A Rented Tesla Model S Just Shattered the EV Cannonball Record
The timetables dictated that he leave Manhattan in the middle of the afternoon. So, as he describes it, Ryan Levenson, just after setting off on his attempt to break the electric cross-country Cannonball record, was going three miles per hour in stop-and-go traffic. The kind of setback that'd take until Texas to make up. But it didn't matter. He had broken it once in 2017, once on the drive from L.A. to New York, and would break it again on this journey.
His official record, set with friend and co-driver Josh Allen on October 22, 2021 in a 2021 Tesla Model S Long Range, would be 42 hours and 17 minutes. That beats the previous coast-to-coast electric vehicle record of 44 hours and 26—set in a Porsche Taycan—by over 2 hours.
Doing so required a Herculean effort. Levenson, founder of EV promotion and rental company The Kilowatts, planned the run as part of his broader mission to demonstrate the capability and excitement of modern EVs. He'd partially accomplished that back in 2017, but because he was an employee of Tesla at the time, he did it mostly on the down-low.
"Basically, I'm doing it now because I didn't get to talk about it then," Levenson said in an interview with Road & Track. "Now I have this brand that I want to bring attention to and, at the end of the day, I want to get people who aren't already excited about EVs excited about EVs."
Moreover, it was a chance to show off how robust the charging network has become. Electric vehicles typically charge faster at lower states of charge, so Levenson's route relied on a large amount of short stops rather than longer top-offs. He'd usually arrive with less than 10 percent charge and leave with around 50 percent. Those took an average of 18 minutes across his 24 stops, a total of just over seven hours sitting still.
That strong network of chargers combined with the 405-mile range of the Model S Long Range allowed them to break the record despite the Manhattan congestion and stop-and-go construction traffic outside of Albuquerque. Because of those setbacks and a few charging snags, Levenson says there's between an hour and an hour and a half of extra time in this car if you could manage a perfect run.
Improving it beyond that would likely require a different car, more "V3" 250-kilowatt superchargers, or a modified car. This Model S, though, was unmodified. In fact, like the solo-record-setting Mustang, this was a rental car. After having his Model S delayed into the winter, Levenson did an unlimited-mileage Turo rental of a 2021 Long Range model. Then, he called the owner to clarify that he intended to drive it 7000 miles over just a few days.
The owner okayed it. Levenson swapped the wheels for the run, ditching the less efficient 21-inch wheels in favor of Tesla's more aerodynamic 19-inch "Tempest" ones. That was the only modification for the Los Angeles to New York reverse Cannonball leg. On the way back, which is historically the official record, Levenson over-inflated the tires. Besides that, everything was standard. There was no extra energy storage, no clever disguise for the vehicle, no laser jammers, and not even a radar detector. Besides one hour where they tried to play with an old unit and quickly gave up due to false alerts, Levenson and his co-driver relied solely on the Waze app's warnings about police.
Despite this, the team managed to reach 155 mph in the standard Model S. But the sustained speeds weren't quite as high, as there's still a benefit to driving slightly more efficiency. As EV endurance and charging speeds improve, though, expect the electric-car record to inch closer to the overall record of 25 hours and 39 minutes. Given how quickly the EV record has fallen since 2017, it might not be as far away as you think.
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