ANDY THOMSON   architect

90,000km Later, Do I still Love Tesla?

  • Authorandyro
  • Date 11 April 2014
  • CategoryEconomy

I have wanted an electric car since I was 16. Global warming and pollution was at the top of my mind. I biked everywhere, and imagined that in a future not so far off – EV’s would be widely available. Fast forward 26 years. Yes, that is how long it took. I expected my first EV to be a nerd-mobile, not a luxury sports car, so in this case, ‘good things come to those who wait’ has been a true adage. The model S has been written about everywhere, but usually by journalists that have had brief and very impressive experiences, or nay-sayers that don’t embrace the massive paradigm-change that EV’s represent. I hope to add a balanced owner’s perspective here – for anyone considering a future purchase, if not of the Model S or X, but of the Model III, which will come in at under $50k by 2016. I am still an ardent supporter of any EV, as I believe they are a critical first-step towards weaning personal transport from fossil fuel, but time will tell if Tesla can convince all skeptics. Not without a vastly expanded Supercharger network, and probably not without batteries in the near future that can hold over 600km and cost 30% less. That will be the game-changer. In short, the Model S is a better car than any I have driven, and that includes Lexus, Porsche and even a Ferrari.

PROS AND CONS:

Good things:
  • Crazy wicked acceleration. I never would have considered this important in a car – but you don’t know it until you have it. It makes passing safe, easy (and fun). As someone said, it feels like you’ve been shot out of a gun with a silencer on.
  • Crazy wicked braking – you get massive regenerative braking (that recharges the battery) combined with the largest brembo brakes and rotors I have every seen on any car – or even truck for that matter. This has kept me from plowing into a group of deer and a few other road hazzards – and should always match or better a car’s acceleration, in my opinion. High performance equals high-control – I know that now. My VW Golf feels like a rickety shit-bucket on steel casters in comparison.
  • Amazing handling. I didn’t even know what that meant before this car. It is a true sports car with great road-holding characteristics.
  • No noise. None. Just the sound of the wind, mostly on the side-view mirrors. As someone who loves silence – this car is a wonderful thing – great on long drives in the country, or for high quality audio
  • Amazing sound system. No name brands – but better than any home audio system I have ever heard. That was a nice surprise, and heavy, rich bass with no vibrations in the body.
  • Massive Storage capacity. The rear seats fold flat, two bikes with no disassembly can easily lay in the trunk, which measures approx. 3′ wide at its narrowest, to over 6′ in length. I have yet to camp out in the back, but it has been done by others. Note: the heavier the car rolls, the less range you have – a car with 4 passengers and all of their baggage with eat up a good 20% of your rated range even in good temperatures.
  • Cheap to operate, $1/100km (Hydro Quebec, $0.05/kWh). Do the math. This is a real number. Even if gas dropped to $0.50/litre (which will never happen) – this would still be almost 2.5x cheaper, and is currently over 5x cheaper than gas.
  • Owner network – very supportive and helpful
  • Very pro-active and owner-focussed warranty service, which is important, because with my early-production, ‘limited edition’ car – I’ve needed it, a lot.
  • Being able to raise suspension with the push of a button – great for massive speed bumps, you’ll never strike a curb with doors (auto-raising when you slow down) – and getting through the icy swamp of a big spring thaw in ‘Very High’ set suspension has been a great advantage over my other cars that would bottom out on the stuff.
  • It’s humungous. It easily seats 5 – and can even seat 7 (with rumble seats that I didn’t purchase)
  • Roofrack – which I did purchase, is super quiet (unloaded), holds 2 bikes, kayaks, etc. Note: loaded items (ie. kayaks) cause drag, which reduces range by up to 20%.
  • Easy to get high-amperage power at locations you visit often, office, cottage, home – provided you have sufficient service (100-200amps) – I’ve made a few 40-amp hacks at places I visit often. The car will accept any amp/volt combo b/t 110VAC, 12a, to 250VAC, 40a). High Power Wall Chargers (HPWC) cost only $600 now, they used to be over $1400. To be clear, the Tesla has chargers on-board – all you need to do is feed it electricity, it can figure out what voltage and amperage based on the adapter you plug into it’s proprietary extension cord, called a UMC, Universal Multi Charger? (my best guess)
  • Kudos. People love the car, from passers-by to passengers. I never before thought I’d be receiving applause, supportive hoots, or taking so many absolute strangers for joyrides around the block – but it is worth it for the priceless smiles on their faces. Reggie from Gatineau – I’m thinking of you here.
Bad things:
  • Carefully planning trips with long recharge-wait times. At times, this makes this the slowest car I have ever owned. It can easily do just over 200km/hr (not that I have ever, or will ever drive that fast, just in case any of you readers are cops) – but there is little point in driving fast, because it just exhausts the battery faster. I can drive 400km at the speed limit – but then I need to wait usually 2hrs to top up my battery to the the final 150km – most of my bigger trips are in the 500 – 650km range. This will all change with wider Supercharger coverage. Cue Jeopardy theme….
  • Delayed Supercharger rollout. Almost a year late, with little transparency from Tesla about the cause of delays or estimated completion dates. Apparently, two sites are 99% complete, but waiting for widgets (project management position available?) before they can power up.
  • Lots of little glitches – all covered by warranty, but unfortunately requiring owner vigilance to ensure these items make it onto the work orders and are completed as requested, from charging faults (UMC/Cord), to key-fobs, to busted visor mirrors, sunroof glitches, misbehaving door handles, Tire Pressure Sensing System, etc. etc.  For the past few months – most of these concerns have been addressed, but I still have a running list of usually 10 things for the next service visit.  Tesla seems to be upping their game in terms of addressing warranty issues, and their response to bug reporting is clearly getting more responsive.
  • Cold weather performance. Chop 30% off of your range when temps go below -10degC. Wipers and defrost are lousy below -20degC (heated wipers on newer models), and wheels and brakes get loaded up with ice and crud, which requires periodic thawing indoors. This is a car that essentially produces no heat, so it runs much colder than a conventional Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car. On long winter trips, dress for the outdoors, because you’ll want to save your energy for extra range – not heat. Seat heat causes no real penalty, so at least there is that – but they really ought to add a heated foot pad, or insulated floor and steering wheel for future models, cold hands and feet are a total drag.
  • I have no real complaints about the rear wheel drive handling in snow and ice, it’s a heavy car with lots of weight on the rear wheels, but it is a 2WD car. The 4WD option is one I would have chosen if it were available when I purchased, but that is a very recent development with the model D.
  • Very expensive tires. Michelins for snow (on 19″ rims – more space for icy-crud buildup) and for Summer (on the classic 21″ rims).
  • This car has consumed a lot of my time. Research, articles, trip-planning, warranty visits, charging-wait-times, etc. It has become a hobby of mine – but really, I just wanted a good car. In the process of owning this car, I have basically become a much better electrician, which is not something I had anticipated or signed up for. While I don’t mind too much – I hope it has not been too much of a burden on friends and family, that have provided me with the generous use of their garages, electrical panels, and time. I’m not sure this is a bad thing, but it’s something I think any prospective buyer should be aware of.
  • Speeding tickets. So easy to get. So hard to resist.
  • Kids – rules need to be laid down. No food in the car. I have never before kept such a tidy car. I am glad they are all older than the vomit and cheerio years. Weekly vacuuming and washing has put a bit of a strain on the dad that used to be a little more casual about road trips. The kids step OVER the threshold on entry, knock of their boots outside, and eat or drink NOTHING inside the car and do NOT draw on the condensate inside windows. This has at least resulted in something that still looks and smells brand new, but I feel the formation of a tiny moustache under my nose, mea culpa.

