Service

Two Years in My Model S

Model S Landscape

June 14 marks the day I picked-up my Model S in 2013. People often ask me if I still like the car? Have I had any problems? Would I buy another one?

Yes, I still love my car. Everyday it is a joy to drive for all the reasons that have been expounded thousands of times over by Model S owners like me. The item that was somewhat concerning to me prior to owning one was the battery, or batteries in this case. Would it keep taking a charge quickly? Would it lose power or discharge faster over time? I have noticed nothing that would lead me believe that there has been any degradation in the battery at all.

My car charges as fast as it every has, and I’ve charged it almost every day since I drove it home. It carries me reliably along the displayed range of miles and the acceleration still produces that wide Tesla grin. In short it has exceeded by durability test, at least so far.

I do find it to be a big car and the turning radius is wide, which means you have to be careful in narrow parking ramps or in tight traffic spots. And no you can’t really have the same kind of fun if you wish to take a road trip, despite all those Superchargers and the recent installation of range anxiety features now built into to the software. But I’m a careful driver and I tend to get on a commercial jet liner for my trips, so I didn’t buy the Supercharger option.

On the service side, here’s what I’ve had done.

  • The windshield washer jets that squirt solvent on the windshield were aligned too low, not allowing the wipers to do a thorough job of cleaning. I took it into the Highland Park service center and they made an adjustment that fixed the problem. They also performed some minor service bulletin work related to minor creaking here and there. No charge.
  • One day I returned home from work and plugged in car. There are lights that display around the car charging input plug to tell you the mode of the charge. Blue means preparing for charge, green means it’s charging normally and amber means there is a problem and the car is not charging. No matter how often I plugged and unplugged the cord or wiggled it around when in, the amber light would not go away. They sent a technician to my home the next morning who determined that I had a faulty power cord. He replaced it and I’ve had no problem since then. No charge.
  • Chicago winters are harsh. Cold, ice and snow are frequent, so having a good windshield defroster is critical. I found the Model S was not doing a good job at diffusing the heat evenly across the width of the front glass. Same service center swapped out the deflector on the dash with one that had a different vent pattern. Problem solved, no charge.
  • Lastly, I have heard that paying attention to tire rotation is important on the Model S. When I reached 6,000 miles I called the service center. They came to my place of work, picked-up the car, performed the rotation, cleaned the car and returned it before my work day was over. Again no charge.

That’s the extent of my need for service. No cash outlay and no inconvenience. They either came to me or I went in when it fit my schedule.

Model S 2

The Tesla Model S is not for everyone, but it is for me. If fits my aesthetic, my love of technology and design. It also feels good to support a company trying to do something completely different from everyone else in the car industry. Detroit, et. al. have no doubt been building tech into their cars for a while, but they user interface is a mess. They will learn from Tesla and improve their cars, not because they fear Tesla, but because they will realize that they can do better.

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Falling Gas Prices: Will This Impact Tesla’s Plans?

Who would have thought that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC) would suddenly become so irrelevant? This powerful group controlled the production and price of a barrel of oil for decades and as you can see by the chart below they are under enormous economic pressure as well as, for the first time, significant competition for production.

Oil Price Chart 2

The United States, once so oil-dependent, is now emerging as one of the top producers of crude oil in the world. The price of a barrel of oil has fallen over half since July. As a result we have falling gas prices, which for most people is good news. Many of us are dependent on our cars to get us to work, school, run necessary errands, even take vacations. Gas has been a significant line item in the household budget. It’s now taking less of a bite out of that take home paycheck.

One of the big attractions of an electric vehicle is the owner never needs to buy gas. It was indeed a big factor in my total cost of ownership spreadsheet analysis when I decided to purchase my Model S. So how will what we might call “cheap gas” impact Tesla’s plans and how do I feel about that as a Tesla owner?

Tesla is more interested in eliminating carbon emissions, not necessarily saving people money at the pump. Their mission statement includes the following.

Our goal when we created Tesla a decade ago was the same as it is today: to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible.

Current Model S buyers are not cash constrained and don’t watch the pump price as they drive their current cars. The Tesla Model S and others on the drawing board is about a completely reimagined version of the automobile. Disruption of the old guard of car manufacturing and built in Silicon Valley.

