Elon Musk

Tesla Service Provides a Best in Class Experience



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.


Owning Model S – Book Review

UnknownThe Model S is in it’s infancy compared to global automotive standards. The Corvette is over 60 years old, this year the Mustang hits 50 and Rolls Royce was founded 110 years ago. In contrast, the Model S is less than two years old, so at that young age there’s not much history to report. We hear almost as much talk about Elon Musk, Tesla Motor’s CEO, and Tesla stock than the car; except that is, from the drivers.

Nick J. Howe is not really an unusual Model S driver, he has just taken it to an entirely new level. He’s been focused on Tesla and the concept of the Model S years before it hit the production line. He and I are in the same camp because we own and drive a Model S, but that’s where the similarity ends. Mr. Howe has been cataloging data, making observations and connecting with other Tesla enthusiasts on forums since the very early days. He has taken all that knowledge and insight and written it down in a book, Owning Model S: The Definitive Guide to Buying and Owning the Tesla Model S. That’s a mouthful. I prefer shorter titles.

The book is modest looking as trade paperbacks go. Glossy but sturdy paper stock covers the shiny pages on the interior. It has that self-published look and feel throughout. Not a bad thing, but I am looking forward to the day when someone will publish a rich, large volume dedicated to this innovation. I’m talking coffee table style. Hardcover, printed in Italy on acid free paper in 12 color. There’s a challenge.

We have all heard the idiom, “Never judge a book by it’s cover.” Here’s a prime example. This volume is jam-packed with details, tips, personal anecdotes and resources that validates the author’s claim as the “definitive guide.”

I was hard pressed to come up with many things not covered in some manner by Mr. Howe. He goes from the dawning of Tesla Motors, to his excitement of the experience of configuring and ordering the car to the excruciating wait (downplayed in the book) until delivery day. This is only the beginning. He goes on to cover every feature, detail and how it impacts everyday use. It’s actually more of a deconstruction of the entire concept than a guide to the car. He’s giddy  over the car’s obvious performance elements but doesn’t shy away from reporting the glitches uncovered early on as well as what he feels is missing inside the cabin. He wants interior brace handles, clothes hooks, cup holders, etc. Personally I love the minimalist expression of the car and am happy the creature comforts of the past were rejected by Tesla designers. The Model S looks like a sexy gas car at first glance, but when you look more closely you see something entirely different. The cool thing is no one really expects it to be an EV.

His writing approach strikes a smart balance between practical and scientific. I use scientific purposely. The technology age would not officially emerge for decades beyond Nikola Tesla and his magical experiments. Tesla was more of a sorcerer and was convinced he could bend the laws of nature to his liking. The Model S is a technology device embedded in a mode of personal transportation and to leave out discussion on these things would be a mistake. Howe breaks down the power train, regenerative braking and the battery into simple English so we can all understand and appreciate what went into designing the car and why it handles like no other.

I learned a lot of little things about the car that I’m now incorporating into my routine or cataloging away for a day when it will be very useful. The getting ready for delivery section might seem trivial, but this is not your normal car and you need to be ready or you will be somewhat frustrated. The writing style is short sentences. Lots of breaks, bullets, illustrations, diagrams and emphasis boxes. It’s feels like a PowerPoint presentation at times, but you can easily find what you’re looking for thanks to an exhaustive table of contents and a good index. I hate it when authors don’t include an index.

One of my favorite items in the book is Decoding Your VIN. It’s the geek in me.

VIN Decoded

One Thing Bothers Me

I do have to say that I would like people to stop referring to supercharging as “free for life.” If you have an 85Kw battery then your Model S is activated for supercharging at the factory. The $10,000 premium paid for the additional electricity storage likely has a predicted supercharger usage factored in. Today’s price to activate supercharging on a 60Kw battery is $2,500. True enough there is no additional cost for plugging-in once you make that one time payment, but if we use Mr. Howe’s formula of 8,000 miles driven equals $300 in electricity cost, then a 60Kw driver would need to plug exclusively into a supercharger over the course of driving 66,000 miles to break even. Unlikely, if not impossible.

I found myself referring back to this book several times to remind me of something or add clarity to what I thought I already knew. Thank you Mr. Howe for doing all the hard work. If you own are will be soon owning a Model S, this book is worth the investment. For me it goes right into the glove box of my Model S. Or should we really call it the J1772 adaptor box?

Roger Pressman, founder of teslaaccessories.com and very early Model S adaptor is to be thanked for recognizing the value in this material and working to get it published.

Get your copy of Owning Model S here.

Read a prior post on another book about the Model S. Tesla Model S: Best Car Ever

My calculations on the Total cost of ownership of a Model S

The Journey to Model S

I took delivery of my Model S on June 14, 2013 at the Chicago Grand Avenue service center. There has been so much written and said on both sides of the fence about the Model S. Much of the discussion surrounds the stock and it’s meteoric rise since the company went public. The company is under a microscope everyday and each move or stumble is deconstructed and debated. Here’s my Model S. Why is it called a Model S? It’s a nod to Henry Ford’s Model T, but ahead of that invention. S is for spaceship, or my favorite, S is for Steve. Officially, the S is for Sedan. The Model X is crossover.

Model S 2

My last car was a 2003 Acura TL. It was a terrific automobile and I loved driving it. Very reliable, but as with all internal combustion engine cars it required a lot of care and feeding. Weekly stops at the gas station accompanied by an outlay of $60. Oil changes, belts, hoses, catalytic converters, brake linings, transmission and on and on.

