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Tesla Motors Inc CEO Elon Musk unveils a new all-wheel-drive version of the Model S car in Hawthorne, California October 9, 2014.
Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
Distance matters.
SUPERCHARGED

Elon Musk says “range anxiety” is a mental problem

By Steve LeVine

Elon Musk suggested today that “range anxiety”—the malady that afflicts electric car drivers fearing that they will run out of charge in a bad neighborhood, at night, while it is snowing—is a curable mental condition. And he has just the fix.

Musk unveiled new software for his 265-mile-capacity electric Model S that will keep a driver constantly informed of how much charge is left, warn when power is low, and suggest the closest place to get a free charge from Tesla’s Supercharger network. With this tweak, “you just can’t run out of range accidentally,” he told reporters in a conference call. The software update also includes a “trip-planner” that designs routes to hit Supercharger locations at convenient points.

An offhand remark that Musk made in his news conference was also interesting. Musk said that, in his estimation, the ideal range for an electric car is 250 to 300 miles on a single charge. That’s why Teslas are engineered to go that far. He said that going 200 miles is just a “passing grade”—only just enough to be a serious electric.

But in the past, Musk has said that he is working on a $35,000 mass-market luxury car, the Model 3, to be unveiled in 2018 or so, that will go precisely that distance—200 miles on a charge. So Musk appeared to be saying that his own market-beating car will be only so-so, judging by his own metric.

Or was he? We know that the Model 3 will have competition—GM plans the 200-mile “Bolt,” also for $35,000. And BMW and Audi may have their own rivals in the 2018-2020 time frame. One wonders if Musk was signaling that the Model 3 will include a longer-range option that is in his self-declared 250- to 300-mile sweet spot.

It’s hard to imagine that Musk would be happy with only a passing grade.