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Saturday, September 30, 2017

SpaceX May Offer Rocket Rides on Earth

Anywhere on Earth in under an hour 

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX (among other things), recently gave a talk about making life multiplanetary. He discussed SpaceX's plan to go to Mars twice in 2022. He admits that the timeline is "aspirational", but then says that 5 years is a long time.

To get to Mars they are planning on building a giant rocket, one that Elon refers to as BFR during the talk (I'll assume this stands for Big Falcon Rocket). The design has 31 Raptor engines with a payload capacity of 150 tons.

Near the end of his talk (@38:30), he says, "If you've built a ship that is capable of going to Mars, what if you take that same ship and go from one place to another on Earth? We looked at that and the results are quite interesting."

The video then cuts to people being ferried out to a floating launch pad and entering a giant rocket. The rocket launches and hits a top speed of 27,000 kph; which is really fast and made me think people might be leaving rocket like this:

If there is one thing the CEO of Tesla knows, it's smooth acceleration, so I am sure the trip would be fine and not leave you rubber-faced :)

The video continues and shows that the BFR could fly from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes. The video lists of other possible trips with “most long-distance trips less than 30 minutes” and “anywhere on Earth in under an hour.”

Elon Musk's full speech is below and it includes footage from their successful rocket landings and what terraforming Mars might look like.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

New Tesla Referral Program

Tesla is making a change to their referral program. Today, if you use a referral code when you buy a Tesla Model S or Model X you get unlimited Supercharging and $1,000 off the price of the vehicle.

Well, the $1000 discount is going to end on October 31, 2017.

The discount might be going away, but solar panels are being added to the program. In addition to buying a Model S or Model X, you can use this referral code to buy Tesla solar panels. Using this code, you'll receive a 5-year extended limited warranty.

What surprises will they add to the referral program in November, we'll just have to wait and see.

For full disclosure, I should add that using my code will help me get some Tesla swag, like a home charging station signed by Elon Musk.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Traveling Oregon in a Tesla - Photo Journal (Part 5 Elkton Butterfly Pavilion)

Welcome to part 5 of our summer Tesla adventure. In this entry, we make our way to the Oregon coast with a colorful stop in Elkton.

We were traveling from a motel with destination charging to another motel with charging. This was great. With overnight charging and a relatively short trip, we had no need to make a mid-drive recharge stop.

We left Sutherlin after a late breakfast. We had a short drive and it was nice to take a slow morning and enjoy the day.

We arrived at the butterfly pavilion in Elkton.

From here we continued to Driftwood Shores and checked in. Next on our adventure list is the Oregon coast.

Part 6: The Oregon Coast 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

2017 is the Year of the 2170

The year is 2017. Jumble the digits a little and you can arrange them into 2170.
Tesla started mass production of their 2170 form factor battery cells on January 4th, 2017. These cells were first used in Tesla's Powerpack and Powerwall energy storage products.

In July, Tesla handed over the keys (or key card) to the owners of the first Model 3s. Like the Powerwall, these cars were powered by 2170 cells.

The 2170 cells are so named because they have a 21mm diameter and a height of 70mm. The cells are produced at Gigafactory 1 near Reno, Nevada. By 2018, this one Gigafactory is expected to produce 35 GWh/year of lithium-ion cells annually, about twice global production today.

Tesla started their business with the idea of using commodity battery cells. They used 18650 cells; it was popular in portable electronics and the form factor to receive chemistry improvement faster than others. They used these in their Roadster, as well as their Model S and Model X.

For Model 3, Tesla went back to the drawing board. Previously they used the 18650 because it was the best option available. Now that they were going to be making the cells themselves (along with their partner Panasonic), they could make them however they'd like. Nissan, GM, and others are using pouch cell form factors. Tesla, however, stuck with the "jelly roll" tucked in a cylindrical cell. Tesla CTO, JB Straubel, said that the 2170 cells were designed to be optimal in size and energy density for electric vehicles, balancing energy storage with an external surface area for cooling. Elon Musk had a similar statement about rethinking the battery from “first principles of physics and economics.”

