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Charge! How A Father-Daughter Duo Gambled On Tesla And Beat Out Elon Musk While Doing It

Imagine this for a prize fight. In one corner, billionaire Elon Musk, the man who runs the company that builds the Tesla Model S. In the other corner, 62-year-old Kentucky racehorse breeder John Glenney. In June, Musk unknowingly throws down the gauntlet: He will take his kids across the country in a Tesla sedan, recharging it only at the company’s Supercharger stations. He will bring his kids along, too, retracing a trip he took in his college days. Glenney is unbowed. He sees the trip as a modern-day version of cracking the sound barrier or climbing Everest. “I’d love to do that. I want to be first,” he says. Musk will bring his kids? Fine, Glenney will bring his daughter Jill — she’s 26 and can help with the driving. Jill lives in Hoboken, N.J. so Glenney starts out east from Kentucky to pick her up and establish a start point. There are only two problems. First, the weather in the middle of the country is absolutely terrible, bad for any vehicle and it’s uncertain how it will affect the Tesla. Second, the Supercharger network isn’t yet complete; there are critical holes that haven’t been filled. The Glenneys leave on Monday January 20 anyway.
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John and Jill Glenney in Hawthone, Calif. after completing their Supercharger-only, cross-country trip.
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Range anxiety?

One of the major criticisms leveled against EVs is that they won’t go mainstream until batteries improve enough to overcome “range anxiety,” the fear of running out of juice and getting stranded in the middle of nowhere. The Tesla Superchargers are designed to alleviate that fear by offering fast recharging along major highways. Tesla has plans to build hundreds of them by the end of next year, but at the moment there are only 73. When the Glenneys set out, there are fewer than 70.

This will create a problem almost from the get go. A fully charged Model S exiting Newark, Del. today can stop in Hagerstown, Md. for some additional electrons before journeying west across Pennsylvania. “On my way up to pick Jill up, I swung by there to see how close to completion it was,” John said. He didn’t like the answer: “I don’t really want to wait a week,” he recalls thinking.

The problem is that the distance between Newark and the charger in Somerset. Pa. is 239 miles if you stick to the Interstate and go via Baltimore. Given ideal conditions, a Tesla can make that, given it’s rated for 265 miles. But any change in altitude, nasty headwinds and extensive use of the heater will all take a toll. And it’s cold out there. Swinging by Harrisburg cuts 20 miles off the journey and still keeps the car on main roads. When the Glenneys set out from Newark, the range meter read 258 miles. Upon arriving in Somerset, it read 11.

“Along the way, I’m thinking, ‘If we can make it to this next one, it’s going to be real doable,” Glenney says of the entire trip. “I used all the tricks I knew to keep as many miles in reserve as I could.” Typically that includes being careful with braking, making sure to maximize the regenerative effects that recapture a bit of charge when the car slows. It also means not speeding as air resistance increases significantly at higher speeds and cuts into range. Glenney reported on the Tesla forums that he was typically driving in the 50s, but that traffic was light so they weren’t holding anyone else up. ”We were on pins and needles whether things were going to come together or fall apart,” he recalled. But that 11 was like two “#1″ signs pointing skyward. “I knew then, we were going to make it.”

Not that it was easy. Even before heading out with Jill, John had encountered a problem. He hit something on the road the morning they planned on leaving, dinging the rim on one of the wheels. It was 7 a.m. when he called Tesla service to see what they could do about a replacement. Within 2 hours, a new wheel was on the Glenney’s Model S. That wouldn’t be the last time John would call Tesla. After the harrowing leg to Somerset, the Glenney’s continued through to Ohio. The weather was going from bad to worse and a good amount of snow came down. By the time they reached Maumee, Ohio, it was 2:30 a.m. and the Supercharger there was buried.

Before catching some rest, John called Tesla to report the situation. The person on the other end of the line recommended sleep and promised they’d see what they could do. By 8 a.m. the next morning, the snow had been cleared. Though it was 6 degrees, thanks to Tesla’s bend-over-backwards service, the Glenneys were soon to be on their way.

Oh pioneer

John Glenney has driven long distances before. He’s made the trip from Southern California to Lexington, Ky. more times than he prefers to remember, in everything from a pickup truck to a Cadillac Escalade, often completing it in 36 hours or so. He doesn’t recommend it. “You’re tempted to push on whether you should or not,” he says. The convenience of a 5-minute fill-up at the next gas station makes that easy enough, but Glenney says the toll on his body the next couple of days always made him regret it. And he’s not much of a fan of those gas stations either.

“I’m like everyone that realizes that we need to move toward sustainable energy,” Glenney says. “I’ve always hated big companies and oil companies that only care about their bottom line. For at least 5 years, I’ve been looking at alternatives.” He got on the waiting list for a Nissan Leaf, but the state-by-state rollout of that car meant he wouldn’t see it in Kentucky for a while. Frustrated, he sought alternatives and found there was just one: the Tesla Roadster. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right now,” Glenney believes.
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