Clearly the Tesla Model S and the forthcoming Model X will only attract high end buyers. The success of these cars as well as the Gigafactory which will mass produce batteries at a much lower cost, are required before the Model 3 can become a reality. The Model 3 will be much more affordable and, if successful and in the target price zone car-buyers need, it will be the game-changer needed to propel electric vehicle adoption.

Tesla’s work means they are light years ahead of any typical gas car manufacturer when it comes to EV’s. No internal combustion car company could make the Tesla. It’s much harder to change than it is to start from scratch when it comes to innovation. That’s why Sears could never have become Amazon. They are simply not even on the same planet. The Tesla car is a design marvel and great design always wins. Think Apple over Microsoft.

History has shown that when consumers can save at the pump they don’t automatically spend the difference somewhere else. It’s also important to remember that despite less money being spent on fuel, the cost of maintenance, both economic and in time remains unchanged. EV’s require little to no service.

This change in gas price is so dramatic that I believe consumers who are right now looking at their 2015 budgets, might just entertain the concept of holding off to the side a fund for the Model 3.

Do lower gas prices make my economic analysis less compelling today than when I did it two years ago? No question about it. But my buyer’s remorse matches my emissions output; zero.

 

Car Dealers Should Fear the Tesla Model

I’ve written at length about the American Automobile Dealers Association’s displeasure with Tesla’s business model of selling direct to consumers on a dedicated page on my blog. At this point the reasons for the fight are old news just like the dealer network and way of doing business is from a long-gone era. The dealers are tone deaf to the way consumers shop for and ultimately purchase products. The dealers have a number of stated reasons that Tesla should not be allowed to sell their cars. These are the ones most often stated.

Consumers Won’t get the Best Price

Tim Doran, president of the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association recently said, “If you have a manufacturer that is selling vehicles direct to the public and they are the only source for that particular vehicle, there is no competition for the price.”*

As a sound byte that seems logical. We know from experience that single providers veer away from consumer good and toward corporate profits. However, that happens even when there are multiple makers and suppliers of products and services. For years we only had one telephone company. If you wanted dial tone there was only one place to go, Ma Bell. The Bell System monopoly was broken up by federal mandate in 1982 as part of a consent decree. Certainly it opened up competition by MCI and Sprint for long distance service and eventually to the cellular phone network. It accomplished the goal of offering the consumer choice. Pricing is an altogether other thing. The plans that were made available were impossible for the average consumer to understand. Local rates, long distance rates and my favorite, local-long distance. Then there was the slamming. Calling a consumer and promising low cost phone service and then switching them whether they agreed or not. This strategy is a time-tested one. Offer non-customers a low rate for a fixed period of them them raise the price and they won’t even notice. Built-in price increases without having to publish the price.

Certainly there is an acquisition expense for the company that must be recovered as they calculate their lifetime customer value (LCV), but it lacks transparency and is full of unexpected surprises for the customer. A lower price up front always means it will be made up in some fashion over time. It requires consumers to put considerable effort in understanding the total cost of being a customer for that company and their product or service. Very few of us practice this economy.

Tesla is fully transparent. They don’t make or sell a car. I argue it’s not a car at all. It’s personal transportation. The likes of which has never been seen before. Tesla doesn’t tell consumers they are the lowest cost provider. All options and pricing are right up there on their web site for anyone to see. Configure your Model S and you know exactly how much it will cost when you pick it up. Here’s the real difference. The pricing on car manufacture’s sites have almost no connection with what you will pay when you finally cut your deal. Missing from the car builders’s sites are all the things that dealers will try to sell you and charge you for over time. And it’s estimated that dealers add up to $1,500 to the cost of a vehicle.

My suspicion is the real reason dealers don’t like Tesla is they make a transportation choice that they are unable to compete with. There is very little difference between most internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. Certainly they have varied feature options, designs, technology, etc., but the concept is the same. Thousands of moving parts, burn fossil fuel and carve out your time and money to keep it on the road each year. Dealers have to create promotions and gimmicks to get attention because shopping at Ford is no different than shopping at Chevrolet or Toyota or Honda. It comes down to which car fits your driving preferences and fits within your lifestyle. Not only is the shopping no different, the driving isn’t either.

