Tag Archives: Road Trip

Tesla Model S – Thoughts After 1 Year of Ownership

Originally published on CleanTechnica

In December 2015, I hatched an admittedly convoluted plan to purchase a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Tesla Model S some 2,600 miles away in Columbus, Ohio; fly out to pick it up; … then drive back to my home in California with a few fun stops along the way. Thankfully, just about everything worked out flawlessly and I made it home safely.

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Picking up my Model S in Columbus, Ohio

Having owned the beast for a year now, I took some time to step back to think about what it’s been like to own a Tesla Model S as compared to our 85 mile range Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive — as well as what ownership is like compared to more conventional gasmobiles.

Summary

Taking a 30,000 foot view of the last year, it has truly been phenomenal. The car drives like a dream. It’s quiet. Thanks to the skateboard design of the battery pack, it has an amazing center of gravity which is a key contributor to great traction, which doubles up with the super intelligent traction control system that all but prevents the wheels from slipping and “burning out.” It’s packed with technology making an IT geek like me smile every time I get in. And it has enough range to make range anxiety a thing of the past.

The Power of the Supercharger

While on my road trip, I vetted the Tesla Supercharger network, which I found to be more than sufficient for long-distance road trips across the arterial highway routes in the US, and with more Superchargers being added seemingly every week. Coming from a year of driving my wife’s electric Mercedes and a few months in a Nissan Leaf of my own, the Tesla Supercharger network truly was a game-changer.

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With CHAdeMO and SAE Combo Level 3 chargers (aka DC fast-charging stations), there are usually only one or two chargers per location. On top of that, they aren’t fast enough to add enough range to truly enable anything even remotely resembling a road trip. On the Chevy Bolt, for instance, stops will have to be ~60 minutes to get a 20–100% charge. Yes, that’s not terrible, but it’s also less than half the speed of a Supercharger, which will add ~170 miles of range in just 30 minutes.

On my road trip and many long-distance trips since, the Superchargers provide the perfect balance of a pit stop — time to go to the bathroom (which are typically in high demand after 2+ hours of driving with my family), grab a coffee or a bite to eat, stretch my legs, and get back on the road. Extending that to an hour adds quite a bit of idle time to the agenda. Yes, it’s still possible … but it’s going in the wrong direction.

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Supercharging is a game-changer for today’s EVs and becomes an absolute “have to have” for EVs with 200+ miles. This single fact will become evident as the masses of Bolt owners hit roads around the US over the next few months.

Service

For better or worse, I was able to experience Tesla service firsthand a few times over the last 12 months. I had my door handle extending mechanisms replaced, which took a ranger appointment and an in-house visit to fix completely. Initially, they were only going to replace the one … but when they were at my house fixing it, they confirmed that the others needed to be replaced as well. To Tesla’s credit, the process was painless and they came out and picked up my car, brought a loaner to me, and vice versa to return my car to me.

Everything about how Tesla processes service requests to how the services are scheduled to the unique approaches to repairing vehicles is a vast improvement over conventional dealerships. For the first door handle, Tesla offered to fix it in my garage with the Ranger service. That meant no dropping my car off, no waiting an hour at the dealership, no hassle of loaner cars … I opened the door and they went to work while I went inside and made dinner. It was great.

For the seatbelt recall earlier this year, Tesla staffed service techs at Supercharger locations to perform the quick 5 minute recall check in order to make it even easier for customers. This was a great example of how Tesla can and is leveraging its unique differences to improve the customer experience.

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In another interaction with Tesla service, I received a proactive call from Tesla Service to schedule a replacement of an electrical switch for the battery that wasn’t performing up to Tesla’s high standards. There was no impact to me and I received a loaner for the duration of the check. It took all of 1 day and I actually enjoyed getting to try out a different configuration of the Model S for a day.

This shows how Tesla is thinking of the vehicle as more of a smartphone than a car. Remote monitoring of vehicle health including diagnostics enables a level of preventive maintenance that simply does not exist in other car companies. This is just one more example of how Tesla doesn’t just have the longest range EV on the road but has exceeded current vehicles in just about every way.

