David Metcalf: World-record drive in Tesla electric car took ‘endurance and willpower’
It was one small step for cars … but one giant leap for electric cars.
In early December 2012, University of Central Florida researcher David Metcalf broke the world record for the longest drive in an electric car on one charge. On Dec. 8 and 9, Metcalf successfully drove an in-production Tesla Model S electric car from Merritt Island to Lake Okeechobee, through the Florida Panther Preserve, across Alligator Alley and back north. That’s a total of 423.5 miles in just under 17 hours.
The journey — which included Metcalf’s young son Adam as copilot — was in response to a challenge made by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, who wanted to see someone drive his electric car at least 400 miles on a single charge.
The Model S, whose starting price is about $50,000, was named 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year for its safety, efficiency and performance. But until Metcalf’s recent triumph, the record driven by a Model S on one charge was 311 miles.
InsuranceQuotes.com recently caught up with Metcalf to talk about this unprecedented accomplishment.
What led you to tackle this challenge?
When Elon Musk issued the challenge, I thought it would be done in the first couple of weeks of release. After months and over 1,000 cars on the road, no one had been able to achieve it, so my son and I started studying previous attempts, tips from Tesla’s chief technology officer, J.B. Straubel, other researchers and my NASA engineer friends to see if we could make an attempt.
Sounds well-researched. But how confident were you that you’d be able to break the distance record?
We saw that route selection was key. Slower, flat roads seem to be really important, and we had a few to choose from in Florida. We did a few tests to see how efficient we could be, but thought it would be very close with two people in the car and with larger wheels.
Was there anything in particular about the way you drove that allowed you to break the record?
We chose a route and timeframe that allowed us to drive slowly — usually between 25 and 26 miles per hour, with a top speed around 37 — and not be a hazard or much of an inconvenience to other drivers. Driving at a constant speed with very gentle acceleration was key. This meant using cruise control, but not engaging it until we were at the desired speed. I also timed lights to coast into them as they changed and only hit seven of the 15 to 20 lights on our route.
I know it took you just under 17 hours to complete. How often did you stop for things like food and lodging?
My wife says we are like camels. Adam and I only stopped twice for a total of 17 minutes. We wanted to maintain constant speed. We also made a very quick verification photo stop at 405 miles once it stopped raining.
In what ways was driving this electric car different from driving a traditional gas-powered auto?
It is very smooth and quiet. You also have regenerative braking (a process that converts the kinetic energy of braking into electric power). But neither this nor the Porsche-like acceleration came into play for this challenge.
What was the most challenging aspect of the trip?
It did take some endurance and willpower to stay focused on driving efficiently. The biggest problem that hurt our mileage was four-and-a-half hours of rain and some construction delays.
How significant is this accomplishment in the evolution of electric engine technology? In other words, how excited should consumers be about this feat?
Tesla has built an incredible car. This extended range challenge only shows one aspect of their achievement. Hopefully, some of the tips I shared with them can help engineering and other owners understand the efficiency techniques under real environmental conditions like wind, rain, hills and rough roads.
The multiple car-industry awards, the track times, the ability to drive for three to five times cheaper than gas-powered cars, and the luxury and daily utility at highway speeds are probably much more important to the average buyer than our father-son research project.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of this trip?
I enjoyed having time to talk and to share an adventure with my son Adam. And some of the scenery was incredible. If you’ve never been to the Everglades, I highly recommend it, especially for slowing down and enjoying nature.
What made you decide to bring your son along? How did he enjoy the trip?
Adam turned 13 (just after the trip), and I thought this would be a great adventure for us. We camp every month and enjoy nature, so seeing the Everglades and Florida Panther Preserve sounded like fun. He is also a huge fan of the Guinness Book of World Records, and making an attempt seemed like a great goal.