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Plug In Drivers Not Missin' the Piston

This is the Kodak Moment for the Auto Industry. Electric vehicles are here to stay. Their market acceptance and growth will continue....

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

10 Years of Solar - 70 Solar Powered Cannonball Runs!

In late 2007, we had solar panels installed on our house. For me, the motivation for solar was to "fuel" the electric car that I had started driving earlier that same year. The 4 kilowatt PV system that we installed provided enough energy to drive an EV to drive about 16,000 miles each year.

In 2015, we added a second PV system, bringing our total up to 12.1 kilowatts. This allows us to "fuel" about 48 thousand solar-powered electric miles each year; far more than we drive. To go along with our second PV system, we added a second electric car to our home fleet.

In addition to fueling our cars, the energy that our PV systems generate is used to power the bulk of our home energy needs, TVs, computers, air conditioning... In the summer, they generate about 130% of our home's energy needs. This means that (via the path of least resistance), we're powering some of our neighbors' energy needs too.

Here is the graph of our solar energy production for 10 years.


The blue part of the graph is our original 4 kW system and the red section is the 8.1 more that was added in 2015.

In this chart, you can see the summer/winter ripple in the production graph as it moves up and to the right. This summer/winter delta grows as you move north on the globe. We are just north of the 45th parallel. Our summer/winter delta is even more exaggerated with our new system since most of the panels are east facing. Our roof-line does not allow for south-facing panels, but we didn't let that stop us from installing them. As you can see, they are still effective.

During our 10 years of production, we've made over 56 MWh, that is more than 56,000 kWh. As I mentioned above, we first installed our PV to fuel our electric car. So how far could this 56 MWh get us? The answer is nearly 200,000 miles for a car like our Nissan Leaf. With this energy, you could drive the NY to LA Cannonball Run more than 70 times. For another comparison, assuming you could drive an EV to the Moon (obviously, you can't, although you could drive one on the Moon since it does not require O2 intake for combustion) this energy could get you ~80% of the way there. We have a goal to generate enough energy to complete this Moonshot drive.

If you'd like to know how big of a solar PV system you need to fuel your own EV driving with solar miles (or smiles), you can check out this article for references and help with the math.

Friday, November 17, 2017

10 Years of EV Driving (Part 3 - WKTEC Awakening)

Our slow path to a 100% EV household.

In late 2006, I was on a documentary watching kick and filled my Netflix queue with them. One particular weekend early in 2007, the DVD for Who Killed The Electric Car? arrived in the familiar red envelop.* 


Watching this movie explained why the Saturn salesman laughed when we called in 1999 to try to buy an EV1. The suppression this technology made me angry, and it did something else; it re-awoke my electric car dream. 

I knew that it was very unlikely that I'd convert a car, my attempt from 2001 never got off the drawing board, so I'd have to buy one. I took to the internet. After some searching, I had four candidates: the Corbin Sparrow, the eBox, the T Zero, and the Zap Xebra

I went down the list trying to find details about each. The Sparrow and the eBox were expensive. The T Zero looked great, but they had only made a few prototypes and had no plans to produce the car. This left the Xebra. Luckily for me, there was a dealership in Salem, Oregon within an hour's drive from my house. We made an appointment to see the quirky three-wheeler.

Zapp Xebra
The Xebra website said that it had a top speed of 40 MPH and a 40-mile range. The salesman was blunt and said that was not true. You could go 40 MPH OR you could go 40 miles, but you could not do both. I had a 20-mile commute and much of the drive was on a road marked at 45 MPH, but maybe I could take sideroads, it might work. I took it for a test drive and with two men in the car (the salesman and myself), it was sluggish. There was a hill on the test drive; while ascending it we nearly came to a complete stop even with the accelerator to the floor. We live on a big hill. This was a dealbreaker. The Xebra was not going to meet my needs.

We tried to buy an EV in 1999 and were rebuffed. Now in 2007, it looked like once again I would not be able to find an EV within my budget that met my needs. I turned to the local EV club and lamented about my inability to find an EV. I said that I needed an EV that could go 45 MPH and have a 40-mile range at that speed.

To my surprise, I received a reply from someone with an EV for sale that met my stated needs. I'll cover this in part 4.

