Model S

Three Years in My Model S (12,807)

June 13, 2016 marks the third anniversary of owning and driving a Model S from Tesla. I picked it up on a warm, bright afternoon in 2013 from the Grand avenue showroom in Chicago. I boarded a commuter train close to my North Shore suburban home just before noon and pulled into Union Station less than an hour later. Yes, I took a day off work. A short cab ride put me at the glass front door of the Tesla facility.

I was beyond excited, but also a little apprehensive. I was about to transition from the familiar internal combustion vehicles into a vastly different world of transportation. Was I making a mistake? What if it would be a bust in a year, or even less? Man, that’s a lot of money for a car. A tiny voice in compartment deep inside my brain said, “leave now.” I didn’t.

Almost everything about buying, owning and driving a car from Tesla is vastly different from any other car experience I have ever had. The entire buying process was done online, including selecting options, placing the down payment and electronically reviewing and signing all the necessary documents.

Ok. The transaction details are all complete. All that’s left is to drive away. And drive away I did.

Let’s just say that there is nothing like driving a Model S. I bought the 12,807th Model S off the Fremont, California assembly line. Because I was early on I got some things included that are now options; premium lighting, headliner fabric for starters. My dash has the wood grain going vertical. Soon after they changed it to horizontal. Small items for sure, but still, my Model S stands out.

No I don’t have summon or autonomous driving. I really don’t care. I do wish I had 4-wheel drive, but I’m doing fine, even in the Chicago winters.

Gas stations, oil changes, maintenance and worry are not in my vocabulary, having been replaced with miles of smiles.

 

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.

The Used Car Lot, Tesla Style

Tesla has launched a pre-owned sales web site which gives consumers the first ever centralized hub to shop for a used Model S. Mine is closing in on two years and there have been a number of updates and new features added over that time. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about upgrading. Some owners are trading for the D while others will be coming to the end of their three year lease. It’s a smart move for Tesla.

Their web site is beautiful as one would expect, with the cars neatly displayed in a grid with the key data including miles and price right up front. They are however, not photos of the actual cars. When you click in you see the exterior and interior choices that match the vehicle (presumably), but they are studio shots of new cars.

You don’t get to see the character that cars acquire over time. You get the marketing copy and feature set that is seen when one orders new, but nothing about the condition of that specific car. Clearly I wouldn’t expect Tesla to actually open a used car lot, but what happens if you are not satisfied with your choice?

Preowned Model S

Each car comes with a 4 year, 50,000 limited warranty and 24 hour roadside assistance, but also requires an immediate down payment that varies based on, well, something. Cars require a $1,500 transportation fee to get it to the nearest service center, and the prices are not a bargain.

I assume you won’t be able to apply for the Federal tax break of $7,500, or for your State rebate program if they have one. Most of the cars in the Chicago area which was nicely filtered when I arrived at the site, were 85kWh or P85kWh models. Only two 60kWh were available when I looked, which is what I have. One was listed at $66,950 plus the $1,500 transportation fee = $68,450. My Model S all in with almost exactly the same options (I don’t have supercharging) was $81,020. Subtract the $11,750 in breaks and rebates and you get $69,270. The listed car has 9,204 miles, mine now has 9,978. Not really a bargain for me, but the options and prices have significantly changed since I ordered mine in 2013.

This, along with the lack of PR at launch, tells me Tesla is testing the waters a bit, which is smart. A car manufacturer (also the dealer) is in a unique position. The owner typically wants to move on but the product is still very much viable. They should look to monetize this and I applaud this important step.

But if you are in the market for a Model S, I recommend you order a new one. It’s a keeper.

Cold Weather Driving in my Model S: Year 2

My Tesla Model S Laughs in the Face of Winter

This is the second winter driving in my Model S. The last Chicago winter was the worst one in 40 years. I posted my experience last year about this time. Now for the follow-up.

139

November was unseasonably cold, but December was actually quite nice. A number of 40 and 50 degree temps right up until the end of the year. We’re now in early January and the cold has hit us squarely between the eyes. Single digit temps during the day and sub-zero at night for the last week. Snow has not been much of an issue, but I’m sure it’s coming.

So, how does it feel moving into winter number two? Am I dissuaded from owning my Model S? Fine questions indeed.

Clearly one must adapt driving habits in the winter, but that’s true of any car. You don’t let your gas tank get too low in cold weather, so likewise, in a Model S, you watch the battery range much closer and take steps to reduce risk.

My Kw/ml average exceed 820 this week. That’s well above the 300 I get during the other 9 months of the year and a little higher than I saw in last year’s Vortex weather. Since my daily commute is short this additional energy usage doesn’t impact me in the least.

With my iPhone app I can start the heater of my car and warm up the cabin to a toasty 70° before I arrive at my car which I park in an open concrete parking structure. No issues with the door handle operation, any of the software processing or electronics.

As far as driving snow, I continue to disable the regenerative braking feature which helps when the roads have yet to be plowed or I’m in a public parking lot. As with any car the best advice is slow down and be vigilant.

Drive on.

 

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.

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