Tesla is poised to disrupt both the energy market and the transportation market with their 2170 cells and it started this year in 2017 with the production of the first cells.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Traveling Oregon in a Tesla - Photo Journal (Part 4 Wildlife Safari)

In part 3 of our Tesla Model X adventure, we visited the Oregon Caves. In this post, we'll travel from Cave Junction to Sutherlin with a stop at the Oregon Wildlife Safari. We left the Caves Chateau before breakfast and headed back to Grants Pass. The Black Bear Diner Supercharger was the hub for our south Oregon travels and this was our 3rd and final stop here. We'd enjoyed eating there on our previous visit a couple days before and were looking forward to eating there again.

After arriving, we plugged in and went into the diner. It was crowded. This was very different from our prior visit. It was Sunday morning and apparently, the entire town of Grants Pass goes out for breakfast on Sundays.

Traveling from Oregon Caves To Sutherlin
in a Tesla Model X
We could not wait since we had scheduled a cheetah encounter for that morning. Just as we were about to leave, our name was called and we were seated. Once we were seated, the service was fast and we were back on the road, on-time, with a full charge.

Tesla Model X at Oregon Wildlife Safari
We arrived at the Wildlife Safari park on-time. The park's in Winston, Oregon; it's over 600 acres that you drive through while the animals wander (mostly) freely.

After seeing the cheetahs, we drove through the park. The giant front window of the Tesla Model X makes it the perfect vehicle for this type of drive-through park.

The safari day was incredible. We fed a giraffe and an elephant, our daughter rode a camel, we drove through the park and walked through the village. It was an experience to be remembered and the enormous window of the Model X made it the perfect vehicle for this adventure.

From here, we went to Sutherlin and checked in. We plugged into the destination charging station, changed in our room, and headed to the pool. Soaking my feet in the hot tub was nice after walking around in the village for several hours.

Our next stop is Part5: Elkton Butterfly Pavilion.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Model 3: Is The Long Range Battery Worth It?

The big day has arrived. Tesla has begun delivering Model 3 to customers. In the July launch event and the subsequent coverage, several facts about Tesla's fourth car, the Model 3, have been revealed. If you are one of the 400,000+ that have a reservation, then when the design studio opens for you, you'll get to select wheel options, roof options, paint color, and more.

At $9,000 US, one of the pricier options for Model 3 is range. The Standard Range (SR) vehicle comes with 220 miles of EPA-rated range and a Long Range (LR) car has 310 miles. Is the long-range upgrade worth $9,000 for 90 more miles? Today, we'll explore this question.

If this road is any part of your regular
drive, you want the long-range option

As we covered here (EV Range: How Much Is Enough?), you need to understand your personal driving needs. You'll be happiest with a vehicle that meets your needs, so first, you have to understand your needs. If you'll never use the additional 90 miles, you might as well save the money. If, however, you'll use it or it would give you peace of mind and you can afford it, you should get the LR.

Faster Charging

In addition to the extra range, the LR will also charge faster when connected to Tesla's High Power Wall Connector. The SR charges at a rate of 7.6 kW (about 30 miles per hour), whereas the LR charges at 9.6 kW (about 37 miles per hour). The slightly faster home charging is a nice add-on, but far from justifies the cost. The point of the LR is the additional range, let's move to that aspect.

Battery Cost

I thought you said we were going to talk about range next; this is cost.
Yes, I did. But the question we are asking is about value for money. So, let's look at the cost value of what you're getting.

The price of lithium-ion batteries has declined from an average of around $400 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2012 (when the Model S was launched) to under $150 today. For comparison, GM says when buying batteries for the Chevy Bolt, they pay LG Chem about $145 per kWh. This is, of course, just for the battery cells, it does not include the packaging, cooling, installation... The final retail price for any finished goods would be far above the cost of the raw components, but this gives you a starting reference.

