uncle’s daughter’s Prius needing a battery replacement in three years, so somehow they think every EV will need a new battery that often (never mind that all EV and hybrid batteries have eight-plus-year warranties now).
So Zero Carbon World’s drive this weekend works to counter both of these concerns – showing that EVs can be used for road trips even on a very old battery.
And this battery is one of the oldest you can find. The Tesla Roadster was the first highway legal long-range modern electric vehicle to become available to the public, and the battery on this specific vehicle is over 11 years old. That’s well past the original warranty and much longer than people originally thought the battery would last when the car was first sold.
Not only is this specific battery old, but this specific battery is the very same one that powered its Roadster on the first-ever EV drive across Britain back in 2011. That journey was a total of 36 hours from start to finish. Here you can see Kevin Sharpe and David Peilow smiling for the camera at the end of their drive:
The drive at the time showed off Tesla’s nascent destination charging network (before it was called that), with Tesla partnering with hotels and tourist spots to install 17kW AC chargers which could charge the Roadster from zero to full in about three hours. There were also several 7kW chargers, installed by Zero Carbon World, used for intermediary charging on the trip. As a result, about half of the 36 hours were spent charging.
Fast forward to now and road trips are a lot easier. We have DC charging networks that work a lot faster (up to 250kW or even a bit higher in the best cases), and we have more charging locations so drivers can choose where to stop or can continue on to the next location if one location is full. As a result, total travel time for the drive has dropped from the original 36 hours to about 15 and a half hours, with only one and a half hours of that time spent charging.
But the Roadster’s time this weekend will probably be similar to the original time, if a little bit quicker due to greater charger availability. Roadsters are not capable of supercharging, as they don’t have the high-power DC connector required to utilize today’s fast chargers. Pretty much all modern electric cars have some DC charge capability, which makes this drive a whole lot shorter.
As for the driver lineup, it’s expanded from two to four. Dean Fielding, who purchased the Roadster from Sharpe, will be leading the effort. David Peilow, who was on the original drive, will join him, along with Glyn Hudson from OpenEnergyMonitor. Formula E driver and chairman of Zero Carbon World Alexander Sims will also spend a short stint in the car. A Tesla Model 3 will serve as chase car.
This Roadster’s battery has degraded over the course of its 61,000 miles and 11 years of life, though the degradation hasn’t been terminal. The car was originally rated for 244 miles on the EPA combined cycle (testing methods have changed since then), and Fielding recently drove his Roadster 184 miles on a single charge, with the car still showing that it had 21 miles left. This reduction of about 20% capacity is roughly in line with what can be observed on other Roadsters of similar age and mileage.
This degradation is better than originally expected for the Roadster. The car originally had only a three-year warranty, back before the bar was set at 8-10 years for battery warranties. There was a lot of worry they wouldn’t last very long. And the cost of a new battery was significant – $40,000, for a car that retailed for a $109,000 base price.
Along with lasting longer than expected, battery technology advancements mean that even if you do need to replace an original Roadster battery, you can get a new battery which is both better and cheaper. Tesla started offering a “Roadster 3.0” upgrade a few years back, which allows owners to replace their $40,000 53kWh battery with a $29,000 80kWh battery. The Roadster being used in this weekend’s drive has not taken the upgrade, and is still on the original 53kWh battery pack.
Tesla and other automakers have not committed to making similar upgrades available for other vehicles, but this shows that there is at least a technological possibility for replacement batteries to become both cheaper and better as time goes on, since batteries do tend to improve steadily year-over-year. Other EV battery replacements will tend to be much cheaper than the original Roadster’s due to technology and scaling improvements.
But so far, even one of the oldest EVs on the road hasn’t needed a replacement. And this weekend will prove what an old Tesla Roadster, the proof of concept that launched the modern EV industry, can still do on old legs.
To get more updates on the drive, follow Zero Carbon World on twitter. They’re not planning any public gatherings along the way, but you’ll be able to follow along virtually.
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