A California police officer driving a Tesla Model S during a high-speed chase on a Bay Area freeway radioed to his colleagues that he was running low on battery. He needed someone else to take over.
“I am down to six miles of battery on the Tesla, so I may lose it here in a sec,” the officer said, according to The East Bay Times. “If someone else is able, can they maneuver into the No. 1 spot?”
A police sergeant called off the chase minutes after that radio transmission. The next week, national headlines appeared to blame the electric vehicle.
“Cop’s Tesla runs out of battery power during high-speed chase,” read one headline, in The New York Post.
“Tesla police vehicle ran out of power during a car chase in California,” read another, from ABC News.
“Tesla squad car runs out of battery chasing suspect at high speed, California cops say,” The Kansas City Star reported.
But according to the police department at the heart of the story, that is not what happened.
“At no time did the Tesla end up having to leave the pursuit, it didn’t die on the freeway, and it really didn’t impact this pursuit in any way,” Geneva Bosques, a spokeswoman for the Fremont Police Department, said on Monday.
“It’s the fastest car we have in our fleet and it handles really well in pursuits,” she said.
The Fremont police said the electric vehicle’s low battery was no different from a traditional car running out of gas, getting a flat tire or having other mechanical issues during a pursuit.
“This situation, while embarrassing, is no different from cases where a patrol car runs low (or even dry) of fuel,” the department said in a statement last Thursday.
Fremont, about 40 miles southeast of San Francisco, is home to a sprawling Tesla plant.
It was late on Sept. 20 when a police officer from the town spotted a car being sought in nearby Santa Clara in connection with a felony. The vehicle, a Toyota Avalon, triggered an alert when it crossed into Fremont city limits. Officers had already been instructed to be on the lookout for the vehicle when Officer Jesse Hartman spotted it in the parking lot of a local auto parts store, Ms. Bosques said.
After Officer Hartman tried to stop the wanted vehicle, the driver took off, setting off an eight-minute, 10-mile chase. The car sped onto Interstate 680, reaching speeds over 110 miles an hour, according to the police.
Officer Hartman soon had backup, Ms. Bosques said. Shortly after two additional Fremont Police Department vehicles joined the chase, Officer Hartman’s Tesla alerted him that the vehicle’s charge was running low. Minutes later, after the Avalon drove onto the shoulder of the freeway in order to pass a vehicle, the police sergeant called off the chase “to ensure public safety.”
The California Highway Patrol had been on its way to respond to the chase when it was called off, Ms. Bosques said. That agency later found the vehicle abandoned in the area.
The Fremont police said in their first statement that the Tesla, which had been at the city’s corporation yard earlier that day, had a 50 percent charge when Officer Hartman picked it up at the beginning of his 11-hour shift, but Ms. Bosques said on Monday that the vehicle’s charge was actually higher than that. The chase took place about nine hours into his shift, she said.
“We think it started the pursuit with about 50 miles left on the charge, but when cars accelerate at speeds such as the situation, going over 110 miles per hour, the car charge starts to drain down faster,” Ms. Bosques said. And before the chase, Officer Hartman had driven around more than usual for a shift, she added.
It was the second pursuit for the department’s Tesla, which Ms. Bosques said “has never fully lost a battery charge during any type of call for service.”
Fremont police officers have been impressed with the Tesla, she said, and have called it a “game changer for pursuits.” She also said that the officers involved in the Sept. 20 chase had recently stopped a vehicle while using the Tesla.
That driver, Ms. Bosques said, told officers, “I saw the Tesla behind me, I knew I couldn’t get away from a Tesla.”
Tesla declined to comment for this article, but a week after the pursuit, Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive, tweeted an article from a website devoted to Tesla news, rumors and reviews that referred to the Fremont Police Department’s accounting of the event.
“Meanwhile, back in reality,” he wrote.
The Fremont Police Department was the first in the nation to use a Tesla as a patrol vehicle, Ms. Bosques said. The agency bought a used 2014 Tesla Model S 85 in late 2017 as part of its commitment to a City of Fremont climate change initiative, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.
The Fremont police began transitioning to hybrid vehicles in 2009, and the Tesla was officially deployed as part of the fleet in March 2019. The department’s six-month pilot program with the Tesla will help the agency determine if the vehicles provide the range and durability law enforcement needs.