Our Transfers, Electric…

On the 7th of May our Tesla Model X completed its final airport shuttle of the 2016/17 winter ski season. In total it racked up 147 transfers over 45,000 carbon emission free kilometres. From the start our aim was to have it out on the road every single day, so while some of these customers paid extra for our VIP service via our ZEAT.vip website or paid for an upgrade to their Cool Bus transfer, others simply got lucky and got the VIP treatment for nowt!

These totals represent 5% of the cumulative distance covered by our fleet of 24 vehicles this winter or to put that another way, by replacing one of our diesel fuelled minibuses with an electric car we have reduced our CO2 emissions by 5%. We are the first airport transfer business in the Alps to make the move to electric vehicles in such a big way, so naturally we are very proud of our achievement but last autumn it represented a huge step into the unknown for us and a very expensive gamble!

At the time of ordering back in July 2016, there were no Model X’s available to test drive in Europe. They simply hadn’t made any at that point. All we had to go on was a test drive of a Model S and the information available on Tesla’s website.

Their stats certainly suggested that the car had sufficient range to get from our base in Bourg St. Maurice, up to resorts such as Val d’Isere and then onwards to Geneva on one charge but what effect would a full load have on this? And driving up and down over 1500 metres of altitude? And sub-zero temperatures?

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Another uncertainty was carrying capacity. The Model X can be purchased as a 7 seater but would that leave ample space for luggage? Naturally we had Tesla’s figures to go from but until you physically try loading five large suitcases there is always going to be some doubt. And was there any possibility of carrying ski’s? How well would the 4WD cope with snow and ice? And how easy would it be to drive downhill with all the extra weight and momentum added by its batteries?

All these questions hung in the balance as we anxiously handed over a huge cheque to Tesla Motors and took delivery back in November. Now that we’re safely out the other side of our first winter season, we are happy to be able to breath a sigh of relief and furnish you with the answers to these, and many other questions!

 

Got The Range?

Without a doubt, the single most important factor to us was the effective range of the car and it was with some trepidation that we set out on our first test run to Geneva. Tesla’s figures quote a range of 489 km but this is based on the standard industry NEDC test which is performed on a rolling road, indoors, and at a temperature of around 25 degrees celsius – hardly the conditions we were going to ask it to perform in.

External temperature has a significant effect on the range of this vehicle for two reasons.

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Everything you use in the car has a drain on the battery but for most of the ancillary equipment, the amount of power used is tiny when compared to the car’s motors. The one exception is heating and so straight away we knew that the car’s range was going to be reduced when driving at sub-zero temperatures.

Anyone who’s tried using a mobile phone whilst out skiing will also know that the efficiency of the battery is hugely reduced in cold temperatures. This works the same on the somewhat larger lithium-ion batteries in an electric car but we soon found a way to improve on this thanks to the advice of some fellow Tesla owners (it turns out Tesla supercharging stations offer a great opportunity for owners to hang out and swap tips and generally admire each others cars!).

For optimum battery life Tesla recommend you never leave your car parked with a full charge. As such you are able to set any limit for charging you wish and you can also adjust this remotely using the Tesla app on your smartphone. At our base in Bourg St. Maurice, our drivers always set the car to charge overnight but only to 90%. Then one hour before starting work a driver can log into his app from home and tell it to charge up the final 10%. When the he starts work the car has just reached 100% and since it has just been charging, the battery is warm, thus improving the range!

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One of the many settings you can adjust on the car is how the available range is displayed. You can choose from ‘Rated’ or ‘Typical’. With a full charge the rated range is 489 km but anyone who claims that can get that needs their head looking at. The Typical range displays 389 which is pretty accurate for the average person. This also alters as the car learns how you drive and the sort of journeys you take.

A key element we knew would have an effect on our own rated range was climbing hills. As you would expect, it drops considerably when ascending 1000+ metres. Driving from Bourg to Tignes for example, you can expect to lose 90km of battery range over a 32 km journey, and that’s if you drive steady! With so much torque under your right foot, the temptation to power out of every corner is hard to resist.