Although Tesla has not released specific pack sizes for the two vehicles, there have been leaks that have let us know the that the SR has about 50 kWh of capacity and the LR has 75 to 80 kWh. So let's assume that the extra $9,000 buys you 30 kWh more capacity. That is a retail price of $300 per kWh.*  From this perspective, Tesla is not giving us a bargain, but there are other ways to look at this too.

It's All About The Range

If you just look at the price of the car and the range, you can make a simple table of price per mile. Our table will have the Model 3 LR and SR as well as a few other EVs for comparison. Note, these are base prices (not including incentives). If you want to buy leather seats, or dual motors, that's up to you, but including it here would complicate the table.

 MSRP            Cost per
EPA Mile
Tesla Model 3 LR  $44,000 
Tesla Model 3 SR $35,000

Chevy Bolt EV


Tesla Model S 75 $69,500
2017 Nissan Leaf (30 kWh)    $30,680
2018 Nissan Leaf* $30,875
BMW i3 (94AH) $44,450   

* The 2018 Leaf data is not final/official at the time of writing, this may need an update when final pricing and EPA results are published.

Looking at the range this way, the LR is the best per mile bargain in the bunch. Only the Model 3 SR and Chevy Bolt are even in the same category for dollars per mile category.


The car you'll like best is the one that meets your needs and your budget. Make sure you understand your driving habits. Open Google maps and plot out your regular drives. For your longer drives, open the Tesla Supercharger map (here) and see if there are any Superchargers along the routes for your longer drives.

Sidebar: Margins & Upgrade Options 

Tesla has to make money on each car they sell. These funds go towards building out the production capacity, charging infrastructure, and more. The no frills SR car should be as affordable as possible to allow as many customers into the 200-mile plus EV market as they can. One way to do this is to keep the profit margin on the base model of the car low and then offer compelling upgrades (with higher margins). This allows the company to have a blended margin that is above that of the base model while keeping the door open to more price-sensitive customers. Tesla is far from the only automaker to use this scheme and it is a win for both the company and customers.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Traveling Oregon in a Tesla - Photo Journal (Part 3 Oregon Caves)

In part 2 of our electric Oregon tour, we visited Crater Lake and headed back to the motel on the Rogue River. In this phase of our journey, we'll visit the Oregon Caves and travel to Sutherlin, Oregon.

Traveling to the Oregon Caves
At our Rogue River motel, as we did the night before, we plugged into the 120V outlet and charged the car overnight. The next morning we were up early and headed into Grants Pass. As we've done many times before, we plugged in at the Grants Pass Supercharger in the parking lot of the Black Bear Diner. However, this time we went into the restaurant for breakfast.

We've charged here several times, but had never eaten there. The food was good and the fresh squeezed orange juice was some of the best that I've ever had. We have a Black Bear near our home, yet we've never gone there. It was just not a place that we considered. Now that we know they have good breakfast options, we'll be going there when we're home.

Tesla Model X at Black Bear Diner
After breakfast, we set out to for the Oregon Caves. It was a relatively short drive to Cave Junction from Grants Pass. We arrived at the caves with plenty of charge. We scheduled a cave tour and checked into the chateau.

Here are a few photos from our cave tour.

After the cave tour, we took the longer hiking trail back to the visitors' center.

Our timing was great to see the sunset on the Siskiyou Mountains.

After the sunset, bats came out. It was fun to see them flying around the trees with incredible speed.

We stayed the night at the chateau at the caves. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to charge up there. They have a low-tech theme and they even proudly tout that they don't have Wi-Fi with a sign that says, "The best way to connect, is to unplug." While I agree that it is nice to unplug your mind when you are on vacation, I'd still like to plug in my car. But the trip from Grants Pass was not that far, so we had plenty of juice left.

There's a bumper sticker motto in there somewhere "Plug in your car and unplug your mind" ... Maybe not.