* If you own an electric car or are interested in EVs at all (and I assume you are if you are reading this) then I highly recommend that you watch Who Killed and its sequel Revenge of the Electric Car.

http://ts.la/patrick7819

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Tesla's Failure, Better Than Success At Many Companies


The press has been spilling a lot of ink about the Tesla Model 3 production delays. Model 3 was scheduled to go to 5,000 vehicles produced per week by the end of 2017, but today, due to production bottlenecks, they are far from this goal and Tesla has conceded that the 5,000 units per week goal will not happen until March of 2018. This delay has been billed as a major failure by many analysis and many in the media. On this news, Tesla's stock price was punished, dropping from a high of $360 on October 18th down to $299 on November 2nd (full disclosure, I am long TSLA).

The "failure" proclamations from analysts and media made me wonder how Tesla has done compared to other car companies. Yes, Tesla has failed to meet their own lofty goals, but how does their Model 3 rollout compare to other car companies' launch of a new vehicle? Let's see.

Current Comparisons

InsideEVs has a Plug-in Vehicle Sales Scorecard that they publish each month. Based on all the stories of Tesla's "failure", I expected to see them at the bottom of this list. Looking at Model 3 on the scorecard shows that it is not at the bottom, far from it actually. Here's the scorecard:
Plug-in Vehicle Scorecard via InsideEVs
Honda began shipping their new Clarity EV in July 2017, the same month as Tesla began delivering Model 3. Tesla has delivered more than twice as many Model 3 units compared to the Clarity EV. Honda is not new to the car game, yet Tesla is outpacing them. I'll let you speculate as to why Honda's electric offering had been anemic. Similarly, Volvo started shipping their new XC60 PHEV in July too and Tesla has shipped about 100 more of their new car than Volvo.

The Cadillac CT6 PHV began shipping 3 months before Model 3 and yet Model 3 has out-sold this car by a factor of 2.

The BMW i8 has been shipping all year and Tesla has already delivered more Model 3s. There are more Model 3s on the roads than i8s.

I have not seen "failure" stories about every (or any) one of the vehicles that are below Model 3 on this list. The "failure" on Tesla's part seems to be having high demanding self-expectations.

Historical Comparisons

Looking back, for a previous breakthrough car that changed the way many people drive, the Toyota Prius comes to mind. In the Prius' first year of delivery in their home country, they delivered about 300 cars. Tesla has already delivered 367 Model 3s through Q3 of this year, with more coming in November and December. Tesla Model 3 year 1 will likely double that of Prius' introduction year.

In the Prius' first full year of production, they delivered 17,700 cars. Model 3's first full year (2018) will be significantly higher. It wasn't until the Prius' 7th full year of production that they were over 100,000 delivered annually. We should see more than 100,000 Model 3 in its first full year of production. Model 3's ramp to 100,000 will be 6 years faster than Prius'.

In the Chevy Volt's first full year of production, GM delivered 7,671 cars. Similarly, in the Nissan Leaf's first year of full production, they delivered 9,674 vehicles. Model 3's first year of full production will be an order of magnitude larger than these.

Conclusion

Tesla has not delivered to their own high expectations for Model 3's ramp. Certainly, the 400,000+ people on the waiting list would love to have their cars sooner rather than later. But compared to the plug-in offerings from BMW, Honda, and Volvo, Tesla is delivering.

Comparing Model 3 to the early years of the Prius, Leaf, and Volt, Tesla is delivering.

For the analysts that want Tesla to stop overcommitting and underdelivering, I say there are other companies that make very small commitments, you might want to invest in them. I would rather do business with, and invest in, a company that promises the moon and delivers greatness; rather than one that makes and meets pathetically small goals.

Looking at all of the plug-in cars on the scorecard list above, there is no question in my mind that Model 3 will be number 1, with a big lead on the pack, on the Plug-in Scorecard for 2018. Tesla may be late on their March goal for 5,000 week too, but they only need to get to 1,000 vehicles per week to dominate the scorecard.

http://ts.la/patrick7819

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Optimistic Elon Musk's Moonshot Method


Elon Musk dreams big. In this entry, we'll look at Elon Musk's leadership style, the many missed delivery deadlines it has caused, and why (at the same time) it is the key to Tesla's (and SpaceX's) success. We'll also look at how his leadership style has polarized Musk's fans and critics as well as Wall Street analysts' responses.

Among Musk's list of big dreams are to populate Mars; transition all forms of land, air, and sea transportation to electric; create a highspeed human-computer interface; create cars that can drive better than humans; dig tunnels and move vehicle traffic underground; whisk people from any major city to any other major city on the planet in less than an hour (by rocket of course).

