Range anxiety is a funny thing. You’d think that with today’s long-range EVs and the reliability of, say, Tesla’s Supercharger DC fast charging network, it would largely be a thing of the past, but it isn’t. In the case of Tesla, that’s partly because real-world driving often doesn’t measure up to the official range claims. So, how do you address something like this? By adjusting range ratings downward to better reflect reality and apologizing to owners? I mean, I would, but not everyone would do the same.
Welcome back to The Morning Dump, where we digest the news that’s often a bit short for standalone pieces but still too important to miss. Today, a report claims that Tesla’s been playing range games with customers, chrome plating might be getting banned in Europe, and a ship carrying cars catches fire with a possible electric cause.
Tesla Reportedly Manipulated Range, Hushed Customer Complaints
How far would you go to sweep complaints under the rug? Probably not as far as Tesla’s alleged to have. A Reuters investigative report claims that Tesla manipulated range readings and created a secret team to quash range complaints.
About a decade ago, Tesla rigged the dashboard readouts in its electric cars to provide “rosy” projections of how far owners can drive before needing to recharge, a source told Reuters. The automaker last year became so inundated with driving-range complaints that it created a special team to cancel owners’ service appointments.
First, let’s unpack those optimistic range estimates. According to the report, these were initially programmed into Model S and Roadster vehicles. Once the charge dropped below 50 percent, realistic range estimates were displayed on the onboard trip computer. Above that threshold? Figures were allegedly inflated. As for who commanded this directive, guess what a Reuters source said?
“Elon wanted to show good range numbers when fully charged,” the person said, adding: “When you buy a car off the lot seeing 350-mile, 400-mile range, it makes you feel good.”
You’d likely expect this approach to not go well, and guess what? It didn’t. As sales figures skyrocketed, so did the number of drivers who reported less driving range than Tesla claimed. Clearly, a solution was needed, but it was allegedly much different from the public apology and software fix you’d expect.
Advisers would normally run remote diagnostics on customers’ cars and try to call them, the people said. They were trained to tell customers that the EPA-approved range estimates were just a prediction, not an actual measurement, and that batteries degrade over time, which can reduce range. Advisors would offer tips on extending range by changing driving habits.
If the remote diagnostics found anything else wrong with the vehicle that was not related to driving range, advisors were instructed not to tell the customer, one of the sources said. Managers told them to close the cases.
Ah, so just sweep things under the rug, pull the old “your mileage may vary,” and keep an eye out for any actual range-related issues. Gotcha. However, Reuters reports that the last bit of that process didn’t last long.
In late 2022, managers aiming to quickly close cases told advisors to stop running remote diagnostic tests on the vehicles of owners who had reported range problems, according to one of the people familiar with the diversion team’s operations.
“Thousands of customers were told there is nothing wrong with their car” by advisors who had never run diagnostics, the person said.
Well, that’s one way to speed through concerns, but it’s not especially, um, good. Without diagnostics, it would be possible for a small number of people who actually needed battery replacement due to degradation to fall through the cracks.
The allegations contained within this report are serious, and perhaps the most damning is that Tesla apparently has a new Utah-based team to deal with customer range complaints. Although some deviation from official range estimates is to be expected, it’s usually standard corporate protocol that if issues pile up, it’s time to admit something’s wrong. Hubris typically doesn’t save face.
The Death Of Chrome Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
If you like your trim pieces particularly shiny, I may have bad news for you. British magazine Autocar reports that Europe is proposing a ban on hexavalent chrome from 2024. Wait, that’s next year! However, the ban isn’t without good reason, as hexavalent chrome used in automotive plating is particularly nasty stuff.
The ban has been proposed as a result of health issues associated with the creation of hexavalent chromium, which is a known carcinogen. In particular, it is a source of chronic lung cancer, with the airborne emissions given off during the plating process said to be 500 times more toxic than diesel.
However, plating with hexavalent chromium isn’t the only way to make car parts shiny. Physical vapor deposition, or PVD, allows part markers to avoid the use of hexavalent chromium and still get comparable shine and hardness. So, how does PVD work? There are a variety of methods that can be used, but it all boils down to one of two processes, the most popular of which is evaporation — a solid (trivalent chrome, in this case) is evaporated into gas while under vacuum, deposited on a surface, and then re-solidifies. Of course, you get some overspray with this method so it isn’t perfect, but it’s far more environmentally sensible than plating, provided the right equipment is used.
The bottom line? Even if this proposal gets through, expect chrome to stick around in some form for quite a while. Although it won’t be quite the same as plating, most people won’t be able to tell the difference, and once UV-coated, PVD chrome plastic pieces shouldn’t have major durability concerns.
Another Ship Full Of Cars Has Caught Fire
With so many cars being transported across the world’s oceans every single day, it shouldn’t be horribly surprising that incidents can happen. Reuters reports that one person has died after a cargo ship transporting 2,857 vehicles including 300 Mercedes-Benzes burst into flames off the Dutch coast on Wednesday, and it may have started around an electric vehicle.
The fire might last for several days, Dutch news agency ANP reported, citing the coastguard. Smoke continued to billow from the vessel near the northern Dutch island of Ameland.
“The fire is most definitely still not controlled. It’s a very hard fire to extinguish, possibly because of the cargo the ship was transporting,” said Edwin Versteeg, a spokesperson for the Dutch Department of Waterways and Public Works.
As for the cause of the fire, it hasn’t been firmly established yet, but reports suggest that it could have something to do with thermal runaway.
The coastguard said on its website the cause of the fire was unknown, but a coastguard spokesperson had earlier told Reuters it began near an electric car. Roughly 25 out of 2,857 vehicles on the ship were electric.
This isn’t the first time that a ship containing electric vehicles has gone up in smoke. Back in early 2022, a ship carrying various cars including EVs caught fire and sank. As NPR reports, the Felicity Ace was carrying 4,000 vehicles, among which included Porsches, Bentleys, and Lamborghinis. While something as simple as flammable material in a heating vent could cause a ship fire, electric vehicles onboard complicate extinguishment as thermal runaway can lead to lithium-ion cells self-igniting days, sometimes weeks, after the initial fire. According to established procedures, electric vehicle fires require huge quantities of water to put out, which may risk destabilizing ships. As it stands, there are no easy answers for dealing with electric vehicle fires on ships.
With all the hubbub about a potential chrome ban, I’d like to do an informal poll: Do you like chrome on cars? Obviously, chrome trim doesn’t work on many cars, but an excess of black trim can simply feel boring. What are your limits when it comes to chrome.
Badges? Trim? Wheels? I’d love to know.
(Photo credits: Tesla, BMW, Mercedes-Benz)
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