Model S

A Scientific Lifestyle

It’s not unusual for people who have a strong attachment to something to form clubs in hopes of meeting like-minded people. It’s been happening for centuries. Tesla is no different. There are a lot of communities, forums and information sites out there that are Tesla related. A couple of months ago I came across a very interesting one, Teslarati.

Teslarati Logo

Teslarati’s goal is to be the number 1 source for Tesla lifestyle news, product reviews, aftermarket upgrades, and accessories for the Tesla Model S, Model X and Roadster.

The site is very modern and keeps with the current design trend by making things easy to find. Content at a glance. It takes on a diverse collection of topics and does it with a mix of auto industry pros and journalists. They have global connections and a significant amount of their readership comes from outside the United States.

Recently they reached out to me after reading my blog and asked if I’d be interested in contributing. Needless to say I was honored and after a phone conversation with Gene, the founder, it was clear to me that these guys were the real deal. Gene had never met a Tesla owner outside California before talking to me. The site was started as an experiment to try to capture and communicate the Tesla lifestyle. They are growing fast.

I’m happy to report my first post for Teslarati was published yesterday. I conducted an interview with Gino Bernardi who is the only licensed livery driver in Chicago that drives a Model S on the job. You can check him out, and order a ride from his web site Watts on Wheels. Below is Gino’s Tesla on the tarmac of an executive airport waiting to pick-up a client.


Model S on Tarmac


Although the Model S is now registered in all 50 states, the greatest concentration is of course in the Golden State. But Chicago has a strong Tesla following as well as car ownership. I will be reviewing aftermarket products on Teslarati as well as providing my personal perspective on what it’s like to drive the car in the Chicagoland area. I believe in time that the EV can seamlessly integrate into most people’s driving lifestyle. As the technology gets cheaper and more advanced, millions will be able to afford one in a few short years. Change is always hard and slow. One of my goals is to help people learn, get comfortable with and clearly see the benefits of driving electric.


Tesla Tax Time

It is a widely held belief that there are only two sure things in life, “Death and taxes.” This post is about the latter. Like everyone on the planet, I am not a fan of taxes, but Tesla has given me a present this April 15th. A refund!

Let’s step back a bit. Business incentive rules passed after the 9/11 attacks allowed a $38,000 Federal tax deduction to be taken if you bought a Hummer H2 and used it for business purposes. This was a very difficult time for the nation and especially car companies. On a very personal note, I lost a friend on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to strike the World Trade Center. For weeks I was in a fog. Consumer confidence eroded after 9/11, and car sales were especially hit hard. This program was put in place to stimulate the economy.

In as late as 2010, Japan labeled the Hummer H3 as “fuel efficient” and offered a 250,000 yen ($2,779) subsidy as part of their imported car rules. They buckled under pressure from General Motors who complained they were not being treated fairly as an importer to Japan.

The manner in which the Hummer vehicle was classified did not require GM to display MPG ratings on the sticker. Guess what Hummer owner’s number one complaint was after their purchase. It was that the vehicle really uses a lot of gas. Insert your own reaction here.

Back to the present day. My tax preparer shot me an email today and let me know that because of the $7,500 Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit established by the Internal Revenue Service (Form 8910) I will receive a refund for 2013. Couple that with the $4,000 check the State of Illinois sent me last week and I am happy to report that the $11,750 subsidy is real.

Rebate Check

The Hummer story aside, I’m thankful we have not had to live through another horrible 9/11 since then and our government is supporting the future of electric vehicle innovation. This subsidy is only available until Tesla sells 200,000 electric vehicles.

After many years in a row of having to write a check to the U.S. Treasury, I am getting a refund. It’s small, but every dollar counts.


American Automakers: A Cautionary Tale

The American Automobile

America has done so many things well for dozens of decades. Farming, industrial, health, manufacturing and technology are but a few of the practices that have flourished in our fledgling democracy. You name it we have been leaders. It has been said, “They make airplanes in Everett (Boeing’s primary assembly point), every one else is still working on it.” But as is always case, people, cultures and politics eventually catch up, and indeed in many cases we have been surpassed. The idea of the horseless carriage was truly a global desire. Countries across the world came up with early designs and prototypes, trying to solve the same problem of getting someplace faster and easier.

Henry Ford founded his company in 1903 and once he invented the assembly line, the automotive industry was born. After an amazing head start, American car manufacturers lost their way in the late 1990’s into the 21st century, and are just now clawing back the public trust and loyalty.