On the flip side, while descending the car’s batteries are actually recharging through regenerative braking. As such, on the same journey in reverse you can expect the range of the car to increase by 10 km. The net range used therefore from Bourg to Tignes return is in the region of 80 km over a 56km journey which actually isn’t too bad at all.

The feedback from the regenerative braking really is quite incredible. As soon as you take your foot off the accelerator the car begins to slow down as the motors put charge back into the battery. This effect increases the longer you ease off, to the point that the brake lights come on and the car eventually comes to a virtual standstill. As a result, you rarely need to use the brakes at all and controlling speed is more a case of feathering the throttle.

All of this means that the way the car is driven has a massive effect on the range. We have found that on our standard Bourg-Val d’Isere-Geneva run of 225 km, when driving at average speeds we will arrive back at the Tesla Supercharging station (in Archamps just 15 km from the airport) with 25% charge remaining in the battery. If you drive hard it’s no problem to get that down to 0% (though Tesla recommend never allowing it to go below 10%) but conversely, if you drive conservatively you can bring that up to 40%!

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Topping the car up from 30 back to 100% takes just over 1 hour using the Supercharger (naturally we verified in advance that the power used here comes 100% from renewable sources). It also gives our drivers the chance to have a coffee/clean the car interior/do some social media or just exchange pleasantries with other Tesla geeks!

 

Carrying Capacity

The Model X was the first electric car to enter the market which adequately catered for our needs in terms of interior space. Marketed as an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle in case you didn’t know – they do love an acronym on the other side of the Atlantic), it is intended to compete with the likes of the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport. Our model came with seven seats in a 2 – 3 – 2 configuration. It is possible to order with 5 seats (2 – 3) of even 6 (2 – 2 – 2). The five seat configuration boasts the biggest carrying capacity of any SUV on the market. The six seat configuration free’s up space down the centre aisle of the middle row of seats which would allow for the carriage of skis but only with 3 passengers on board. Neither of these 3 was exactly ideal so we plumped for the 7 seat version to give us the most versatility.

In practice it very quickly became apparent that the rear row of seats was not suitable for fully grown adults! Whilst there is sufficient space to sit in the back, the lack of legroom certainly wasn’t in line with the VIP level of service we were aiming for. With just the 5 passenger seats in use and the rear rows folded down, the luggage space (which includes space under the bonnet of course as there’s no engine!) is more than ample for 5 large suitcases and additional hand luggage/boot bags etc. With just 3 passengers onboard it is perfectly feasible to carry ski’s inside by tipping one of the middle row seats forward.

 

 

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In order to carry 4 or more passengers and ski’s simultaneously we had to think outside the box a little. The most obvious solutions presented some issues. A conventional roof rack cannot be fitted due to the Falcon wing doors (like in Back To The Future but with an extra hinge to enable opening in tight spaces). A trailer would work but definitely cause issues with parking and manoeuvring in the restrictive spaces at Geneva airport. A tow bar mounted ski rack is available but only really useful for ski’s that are unpacked.

After some research we found a workable solution in the Seasucker roof rack. They have been producing racks that work using suction cups for several years to help people with unsuitable cars to carry sports equipment. The roof bars are short enough to mean they can be used just on one half of the car. In this way we are able to lock off the Falcon wing door on one side and fit the roof rack. Passengers can still comfortably get into the car from one side and we have roof space for multiple sets of ski’s. Having tried and tested this system several times last winter we are happy to say it works!

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Everything Else

We’ve said it before but aside from the whole eco thing, what really sets this vehicle apart from all other luxury SUV’s on the market is the ride. The combination of the lack of engine noise and smart air suspension makes a journey in the Model X feel more like a ride in a space ship. The lack of roll as you corner and the gentle humming of the tyres gives you the sensation of hovering just above the road. It really does have to be tried to be believed.

