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Sunday, September 15, 2019

3 Years of Tesla Model X Ownership

In September of 2016, I bought a Tesla Model X 90D. This has been my daily driver ever since and we've taken it on multiple road trips. It has performed flawlessly. Below, we'll look at road trips, fuel costs, upgrades, and battery degradation during these years of ownership.

3-year-old (2016) Tesla Model X fresh and clean after a wash

Mileage and Road Trips

From our homebase in Portland, OR we've driven to Grants Pass; eastern Oregon; Bend, OR; San Diego, CA; Great Wolf Lodge; the dunes of Florence; Thor's Well; Crater Lake; Oregon Wildlife Safari; Cove Palisades; The Oregon Caves, and many other destinations.

On this 3rd anniversary of ownership, the X has 32,669 miles on the o-meter.

The Model X is a great vehicle for road trips. Around here, the Tesla charging network makes it easy to recharge and the stop time is just right to stretch your legs and grab a snack. Plenty of hotels have chargers, so you can start out each day with a full charge.

Fuel Cost

Can you call electricity a "fuel"? Either way, here's how much it cost us to drive these 32k miles.

About 8,000 of these miles were with free Supercharging. The bulk of the remaining miles were charged up at home in our garage. We have the time-of-use plan with our local utility and we are only charged 4.209¢ per kWh during overnight off-peak hours.

Doing a little math, we've paid $634 for 24,668 miles of travel, or 32,668 miles if you include those fueled by Superchargers. $634 for 3 years of driving is pretty good, but how does that compare to the cost we'd have paid to fuel a gas vehicle?

For the comparison, we'll look at two other Luxury Midsize SUVs from the same year: a 2016 BMW X5 M AWD 4DR and a 2016 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S. These get 14 city /19 hwy and 14/21 MPG respectively. Generously assuming the gas in the tank from the dealership covered the 668 miles, that leaves 32,000 miles worth of gas to buy.

The BWM X5 would burn about 1,940 gallons at a cost of $4,975 to travel 32k miles. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo S is only slightly better, burning 1,830 gallons of gas at a cost of $4,690. 

The Model X cost only 13.5% of the cost of the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S to fuel. For the Model X, that's as if we were paying 35¢ per gallon. When's the last time gasoline was 35¢ a gallon? It was around the time that Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon and that price wasn't going to last long because the OPEC oil embargo would soon follow.

As I type this, the big news story is "Two Major Saudi Oil Installations Hit by Drone Strike." Gasoline has been a problem for my entire lifetime, I think it's time to move on from this dysfunctional relationship. Electricity prices are far less volatile. No country has ever had their wind turbines as the target of a drone strike. 


One of the best features of any Tesla vehicle is the fact that it receives periodic software updates over-the-air. These updates add functionality and fun to the car. Here are a few of the things they've added during these 3 years:
  • Chill Mode
  • Easy Entry
  • Dog Mode 
  • Faster Supercharging
  • Battery Preconditioning 
  • New Application Launcher
  • Atari Games
  • Adaptive Suspension Damping Improvements
  • Driver Profile Key Linking
  • Heated Steering Wheel Improvements  
  • Sketchpad Improvements
  • Owners Manual Improvements
  • UI Improvements
  • Map Updates
Owners of newer Teslas might have noticed that I didn't list Navigate On Autopilot or some of the other AP related updates. That's because this was one of the last AP1 cars that Tesla made. I have no sour grapes over missing out on AP2+, I expect continuous innovation from Tesla.

Battery Degradation 

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I had a Nissan Leaf from 2011 until 2018. During those 7 years of ownership, I was greatly disappointed with the battery-life longevity. I wanted to keep the car for 10 years, but, for our needs, the battery range had degraded too much. So, battery degradation was one of my major concerns when I was EV shopping and this was one of the main reasons that I bought a Tesla. Taxi companies like Tesloop and others had bought Teslas and they were putting hundreds of thousands of miles on them each year. From their published data (see the chart below), the vehicles suffered about 10% of range loss over the first 100k miles and then the degradation flatted out and became negligible. So as long as you bought a car with ~10% more range than you needed, you should be fine.
Tesloop Battery Degradation Over 300k Miles

When new, our X had a 257-mile range. How has it held up? Today, it has a range of ~241 miles. That's a 6.3% range loss. In the first year, it lost 2.1% of range; in the second year, it lost an additional 2.2%; and in this third year, it lost 2.0%.

6.3% of Range Loss over 3 years
About the graph above, note that the left axis starts at 200 miles. This zoom-in allows you to see the degradation, but it also makes it look worse than it is. On most days, I'm only charging up to 160 miles, so the maximum range is not a significant factor.

Next year, I'm hoping to see less than 2% and for the degradation to flatten out at 230 miles. We shall see. If you plan on buying an EV and keeping it for a long time, make sure to account for some degradation as it ages.