Growing up I had two uncles who were mechanics plus one who drove race cars on the midwest super modified circuit. I watched these open-wheeled cars dash around a high-banked, dirt quarter mile oval track every Sunday night. When a back injury forced my race driving uncle to retire, guess what he did. He sold cars. First Chevrolet where he would say that Ford meant “found on road dead.” Then he got a better offer from the Ford dealership and suddenly it stood for “first on race day.” Cars are most definitely part of my heritage. As soon as the new car models were in the showroom, my dad would drive me from dealership to dealership looking under the hood, in the trunk, inspecting the interiors. It was sacred annual pilgrimage.

GM Then and Now

General Motors headquarters buildings, then and now

GM was the only way to go in our family. Once my dad bought an MG Roadster for fun and it literally fell apart before our eyes. Needless to say I was influenced by him and was a charter member of the GM fan club when it came time for me to choose a car. He did all the maintenance himself. Oil changes, brakes, timing, tune-ups, mufflers. Whatever it needed he did and I was right there learning from him.

I gravitated to Chevrolet. My first car was a 1969 Nova that I drove to high school before I was properly licensed. Times were different then. This was followed by two Monte Carlos, then a Buick. Ownership of these cars was annoying. Each car had its own peculiar issue. Some place along the way GM changed the trunk mechanism from a simple mechanical hinge to hydraulic mechanism which was bound to fail. Why make that change? The old design worked fine and never needed attention no matter how long you kept the car. I was young and didn’t have the money to repair all these things, so I just bumped my head every time I put something in the trunk. There were many other problems with seals, transmissions, air conditioning, starting in cold or wet weather, flooding, starters and overheating. It was a part time job to keep these contraptions working.

Losing their Way

In the early 1990’s I was on a business trip to Philadelphia and rented a Pontiac. I don’t recall which model. As I approached the car I couldn’t believe what I saw. Where had the styling gone? No stance, no statement at all. It got worse once I sat down behind the wheel. This was the same brand that gave us the GTO? Everything reeked of cheap, cutting corners, absolute bare minimum. Driving it was the absolute worst. Shaky, no power. It did not feel safe.

A few weeks later I was traveling westward, but this time the rental choice was a Toyota Camry. My reaction was just the opposite. Substantial car. Nice interior, lots of features, clean design. Oh yeah, it was a pleasure to drive. That rental (call it a test drive) didn’t necessarily convert me to buy a Japanese car as much as it made it clear I did not want a Pontiac. Within weeks I was driving a brand new 1993 Toyota Camry.

It’s my belief that you can boil down American’s car problems in the early 2000’s to the following:

  • Arrogance
  • Inertia
  • Lack of consumer understanding
  • Ivory tower syndrome

Arrogance is the easiest to understand, ”We make the best cars in the world.” Like the Boeing quote. End of conversation. One of the worst things that can happen to corporate America is success. It fuels a conservative perspective and stifles real innovation. When I say innovation I don’t mean trying nylon seats on a low end model.

Inertia is more subtle. The assembly line to showroom chain was a finely honed process for American car makers. One of my uncles lived in Lansing, Michigan where there was an Oldsmobile plant. As a child he took me on a plant tour and I marveled at how all the parts came together like a well choreographed production number. They got them off the line and onto the dealer lots efficiently. In 2008 GM alone produced 8.35 million cars with 5.37 million of them sold outside the United States. Worldwide today over 165,000 cars are produced everyday. A well oiled machine to say the least.

Even though cars were a significant expense for the average family, they were still relatively affordable for many years. My father didn’t make a lot of money as an electrical engineer, but he paid cash for every car he ever bought, trading up to a new GM model every couple of years. He was a Pontiac man and loved the sedans. Here’s the bill of sale from his purchase of a 1961 Pontiac Tempest Safari station wagon (the first SUV). Total price $3,249.35.


The boomers were coming of driving age in the late 1970’s and the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system was in place connecting the vast country. The family car was how you saw America, it was the “vacation transportation.” Women began to enter the workforce and so a second family car was needed. The price of gas was under .50 per gallon. American car barons were riding a very tall wave. All these factors that led to meteoric growth also conspired against them as they pushed the supply chain thinking to the max. This has made it very difficult to rethink or re-imagine a complicated business.

America definitely made cars safer and more comfortable, but it’s hard to see how they thought beyond the next model. It’s as if some guy said, “Let’s try this.” And everyone did it at the same time. There was a brief attempt by Preston Tucker of Ypsilanti, Michigan in the late 1940′s to create “The Car of Tomorrow.” It was successfully stopped on trumped up Securities and Exchange Commission charges.