Among these big dreams are also many things that Musk has committed to deliver and then failed to meet the commitment. Bloomberg even has a page dedicated to tracking Musk's projects; be they successes, delayed, or failures. These product promises include AutoPilot 2  features, Model 3 deliveries, and much more.

Musk Standard Time (MST)

For those of us that have been following Musk for a considerable time, we've learned to mistrust his ability to estimate project timelines. Ashley Vance wrote about it in his biography of Musk. Perhaps Musk assumes everyone working for him can clear their life of all distractions and work 18 hour days for months at a time as he did during his programming years. Another possibility is that it's a form of the Dunning–Kruger effect where he assumes things are far simpler than they really are? Unlikely. Are the delivery dates from Musk blatant lies to dupe people to buy into the ideas and get employees to work super hard? Some of Musk's critics may think so, but again, unlikely. 

Rather, these timelines are likely the ones Musk wants to be true. He has thought long and hard about the solution, how it works, and its impact on the world. After such a thorough roseate visualization, it seems like something that should exist as soon as possible. This explains his optimistic estimates, but it is not an estimation method that you are likely to find in one of Steve McConnell project management books.

Let's look at some of these missed deadlines in a little more detail and then look at why this (despite missed commitments) is one of Tesla's greatest methods of delivering breakthrough products.

Note, the point of this article is not to point out the failures, there are plenty of critics that write such articles. Please don't stop reading in the middle of the next section and assume you know the article's full content. The discussion of these "failures" is for context, to make a point; they are not the point.

Model 3 Delivery Failures

In the Q1'16 earnings report, when asked about Model 3 production, Musk said, “So as a rough guess, I would say we would aim to produce 100,000 to 200,000 Model 3s in the second half of next year.”

Musk did call this a rough guess, but it was optimistic by an order magnitude. Instead of delivering massive quantities of Model 3, Tesla spent the second half of 2017 in "production hell" and deliveries are far below this rough guess. At the time of this writing, we still don't know what the final delivery numbers for 2017, but they are likely to be closer to 20,000 than to 200,000.

Speaking of Model 3 deliveries, Tesla was scheduled to start delivering Model 3 cars to non-employees in October of 2017. Halloween has come and gone and so far, the only people to own the keys (or key cards) to a Model 3 are board members and employees. In early November, reservation holders received an email from Tesla stating that Model 3 deliveries would be delayed 1 to 3 months.

Our final issue in the Model 3 space is the delivery of a $35,000 variant of the car. The initial configuration included the large battery pack, the premium package, and more. This puts the price well over $50,000. If you want (and can afford) the upgrades, that's fine. But many people are on the List for a Model 3 because they cannot afford a $50,000+ car. They are waiting for the $35,000 option (with maybe a few upgrades). This was scheduled to be available in November of 2017. Now, given the production problems currently with the Model 3, Tesla is not likely to add to the manufacturing complexity by allowing more configuration varieties any time soon; those waiting for a $35000 car will be waiting until sometime in 2018.

Other Missed Optimistic Commitments

Tesla Network: In October 2016, Musk announced the Tesla Network. This is the idea that the owner of a Tesla would be able to place their car into a Tesla operated rideshare network when they didn't need it personally. You could drive to work, then release your car to the network to autonomously chauffeur people around until you need it again. Going on vacation for a week? Your car could stay home and work to help you pay for it. The Tesla Network could be used to earn money and reduce your car payment. Musk said that the network was targeted to begin in 2017.

Autopilot 2: New Autopilot hardware was introduced in October of 2016. When the new hardware was deployed, it was missing many features that the previous hardware 1 systems had. Not only could the new system not autosteer initially, it didn't have rain sensing wipers or auto high beam headlights. Musk said that hardware 2 would reach parity with hardware 1 within 3 months. Many features have been added to hardware 2 since its introduction, but now in late 2017, it is still not yet at parity with hardware 1 systems. This is about 11 months late.

Model X Launch: The Model X was announced in February of 2012 with a targeted launch date of 2013. The target year of 2013 came and went and no Model Xs were delivered. 2014 rolled by without a delivery. Finally, in September of 2015, the first key fob was handed to a new owner. But Model X was plagued by production issues for another 6 months before any significant volume of deliveries began.

Full Self-Driving: Soon after the introduction of Autopilot hardware 2, buyers have had the option to pre-pay for full self-driving. In January 2017, Musk said self-driving features would begin to roll out in “3 months maybe, 6 months definitely.” Six months after January would be July. July has come and gone and you can still pre-pay for the feature, but, as of today, you still cannot use it.

