Farming With a Tesla

Texas is big. To frame how big, let me contextualize the normal travels for a rural resident in a few touch points that are universal. The closest large city with a decently large grocery store and a Home Depot are 37 miles one way. When running an “errand” it is easy to tack on 100 miles to the odometer in just a few hours. The parents are 42 miles away in the next city “down the highway” as it were. Sister in law 92 miles, brother 121 miles, Tesla service 96 miles, just to get out of the state 200+ miles, you get the picture. Long distances and only possibly with a personal vehicle.

The inefficiency that these vast expanses between cities present the residents are equally problematic. Run has been documenting recently, even this morning about some of the huge problems we have in consumeristic behavior regarding our transportation and vehicle choice. I offer this up as proof of concept that alternatives are not only affordable, but equally usable. Before Tesla Operations (BTO) it was easy for us to burn through 5 gallons of gas in the truck just to go get one plumbing part for a leaky faucet, setting us back $10 when gas was $1.989 a gallon. With seeking alternatives pragmatically, the costs of direct aquisition of said plumbing has diminished greatly, as have the environmental costs. No one should be taking the F-350 to the mall to shop for shoes. The cost benefit is largely not in that person’s favor and has been coached by artificially low fuel prices, leaving supply side or most recently demand side shocks to put most reeling back to some sort of affordable equilibrium.

The match was lit in 2020, the truck now six years old, 15k miles a year at a minimum, was well over the magic 100,000 mile marker that some manufacturers plan for obsolescence. Names shall not be named. A simple set of constraints and a quick analysis one Friday night and the next morning we ordered the Tesla, albeit with a long wait and a less than easy purchase, title, financing path. The main caveat, towing capabilities.

Now, the playing field had been leveled. If I needed to haul my 2,600 pound tractor and a few implements, I was well under the 3,500 threshold for the Model Y. Any need to hauling over that, employing the truck driver neighbor would always be cheaper regardless of my choice.

The math that Friday evening was rather simple, the Tesla and the comparable utility truck, the Ford F-150 were nearly comparable in price for 2020. Financed, TTL, all the same for the needed V8 power, four doors and four wheel drive. Insurance slightly higher for the Tesla due to battery pack total risk, but the main drivers were fuel costs and maintenance. The maintenance piece was a little more obscure but without regular oil changes, and other fluids, should come out ahead.

The true calculus was in the fuel savings. The Ford would get around 25 miles per gallon, when averaging between city and highway. In Texas we have a fair mix of both, but in cities there is a fair amount of start/stopping which is aggrivating. A comparable chart between the Tesla and the Ford had to be levelled first. Tesla recommends only charging up to 80% of battery capacity, which turns out to be roughly 250 miles, which was a slam dunk for head math. If the Ford is going to get 25 miles on a gallon of gas, then the gas to charge require to get to the same equivalent distance is ten gallons. At the time, unleaded would trade for $1.98 a gallon, fetching a 250 mile price of $19.89, not too shabby…but what about the Tesla? Four whole dollars, $4. When asking the Tesla maintenance tech when picking up the vehicle what unseen maintenance items am I looking at? Expensive brake pads, tires? His response, “this is your first one, huh”. Yes, and to the uninitiated, the unforseen can be huge. He then explained that the regenerative braking kept the load off the pads and that tires were marginally more expensive due to their weight requirements. A fully loaded Tesla is over 5,000 pounds. The net difference between truck tires and Tesla tires is not really a worrysome problem at all, remember, less brake pad and rotor wear, and no oil changes or transmission fuilds. It all gets back to the miles per gallon equivalent, or MPGe. This month alone, has been huge savings, albeit natural gas generation now costs me $6 to go the 250 miles. On the other hand, rounding out the month saving over $300 a month is well worth it.

The original choice flew in the face of conventional wisdom, and when I said gas will stay sub $3 for only so long, I meant it.

Now for the work load of the Tesla for farm related tasks. One will quickly find that a truck, while useful isn’t exactly a necessity. The tractor has historically been the workhorse of any farm and ranch operation. All told, a diesel engine is 13% more efficient than a gasoline one, and I would bet farm equipment is more efficient than that. With DPF filters, recirculation, farm equipment are highly efficient and cleaner than most city vehicles. I have always said, if it costs the farmer money unnecessarily, that piece of equipment, antibiotic, chemical, or new fangled doo dad will sit in the dealers lot until they have to either fire sale it or do an inventory charge off. It costs far less to move a ton of X with a diesel tractor than the bed of a gas truck.

Fast forward to today where unleaded prices are now in my area hitting $4.59 a gallon. The Ford is now spending $45.90 for the same 250 mile trip, and the Tesla $6. The annual difference is clocking in at $3,200 in savings, and could be higher given the current price trends. I know not all can afford expensive electric vehicles and we need to explore alternative transportation that makes sense for the masses in inner cities. This is but one piece of the energy solution puzzle, one that gets bucked hard from all sides due to cost and political whims. Embracing the future shouldn’t be a political one. Pragmatism should be celebrated, in all facets, even if that means taking the bus.