The Japanese were successful in creating electronics. Sony with the walkman and perched to take over the premium television market from Philco and Zenith. The next frontier would be automobiles.

That brings us to lack of consumer understanding. Remember my trunk story? When Japanese automakers found a part or design that worked well, they kept it. As a result the quality of their products improved over the years. They mastered manufacturing excellence and incorporated cumulative learning into the process. This allowed them to focus more on the consumer driving their cars. Honda and Toyota pulled off an amazing marketing feat. They used their management and production methods to raise quality, and their vision and research to gain an amazingly strong foothold in the U.S. They gave boomers the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla as they entered their 20′s. Reliable, efficient, affordable, low maintenance and long lasting cars. Once the boomers became established in careers and began to accumulate disposable income, they gave us Lexus, Acura and Infiniti, just as we were looking for more luxury and prestige. Brilliant.

Meanwhile American car companies knew they were in trouble and trying to manage brand strategy and find the quality recipe. The boomer’s parents (at least the dads) pretty much stuck to a few brands, but everyone of them ended up in the repair shop with all those annoying problems. Oh by the way, they cost more and didn’t last as long. American car companies were on an internal corporate hamster wheel and it was out of synch with consumer need states. When you give consumers similar choice they will freeze because they can’t see differentiation between them. Offer them distinct choices and you will reshape how they think and widen their consideration set. It didn’t hurt a bit to see all those Japanese cars on the road. It took a while for Toyota, Honda and Nissan to be taken seriously, but once U.S. consumers saw that this different was better, it was all over.

The “Buy American” anthem was hatched to try and hold off the outsiders. How dare you buy a car made outside the good ole U S of A? So the Japanese opened state of the art factories in the states. Buying American is great and people would love to, but it would have been much better if it was “Buy American because it’s better,” and actually true.

Now the oldie, but goodie, the ivory tower syndrome. American car execs drove their own car brands and models to work each day and never had any problems with them. “What are all these people complaining about? These cars are fantastic.” Well first of all they always drive new cars. American cars will get you down the road pretty pain free for the first year (12 month or 12,000 mile are the mystical numbers). Second, when they parked in the headquarters garage a team of mechanics would swarm their vehicles and make sure all was in perfect working order. Hmmm, maybe that had something to do with why the cars were in tip top shape. The execs should have given themselves 3-5 year old models to drive and forced to maintain them the way everyone else had to, by making an appointment with a dealer and finding an alternate means of getting to work.

Consumer Reports Auto RankingsDespite the positive changes by American carmakers over the last several years, a 2013 Consumer Reports survey shows that there is a ways to go. Ford in particular has struggled to satisfy their customers and the culprit seems to be the “synch” technology which has been a cornerstone of recent advertising. Microsoft was hired to do the programming and the interface has baffled a lot of consumers. Ford is searching for a new software platform. GM, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Cadillac and Dodge all faired poorly in the recent rankings. Lexus, Acura and Audi held the top spots among the established manufacturers. The recent troubles with GM’s ignition problems in the Colbalt and other air bag issues will be a challenge for their new CEO Mary T. Barra. Personally I was thrilled that Ms. Barra is the first woman to be elevated to CEO status of a major car maker. Perhaps the most storied one at that. I wish her nothing but good fortune.

I don’t believe that any carmaker is purposefully putting safety aside. The larger problems my lie in the communication and culture of GM to quickly identify and begin to correct problems, even if they seem inconclusive or could pose a risk to profit. For the record, Tesla scored a 99 on this Consumer Reports ranking.

Making a Change

I had my 1993 Toyota Camry for seven years, drove it 118,000 miles and never once opened the hood myself to check the oil or troubleshoot a problem. It never saw the inside of the shop for anything except normal maintenance. It never, ever failed to start, even in the harsh Chicago winters. This experience showed me that car ownership can be better.

The 1970’s oil embargo and eventual energy crisis forced firms to downsize cars and improve mileage. But America quickly forgot about that; longing for bigger and faster. So on came the SUV, the rebirth of the V8 engine and the era of monster cars and trucks. Remember the Hummer? When looking at profit margins on those vehicles vs. other models, it made great business sense to U.S. carmakers to continue to build and promote them. Wall Street liked it too. The quality and styling of American made cars has come up nicely as of late. The dealer experience has also improved as a formal customer satisfaction scorecard has come into play.