Responses To Missed Commitments

When so many promised deliveries have been missed, why do Musk's words still carry so much weight? If Musk was viewed as just a wild dreamer, he would not have the following that he does. Musk is trying to do something that is important, something that's never been done before, and that many people would like to see succeed. When this is the case, many are likely to give you some slack on the schedule, as long as you are working hard and showing progress.

There is no question that Musk is personally working very hard towards these goals and pushing his teams to do the same. For example, during the recent Model 3 production constraint, Musk was working at the Gigafactory at 2 AM on a Sunday and sleeping on the roof to save time driving to\from a hotel.

In a recent note, an analyst from Cowen and Company said, “Tesla needs to slow down and more narrowly focus its vision and come up for a breath of fresh air. Elon Musk needs to stop overpromising and under delivering.” This is a typical response from an analyst. They are attempting to value the company and figure out how it will do in this quarter or the next. They want predictability, but innovation does happen on Wall Street's quarterly timeline.

The mistake that Cowen & Co and other analysts are making is to judge Tesla by the aggressive goals and missed timelines, rather than by results. Seeking Alpha writer, Trent Eady, said it well when he wrote, “If Musk promises you the moon in six months and delivers it in three years, keep things in perspective: you’ve got the moon.”

Musk has said that if investors want to buy into a car company that does things the traditional way, they should buy Ford. He has no intention of changing Tesla's behavior or culture to meet analysts' expectations.

Musk & the Moonshot

Modern businesses focus on meeting quarterly expectations. If you miss the Street's expectations, your stock is punished. When the stock drops, the board starts looking for new management. This had led many C-suite executives to think small. Looking for things that can be done in three months and things that can show a quick upside.

As we've shown, Musk does not think small. Rather, he uses what others have referred to as Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). These are Moonshots or go big or go home ideas. They are not guaranteed to succeed and they are not something that can be done on a fixed 3-month schedule. To accomplish something of magnitude, you have to be willing to fail and you have to be willing to disappoint the Street. This is not an option that most CEOs of publicly traded companies are willing to attempt. Discussing the culture of innovation at SpaceX, Musk said, “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

The Power of Optimism 

If these audacious goals are likely to fail or at least result in unforeseeable delays, why does Musk put such an optimistic timeline on them? Why not state the goal with no promise of delivering it next year?

Danny Kahneman, the Nobel prize-winning economist, has an answer to this question. In an episode of Freakonomics Radio (How To Launch a Behavior-Change Revolution, dated October 25th, 2017) he says, "If you realistically present to people what can be achieved to solve a problem, they will find that uninteresting. You have to overpromise in order to get anything done. You take a problem like poverty. If you say I am going to reduce it by 12%, that may be realistic but no one will be interested. People want to solve the problem. Change is very unlikely otherwise. When you look at big successes, the people that carried out those big successes were unrealistically optimistic typically. This may be necessary to get the initial resources and it may be necessary to get the enthusiasm that is needed to achieve anything at all, because there is so much inertia that realistic promises are at a major disadvantage."

When you look at big successes, the people that carried out those big successes were unrealistically optimistic.
~ Danny Kahneman

Kahneman's comment was not about Musk, but it is very applicable. Musk is trying to do things that have never been done before.

By striving to do the impossible, man has always achieved what is possible.
~ Mikhail Bakunin

Musk's use of a short timeline gives a sense of urgency to the effort. It might mean the actual delivery will be late, but it arrives sooner than it ever would have if it had initially been given a realistic timeline. If you want to move people off the status quo, you have to present them with something exciting. A promise of something 10 years from now will be discounted to the point of insignificance and ignored by most.

Whenever Musk makes a new proclamation, you will find people that claim that it is impossible. This was true about the Tesla Roadster and every car that Tesla has delivered since. It was true about SpaceX landing rockets on drone barges at sea (or anywhere actually). Musk's use of big aspirational goals is an example of the "Kahneman overpromise" and it has been effective. 

Musk is often wrong about the timeline, but never in doubt about the goal. The deadlines come and go, but the commitment to the results are still there. These are not empty promises, but don't expect them to happen on a predictable timeline.

Those proclaiming something is impossible should not stand in the way of those that are doing it.

When you are doing the impossible, it is hard to deliver on a predictable schedule.

Fanbois or Cult?

Musk has become a divisive figure. Criticism or praise of him will bring about counterpoints and ensuing arguments between fanboys (or to be non-gender specific, fanbois) and critics.

