Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tesla Model S!

Back in January, my number came up and I finally got a Tesla Model S! I put a deposit down in early 2011, and I'm so glad I did. I've now driven the car 2,000 miles, long enough to give a review with some perspective. The car delivers a combination of capabilities that simply don't exist with any other automobile. It also provides a magical riding experience and the sheer joy of being in gadget Heaven. I honestly don't understand why anyone who is in a two-car family and willing to spend $60,000-100,000 on a car would buy anything but a Model S (ok -- that's still a niche, but many car companies target the luxury market, and Tesla's strategy has been to start at the high end and build less expensive models over time). My suspicion is that the wait to get a Model S will quickly become the main barrier to their growth, not market size.

Here is what I am loving about the car so far:
  • Lightening fast. From the instant you step on the accelerator, zoom. No gear shifting, no hesitation, incredible torque. And the handling is ridiculous, as the batteries are spread throughout the bottom of the car, keeping it super stable. I'm not race car driver, but the feel of this car on the road is incredible.
  • Whisper quiet ride. Remember, no engine, just an electric motor. What a feeling to experience rapid acceleration and no noise. It's exhilarating.
  • Two trunks. What? Two trucks, really? Yes. The hatch in back and the "frunk" in front. There's no engine, so the front of the car is available for storage. The electric motor is tucked in between the second row of seats and the hatch. And the second row folds down if you need SUV-like cargo room.
  • 7 seats in a sedan! The hatchback trunk has an optional third row facing the rear that folds down if you don't want to use it. It fits kids up to around 4' 10' or so, and my kids love sitting back there. It's an amazing feature for a luxury sedan.
  • Gadget Heaven. The first thing you notice inside is the iPad-like automobile interface. A massive touch screen panel that is the size of a large computer monitor in portrait mode. The experience of this interface gives you the same feeling you had when you first started using an iPhone -- "this is the future" and "why on earth would I ever go back?" The features are too numerous to mention, but it is not exaggerating to say that it inspires delight. The latest source of delight? Tesla just launched their smartphone app, which syncs with your car. Regardless of whether the car is on or off, you can see the temperature inside the car and change the climate, open/close the vent on the sunroof, and never lose your car again. You can beep the horn, flash the lights, and even locate your car on a map. Amazing!
  • Range. This is the source of the most questions and controversy. I have the medium-sized battery, reported to get 200 miles. With daily, overnight charging from a 240v plug in my garage (same plug you use for a laundry machine), I top it off to about 185 miles each day. Careful driving could get significantly more range, but 185 miles is pretty close to the real world experience I've had so far.
  • No gas. Many will feel that the inability to stop at a gas station in a pinch is their main worry, but after experiencing the car for a couple of months, I think people have got it wrong. In two months and 2000 miles, I've never stopped at a gas station. That's a benefit! And with the electric car rate plan from PG&E, the cost to power my car is something like $9 per month. In spite of the availability of charging stations all across California, this wouldn't be the car I would take on a road trip, but last week I drove from Saratoga to Los Gatos to Palo Alto to San Francisco and back to Saratoga in one day, and still had enough in the batteries to drive another 50-70 miles. This is more than enough range for all use cases other than a road trip or running a taxi service.
What are the problems? I've only got minor complaints, and they are worth mentioning for perspective:
  • Door handles get hot: When parking in direct sunlight, the handles of the doors get very hot. In the Summer, I'm going to be looking for a parking spot in the shade, or at least one where sun shines on the right side of the car.
  • OS is still a work in progress. Yes, the car has an operating system! The OS in the car is amazing, but it is not perfect. I've downloaded two OS upgrades so far (I'm now on v4.3, I think), and had one screen crash. It was handled simply by rebooting the system (you hold down two scroll wheels at the same time for a few seconds -- Tesla's version of CTRL-ALT-DEL). No bugs that interfered with driving, but little UI things have been quirky. A progress bar that tells you how far through a song you are disappeared for a couple of weeks.
Mark Rogowsky, a friend and Forbes contributor, wrote a series on how the Model S's one missing feature, access to gas stations, might actually be much less important to most luxury car drivers over time than its ability to offer an amazing driving experience, cargo room and ability to seat seven. His point: maybe your gas car is the niche automobile, not an electric car with 200+ mile range. People just don't perceive it this way yet. Something like the iPhone circa 2006...


Mark said...

Dave, great review. I'm delighted you're enjoying it. Thanks for the shout out on my series. I have one more piece coming with a look at the future ("What would it take for electric vehicles to really take over the world?"). It looks at the state of batteries, the competition from Chevy Volt-like vehicles... and the nearly unmitigated delight of Tesla owners like yourself.

Dan said...

Try pre-cooling the car via smartphone, it should help lower the temp of the handles. This was designed (in reverse) to preheat the handles in freezing weather so they would not be frozen shut.