The Cannonball Run—as unofficial a record as it might be—isn’t seen in the same light as it once was. The idea of rocketing from New York to Los Angeles in an ostensible attempt to protest national speed limits feels so dated that even Car and Driver isn’t hyped on it anymore. Today, rocketing across the country in a high-horsepower German sled stuffed with fuel cells in search of YouTube glory is certainly an achievement, but it’s also quite a liability, especially when you’re averaging speeds in the triple-digits and topping out within a school zone’s reach of 200 mph. This is especially true since the COVID-19 pandemic began and incredibly low times were being set as people took advantage of empty roads.
Despite that, I’m here to tell you the story of a team that’s broken a different kind of Cannonball Run record: the electric vehicle record. And if this story were just about a Tesla breaking the record currently held by another Tesla, we probably wouldn’t have run it. But it’s more than that. This is the first time that a non-Tesla EV has beaten the king of Supercharging in a transcontinental trek across the U.S.
In the early morning hours on New Year’s Eve, with a full battery and two bright-eyed co-drivers, automotive journalist Kyle Conner from InsideEVs readied a Porsche Taycan 4S—and a press test car Taycan, at that—in front of the Red Ball Parking Garage in New York City. The Taycan was equipped with the smallest and lightest possible wheels to maximize efficiency for the cross-country road trip, and plush with amenities like massaging seats, active suspension management, and an ultra-quiet cabin—everything that would make the drive properly comfortable.
“I had the vehicle loaned to me for various EV tests that I do,” Conner told me, explaining that Porsche had originally loaned them the Taycan to perform some real-world range testing. “This was an idea that came up after the loan was set up. While it is pretty crazy to do it in a press car, we could have borrowed a car from a friend—[Porsche] just had a better spec for us to use.”
After all, the crew calculated that they would, at best, make the run in around 42 hours and change—and that’s a lot of time for three dudes to spend cramped in the cabin of a car together. That left less than three hours to beat Conner’s existing record of 45 hours and 16 minutes set in a Tesla Model 3 Long Range that he set in 2019 with then-co-driver Matthew Davis.
But with his two trusty wheelmen, Drew Peterson and Tijmen Schreur, at his side, Conner thought the team had the ability to make the drive—but what he didn’t have was the confidence that they would be able to do it in record time simply due to the available charging options.
No Supercharger Here, Friend
Allow me to explain. You’re likely familiar with Tesla’s fast-charging stations across the United States called Superchargers. It’s probably the most robust charging network, at the moment. These stations use proprietary connectors that don’t really adhere to more universal standards like the CCS or J1772, meaning cars like the Taycan won’t be able to make use of them like a Tesla would. I won’t go too in-depth about the shortfalls of the U.S. charging infrastructure here, but I’d invite you to read a great piece that The Drive contributor John Voelcker wrote just last month which included that very topic.
Long story short, the lack of consistent, working, and up-to-date public charging options makes a Tesla extremely attractive for road tripping. Something like a Taycan? Not so much. Combined that with the EPA claiming that the Taycan’s range is nearly half what the Model 3 Long Range can achieve, and you don’t exactly have a recipe for success.
Typically, Conner doesn’t plan out his routes when testing electric cars for efficiency, let alone on runs across the country. But this time was different. He’d be taking the Porsche from coast-to-coast using whatever public chargers were available. So he began using tools like Chargeway, A Better Route Planner, Plugshare, and the Electrify America site in order to plan out his journey.
As he began his career as an amateur cartographer, he noticed that many of the chargers on the way could only provide between 50 and 100 kilowatts of electricity, meaning that they would take quite some time to charge versus an average Tesla Supercharger. It was at that point the team elected to use Electrify America’s stations for the drive.
“The supercharger network is near seamless, and I use it almost on a daily basis,” Conner told me, noting that he owns a Tesla. “We hoped that the CCS EA network would be up to snuff to handle our drive, and while we did have issues, it got us to LA quicker than the Tesla Supercharger Network did even considering the Tesla run (I also held that record) was in a much more efficient car in the middle of summer.”
Once Conner and company had their route planned out, it was time to hit the road.
On The Road Again, With Some Issues
I know what you’re wondering—if the Taycan had an in-car navigation system that could plan our charging stops, why not just use that? After all, Electrify America was founded by Volkswagen following its Dieselgate debacle, and since Porsche is a Volkswagen Group company, surely the two products play nicely together.
You’re right to assume this. But this was the first of several Taycan-related snags that almost cost the team the record.
Just before the team set out, the Taycan’s navigation system lost track of where they were. For some reason, the car just assumed that they were in Ohio no matter what state they were actually in. The Taycan was taken to the dealer in an attempt to fix the flaw before the run, but the service team was unable to solve the problem the day before they set out. Conner would have to make do.
In case 2020 had you living in a Groundhog Day-style loop, let me remind you that it’s winter here in the northeast. A mild one, sure but it’s still quite cold, and if you happen to drive anything battery-powered, it quickly becomes apparent how much the cold affects your overall range and charging speeds. Fortunately, Porsche has a feature that preconditions the battery to charge quickly when plugged in.
