The “T”

Tesla Model S85 @ 18 months

On New Year’s Eve 18 months ago I was given the key to my Tesla. It was a pretty exciting and scary day. Since then I have driven over 30,000 miles (48,000km) in the car in all kinds of weather. There have been boiling hot days close to 100⁰F, freezing cold days around -20⁰F, snowy days, hailstorms, sunny days and torrential rains. And so I figured it may be worthwhile doing a quick report on how the car has behaved.

First, what’s a Tesla?

I’m glad you asked. Have you heard of Elon Musk? He’s the South African (we have to stick together) who helped found PayPal and turn it into a billion dollar business. After he sold out he became the CEO and brains behind SpaceX (who are successfully sending rockets to space) and Tesla, a new kind of car company. He has turned both into highly successful, multi-billion dollar companies.

Oh yes, back to Tesla. Tesla is an entirely electric car. It’s not a hybrid like a Prius, or a half-baked idea like GM’s Volt car. Teslas have no engine and there is nowhere to put in gas or petrol. All they have is a big battery and an electric motor. The cars are made in the USA – they come from a factory in Fremont, California – and they have racked up an impressive set of accolades – maybe more than any other car ever? The car received the highest safety rating of any car tested in the USA, was awarded Car of the Year by Motor Trend and Automobile magazines, Consumer Reports said it was the best car they had ever tested and Car and Driver magazine rated it the Car of the Century. [Update: Consumer Reports just retested the Tesla (Model S P85D) in August, 2015 and basically it broke their rating scale.  It scored 103 out of 100 because of the amazing acceleration combined with incredibly low fuel consumption, causing CR to rethink their linear rating system.]

OK, but why all the hype?

Another good question. I think it is a combination of things.

1) It’s electric. That means it is very kind to the environment and your wallet. To give you an idea just how good – I averaged about $200/month in gas for the Audi I drove for 12 years before getting The T. My electricity bill went up $215 for the entire first year that I had my Tesla. And I drove roughly the same mileage. And all of that with zero emissions. Ah – I hear some of you say. Is it really green? Doesn’t the energy to charge the car come from coal-powered power stations that put a lot of bad stuff in the atmosphere? True – some of the energy does. But it’s less than 50% of the energy where I live and more importantly, remember you are consuming somewhere between 1/5 and 1/10 of the amount of energy of an equivalent polluting ICE (Internal Combustion Engined) car. So the net result is a dramatic reduction in net emissions.

2) They are gorgeous and they’ve solved the problem of range-anxiety. Teslas overcome the limitations that all other electric cars seem to have. First the others all tend to look rather awkward and in many cases downright ugly. And then they have a range problem. The Tesla on the other hand goes 300 miles (480km) on a charge. That is a game-changer. If you are like me your first reaction is – yes, but what happens after 300 miles? I can’t just pull into a gas station you say. OK, let’s think about this. First, most people, it’s certainly my case, don’t travel anywhere near 300 miles a day. I do about 80 a day. And every night I plug in my car in my garage and it remembers to charge itself starting at midnight when my electricity rates are lower. The car is completley charged up in about 2-3 hours. Every morning I leave the house with a “full tank”. And when I hit the road on a long trip? Well Elon has been thinking of that too. Tesla has built a network of Superchargers that can charge Teslas at the rate of about 400 miles/hour. And they are free. On a long trip a quick rest stop to grab a cup of coffee or lunch, and within 45 minutes you’re on your way again. On a recent trip from Detroit to Chicago which is about 350 miles, I had to stop for about half an hour to charge my car. Oh, and did I mention that charging my car is free.

3) Teslas are insanely fast. The slow models (like mine) do 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds. The 4-wheel drive performance model does it in 2.8 seconds. Not bad for a 7-seater family sedan. If you are not sure how fast 2.8 seconds is, there may only be 3 other cars in production right now that can match or come close to that and they are exotic Italian and British sports cars. But it is not just fast, it is also silent – remember no engine. And the power is instantaneous and continuous. The moment you hit the accelerator you get 100% of the torque and because there is no transmission, there are no gear changes to interrupt the acceleration. Even in my “slow” model I can almost guarantee getting a “Tesla grin” on the face of my passengers when they feel that incredible thrust back into their seats.

4) There is almost no maintenance. Over the life of my car I will never have to do an oil change, replace the timing belt, water pump or other belts. There will never be transmission issues, or a radiator flush and there is no check engine light, period! I will never have to get my brakes done either. Why, you ask? Because most of my braking is done by the car harvesting the energy and recharging the battery, I probably use my brakes about 1/20 of the amount needed in a regular ICE car. I may have to change brake pads in about 60 years.

I created an estimation model comparing the costs of fuel and maintenance/repair expenses between my Tesla and an equivalent ICE car. Over a period of 10 years (I kept my previous car for 12 years and 200,000 miles), I estimate that I will save between $25,000 and $30,000. And that includes the cost of one battery replacement (the batteries have an 8-year unlimited mileage warranty).

