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Electric 'Cannonball Run'? Tesla aims for world record

Thursday, 30 Jan 2014 | 12:11 PM ET
Tesla's cannonball run
Thursday, 30 Jan 2014 | 12:16 PM ET
Two Tesla sedans left Los Angeles and are racing to New York to attempt the first cross-country supercharged trip. CNBC's Phil LeBeau reports.

It's a cross-country trek few could have imagined a couple of years ago.

A team of employees at Tesla are racing from Los Angeles to New York City in a pair of Model S sedans, in hopes of establishing a Guinness World Record for the lowest charge time for an electric vehicle traveling across the country.

(Read more: Will Tesla's Model S succeed in China?)

But here's the catch: they are only stopping to recharge their batteries on the brand's Supercharger network, which includes 71 stations in North America.

It doesn't leave the drivers with the most direct route—it requires them to cross through the Upper Midwest and the Rockies—but the Tesla team hopes to make it coast to coast in less than three days. They departed the West Coast at midnight.

Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise and Jack Elam star in the film, "Cannonball Run", where they compete in a cross-country car race.
Source: Golden Harvest | YouTube
Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise and Jack Elam star in the film, "Cannonball Run", where they compete in a cross-country car race.

Sure, at the end of the day this is a marketing ploy by Tesla to further ease range anxiety among potential buyers. But it's a testament to how far Tesla has come in building out the Supercharger network over the last few year, which after the opening of a Maryland station last week, now covers about 80 percent of America.

The route across America

Most of Tesla's 71 Supercharger stations around the U.S. are along the East and West Coast, but there is a clear line of stations running from the Southwest, up through the Rocky Mountains, and across the Upper Midwest and East to New York City.

The stations are located on or near major highways to allow drivers to pull off, recharge their batteries 50 percent in as little as 20 minutes, and hit the road again. It's not as fast as stopping for a five-minute fill-up on gasoline, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk has long argued that people making long drives won't mind stopping every 200 to 250 miles to take a short break.

(Read more: Tesla's CEO: Call it a remedy, not a recall)

To drive that point home, Musk will be the first to say that the Supercharger stations are often at rest stops where there are diners, restrooms and places where Model S drivers can stretch their legs and take a break themselves.

Musk speaks out about Tesla's 'remedy'
Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks out about the Model S and its charging station fix. CNBC's Phil LeBeau reports.

Officially, Tesla says you can go 306 miles in the Model S equipped with the largest 85kW battery, and 244 miles on the 60kW battery. Both of those estimates are assuming you are driving 55 miles per hour in 70 degree temperatures.

In reality, when we drove the Model S from Washington, D.C., to Boston on a cold day last year, we got about 280 miles on a full charge from the largest battery.

Musk family road trip

Since last September, Musk has said he plans to take his family, which includes five children, on a cross-country trip in a Model S.

Tesla Building Supercharger Network
CNBC's Phil LeBeau reports Tesla's Model S gets up to 265 miles fully charged, and Tesla is building a supercharger network along highways.

When Musk announced his plan, he estimated that the road trip of roughly 3,200 miles would require about an hour and half of recharging time every day. Unlike the current Tesla team trying to go coast to coast in three days, Musk thinks his family road trip will take about six days.

"We will only ever need to charge when stopping anyway to eat or sightsee, never just for charging itself," Musk said.

(Read more: Tesla recalls cars because of overheating adapter)

Since the Supercharger network connecting New York and Los Angeles has just been completed, many are wondering when Musk's road trip will take place. Tesla executives believe the CEO's family road trip won't happen until later this spring, or perhaps early this summer, when the CEO's children are not in school and there's more time to make the drive.

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.

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