The critics wonder how anyone can idealize someone with such outlandish ideas. While the fans wonder why anyone would be a detractor to someone that is trying to make our existence so much more interesting.

Considering the recent Model 3 delays, Model 3 reservation holders are not thrilled that they have to wait longer for their vehicles, but they are not likely to cancel their orders en masse. Edmunds auto analyst Jessica Caldwell recently said,“Many Model 3 customers put deposits down on the vehicle more than a year ago before they even saw the vehicle, so it’s clear Tesla buyers don’t follow the usual logic-driven car-buying process.” That Model 3 reservation is not just to get a car. For many of them, it's a statement about who they are, what they believe, and the future they want to help bring about.

People are not inspired by the something easily doable, nor by something obviously preposterous. The right place to inspire is to something just out of reach, like Kennedy's Moonshot. That is the place where Musk has targeted his publicly shared goals, at things that are hard, and it has captured the imagination of many.

These just out of reach goals means that there are many unknowns. And there are things that are currently not possible. These are engineering problems that are yet to be solved.

I am eagerly waiting for the future to arrive. You have to want more and settle for what you get. 



Sidebar

If— By Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

10 Years of EV Driving (Part 2 - Electric Boogaloo)

Our slow path to a 100% EV household.

In part 1, we were snubbed when trying to get an EV1. Instead, our journey began with a Prius in 1999. This was not EV-driving, but the occasional electric propulsion of the hybrid system teased at what could be.

I bought a book about building/converting your own electric car. Over the summer of 2001, I read it and made plans. I was not sure if I wanted to do it and if I did, I'd need help.

This is when I found my local electric car club. I went to one of the meetings and checked out the cars that were there. I even drove a couple. I heard that there was an electric truck that had been converted that was for sale. I went out to meet the owner at his house. Only later did I learn that the owner, John Wayland, was a legend in the EV community.

The White Zombie (because it is back from the dead)
John was (and still is) known for his wickedly quick cars. If you've never heard of the White Zombie, I'll just say it's quicker than a P100D Ludicrous Tesla and here's a 2-minute video if you'd like to know more.



John's truck was a beautiful conversion, but it was short range and I would still need to have a gas car for other trips. I was not living in a place where it would be easy to have three cars. I continued to look at conversion options and into making my own but it was going to be a lot of work for a car that would have short range and heavy lead-acid batteries that would need periodic replacement.

For now, my electric dreams would have to go into hibernation.

http://ts.la/patrick7819

Thursday, October 26, 2017

10 Years of EV Driving (Part 1 - I Want An EV1)

Our gradual path to a 100% EV household.

I have been driving EVs for 10 Years now. For the last year, with a Tesla Model X and a Nissan Leaf in our garage, we have been an EV-only household. Our transition was gradual. It started with a Prius in late 1999. My wife was in a wreck in early 1999, she walked away but (through no fault of hers) her car was totaled. She wanted something eco-friendly for her new car. We had heard about an electric car from General Motors called the GM EV1. Researching it we found out that it was being sold at Saturn dealerships. We called our local Saturn and asked about it. They laughed and said unless you lived in California and were "an influencer" such as a Hollywood star, you were not going to get an EV1.

GM EV1
We didn't live in California (and weren't movie stars) so the EV1 was off the table, but my wife still wanted an eco-friendly car. There were these new hybrid cars coming out from Honda and Toyota. What about those? We found a Honda dealership that had an Insight on the lot and we scheduled a test drive. The sales guy wanted to make sure that we were serious buyers before he would schedule our test drive. He said that a lot of people had been coming in to drive the car because it was new technology. Many of them were not even in the market for a new car; they just wanted a hybrid joyride. I assured him that we were serious buyers and that my wife had been taking the bus to work for the last week, so we'd drive it home that day if we liked it.

1999 Honda Insight
When we arrived at the dealership, it was not a positive experience. He showed us the car and we asked to take it for a test drive. Again he interrogates us about being "real car buyers" and again I assure him that we were. "OK then let's sign the paperwork," he says. What? He wanted us to BUY the car before he would let us test drive it. No way. I explain that there is no way that we would buy a car before test driving it. He says, "Sorry, I can't just keep letting people test drive it." I explain that we have an appointment and we are there to test drive it and if that's a problem, I want to talk to the owner. He walks off and comes back with the keys.