Dealers are dealers and the experience is essentially the same. Saturn made a run at breaking that paradigm with their fixed price, no negotiation approach. It was groundbreaking and in some ways it worked.

The Model S is an entirely new approach to what goes into a car. That means first cycle technology which always costs a bit more at first but will get better and chapter over time. Trying to win on price is largely for commodity items, like milk and gas-powered cars.

Safety Will Be Compromised

Another item cited as a reason to continue the ban on direct sales of cars to consumers is safety. I’ve read numerous news reports and claims by car dealers that say they make cars safer for consumers. So let’s look at the stats. 22 million cars were recalled in 2013. GM alone has recalled 30 million in 2014. In General Motor’s case the recalls represent a shift toward a more accountable culture. Decades of covering up problems in the name of profit are perhaps seeing at least a peak of sunlight these days, but not without federal action.

My question to the dealers would be, what action did you take to demand safer cars? When Toyota had their unexpected acceleration issue, did you threaten to stop your orders until it was fixed? When customers flocked to your service bays did you band together with your fellow dealers and forcefully demand more facts and change? I’ve not read anything even close to that.

Recall service is paid for by the manufacturer, which means dealers can make money on them. I’m not suggesting dealers want to see people hurt or killed, but for minor things that are not mission critical to safety, they probably don’t mind much. In fact they have changed the word recall to “product update.” When I bought an ICE car for my wife in January of this year, not a word was uttered about safety or taking me through the history of recalls and what was being done to ensure that was a thing of the past.

All Car Manufacturers will Start Selling Direct

Of all the reasons offered up, this one strikes me as the most lame. GM has so many self-made distractions these days, figuring out how to sell direct cannot possibly be high on their radar. First of all having a dealership is only mildly about selling cars, it’s really about selling service. It’s a system designed for customers to come back again and again to open their wallet to “maintain their vehicle in top working condition.” Why would Toyota or Honda or Ford even want to scale up for that? Perhaps I’m wrong and of course I don’t know the P&L implications, but this would likely require a huge investment.

Please remember ICE car makers build ICE cars. Tesla makes electric cars. They are on different planets. The Model S does not require anywhere near the service level that ICE cars require. Imaging having an ICE car and realizing that the only thing you had to remember to do was put gas in it and maybe replace the tires? No oil changes, tune-ups, timing belt replacements, transmission service, et… How many more new ICE cars would be purchased if that was true?

What you Don’t Have to Worry About with a Model S

Mr. Doran concedes that the Model S is “a pretty nice car,” but he says he wouldn’t buy one because there isn’t enough of an infrastructure for parts and service. So let’s make a list of some of the parts you find on an ICE car that you don’t have to worry about with a Model S because it doesn’t need them.*

Parts List

I can see how Mr. Doran is so concerned about needing easy and fast access to parts. With so many of them and that display of a lack of confidence in their reliability, he needs peace of mind. As far as “infrastructure” is concerned, the only one really needed is electricity which is already in ample supply across the country. Charging stations are numerous. ChargePoint, the service I use frequently has over 18,000 stations in the United States. As a quick comparison, there are 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants.

Let’s compare the power plants of an ICE car engine and a Tesla Model S motor.

Engine comparison

Tesla uses a brushless AC induction motor consisting of a rotor and a stator. The only points of contact in the motor are the bearings. It puts out 290 kilowatts and delivers 100% instant torque at any speed and does it using a single gear; drive.

Software as a Service

Tesla is a Silicon Valley company. True, there are issues with how these guys behave these days, but what you get is an entirely new experience and level of performance. When the first iPhone was released in 2007, it was either $499 or $599. Who would ever think that spending that much on a cell phone made any sense? After all, you got your new cell phone free from your provider (after signing a new subsidized 2 year contract of course). Apple sold 6.1 million of their first generation iphones in the first five quarters. It was groundbreaking.