I traded my Camry for a new 2003 Acura TL. I would have been happy to trade for another Toyota, but their designs at that time were so boring and not at all fun to drive. The experience I had with my Acura was similar to the Camry. Reliable at a relatively high level. I did have to replace the transmission, but Acura subsidized that repair at an acceptable level. Bottom line, it never failed me.

The success of outsider car manufacturers sharpened the short sightedness of U.S. carmakers. I still think they were in denial and felt no real harm could come to them. The price of oil continued to rise which began to spur more conversation about alternative fuel cars. American car companies have tinkered with alternative fuel cars. The Chevy Volt became the first serious contender to the Toyota Prius. Sill these are hybrid cars that have gasoline engines and need to be maintained with oil changes, tune-ups and other items. the full gain of electric power is not realized.

The Electric Vehicle


General Motors EV1

From 1996 to 1999 General Motors built 1,117 of an all electric car called the EV1. You couldn’t buy one, you had to lease it. For the 800 or so who did they became instant lovers of the car. Alas, that love did not last as GM put an end to production and repossessed them, eventually crushing them for recycle scrap. Many felt it was borderline conspiracy to keep oil and the current system in place. GM always said it was an experiment. The EV1 was a concept car and no promise was ever made to mass produce it. They built it because of toughening emission laws, especially in California.

The Toyota Prius, a hybrid, has sold over 3 million units and the Nissan Leaf is the bestselling highway capable vehicle of all electric cars to date with over 100,000 of them on the road as of January 2014. There are no less than 18 EV models available globally with more on the drawing board.

The Invention of Tesla Motors


The Model S

Along came Tesla Motors in the early 2000’s with a mission to advance the adoption of all electric vehicles. It was named for Nikola Tesla, a mad professor of electricity who was Thomas Edison’s contemporary and very much underrated. They built the Roadster, an expensive two seat sports car as their first production model. They needed to start somewhere and so this was their choice. I personally know three people who own them, one for over eight years, and they absolutely love it. But this was not the car for me. I love sports cars, but I wanted something more in the luxury family, larger, but just as fast.

The Model S was announced and I was all over it. After watching the company and car development closely I was beginning to feel this might be the one for me. I drove my neighbor’s last spring and that was it. I configured it online and 32 days later I was driving one home from the Chicago service center. A grey 60kw Model S with tech package and panoramic roof. I have been all smiles ever since.

Imagine a car where you have no engine, no oil, no radiator or starter. No fan blade or belt. No tailpipe, catalytic converter, muffler and therefore no exhaust. No gas tank or fuel line. No drive train, transmission, spark plugs or any scheduled maintenance. All those burdens that come with gas car ownership are absent from the Model S. All that space and expense can be given back to the engineers to start from the ground up. It’s a marvel. The Model S is German elegant, Japanese sleek and American powerful.

The car was designed and is manufactured in Fremont, California. All American. It is clearly the dawning of a new era of car making in the U.S. There was no way GM or Ford or Chrysler could have made this car. That’s like saying Sears could have been Amazon. Not possible to disrupt that much from inside a long standing company with so much owed to the past.

It is an expensive car and not in most people’s price range, but sticker price is no longer how we should measure the cost of a car. When assessing the price of a car it’s important to remember all those things you have to do along the way. Take at look at my post on the total cost of ownership between an Acura TL and a Model S. You will be surprised.

Personal Transportation is the Future

In many ways early adopters of EV’s are funding the research and development needed to take the required steps to cracking the code on new car technology. As I look back on my father’s car ownership record, he owned 41 cars. I prefer to support further EV development. If it comes from GM or Ford or Chrysler then great. But Tesla is pioneering the new way forward. It’s no longer an automobile. It’s now Personal Transportation. Brilliant software integrated into superior hardware, both working together to make the experience the highest level it can be.

It’s the best car I’ve ever driven.

The Tucker 48 and the Model S

The-TuckerI dipped into my film archives a few days ago and watched Francis Ford Coppola’s film Tucker, Tucker: The Man and his Dream. Preston Tucker was an aspiring designer, engineer, manufacturer and car enthusiast. He built the Tucker 48, a forward thinking car with safety and practicality as its hallmarks.

There are a number of things one can connect between the Tucker Corporation and Tesla Motors. For example, both the Tucker 48 and Model S have a front trunk (Frunk). Tucker got a break obtaining a factory from the government, The Dodge Chicago Aircraft Engine Plant. Tesla got the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) after GM and Toyota couldn’t make it work. Each company challenged the status quo of car making as it existed and said there is a better way.