Now we have the next problem. The Insight was a two-seater. All three of us cannot fit in the car. My wife and I want to take the car with just the two of us. The sales guy said that he has to be in the car and we could each have a turn driving it. I offer to let my wife go first since it's going to be her car. She's not interested. I can see in her eyes that she would never buy anything from this guy. But we drove all the way there, I am at least going to drive it after all that. So I hop in the driver's seat and get a quick lay of the land. It had a manual transmission; shifting gears was easier than other manuals I had driven. I liked the car.


In 1999, it was nearly impossible to buy an EV and it was difficult to find a hybrid.

I return from the test drive and again offered the keys to my wife. She was not interested, so we left. Our next stop was Toyota. The Prius was not in the US yet, but they were on sale in Japan and were scheduled to be brought to the US. At the dealership, they showed us the literature that they had. It was 4-door, 5-seats, and it was automatic. The sales team was great, they answered questions and were friendly and not pushy. My wife loved it. We put down a deposit that day and we were on the waiting list.

A couple weeks later they called to tell us that one of the cars from Japan was touring the US. We wouldn't be able to drive it, but we'd at least be able to see it in person. The car arrived and we went to see it, it was at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (OMSI). They had it roped off like a museum piece. It was exactly what she wanted in a car.

2000 Toyota Prius
We went back to the dealership, picked out our color and finalized the order. The irony here is not lost on me. We refused to buy the Insight without driving it, but that is effectively what we've just done with the Prius. But there was a difference; the deposit that we had with the dealership was fully refundable. When the car came in, we could drive it; if we didn't like it, we get our money back. The dealership said that they would have any problem selling it to the next person on the waiting list.

Now we wait. Weeks turn in months, the season changes from spring to summer, the dog days of summer yield to a late summer, this was washed away by late September rains. During all of this, my wife is riding the bus to work. All because she wanted a Prius and she thought it was worth the wait, even though she had never driven it.

Finally, the car arrives. We take for a test drive and it was all that she had hoped for. We drive it home; we were now Toyota Prius owners. We were among the first in our state to own one. I admit that I was not that interested in green transportation at that time in 1999. Eco-cars were her thing. Back then, I was driving a Honda Passport SUV. At that time I was enjoyed the outdoors, I rock climbed, skied, camped... the 4-wheel-drive was nice when you needed to take a rarely used road to an obscure crag and the Passport could pull our camper. But I admit, the hybrid technology fascinated me.

Hybrids were unlike anything I'd ever seen. There were times (albeit brief) when the Prius would run on only the electric motor. It was ghostly. When we pulled up to a red light and the engine would shut off. I reflexively stomped for the non-existent clutch. The eco-friendly seed was planted, but would still take time to grow.

More on this photo in part 2
http://ts.la/patrick7819

Friday, October 20, 2017

1 Year of Tesla Ownership

We've had our Tesla Model X for just over 1 year now and it's been great. The X is my daily driver, we've taken it on multiple road trips, we've been through the desert in the summer, over mountain passes in the winter, through the heavy smoke of forest fires, and more. Thirteen thousand miles and it has spent a few days in the shop too. I'll tell you the good and the bad from my first year of Tesla ownership.

In 2016, on September 15, I rolled my old gas vehicle onto the Tesla lot with the low fuel light on and traded in the first vehicle that I had ever owned for a new Tesla. But, I'm jumping ahead. It all started several months before when I ordered the vehicle. Here's the timeline of events:
  • Feb 2016 - Placed a reservation and made a $5,000 deposit 
  • Mar 2016 - The design studio opened and I configured my vehicle (Blue 5-seater with the biggest battery available at the time (90 kWh))
  • April 2016 - The order was confirmed and locked in, changes would not be accepted beyond this point without fees
  • May 2016 - Emailed my delivery specialist and asked for an ETA. He said we'd know more when the vehicle entered production. 
  • July 2016 - Emailed my delivery specialist and asked for an ETA, pointing out that my birthday was at the end of the month and having the vehicle delivered would be a great present. In response, I was informed that the 5-seat vehicles would not be in production until the end of the year
  • Aug 2016 - Changed the configuration to 6-seat. The change fee was waived since I was changing it from a configuration that was not currently in production to one that was. Our vehicle was in production by the end of the month. 
  • Sept 15th, the day I took delivery and where this story began.

Ordering

The online order process was great. I played around with a lot of options and you could easily see how it impacted the cost and payment. I opted for the big battery, tech package with the bio-hazard filter, carbon fiber décor, Autopilot, subzero weather package, and the towing package.

