January 12th, 2021 by Jennifer Sensiba
Kyle Connor, from the Out of Spec Motoring YouTube Channel, took a Porsche Taycan across the country on December 31 and set a new electric Cannonball record with a time of 44:26. This beats the previous record set by Connor and his team in a Tesla Model 3 by almost an hour.
Before I talked with him, he told The Drive that his top speeds were around 160 miles per hour, but he won’t disclose where that happened for legal reasons. When I asked him about any run-ins with police, he said “Only one — but they pulled over the guy in front of us — trying not to make this run totally about speed as it’s really a CCS story.”
What It’s Like in a Gas Car
When he says it’s a CCS story, he’s right. So far, with gasoline-powered cars, it’s all about speed while moving if you want to set a record time going from the Red Ball Garage in Manhattan to the Portofino Hotel and Marina in the Los Angeles Metro Area. It doesn’t take much time to fill up a tank, and if you add a few auxiliary fuel tanks, you can make it so that stops are really rare. Move fast and keep moving fast, and you’ll set a record, but that’s a lot easier said than done with traffic, police, and the possible mechanical problems you can experience when putting a car through that kind of torture testing.
On top of all that, staying in a car for dozens of hours is a grueling challenge for the human body and mind.
If you want to learn about the challenges people have faced over the years racing gas cars across the country, check out the Cannonball Run page on Wikipedia, or if you want to have more fun, check out Alex Roy’s Apex: The Secret Race Across America (it’s on Prime Video now).
EVs Add More Challenges
Now, do this in an electric vehicle, and you add another layer of challenge: charging. This really is a CCS story.
It’s not all about the car, either. Sure, some cars can charge much faster than others. My Nissan LEAF is absolute dog shit when it comes to DC fast charging, especially in the heat. Chevy Bolts are better, as are other cars with liquid cooling. Until now, Tesla has been the undisputed champion thanks to its Supercharging capability, which can now put 250 kW of current into your battery pack.
But no matter how fast the car can charge, it needs stations that can put out that kind of power. A single-stall 50 kW station costs tens of thousands of dollars to put in. Supercharger stations cost even more. The fastest Electrify America stations can in theory put out up to 350 kW, and those are even more expensive — not only to install, but also to pay the electric company their cut for, especially when you look at demand fees. Looking at local rates, it costs over $20,000 per month just to have power available for four 350 kW stations.
The bottom line: infrastructure can be hard to come by, and the United States is generally behind the curve when it comes to EV charging infrastructure.
Fortunately, Electrify America has put in a lot of stations in the last couple of years. Yes, it was a result of VW’s Dieselgate settlement, but the company has proven that it’s not just putting in a token effort at EV charging, and it’s giving non-Tesla EVs the chance to perform as well as Teslas, and they can do even better on the right routes.
With the Taycan’s 270 kW charge rate, Electrify America stations that can dish out that kind of juice, and Kyle Connor’s experience making cross-country runs in EVs, Tesla is now in second place in this competition. Here’s a timelapse video of the run (more after):
Challenges (and Opportunities)
To make the record time, they chose a route along Interstates 80 and then 70 to cross most of the country, and then took Interstate 15 the rest of the way into Los Angeles. Connor says that the Interstate 40 route taken by Alex Roy’s gas-powered record run would probably have been faster, but there is still a significant gap in charging between Flagstaff, Arizona, and Barstow, California. Electrify America just put in stations there, but they’re still doing finishing touches and working with utilities, so they’re not charging cars yet.
Expect future record runs to be even faster in a Porsche Taycan, no matter the route. Kyle Connor says that there were some hiccups along the way with charging speeds. Somewhat like a Tesla, the Porsche has a great trip planning computer, and it’s capable of preheating the battery pack to get ready for 270 kW charging speeds — if it knows you’re about to charge at that rate. Porsche, VW, and Electrify America’s engineers are still working out some kinks there, and Connor’s test car had some minor problems.
The biggest issue was that the car didn’t have an active SIM card for mobile data and couldn’t tell what the power ratings were for upcoming stations, so it defaulted to a 100 kW charge rate. Also, for some reason, the GPS was malfunctioning — the car kept thinking it was in Ohio for most of the trip and had no idea when the car was about to arrive at a station.
Connor and his team made up for this by setting the car to show the average battery pack temperature on the dash display and using the car’s right pedal to adjust the pack’s temperature manually. As he put it, “We had to precondition the battery pack by adjusting driving style to keep it at the correct temperature.”
In other words, if the pack needed warming, they’d drive more aggressively (read: go faster and take off harder) to generate more waste heat via electrical resistance, and that brought the pack up to better temperatures to get a better charge rate. While it mostly worked, they often didn’t achieve the 270 kW rate.
It turns out that the Taycan doesn’t know how to talk to the Electrify America stations and get full power. The car thought it was asking for 270 kW, but didn’t know that it wasn’t appropriate to tell the EA station “to give her all she’s got captain!” — because some EA stations can give a lot more than 270 kW. When the car saw more juice coming in than it could handle, it would shut off the whole charging session for safety. Lacking a protocol or astromech droid to fix this, they had to improvise more.
By targeting a temperature they knew would cause the car to ask for 200 kW, and then watching the car ramp up speeds from there, they managed to get reliable charging, but at lower speeds than are technically possible.
“We have a call with Porsche AG, Porsche engineering, Electrify America, and us next week,” Connor said. “To me, it seems kind of silly that I (a totally independent user of the system) have to coordinate these technical calls inside of the Volkswagen Group umbrella. … But whatever it takes I guess haha!”
When all of the issues are ironed out, any driver will be able to drive across the country and consistently get maximum charging speeds at Electrify America stations. Then, when EA activates stations in Arizona, it should be possible to get an even faster EV Cannonball run.
It’s still going to take a lot of skill to get a good time in, but reliable maximum charging on the best route will help immensely.
Before we got off the chat, I asked Kyle about the comfort of the Taycan for trips, and whether that was a factor that helped.
“Yes — massaging seats on our spec helped a lot. Seats were actually firmer than Model 3 seats (we had the power 14 way optional seats in the Taycan). For me, I prefer the seats in the Model 3 for a long trip and the Porsche for a blast on a back road.”
While he found the interior slightly better on the Tesla, he did note that the suspension tuning on the Porsche was ideal for most of the trip when set to Range Mode. This puts the car in the lowest stance, but with dampers set for more comfort. It proved challenging for some of the twisty stretches in the Rocky Mountains, but overall worked well.
“This was a very limited use case of Range mode,” he said.
Why This Matters To The Rest Of Us
At CleanTechnica, we tend to focus a lot on efficiency and environmental friendliness. Most of our readers will never take their chances trying to set a record driving from New York to Los Angeles, but this story tells us a lot about the charging infrastructure in the United States.
Just like with gas cars, setting a record like this tests every part of the whole ecosystem involved. The driver, the vehicle, the roads, and the charging infrastructure can all make or break the record, or get someone stranded or dead far from home. For the rest of us who don’t do crazy stuff like this, we can see whose networks are the strongest — not unlike a PC benchmark test.
What we can learn is that Tesla still has the most robust and redundant charging network in the US, but the competition is starting to catch up. With the right car on the right route, it’s possible for the Porsche/Electrify America CCS ecosystem to outperform Tesla and get someone across the country faster, even with glitches.
For normal drivers, the cars will go a lot further on a charge at legal(ish) speeds, and tests like this show us that driving across the country will be a breeze.
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