5) Continuous improvements. The car is largely computer controlled. Think of it as one big mobile Apple computer on four wheels. The Tesla has a 17 inch monitor that controls almost all of the functions in the car and is connected via a 3G connection (provided by Tesla) to the internet. The cool thing is that every couple of months I get a software update over the internet. Some of the updates are small, like the improvements to the map programs I got this week. Sometimes they are new features controlling how the car operates – like new braking features or the recent speed improvement provided via a software update. And recently autonomous driving has been added. Already Teslas can drive themselves as long as it is on private property. So you can arrive home and tell the car to go park itself in the garage while you get the mail. Pretty cool. And this feature was added via a software update at 2:00am over the ether. Tesla is now working on further improvements to allow the car to drive itself on public roads.

Finally, the review

I know, I know! I said this was going to be a review. But first I had to explain why I bought one. The factors above were all key in my decision 18 months ago. Now let me tell you about my experience.

The good.

The car has performed as well as I had anticipated. In every sense. The cost to run it has matched my calculations. The only unanticipated expense has been my impetuous visits to the car wash to keep it looking good. ;-). The performance, even in my “slow model” is wonderful. The car handles amazingly well for a large family sedan and the acceleration still blows me and my passengers away.

The use of Superchargers on road trips has worked perfectly. I would say that there is no need for range anxiety, however, you do have to plan ahead – no point in waiting until you are almost out of available range to start looking for your next charging station. But Tesla have made that easier recently (with an over-the-air software update of course) with the car automatically planning the charging spots along your route for you and displaying them on the map on the big screen.

The Tesla service experience is also wonderful. I get a lot of service, like tire rotations regularly, at no charge and I have always been given another Tesla as a loaner for the day.

The not so good.

The only mechanical issue I have had is water inside my reverse lights. Tesla replaced the lights – at no charge of course.

There are three other considerations. These are not bad, just considerations.

  • The model I bought is rear wheel drive. I live in an area that gets lots of snow in winter. I would definitely get the 4-wheel drive version if I was buying now. It wasn’t available until about a year after I bought mine. However, the RWD Tesla does amazingly well in the snow. I have driven in intense storms and have not come close to getting stuck and the car handles the conditions amazingly well.
  • Battery life is reduced when the weather is colder. Especially on those days when the temperature is below 0⁰F (-18C). We have had way too many of those in the last couple of winters. I reckon that I lose about 20% of my range on those days. This is as a result of the car having to heat the battery as well as the occupants. This is not a showstopper, just a consideration. Thank goodness for all the range Teslas have so that giving up 20% is no sweat.
  • The whole car is made of aluminum. Nice and light. Unfortunately the paint is a little soft on the aluminum and quickly shows scratches and nicks. Also the hood is vulnerable to getting a little bend or dimple in the front, if you push the hood in the wrong place. My car has one of those. L

Would I buy the same car again and would I recommend it?

Really good questions. The answers are – YES and ABSOLUTELY! In fact let me go out on a limb here. I think it is only a matter of time before we are all driving electric cars. Just like it is inevitable that in the next 20 years or so, trucks and cars will be moving to autonomous driving, I think we are not far away, maybe less than 20 years, from the tipping point when the benefits of electric cars will be matched by the infrastructure to support them. Tesla is leading the way and I am having a lot of fun driving mine.

Just to add to the fun, I get a lot of interesting and entertaining questions and comments. Like, “What kind of car is that? It’s a Tesla. Oh – who makes it? Tesla! Where does it come from? It’s American. Really?” Or the strange looks I get when I pop the frunk (front trunk where people expect the engine to be) and out comes a suitcase.

By the way…

Recently, Tesla offered its owners and future buyers an incentive to collaborate. Elon Musk sent me a couple of emails this week. Anyone who wants to buy a Tesla and uses my code gets a nice discount – and so do I. So if you know anyone who is thinking about getting a Tesla, let them know about this offer.

Questions and rides

Maybe you have questions or comments. I’d love to hear them. Oh and if you’d like a ride in my Tesla, just let me know. I would enjoy seeing if I could get a “Tesla grin” onto your face.

4 Responses

  1. Hey Colin,

    Great post. In my opinion the Tesla is a beautiful car and a landmark advancement in automotive engineering. I’d love to have one someday. I must confess that I get a bit sad and nostalgic when I consider an all-electric future. You are no doubt right about the direction we are headed but the issue for me is noise. In general I’m all for reduced noise. Especially “ugly” engine noise like a Harley Davidson or a diesel truck. Yet there is just something about, for example, the symphonic noise generated by a Formula 1 car. And for full enjoyment that noise just has to be generated at a decible levels approaching deafening. You have to fill it. I just can’t imagine my interest level remaining the same if cars like that go silent. Pete

    • Colin

      Pete, I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments. Especially the part about the noise of an F1 car (even the current generation). And maybe one of these days I will get a software update allowing me to choose which engine sound I would like to pick for the day (like a Ferrari LaFerrari or McLaren P1) – but it won’t be quite the same as the real thing.

  2. Anton

    That’s enough to make me plan a trip to the US just to take you up on your offer for a ride!

  3. Colin

    Anton, if that’s all it takes, I’ll give you two rides. 😉