During the months from ordering in February until our delivery in September, I'd email our delivery specialist each month and ask for an update or if the expected delivery date was known yet. Sometime during these months, our assigned delivery specialist left Tesla and my emails were not getting a response. Eventually, I received an email saying they'd left Tesla and a new delivery specialist was being assigned. The new delivery specialist failed to reply to my emails too. I complained and my case was escalated to a manager. I was not emailing them frequently, but I did expect a reply within 2 business days. The manager that took over my case was great. He was knowledgeable and responsive.

Our new delivery specialist manager was the person that explained that the 5-seat config was not yet in production in July of 2016 and that we'd have to switch to 6 or 7-seat if we wanted the vehicle sooner. This is something that I wish was presented in the design studio when we configured the vehicle. It would have allowed me to make decisions based on the schedule as well as the cost. The good news is that Tesla seems to be doing this for the Model 3. When you select dual motor or the standard range battery pack, you can see the schedule impact this has on your estimated Model 3 delivery date.

Factory Delivery Woes 

While we were waiting for the Model X, my wife had an idea. She suggested that we pick up the car at the factory in Fremont, CA. We could make a family vacation out of it. We'd fly there, take the factory tour, pick up our Tesla, go to Disneyland and then road trip home. I thought this was a great idea. It would be about 1,400 miles of driving and a great way to become familiar with the car. This was especially fitting my first EV had been a service vehicle at Disneyland before it came to me about 10 years before (I'll tell the story of my first EV another day).

I contacted our delivery specialist and described our factory pick up and tour plan. He said that certainly was possible, but I should be aware that if I took delivery in California that I'd have to play the California state vehicle sale tax of 9%. "But I don't live in California," I protested. He said that it didn't matter. That was the state law. I looked into it and he was right. That was the California law and (according to the forums) many Tesla buyers like myself had scrapped plans to fly to the factory for delivery. So we stuck to the plan to take delivery at the Tigard service center near our home.

Delivery Day

On September 14th we received the email that the car was here and ready to be picked up. I made arrangements to pick it up the next day after work. At this time, due to one of our car's being totaled earlier in the year (again a story for another day), I was driving my old 1997 Honda Passport. On my way to work that morning, the low-fuel light came on. Since I was trading in the Passport that afternoon, I didn't see a reason to fill the tank, this would be the last day that I was driving it. I was not happy with the $800 trade-in price that I received for the vehicle, somehow filling in the tank seemed like it would only make this worse. This is petty, I know.

It was ironic to be trading in such a cheap vehicle for such an expensive one. The trade-in value didn't even cover the delivery fee for the Tesla. And the fact that I wanted another $200 on my trade-in value would not impact the cost of the Tesla in any significant manner, but still, I was not going to trade it in with a full tank. So, here's a tip, don't expect a great trade-in value. If you want to maximize the value of your old car, sell it privately (but this can be more work and beware of scammers).

Leaving work that afternoon, I hit traffic heading to the service center. The fuel light was on and had been on since that morning. I was not sure if I'd make it all the way to the service center. People talk about range anxiety related to EVs, I was in a gas-powered SUV and I had range anxiety worse than I'd ever had in an EV.

I made it to the service center. I'd planned to bring my camera and take some "out with the old, in with the new" photos, but running off to work that morning I didn't grab it. Here's a quick shot from my phone of my new Tesla on delivery day.

2016 Tesla Model X 90D Delivery
As a side note, the new Portland South Waterfront Service Center has a delivery center that has much better lighting for photos.

Naming

I am not the type of person that names his car. However, going through the configuration for the car, it asks you to name it and this is how it would be referred to in the app too. So I wanted to come up with something fun, clever, and non-obvious. Nikola?, Lightning?, ... no, these are too obvious. Mulling it over, I eventually settled on calling it Beast.
The Beast, Art by Jim Lee
Why Beast? Well, it's big, blue, strong, smart, and (wait for it) it's an X, man.

Ownership 

I drove the X home and I loved it. It is the best vehicle that I've ever owned. I turned on Autopilot and watched the steering-wheel adjust to the curves and the vehicle slowdown on its own as we (Hank and I) approached the traffic in front of us. The big screen, the clear backup camera, falcon wing doors (FWD), easter eggs, this was a fun car. To be fair, this is the most expensive vehicle I've ever purchased and a comparison to any other vehicle that I've owned would very unfair to the other vehicles. So rather than a review of the vehicle, this will be the story of my ownership experience. You can find plenty of vehicle reviews if that's what you're looking for.