Finally, in my most recent service experience, a notification popped up in my car that my 12 volt battery needed to be replaced. This was a known issue but it happened 2 days before Thanksgiving — for which we were planning to drive several hours a day for the entire weekend. I called Tesla and in under 5 minutes on the phone Tesla had confirmed that the battery needed to be replaced (again remotely, with no action required from me), confirmed that the battery didn’t need to be replaced immediately (had 2 weeks of life left), and had an appointment booked for early the following week.

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Overall, my Model S has had more service issues in 1 year of ownership than my Prius did over 6 years, but frankly, because of how much better the car is than any other car out there, AND just how painless Tesla Service is, I don’t mind it one bit. In fact, I enjoy calling them about an issue because they’re just so darn good at doing service.

A point of caution moving forward: it will be challenging to deliver the same high quality of service as they do today when Model 3 … and Model Y come online. I fully expect service staff to grow over the next 2 years and for the number of service locations to increase accordingly.

The Best Jerry, The Best*

My favorite part of owning the car is the rearview mirror. It’s no technical marvel — though, it is photochromatic, meaning it gets darker when bright lights (headlights) are shining in it, but that’s beside the point. I love seeing the people behind me pointing at my car and having little discussions. In addition to being in a Tesla, which draws looks by itself, my license plate is “NOGAAAS,” which helps close the gap for folks who aren’t as familiar with Tesla or electric cars.

I imagine what they’re saying and can honestly tell when they are talking about the car. I love that the car gets people talking about it. They may just know that Tesla is a nice car or a fast car or a high-tech car, which gets people excited about it … but it’s also an electric car, and to have people excited about electric cars and to get them talking about them is a huge win.

The car starts the discussion and I’ve swooped in many times to fill in any gaps in knowledge about it — dozens of times over the months I’ve owned it. For people I know, I’ve had several dozen people drive it. Again — it’s a sexy car and that draws people in and gets things going. Perhaps unsurprisingly, nobody was asking to drive my LEAF when I owned it … or my wife’s electric Mercedes. The Tesla is a different beast.

*This subheading refers to a somewhat obscure scene / character from the popular sitcom Jerry Seinfeld. 🙂

Put a Bow on It

In summary, this is the best car I’ve ever owned. When combined with the Supercharging network, it definitively puts range anxiety to rest once and for all. It packs more tech than any car I’ve seen in a way that’s more intuitive than I would have thought possible. It drives better (and quieter!) than any other car out there, and is faster to boot.

The Tesla app on my smartphone gives me all sorts of fun control and visibility of what it’s doing that has been helpful to me more than a few times. It can even unlock and turn on the car, allowing it to drive without a key in it. My wife — who’s not the most tech-friendly person and not a huge EV fan — feels comfortable driving in it with minimal instruction … which is great for my stress level and our marriage. 🙂

The only downside is the price … and that’s going to improve by leaps and bounds in another 12 months.

If you’re looking to buy a Tesla, feel free to use my referral link (here) to save $1,000, which is the only way to get a discount on a new Tesla.

All images by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

My Epic Tesla Road Trip

Originally published on CleanTechnica

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Upon rolling out of the Tesla Dealership… er… Service Center in Columbus, Ohio, a few things hit me right off the bat: The new-car feeling, realizing that this was my car. The realization that now I really was pretty much on the other side of the country and actually had to drive back across the ~3,700 kilometers at around 33 hours of driving. The fact that I only had one room booked between Ohio and Vegas … and what the heck, I just bought a Tesla!?!

I wanted to take off like a bat of hell and drive 120 miles an hour down the road, tearing up the asphalt… but I’ve been there and done that and tickets (and accidents!) are expensive no matter what state you’re in. So I calmed myself down, took a sip of the coffee CJ had so generously hooked me up with, set the cruise control for 65, and pointed the wheels to the west.