I purchased the Model S one year ago today after years of deliberation. I was aware of Tesla back in their roadster days, as I had seen a few driving around the Napa Valley – where I lived at the time. When renderings of the Model S were first published – I was impressed, but with an estimated price tag starting of $70-100k, I considered them completely unattainable – a plaything of the rich, not a practical car for the masses – not for me.  A few life events later, I found myself holding a $5k reservation on a limited edition ‘Signature’ Model S – one of the first cars in Canada, S2108 – an 85kWh beast in high-gloss, candy-apple red.  Initially, the price was estimated at $67k. But each month, the ‘Signature’ options inflated the cost until the car, with the larger battery, was over $98k with all of the options. I bailed. Too much money for a car. Another year passed, and as my bio-diesel powered VW Golf was starting to require ever more expensive repairs, I had a serious conversation with my son and fiance about our next vehicle. We test drove a $35k Leaf. Then a $48k Volt. Both nice cars, but the range of the Leaf – at 150km – didn’t cut it for us, as we are often taking trips from 200km to 600km on any given weekend. The Volt seemed like a lot of money for what was, at the end of the day, a fossil-fuel powered car. Then there was a used Tesla Signature Model S on AutoTrader- virtually identical to the model I had reserved, but for substantially less, and with only 37,000km on it. I just needed to do some math to justify it. My son was ALL OVER the idea of the Tesla. 430km of range – that was enough. It was even Supercharger capable (from a dead battery – 0km to 430km – in just over an hour), however no Canadian Superchargers were online at that point in time. I reviewed my gas receipts, and repair bills. I had spent $6,000.00 on my VW in 2012 alone. If I bought a Tesla, it would theoretically save me $6,000/yr, or $60,000.00 in just ten years. There would be no repair costs for the first few years (very solid bumper-to-bumper coverage, to 160,000km and Drivetrain/Battery/Motor to the year 2020). Sure, I have to pay for hydro – but the cost of energy literally adds up to $1 per 100km travelled. Or $100 per 10,000km. Or $1,000 per 100,000km – which in relative terms – is an almost insignificant cost. These are experience-based numbers by the way, validated by my hydro bills and odometer. Oh – and the cost to charge at Tesla’s Supercharger stations? Free forever.  Just ignore the cost of the tires for the math above. Every 40,000km, Tessie needs new rubber, at a cost of just over $2500.00 for a set of four (snow tires are half that). While every car needs new tires at that interval, the Tesla tires are top-of-the-line, and certainly the most expensive tires I have ever had to purchase. One good thing? Tesla sells them at wholesale to the customer. I tried to get a better deal from my local tire shop, and their price was $1200 more for the same set of tires. Tesla repair and servicing, as I understand it – is not designed for profit, and parts are not marked up, as I can attest to by the $100 cost of a chrome grill I replaced due to gravel damage – I was expecting a hard hoof to the jewels, but was spared. That is the only part I have had to pay for. Everything else has been covered under warranty or service updates.