The next morning we set off for Sutherlin. Where we were staying there, they have destination charging. This is nice, we'll be able to start the next morning with a full charge.

Our next adventure: Part 4: the Oregon Wildlife Safari.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Tesla Truck Strategy

Tesla Pickup Truck concept via Truck Trend

Tesla has changed the game in the luxury car market. Audi, BMW, & Mercedes are losing market share to Tesla. With more than 400,000 people reserving a Model 3, Tesla hopes to do the same to Toyota, Nissan, Ford, and others in the mid-sized sedan market. With large screens, over-the-air updates, self-driving, and other features, Tesla has crafted an image as an innovative company advancing automotive technology. This has given them a devoted following among the early adopter crowd.

One of the products that Tesla has announced as part of their plan is to launch an electric pickup truck. The top three selling passenger vehicles in the US are all pickup trucks, so this is an important market segment if Tesla wants to meet their goal to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. 

It is not clear if the truck buying customers will be as enamored with the Tesla brand and innovations as the luxury and midsize sedan buyers. Tesla will have to wow them to woo them.

Truck buyers - to Woo them, Tesla must Wow them.

Semi First

Many truck-buyers have ignored or dismissed electric cars. For those that are aware of Tesla, many view the company's longevity and technology claims skeptically. There are many arguments that are used to dismiss electric vehicles such as range, recharge time, performance, styling... Tesla has been able to address each of these in their cars. For trucks, they will have to make all the persuasive arguments to a new class of buyers.

The easiest way to allay these concerns is to show a vehicle that is awesome and defies all these concerns. The Tesla Semi is expected to be shown in October of this year. If it meets expectations of range and power that Elon Musk has presented such as being able to pull a standard semi uphill in a tug-of-war, this will have a wow-factor and should eliminate any concern that Tesla cannot make a powerful truck. Pickup truck buyers are far more likely to be interested in and talk about the semi-truck features and performance than the Model S/3/X.


Pickup trucks are often part of a work fleet. So perhaps more so with trucks than with Tesla's previous car offerings, they will have to appeal to fleet managers. Fueling cost and maintenance are significant factors that good fleet managers consider when making purchases. The total-cost-of-ownership, rather than just the initial price tag is what matters.

If Tesla can find features to add to the trucks that help reduce job costs, their trucks will be given serious consideration.

Truck Features

Battery and Range
The truck is likely to have the biggest battery pack of any of Tesla's passenger vehicles. Trucks often spend long days driving between job sites, often while hauling or towing loads. Long-range and hauling take energy. Depending on the load, the energy needed could be twice as much as a load-free drive.  
Elon Musk tweets that the Tesla Pickup will have a large battery pack (above 100 kWh)
We can expect to see a 120+ kWh option in the truck's battery pack. I hope to see 160 kWh or more on a high-end pickup truck. This would allow long-range while pulling a loaded one-ton tractor-trailer or a bed full of bricks.

Truck Frunk Box (say that 5 times fast)
Tesla's cars have a front trunk or frunk. They have made luggage to fit the frunk. The truck is likely to have a frunk too. For the truck, this can be a custom toolbox, slotted for removable compartments. The frunk should also have electrical outlets to allow charging for cordless power tool batteries. Perhaps a custom recharging dock partnership with Makita that Tesla sells in their accessories store. 

Electrical outlets
Speaking of power-tools, one of the things that are often toted to job sites are generators to run the corded power tools. If Tesla's truck has outlets near the tailgate, these can be used to power table-saws and other corded power tools. This will mean that you don't have to buy, haul, fuel, or maintain a separate generator. This would be another money saver for contractors and fleet managers. This is also another reason that the truck battery pack should be a little larger. A built-in auto-retracting cord reel would be a nice addition too.

Tesla is full of surprises. We'll have to wait and see what they offer and how the truck buying marketplace receives it. We live in exciting times.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Traveling Oregon in a Tesla - Photo Journal (Part 2 Crater Lake)

Previously, in part 1 of our summer family traveling adventure, we went to the Painted Hills in our Model X.