The next day, after a few hours of rest, several stops at Superchargers, hundreds of miles, and too many cups of coffee, I had a good feel for the car and how it worked on long road trips. While the car generally met my expectations, a few things stuck out to me about the car that I hadn’t expected.

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Supercharging in Columbia, MO

Automagic Unlocking

Locking the car, for one. The Model S automagically locks (it’s an optional setting) when the driver walks away with the key fob. At first, I would nervously look out at the car from the gas station, coffee shop, or lunch stop to confirm that the handles were in, lights were off, and all that. After several stops, I realized that it just works. Put it in park, get out, walk away, and you’re good. It’s awesome. No parking brake, no locking or unlocking the car… easy.

Power at Your Fingertips

The power of the car is also amazing. With a single-motor, non-performance version of the Model S, I was not expecting amazing performance, but it blows me away. I used to have a ’97 Pontiac Trans Am, which I had done some work on, so I’m familiar with performance cars, but the smooth, torquey power of the Model S is a different beast altogether, and a lot more fun in my opinion.

Going 30 but want to go 65? Done. Going 65 and want to pass the smoggy diesel pickup in front of you? No problem. It’s something I’m still working on dampening, as it just begs to go faster than most laws allow. My favorite is pounding the pedal while cruising at around 20–30 miles per hour. It jumps like nothing else… okay, except may be a P90D with Ludicrous Mode :D.

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Supercharging in Colorado

Supercharging

I will go into more detail about Supercharging in a separate article, but suffice it to say that it blows the competition away. Triple the speed of the next fastest charger, predictable, built into the navigation, and easy to use. It’s great. I loved being able to punch in whatever destination I wanted, however far away, with the confidence that the car would navigate to the nearest charger automatically.

Most of the Superchargers were located at hotels, gas stations (of all places!), shopping plazas, and otherwise near facilities that could occupy 30 minutes of a day, which was nice. A few stops required a bit more creativity to answer the calls of nature or get a bite of food. I found the ability of the car to keep the heating on while charging to be a great feature that I took advantage of extensively on my journey.

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My favorite Supercharger — at a BP gas station in Effington, IL

Indecisive Navigation

One glitch that I noticed in the navigation is that, after topping up at a Supercharger then heading down the highway, the navigation would occasionally try to route me back to the charger I had just left (after charging for the amount of time it told me to charge for).

This even happened a few times after I was 20 minutes down the road like it suddenly realized I needed more capacity to make the next charger. It did not make sense to me, as I typically had 50–80 miles of “spare” range above and beyond what was required to get to the next charger. It was not a deal breaker and I was able to manually navigate through it by turning off charging stop recommendations, but it seems like a bug in the logic that could be corrected.

Navigation Range Estimation

Along similar lines, the navigation is conservative, but with caveats. First — it is conservative as it tries to ensure that you have WAY more charge than needed to get to the next destination. If I’m going 65 miles to the next charger, it wants me to have at least 110 miles of range to move on.supercharging

The caveat to the estimated range is that external factors like elevation gains, climate controls (heating/cooling), driving speeds, and outside weather can (and did!) have large impacts on range. It was not clear if the navigation was actively taking those factors into account — or at least for the static, predictable factors — but it seems like it could more accurately describe why it wants more charge at certain times.

On my trip, I drove over the Rocky Mountains (very steep, cold mountains in the Western United States), drove in sub-zero temperatures, and as a result, used the cabin heating frequently. I was aware of the impacts these would have, but an unfamiliar driver, not realizing the interrelationships between these factors could easily end up stranded in their Tesla. These factors are also present in gasmobiles, but with gas stations on every corner and most freeway exits, it is less of an issue. Growing pains…

The video below details some of my jumbled learnings from the road. I was happy to find that the speedometer display was the right angle to capture this specific angle with my phone, making it easy to record videos and video chat with my kids while out on the road. Technology is amazing.

All images and videos by Kyle Field