Tesla police car nearly runs out of power during chase in California

A Fremont, California, police official said that the department still has full faith in the pilot program.
Image: Fremont Police tesla
A Fremont police department Tesla Model S is shown Aug. 3, 2019. Fremont Police Department

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By Phil Helsel

A San Francisco-area police department says it still has full faith in a pilot program to use a Tesla electric patrol car, even though the vehicle reportedly ran low on power last week during a pursuit.

The East Bay Times newspaper reported that a Fremont police officer in the Tesla Model S, which the department bought in March, became involved in a police pursuit Friday but radioed dispatch to say that the electric vehicle warned that it had only 6 miles of battery life left and that he may not be able to continue in the chase.

Fremont police spokesperson Geneva Bosques told NBC Bay Area that the Tesla was not fully charged at the beginning of the officer’s shift at 2 p.m. and that the pursuit didn’t begin until around 11 p.m.

"This one instance does not in any way change our feeling regarding the performance of the vehicle for patrol purposes," Bosques told the station.

"The officer was monitoring the charge and responsibly notifying everyone of its status during the approximate 10-mile pursuit," Bosques said. The department had other police vehicles behind the Tesla to take over the chase, and the California Highway Patrol was also responding, according to the department.

The chase was called off for safety reasons and the highway patrol later found the suspect's car abandoned in San Jose, according to police and the station.

Fremont police said in a statement Thursday that when the officer started his shift the Tesla had a battery life of around 50 percent — and that fits with recommendations that its officers begin their shift with at least a half-tank of gas.

The Tesla police vehicle is normally charged between shifts but on the day of the pursuit it had just been returned from the corporation yard, police said. "The vehicle is regularly returning at the end of every shift with 40 to 60 percent, if not more, of the battery charge remaining,” police said in the statement.

“At no time did the battery of the Tesla become a factor in our ability to pursue the suspect or perform our duties," police said in Thursday’s statement. "This situation, while embarrassing, is no different from cases where a patrol car runs low (or even dry) of fuel."

That car was wanted in connection with a crime in Santa Clara and a felony warrant has been issued for the driver, who has not been found, according to NBC Bay Area. The around 10-mile chase at times exceeded 110 mph, police said.

Bosques told NBC Bay Area that Friday’s incident was the second pursuit involving the Tesla, and that "so far the car is meeting or exceeding our expectations."

"We are still in our first six months of the pilot program and we’re keeping track of all the data," Bosques said.

Fremont is a city of around 214,000 in the Bay Area southeast of San Francisco.

Fremont police Capt. Sean Washington said in Thursday’s statement that the Tesla is “performing extremely well, and has exceeded our expectations," and that the department is already looking at testing a second vehicle, likely a sport-utility vehicle.

"We remain dedicated to our continued research into the benefits of using electric vehicles and the effects they have on our environment,” police said in Thursday’s statement.