Our resident car maniac’s crazy plan gets even crazier
In the April AirBag I talked about my love for road trips and a half-baked scheme to find the literal end of the road, which it turns out is in Quebec about 1,552 miles north of Chattanooga in a straight line (2,141 miles by road, each way). I would hypothetically be starting a little closer, in the Bronx in New York City, where some people interested in the story of such a trip are located. Conveniently, that’s 1,556 miles by road, so call it the same distance as East Lake.
Last year I’d pitched the idea to an editor of mine, who was crazy for it. Problem was, he ended up growing tired of being in charge of people and quit to go back to being “just a writer.” After that, there was the usual busy office upheaval and so on, and the project disappeared, helped along by some thick inertia on my part. Eventually, the administrative stuff sorted itself out and I started tossing the idea around again with the West Coast Editor.
I had thought “old clunker and adventure,” but he said that many more people would see it if a new car were involved and they would have a hard time approving something major if no one was going to pay attention. I wrote up a one-page pitch. He took it to the Editor-in-Chief. They had drinks. They liked it, which didn’t mean more than that, especially as the budget would have to be substantial, but we were talking.
One of the things we talked about was what’s at the end of the road—a 1,600 square mile reservoir built by Hydro-Québec (un grand fournisseur d’électricité), which claims to make one-quarter of the world’s electricity from its various hydro plants. At which point I said it would be great to drive an electric car up there, because that’s where all the electricity comes from, but ha ha ha, they can only go 200 miles on a charge and the nearest charger is probably 750 miles away. (I was wrong, incidentally. It’s 1,200 miles away.)
But what if you could figure out how? Could you, say, strap a bunch of solar panels to the roof? Yes, if you’re okay with five miles a day. So no. Could you recharge a Tesla from a portable generator? It turns out you can.
And that’s the magic formula. A good 5,000-watt generator that produces clean power—like a Honda EG5000 with digital voltage regulation—would happily charge it overnight. My cocktail napkin calculations say that 40 gallons of gas would provide a healthy range margin. At 6.3 pounds per gallon, you’re looking at 425 pounds for generator and fuel. That’s...doable. You’d also need to bring as many mounted tires as you can (it’s a tire-eating road), which means sticking three wheels and tires on Tesla’s special roof rack.
In the July Autos issue we talked about the state of the electric car, and we were pretty upbeat about it. That’s only right to a point. This is where it actually is: a spaceship of a supercar lugging around 150 pounds of tires, a greasy gas generator and a funeral pyre’s worth of fuel to get where we want to go, the place that is supposed to be providing the electricity to make all that internal combustion obsolete.
But that’s the only way, since the nearest special Tesla charger is a 30 hour drive, in Montreal. How far away from being able to drive 60 hours on a charge are we or alternately, how long until Radisson, Quebec (population 270) gets one? Never, is when.
It’s a ludicrous situation and when you look at the scale of the problem, it becomes abundantly clear that while the balance between gas and electric may change, there will have to be both on the road for generations to come. Let’s see what happens when we push that balance as far as we can.
David Traver Adolphus is a freelance automotive researcher who recently quit his full time job writing about old cars to pursue his lifelong dream of writing about old AND new cars. Follow him on Twitter as @proscriptus.