Now, this amazing car has also been a massive pain in the ass. The first day I took delivery, it was -10degC, and I had to drive from Toronto to North Bay with a battery that was delivered to me only half-charged. That was a white-knuckle trip that taught me what range-anxiety truly felt like. I topped up in Barrie at the Best Western Hotel there (thankfully almost all Best Westerns in Ontario have EV chargers that are mostly free of charge for visitors and guests) – just to give me a bit of margin of safety extra charge. I arrived in North Bay, only to discover that my fiance’s power outlet was insufficient to deliver a charge to my car – too much resistance, too far from the panel. My jaw dropped. The fine print of the warranty stated that if the car was left unplugged for more than a 24hr period in -25degC temperatures or greater, the warranty was voided. Holy shit! What am I going to do? I arrived with literally 5km of battery left, and the temperature had just dipped to 26 below. Tesla roadside assistance – included in the price of the car – was more than understanding, and had a flat-deck tow truck take my new car to the local Best Western to safely charge overnight. First lesson learned – ensure proper power exists at your planned end-destination! This can be a regular household outlet, but better yet, a 30amp dryer outlet or a 40amp stove outlet. The higher the amps, the faster your recharge.

That was the first time I flat-lined the battery. The second time only happened because all of the charging stations I visited at my end-destination were out-of-service, which almost never happens, a friend with a local EV charger bailed me out that time. I think of it this way; we are pioneers with these things, yet there are only a few ‘gas stations’ available for us. If there were charging stations – nothing fancy – just a place to plug in – as ubiquitous as gas stations – this would never be an issue. And that is EXACTLY the reason Tesla is building their own version of gas stations every 300km or so apart. For example, the Toronto Supercharger opened this past Summer, with Cornwall and Woodstock shortly afterwards, and Kingston, Barrie following soon.

The pain in the ass part of owning this car, is that these Supercharger stations are not opening fast enough. They were promised last Summer, but have been mired in local permitting delays. The alternative is charging at a snail’s pace at the Best Western “L2” EV stations, or at other EV owner’s personal garages. We all use an app called ‘Plugshare’. My 80amp (charges at 92km/hr) charger is on there as free to use for anyone dropping by – and likewise – others offer their chargers to pay it all forward. I’ve met many new friends this way, all like-minded, great people, and the time it takes to charge has resulted in some fascinating conversations over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

I drive a lot. And far. This is not an urban-commuting machine – it is a capable Inter-City commuting machine, and I have added 50,000km just this year. It is still an absolute pleasure to drive, although less-so when the temperature dips below -10degC. There is no car I would rather have, for all the hassles of owning such a nice car (cleaning maintenance), I would take these any day over owning a ‘disposable’ ICE car – never again. The all aluminum body promises a long life, with regular software updates and performance improvements – what other car actually improves with age? I’m getting new features every few months, for free! In 8 years, I plan to replace the current battery with a 600km capable one from Tesla’s Giga-factory, at an estimated cost of $9,000.00 (interpolated from a number of speculative sources). When graphene supercapacitors start to be found in the cars, range will double, and dependence on lithium mining will be decreased. I believe a larger fleet of Tesla EV’s will not only make the roads safer (better handling, safety tech, 5 star rating in every category, auto-pilot), but the atmosphere cleaner. Will it result in the sea-change needed to reduce climate change? One can only hope. Cars will likely be with us for at least the next 50 years, and while I expect many broader changes to make personal transportation somewhat redundant (better telecommuting options), the world would definitely be a better place with more EV’s and far fewer ICE’s – the EV is a superior car in too many ways to list, range nothwithstanding.

In conclusion – I may be missing the point entirely. As Thoreau states below, “But lo! men have become the tools of their tools.” – from Walden.

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion. I would rather ride on earth in an ox cart, with a free circulation, than go to heaven in the fancy car of an excursion train and breathe a malaria all the way. The very simplicity and nakedness of man’s life in the primitive ages imply this advantage, at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature. When he was refreshed with food and sleep, he contemplated his journey again. He dwelt, as it were, in a tent in this world, and was either threading the valleys, or crossing the plains, or climbing the mountain-tops. But lo! men have become the tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree for shelter, a housekeeper. We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven. We have adopted Christianity merely as an improved method of agriculture. We have built for this world a family mansion, and for the next a family tomb. The best works of art are the expression of man’s struggle to free himself from this condition, but the effect of our art is merely to make this low state comfortable and that higher state to be forgotten.”

Write a comment