But there’s just one problem: the same software glitch responsible for the navigation issues also meant that the Porsche wouldn’t know when it was being routed to a charger. That meant no preconditioning unless Conner selected one of the chargers in the area near Columbus, Ohio where the Taycan thought it was.
Fortunately, there’s also a manual option to accomplish the same feat—the accelerator pedal. Giving the car a ripe awakening when on the way to a charging station means that the battery was warm and ready to receive the sweet, sweet electrons that it needed to continue along its path.
Another problem was the charger. The CCS standard operates in accordance with the Open System Interconnection conceptual model—that is, a set of standards that break out the way communication is established, maintained, and ended between the vehicle and the charger. It’s the same theory that is used to visualize how traffic from your computer talks to other devices on your home network. The software responsible for handling the charging makes the connection during the “Presentation” level of this model, where it establishes a “handshake” between the two devices using a common protocol. This process in its entirety takes around 45 seconds.
Conner tells us that the Porsche was doing something wrong during this process and would instantly tell the Electrify America charger that the car wanted as much power as it possibly could throw at it. So, naturally, the charger did just that and attempted to send its maximum 350-kW to the car, of which the Taycan could only accept 270-kW. This lead to some anomalies while charging, the team reported.
Fortunately, Conner tells us that he had the engineers at both Porsche and Electrify America on speed dial for this run. Despite it being New Year’s Eve, he was able to work with the teams to ensure that the car was operating to its potential (despite the bugs) and the chargers he was visiting were both working and reliable.
“Our engineers were able to monitor the charging sessions in real-time to ensure our 150 and 350-kilowatt chargers were performing optimally for the Porsche Taycan 4S on this record run,” Electrify America said in a statement to The Drive. “We plan to connect with the record-run drive team and hear their detailed feedback so that we can continue to improve our charging services for the general public.”
Despite the setbacks and software problems, the Taycan proved to be a massively capable road-tripping machine. Its interior was near-silent, provided a fantastic ride quality, and even had massaging seats—the epitome of a German luxury sedan meant to break records like this.
Now, it wasn’t like Kyle and the team had to put the pedal to the metal in order to make this run in record time. Remember that EVs are more efficient at lower speeds. In fact, the average speed of the run was right around 64 MPH, though that accounts for charging time as well, so it may have been a little bit higher.
That’s not to say that they didn’t push the car either. Kyle told me that his team did use speed to their advantage, but not necessarily aimed at getting from A-to-B faster. It was also used to precondition the battery when approaching a charging station since the software problems with the car prevented it from automatically taking place. At their height, they hit around 160 MPH, which is incredibly close to the Taycan’s top speed.
To mitigate downtime and ensure fatigue, drivers were able to swap out from the front seat to the rear for a quick little nap. They’d crouch over a pillow, close their eyes, and wake up as refreshed as you could with for a car nap. Conner told us that he once fell asleep in the passenger seat during a long stint, but we’re going to assume that the massaging seats had a hand in that one.
The trio stayed in their bubble of safety for nearly the entirety of the cross-country sprint, a refreshing thought during the current pandemic. And should they need to go near anyone while charging or taking a quick rest stop, they were sure to take the typical COVID-19 precautions, including wearing masks.
The electric Porsche crossed the threshold at the Portofino Hotel & Marina sometime in the evening on New Years Day—just 44 hours, 25 minutes, and 59 seconds after the group set out, shattering the existing record held by the Tesla.
That alone was enough to please Porsche.
Finally, A Tesla-Beater?
“Though Porsche Cars North America does not condone, promote, or acknowledge any sort of activity that would violate the rules of the road, we were pleased to see how well the Taycan and the charging infrastructure did during Kyle’s test,” a Porsche spokesperson said in an email to The Drive. “It demonstrated the proliferation of EA’s ever-developing nationwide charging infrastructure as well as the over-the-road capability of the Taycan. Though it carries the soul of a sports car, the Taycan is just as comfortable driving over long distances.”
When I first heard of Conner’s record-breaking attempt, I thought for sure it was going to be in another Tesla. I was amazed that he had actually done the run in a Taycan—not because it is any less of a car, but because the Supercharging network is marketed as an essential part of owning a Tesla vehicle. It’s like buying a Mac because “it just works.”
In fact, it was one of the reasons I almost bought a Model 3 last year and has consistently been one of the biggest reasons Tesla owners I’ve spoken with pulled the trigger on their own cars.
On the other hand, it’s not all that surprising. In fact, I predicted this very event would happen using a Taycan back in August, specifically through the use of Electrify America chargers. To see it actually take shape and a Porsche beat out a Tesla using public charging is pretty incredible.
This is just the start for ambitious cross-country EV trips. Public charging networks as a whole, despite various quirks and a profound lack of marketing, certainly seems like it has improved since inception. After all, if a Porsche Taycan can travel from coast to coast without running out of charge, it feels like it’s headed in the right direction for the growing number of EVs hitting the streets. Charging infrastructure and new EVs on the road will always pose a hotdog-and-bun scenario, but amid a critical time where EVs are becoming increasingly popular and more available from legacy automakers, a test like this inspires confidence.
The day will likely come when a cross-country trip in an EV is nothing to boast about, and maybe sooner than you think. Until then, records are meant to be broken. Don’t expect this crew to be the last to make this attempt.
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