In part 2, we head to southern Oregon. In the morning, we were charged up and packed. We hit the road heading south. Our first charging stop was in Eugene. We stopped at the nearby Dutch Brothers and Subway before heading to the Supercharger. Our little family ate lunch and talked while we charged up. After lunch, we continued south.

Map of our Southern Oregon Trip

Our next stop was in Grants Pass. As we descended the Cascades and approached the city, the air began to thicken from the multiple forest fires burning in the region. We arrived in Grants Pass and plugged in.

Grants Pass SuperCharger at Sunset with Smoke in the Sky from Nearby Forest Fires
This Supercharger in the parking lot of the Black Bear Resturant would turn out to be our hub for our southern Oregon adventures. We charged up and headed to our motel for the evening. At the motel, we parked in front of our room and we plugged into a 120V outlet (with permission) overnight. This overnight charging only added ~20 miles, but it was all that was available and plugging in lets the owners of the motel know that EV charging is an amenity that we EV drivers are looking for. Perhaps they'll install a NEMA 14-50 which EVs and RVs could utilize.

The next morning we had a nice breakfast at a 1950's themed restaurant overlooking the Rouge River. Then we set off for Crater Lake.

Trees through the forest fire smoke on the drive to Crater Lake
Heading up the mountain the smoke began to thicken the air. We wondered if we'd be turned back or if it would be smart to turn back. We had checked the night before so we knew Crater Lake National Park was still open, so we pressed on. Biohazard mode comes in handy in times like this.
Vidae Falls Near Crater Lake
Surprisingly, there were pockets where the air was clear. We saw a beautiful waterfall and stopped to enjoy the view. After snapping a few photos at the falls, we continued to the rim.

We arrived at Crater Lake.
Wizard Island through forest fire smoke
We scheduled a boat ride on the lake for later in the day and enjoyed the view from the visitors' area. As we walked around, butterflies filled the air. I'm not sure if the fires drove them to this area, or if this is an annual occurrence. But it was magical as they flew up the caldera and surrounded us as we looked at Wizard Island and the beauty of the lake.

Now it was time to head over for the boat ride. The boat dock was on the other side of the lake. Because of the fires, the shorter route was closed. The drive up the mountain had used more than half the charge we had and I wanted to make sure we could get back to the motel. I had not planned on taking the long way around the crater when I mapped this out. At least the drive back was mostly down hill, we should have plenty of range. So we took the long way around and pulled into the parking area.

The parking lot was under construction, which of course made me wonder if EV charging is part of the plan for this new parking area. With the hike down, the boat tour, and the hike back we'd be parked here for about 5 hours. A Level 2 charging session could add over 100 miles of range during this time.

We parked and hiked down to the boat dock.
An outbuilding on Crater Lake
After a short wait, we were on the water for a ranger guided tour around the lake.
On Crater Lake, smoke to the left, clear skies to the right

Phantom Ship Island on Crater Lake
We finished our boat ride and headed to a Mazama Village.
Our Tesla Model X on the drive back from Crater Lake
 Driving down the mountain, we saw one of the sources of the smoke.
Spruce Lake fire, seen from Crater Lake, ~4700 acres burning
On the way down the mountain, we stopped for dinner in Mazama Village. They had a Tesla destination charger housed in a tiny A-frame house at the restaurant.
Charging at the Mazama Village destination charging station at Sunset
After dinner, we had a few extra Watt-hours and we headed down the mountain on our way back to our motel next to the Rogue.

On the drive down the mountain, we had more regen than I've ever seen. We were averaging negative 116 Watt-hours per mile. The batteries were getting charged up as we drove at ~50 MPH. EV ownership would be super easy if you could always drive downhill :)

Energy display showing 15 minutes of downhill driving

We made it back to the motel with plenty of remaining capacity.

The next day we were setting off for the Oregon Caves. I'll save that for part 3.