I grew up in a family of car guys. One uncle was a racer of sprint cars in the midwest who retired to a career of selling cars. Two others were mechanics, one professional the other amateur. My father did almost everthing on his car and taught me. He owned 37 cars and trucks over his lifetime. So you see gasoline, oil and grease run deep.

I’m the kind of guy that keeps his cars quite a while. I owned a 1993 Toyota Camray for seven years and the Acura for ten. I know what it means to stay in a car and I knew I was going to be driving my next car for ten or more years. I wanted a big upgrade. Early on in my search I considered Mercedes Benz, Jaguar and Porsche. Loved all of them, but they are very expensive once you add on all the options.

The more I read about Tesla the more I became interested. My neighbor received his in March of 2013 and he let me drive it. That was all it took. Well, not exactly. I had to convince my analytical wife. So I dove into the analysis.

Comparing Total Cost of Ownership: Model S vs. an Acura TL

I ran the numbers. I went to the Acura web site and built a 2013 TL with the options I would have included had I purchased that car. I am using the actual price of my 2013 Model S. I feel it’s fair to use the 2013 TL price and not my 2003 TL’s price because I’m buying in 2013. I drove my 2003 Acura TL for ten years and so all of the maintenance, insurance, license renewals and insurance are actuals  Keep in mind I am a stickler for details and kept track of every visit to the dealer as well as kept all itemized receipts. These numbers are dead on. I had to estimate the gas costs so it’s not perfect, but I believe I’m close. Here are the high level results of the analysis.

Ownership Compairson Chart

If you stay in the Tesla for ten years the numbers show that the Model S is less than 1% more costly to own than an Acura TL. That sounds pretty hard to believe, but I have double and even tripled checked the numbers and run my methodology past a couple of PhD’s. They did not find any significant flaws.

Some might argue that I should throw out the personal time investment because it’s not a hard cost. I argue it is the hardest cost because it’s your life, not money. This calculation includes time you will spend waiting at the gas station to fuel your car, time you waste sitting in a dealership for oil changes, regular and unexpected maintenance. I used $50 per hour for one’s time, which is very low in my book. Time is one of our most important assets. We have a fixed amount of it. Once it’s gone you can never recapture it. My father used to say, “Kill time and you murder success.” Why not spend that extra week (yes, 7 days) with your family or vacationing, or working on a project you’re passionate about? Maybe even volunteering.

Here are a couple more things to consider. My 2003 Acura TL cost me $29,480, the 2013 TL is $43,310. Not the base price, but including my personal preferred options. So the Acura has gone up in price 47% in ten years. The Model S will likely become less expensive over time as battery technology improves. It is unlikely gas prices will go lower  but highly likely they will rise.

If we think about a potential “Moore’s Law of Batteries,” they will improve in range and performance and become cheaper to make. The 60kW battery I have costs roughly $10,000. It’s not officially published by Tesla, but insiders say this is a good number. After ten years of driving the TL, I will likely trade it in. If I were to buy another gas car I’d likely pay $65,000 for a comparable automobile. In eight years, when my Model S battery is no longer under warranty, I might visit a service center and have it replaced with a new battery pack. If the cost of Tesla batteries went down in cost 10% per year, that means I could replace my current battery size with a new one for $4,305. And if the range went up 10% each year I spend that money for a 125kW battery pack that could exceed 400 miles in range. I’d have new car, from an energy perspective.

But why would I trade in the TL and not the Model S? One big advantage the Model S has over other cars is the software nature of the design. Tesla has promised at least four software enhancements per year. These upgrades are done over the internet, no need to visit a service center. They add new features and capabilities, improve battery life and make existing features better. All at no cost to me. The reason I may not trade in my Model S is because it becomes a new car 40 times over the ten years. I took delivery of the car in June and I’ve had three upgrades so far.

The next obvious elephant in the room is range. Range anxiety is apparantly running rampant across the country, perhaps the world. The pharmcutical companies have a big business opportunity here. I frequently get this question these days, “What happens when the battery runs down?” I reply with, “The same thing that happens when you run out of gas. My guess is you don’t often run out of gas.”

My commute is very short. Let’s call it a 10 mile round trip. My 60kW battery has a range of 205 miles. That makes me the poster boy for an electric car. However, I know many other Tesla owners that commute 75 miles each day and have been doing it for a year in their Model S. They seem to be just as mentally stable as your typical gas car owner.

It takes my home electrical grid 20 minutes and will use 3.3 kW to recharge that 10 miles. I pay .04999¢ per killowatt hour. So it costs me .16¢ per night to recharge the battery. If I were to make that same commute over ten years, accounting for weekends and days off, it add up to a grand total of $387 for the entire decade of commuting!

Mission Statement

Tesla has a mission. Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO re-stated it in a recent email.

“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.”

Of course other car companies have a vision or mission statements as well.

  • General Motors: To design, build and sell the world’s best vehicles.
  • Ford: People working together as a lean, global enterprise for automotive leadership.
  • Chrysler: Build cars and trucks people will want to buy, enjoy driving and will want to buy again.To create the type of exciting, efficient, reliable, safe vehicles you expect and deserve.

Ford, GM and Chrysler all sound the same. Tesla is different. It’s a Silicon Valley software firm, which means it moves fast and focuses on innovation.

I will decline to comment on climate change. That debate plays out on many other, much larger stages. What I do believe is that the supply of fossil fuels is not unlimited. Internal combustion engings create pollution. Neither of those points are inaccurate. There’s something very satisfying about driving a vehicle that does not burn fossil fuel and has exactly zero emissions.