Mr. Coppola, a Tucker owner himself, made a highly stylized film that focused on two things; Tucker the man and the Tucker sedan. We get a strong sense of the time, post WWII. America at the top of her game. Corporations and manufacturing booming. A bright, new age of culture and business.

The Tucker 48 was a marvel for its time, but was squashed by more powerful, shadow powers of a system that dominated the era.


The film gives a nod to Nikola Tesla through a poster of him in the lobby of the courthouse where Tucker was on trial for alleged Security and Exchange violations. Mr. Tucker was acquitted on all counts. Jeff Bridges who plays Tucker, paces before the Tesla during the trial deliberations.


Tucker, Studebaker and DeLorean all wanted to build a different car. Some were better than others. None of them succeeded.

Photo Credits: Tucker 48 from Wikipedia, Film still from Paramount Pictures

Tesla Model S by the Book

Tesla Book Cover 2As a book person I’ve searched exhaustively for a publication on the Model S or Tesla Motors. I hadn’t expected to find one as the firm and car are so new, but I came across Tesla Model S: Best Car Ever on teslarati.comSince this was the only book I had seen I bought it.

The authors are Frank van Gilluwe and Kim Rogers. They are Tesla enthusiasts for sure, but there is no biographical information in the publication about the authors or which one ordered and waited four years to get their production model. It seems their excitement is about the car, not their work on the book.

The trim size of the book is small, 8½” wide by 5½” high and 218 pages deep. It’s a perfect bound, trade paperback in full color and printed on high quality glossy paper. I was hoping for a big coffee table version, but the $24.99 price and free shipping was a tipoff that it was not going to compete with anything in my art book collection.

The book is divided into nine sections and does a nice job of covering a wide variety of aspects of the car, including background and how it’s built. The writing is more like a blog post than a reference book, but the authors have done their homework and worked hard to illustrate it liberally. There are “Cool Facts” sprinkled throughout and I did learn a couple of things.

If you don’t know much about the car and want to without clicking all over the Internet, this is a good alternative. I would say it’s the perfect gift for anyone who has ordered one and waiting, impatiently for it to arrive.

You can order one directly from

It’s a nice pick-up for a Model S owner to fill one of the seldom found holes in the experience.

Made in the United States

Tesla Motors is an American company. The Model S is designed and assembled in the United States. Fremont, California to be exact. The factory was originally called New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI). A joint venture between General Motors and Toyota that did not succeed. Tesla Motors was able to secure this massive plant at a significantly reduced price. One of the things that helped make the Model S a reality.

National Geographic has made a series of megafactories documentaries and covered the Tesla story.

Supplier Business posted this PDF of the suppliers to Tesla in order to build the Model S. I’m sure it was a point in time and this will evolve.

Model S Suppliers

Tesla Motors is a Silicon Valley software firm that makes hardware and it happens to be a car. Sorry. It’s not made in Detroit.

The Model S Key Fob

The keys that comes with the Model S are super slick, shiny and shaped like the car. There are no obvious buttons, nothing pops of it and you don’t use it to start the Model S.  It senses when you are near the car and the door handles will glide out from the door panels.

Fob Pictogram


The fob has some cool features. Press the front of the key twice and the front trunk, frunk, opens. Press the back of the key twice and the trunk or hatch opens/closes. One press on the top middle and the car locks. You can also open the charge port by pressing and holding the rear of the key.

It’s so cool you’re kind of left wondering what you will do with it. If you toss it in you pocket or purse it will become scratched by the other things there, like regular keys you need during the day. There is a small slot on the underneath side at the tip of the Tesla T, but it’s too small to attach a normal key ring to.

The perfect solution is to buy an inexpensive cloth flash drive sleeve holder with an attached key ring. Easily found and in various colors. I use the Case Logic brand model USB-201. An aftermarket company was selling them for a while with the Tesla logo imprinted on them, but apparently they did not get permission from Tesla to use the trademark and had to take them down from the site.

Fob and Holder

The fob is powered by a battery but Tesla has built in a backup system in case you are away from home and your fob battery goes dead. Simply place the key on the passenger side windshield and the car will unlock. To start and drive your Model S with a dead battery, place it in the cup holder armrest.

Some Model S owners got key covers free from Tesla Motors either on delivery of their car or at a service visit. I didn’t get those but I did get two heavy duty standard key chains. Red with a silver Tesla T. They’re in a drawer.