Wrap Up

3 years of Model X ownership and I have no regrets. It was (is) the most I'd ever spent on a car. In fact, other than a house, it was the most expensive this I've ever purchased; and I'd do it again. Tesla's range, charging network, and fast charging time makes it so this can be your only vehicle. The battery management system smartly keeps the batteries from premature aging, so it should make it to the 10-year mark. I wonder what technomagical features the 2026 Tesla Model X will have.

Older Model X Reviews

You can see my 1-year review here and my 2-year review here.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

My First Tesla Grin

Nine years ago today, my friends, Jesse and Jim, and I went to a Tesla Roadster Ride & Drive event. There was no Tesla store in the Portland area at that time. The Seattle store was hosting a traveling roadshow and luckily we had appointments to the event.

I had no plans to buy a one hundred thousand dollar plus sports car, but I sure wanted to drive one. The car did not disappoint.

Getting in such a low-seated vehicle was an unusual feeling. At that time, my daily driver was an electric pickup truck. As I maneuvered the car to exit the parking lot, the smooth quiet motion of electric driving was familiar. Entering the road, I mashed the accelerator. Here's where the sportscar diverged from my electric truck. I was shoved back in my seat and a grin, assisted by G-forces, spread across my face.

I'd experienced the "EV grin" from the smooth quiet electric acceleration that feels like magical propulsion. The Tesla grin was the next level of this experience. As we merged onto the freeway, I was again able to mash the accelerator. This car was fun! There was no delay waiting for an engine to rev up before zipping ahead. As changed lanes (to the fast lane of course), I was again surprised by the car's response time. I was apparently used to sloppy comfort steering. This car had tight sports steering. It seemed to start the maneuver as soon as I thought about it.

I left that day excited for the future of EVs and knowing that I'd keep an eye on Tesla.

Six years later, at the same location, I attended the "Meet Model X" touring event with my friend Gary. Below is a photo of Gary being interviewed by the local media.

The media came along on Gary's Model X drive. The Falcon Wing door blew me away. This was far more practical than the Roadster and it even had towing capability. Soon after this event, I ordered a Model X.

Disclosure: I am long Tesla

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Alt Fuels Maps Compared

Energy.gov has a site that shows Alternative fueling stations. If you're interested in alt fuels, it is interesting to browse. For example, let's look at Propane, Hydrogen, & Electric:

Propane (LPG)
DC Fast Charging (CHAdeMO, Tesla, & CCS)
DC fast charging clearly has the most robust network among these three. Hydrogen only seems to be viable if you are in southern California or Silicon Valley and don't plan to take road trips.

The DC Fact charge map is perhaps not a fair map since there is no car out there today that could charge at all three types, so let's split these each out into their own maps.



Tesla Superchargers

The CCS coverage is primarily on the coasts and growing quickly. The CHAdeMO network is similar. It may be similar because many of the charging installations have both CCS and CHAdeMO stations.

The Tesla map has clusters in California and the northeast US, but it also has a spread of periodic stations along the major cross-country corridors. This is what's necessary in order to make long-distance driving liable for all but the most fervent.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Road To 2 Million EVs on US Roads

The modern EV era started with the introduction of the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf in December of 2010. Now ~8 years later, we've had many notable milestones:
  • September 2015: Global plug-in sales passed 1 million units
  • December 2016: Global plug-in sales passed 2 million units
  • November 2017: Global plug-in sales passed 3 million units
  • December 2017: Annual global EV sales passed 1 million units
  • September 2018: Global plug-in sales passed 4 million units
  • September 2018: U.S. plug-in sales passed 1 million units
Looking at the final milestone on this list (1 million EVs in the US) has led to the question of when will the 2nd million EVs be on US roads. After reading a thread of bickering EV fans, I decided to make some forecast models of my own. I've made two models, one optimistic and the other less optimistic but still with strong growth.

The first million US EVs took 7 years and 10 months to sell. For the 2nd million, the pessimistic model forecasts ~3 years, whereas the optimistic model forecasts less than 2 years (~21 months). 

Each of these forecasts is shown in the charts below. Which one do you think is more accurate? Or do you have a different forecast? 

The next couple of years will be interesting for US EV sales. There are several headwinds and tailwinds that will impact EV sales.

Let's look at the headwinds first. The EV tax credit will phase out for Tesla, GM, and Nissan. GM has recently stopped making the Chevy Volt. As a vanguard for this new era, it is sad to see the Volt retired. The US economy is the next potential headwind. Janet Yellen, Alan Greenspan, & Morgan Stanley have all stated concerns about the economy slowing in 2019 and potentially entering a recession in 2020. These are key years in our path to 2 million EVs. An econmonic slowdown would certainly impact auto sales, EVs included.