And its bloody fast too! The exterior styling certainly doesn’t give it the appearance of a speed machine but this just makes it all the more satisfying when you find yourself wing mirror to wing mirror with a Porsche/Mercedes/Ferrari at the traffic lights. They disappear so fast in the rear view mirror that you barely have time to see them bending over to pick up their jaws.

Naturally we fitted snow tyres to the 22 inch alloy wheels that were specced on our model. These coped admirably in all types of snow. Thanks to the electronically controlled traction assist, there was never even a hint of wheel spin no matter how steep the slope or how deep the snow. The effect of regenerative braking on the vehicle while descending on snow takes a little getting used to but this can altered in the vehicle settings if necessary but in all honesty, the car’s ‘brain’ is able to sense any loss of traction and adjust the power or braking to each wheel individually to counteract.

Its fair to say that the media player wasn’t anywhere near the top of the list when we were considering the Model X. Sure, we noticed in passing that it said something about Spotify and phone connectivity but we certainly didn’t investigate any further. What a surprise it was then to discover the joy of being able to pick any song or album by any band in history to listen to whilst driving! Or any podcast you can imagine. You can even stream live radio stations from around the world via TuneIn. Its hard to put into words how much pleasure this brings. Our drivers tell us they have discovered a ton of new music over the 2016/17 winter season – and they call it work!

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Just to be clear, the car comes with its own 3G internet connection so none of the above uses data from your phone and it continues to work seamlessly no matter what country you are in. The car also uses this connection to download updates to its operating system when its parked.

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Panoramic windscreens can come across as something of a gimmick. That is until you’ve been a passenger in a Model X driving through the Alps! No longer restricted to a sideways view of the mountains, you can see all the way to the summits and beyond even while driving along the valley floor. Again, its something you don’t realise you are missing until you try it!

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As far as Falcon wing doors go, we think the jury is still out. Yes they do allow unparalleled access to the rear seats and do so even in tight parking spots. A conventional door would not tick both of these boxes simultaneously. A sliding door would but that was never going to satisfy the designers at Tesla. There’s no doubt they turn heads but for that reason, they can make you feel slightly self conscious when entering or exiting the vehicle!

 

 

The Verdict

Make no mistake, we are over the moon with our new car and how it has performed over this last winter. Our drivers have absolutely loved piloting it around the Alps and the lucky customers that have had the experience are overflowing with compliments, so much so that it wasn’t a hard decision to take the plunge and order a second Model X!

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Next season our fleet will consist of 22 diesel powered VW Caravelles and 2 fully electric Tesla Model X’s. As we did this season, we will aim to have the Tesla’s on the road every day and thereby reduce our CO2 emissions even further. You can guarantee travel in one of these incredible vehicles by booking a VIP transfer through our ZEAT.vip website. Every week we will also offer upgrades to selected Cool Bus customers as we did this year.

ZEAT transfers are priced at 495 euros each way from Geneva and 395 euros each way from Chambery. Train transfers from Bourg St. Maurice cost 125 euros each way to the resorts of Tignes, Val d’Isere, Les Arcs and La Rosiere. These prices include carriage of up to 4 passengers with luggage

If this pushes your ski holiday over budget then you could book a regular Cool Bus transfer and be one of the lucky few offered an upgrade for just 95 euros (or even luckier and get a free upgrade!). Even if you end up travelling in one of our T6 VW Caravelles (still the best 9 seat vehicle on the market!) you can take comfort from the fact that when you book with Cool Bus some of your money goes towards our plan to continue steadily moving our fleet over to electric power. In this small way you are helping us to reduce our collective carbon footprint in a much more legitimate way than any carbon offsetting scheme can offer.

Our very realistic aim for 2017/18 is to increase the emission free share of our fleet’s kilometres to 10%. We’d love to continue increasing this every year from now on and with your help we’re sure we can!

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