Before I purchased my Model S I test drove a Mercedes Benz S Class. The salesman told me the navigation system was amazing and I could get map updates as well. I asked how that worked and he said I would schedule a service visit, bring in the car and they would update them for about $300. My Model S receives over the air updates and they push new versions of Google Maps to me free of charge. Another stark example why dealers don’t want Tesla’s model anywhere near them.

 

Ford was founded in 1903, General Motors in 1908, , Chrysler in 1925. Tesla was founded in 2003. They have taken the time to reimagine what transportation should be for consumers. Considered the environment while making them. Building in deep safety measures, and breaking the belief that along with car ownership comes the burden of parenting it with repeated maintenance and expense.

* Quote taken from The Columbus Post Dispatch, September 30, 2014

Tesla Service Provides a Best in Class Experience

 

Tesla-Highland-Park-Service-Area

Having hit 6,000 miles on my Model S it was time for a tire rotation. I called the Highland Park service center. The person who answered the phone said they were very busy and could they get back to me later on. Not long thereafter I received an email that offered me several dates available for the service request. I countered with a different date. The reply came quickly and indicated that day would be fine. They would valet my car to the service center, perform the tire rotation and return it to me.

From that initial phone call they captured my cell phone number and matched it to my information on file. They knew my home address and had already lined up potential service bulletins that might apply to my specific car.

Exactly at 8:30 am last Saturday, as promised, my doorbell rang. My car was driven away and I went on with some gardening chores I was looking forward to doing. About three hours later my iphone rang. They were all done and leaving the service center.

In less than twenty minutes my Model S entered my driveway and was driven directly into my garage, exactly where I park it. The gentleman who drove it emerged from the car, plugged it in and handed me the key.

The tire rotation had been performed along with a couple other minor updates. My Model S had been vacuumed and hand washed, including tire shine. All of this at NO charge.

I’ve had dozens, perhaps a hundred or more service experiences with other car makers. None of them, absolutely not one compared to the experience Tesla provided.

Tesla continues to get things right. They’re not perfect, but in ten short years they have an amazing product and it seems they have the energy and determination to keep advancing.

First Delivery of New Teslas to Highland Park Service Center

I was at the Highland Park Service Center on Monday, January 20, 2014 to pick up my all weather floor mats and got a surprise. As I was waiting for the service guys to install them in my Model S, a car carrier with four brand new shining Teslas pulled up.

Everyone was so excited as this was the first Model S delivery to this facility. So great to see my fellow Chicagoians embrace this fantastic new car.

Tesla Service Center: Highland Park

On December 20th Tesla opened their largest service center in the Midwest right here on the North Shore, Highland Park, Illinois. I visited the center yesterday and Evan gave me the full tour. This facility will serve as a showroom, sales, a delivery site for lucky new Model S owners and of course service. It also has 4 Superchargers on the south side of the building for 24/7 free charging of your Model S.

When you think about service for your gas car it means regular oil changes, periodic maintenance and of course those times when something is wrong and you have to take your car in. I would be the first to say that today’s gas car dealer service experience has improved significantly over the last ten years. Clean, comfortable surrounds for waiting, better explanation of services and fairly accurate time estimates on when your car will be ready to get back on the road.

Model S service is a very different animal all together. The facility is super clean with the floors, walls and ceiling painted white. That’s how they started the work on the Fremont, California factory. Painting everything white. Since the cars don’t use oil or gas, the environment appears to be more like a lab than a garage. There are no exhaust fumes to deal with so the doors can be kept closed which means less cool or warm air being wasted. The guys that service the car are technicians, not mechanics because software management is a big part of the work that might be done. Growing up the nickname for mechanics was “grease monkey” because these guys had to crawl all around inside the hood and under the vehicle and emerged covered in gas, oil and grease. Probably the dirtiest a Tesla tech will get is when he rotates the tires. Each service visit ends with a full, free charge of the battery pack so you can roll out in style.

There is an inherent challenge in owning a Model S. If you do need service, you will have to take it to Tesla. It’s comforting to see they are taking service after the sale seriously.

Tesla is striving to be a very different car company. They are working to make money on the sales of the car, not on financing or service. This at the root of why many traditional car dealers are trying to block sales of Teslas in their state. If the paradigm shifts that significantly, the business model will be disrupted, causing a major overhaul for many of the players along the way.