AP1 v AP2

Soon after I received my Model X, Tesla announced that they were updating the Autopilot hardware (more cameras, better ultrasonics, better video processing...) and that cars with the new system would eventually be able to drive with full level 5 autonomy. Wow, I had owned the vehicle less than a month and it was already outdated (or so it seemed). There were plenty of new owners in the same situation and many of them were upset that Tesla offered no ability to upgrade their vehicle. If the car didn't come with the hardware, retrofitting it was a near impossibility.

I think some of these new owners in my situation took this too far. They claimed that it was unfair or that they'd been cheated. I had a different opinion. I had received the vehicle that I paid for; this had not changed just because something new was announced. I wanted a Tesla because they were so innovative. I had no expectation that Tesla would stop innovating just because my car had been delivered. I was still driving the same great car that I was on the day before I heard this news. If owning the latest tech is important, then get the shortest lease they offer. I had bought my Tesla (rather than lease) and I plan to drive it for many years. Hopefully, by the time I trade it in for a new one, there will be vast improvements. Who knows, by the time I am ready to trade this in, maybe we won't even own cars by then. Maybe we'll just hail a Johnny Cab from our cyber-implants 😄

As it has turned out (so far), Autopilot Hardware 2 (AP2) was not the promised panacea. Details came out later that Tesla and Mobileye had a falling out. So even though AP2 promises to eventually have far more capabilities than my AP1 system, Tesla has a lot of work to do before AP2 would be fully functional. And now, even a year later, AP1 is arguably still more the capable system. So while I know that soon AP2 will be the far more capable, at least I've had this one year of gloating rights.

My Tesla Model X and a few solar panels

Road Trips

During the year that we owned this car, we put 13,000 miles on it. This is far more miles than I typically drive in a year. We drove to Grants Pass in the winter, the Painted Hills in the desert of eastern Oregon in the summer, we pulled our camper, went to Comic-Con in San Diego, to Crater Lake, the Oregon Caves, through a wildlife safari, to a butterfly pavilion, and to Thor's Well on the Oregon coast. It was a lot of fun and it was all fueled by free Superchargers and destination charging. 

Comparing the Model X to similarly sized gas vehicles, I would have used more than 500 gallons of gas and spent more than $1300 to fuel my vehicle. Instead, the road trips used free Supercharging and my daily commutes were powered by overnight electricity rates of 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. So instead of spending $1300, I only spent about $200. 

Battery Degradation

I have recently started tracking the battery capacity of the Tesla, just as I've done in the Nissan Leaf we've owned since 2011. I'll have more to report next year when I've collected more data. It looks like the Tesla has lost 2% in the year that I've owned it. This is far better than the Leaf's first-year degradation performance. Degradation slows over time, so 2% in year one is awesome.

Issues

All the fun that we've had has not been without issues. When I picked up the car, there was an issue with one of the windows and as we used it a few things popped up. Here's the list:
  • The rear passenger-side window wasn't seated properly, it stuck out farther than it should. They replaced it. 
  • I was showing the car to a group of my coworkers, when one of the falcon wing doors was opening it made a loud pop and crack sound. A piece of plastic at one of the hinges had broken. 
  • One of the falcon-wing doors stopped working. I pushed the button to open it, it moved about 2 mm and then stopped. It wouldn't move. I called Tesla service, we tried a bunch of things. Eventually, a cold reboot (disconnecting the 12V battery) solved it.
  • The car made a repeating clunk noise under medium acceleration when it was cold. They replaced a front half-shaft.
  • The parking brake was recalled. This repair was done at my house. A mobile service ranger brought a service truck out and fixed it in my driveway. That is great service.
  • The passenger side mirror stopped retracting after the ModelXmas easter egg display. A software update fixed this.   
For all of these repairs, they were covered under warranty and done in less than 2 days. Additionally, I was given a Tesla loaner car while mine was in the shop. Talking to other owners, I guess I was lucky in this regard in that they occasionally use non-Teslas for loaners. The folks at the service center here in Tigard (now Portland) are great and they even washed the car for me. After all those road trips, there were more than a few bugs plastered on the fascia that I know they weren't easy for them to remove.

You might look at that list and think, wow that's a lot of issues for just one year. I don't mind if there are issues. I bought the first model year of a new vehicle from a bleeding edge company. My VIN is around 16,000, I expect issues. What matters more to me is how they deal with them. In every case the service center took my concerns seriously, they acted promptly, resolved the problem, and gave me a Tesla loaner. Which, in one case, meant that I got to drive a P100 Ludicrous vehicle for a day. I have no regrets, I would buy it again in a heartbeat.

http://ts.la/patrick7819