As for tailwinds, many more EVs will be coming to market over the next two years including the $35k Tesla Model 3 and offerings from Audi, Kia, Mini, Porsche, Volvo, and others. New vehicles brings more options and more buyers. We can also expect to see redesigns of the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, and the Tesla Model S & X. These refreshes should bring more range, faster charging, and/or other new features. These new and refreshed models will spur interest from a larger portion of the car buying market.

How these headwinds and tailwinds play out, will determine if the trend follows closer to the optimistic or the pessimistic forecast. Either way, it will be an exciting ride as personal transportation goes through its biggest transition in 100 years.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Tesla Model 3 Center Cap Removal on 18" Aero Wheel

When you purchase a Tesla Model 3, you have several choices to make: battery size, paint color, interior... One of those choices is the wheels. Unless you upgrade them, the Model 3 comes with 18" Aero Wheels.

The aero wheels are great if you want to maximize range, but many find them visually unappealing. Luckily, for those that find the aero covers aesthetically-challenged, the aero cover pops off and the wheels underneath are not bad looking. To improve the look even more, you can replace the aero cover with a wheel cap kit. This kit covers the lug nuts and has a Tesla logo center insert. You can see the installed kit in the image below.

Model 3 Aero Wheel Cap Kit 
If you plan on taking a road trip, you might want to put the aero cover back on to improve your range. To install the aero cover, you must first pop the Tesla logo cap out of the center of the wheel. However, many people have found that the center logo cap is not easy to remove. This is good because you want it to be secure as you drive down the road and you wouldn't want someone to walk by in a parking lot and just grab your center cap.

So how do you remove the center cap? You can use a spudger, a screwdriver, or something else to pry the cover out, but this might not be able to squeeze in or it could scratch the wheel or center cap. The smart way to remove the center cap is to use a small suction cup that's designed to replace smartphone screens. These little suction cups are inexpensive and you can find them on eBay and Amazon.

Screen Suction Cup, perfect for removing the wheel center cap
You can see Mark Coughlan from The Tesla Life demonstrating the technique in the video below:

To purchase your own suction cup, click here: Amazon.
If you want the cap kit, click here: Tesla shop.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Tesla: What to Expect in 2019

What does Tesla have in store for us in 2019? We had a list of things to expect for 2018, here are a few from the list that they delivered:
  • Ramping Model 3 production to 5,000+ per week
  • Dual motor Model 3 deliveries
  • Sneak peeks of the Roadster 2020 and Semi as they start road testing
  • New Tesla mobile app with several new features
  • Performance Model 3 deliveries
  • Navigation route following for AutoPilot
  • Announcing locations and perhaps even breaking ground on one or two new Gigafactory locations (They delivered on one of these in Shanghai, China)
  • Delivering their 200,000 US vehicle in July of 2018 triggering the countdown to the start of the tax credit phase-out (They delivered in July, just as we forecasted) 
Tesla delivered the above and more such as when they surprised everyone with the introduction of the Model 3 Mid-Range in 2018.

There were also a few things on our list for last year that they did not deliver:
  • Standard range Model 3 ($35k variant) deliveries 
  • Coast to coast autonomous drive demo
  • Solar roof tile high volume deliveries
  • Megacharger (for Semi) deployments
  • Stop sign \ Traffic light recognition
  • HUD option for Model 3
Should we expect to see any of these leftovers in 2019? I think most of these are have a good chance of occurring this year. The HUD seems to be off the table since we have not heard any mention of it recently. 

What can we add to the list for this year? For this, I'll also borrow from last year's long-range view of ideas:
  • Reveal event for Model Y (where the Tesla pickup might be the surprise "one more thing")
  • Model S and X interior redesign to bring it up to snuff with the Model 3 minimalist design 
  • Model S and X moving to the 2170 cell architecture 
  • If Model S and X move to 2170 cells, this could bring more range, faster 0-60, & faster charging 
  • Improved voice commands that reduce the need to use the touchscreen for many settings
  • First deliveries of the Tesla Semi (low volume/beta) 
For our 2018 list, these were listed as coming in 2019 or later. Will they happen in 2019? Tesla has to bring Model Y, Pickup, Semi, & Roadster to market, bring Giga 3 online, locate Giga 4, all while growing the Supercharger network. That is a lot on their plate. Redesigning the battery and interior of the Model S & X effectively makes them new vehicles. They may want to stick with the current 18650 and interior for one more year.

As a side note: When the Model S and X move to the 2170 cell, do you think they will move to the "Standard Range/Long Range" badging, or do you think they'll stay with the kWh nomenclature?

A few new things to add to the list that we may see in 2019: 
  • When the standard range Model 3 is introduced, initially you'll only be able to order it with the premium interior and glass roof; this will keep the average selling price up and allow them to be sold profitably
  • AutoPilot Hardware 3
  • Model 3 leasing (This is one of Tesla's primary demand levers)
  • Supercharger V3 (and we find out that under ideal conditions the Model 3 can charge faster than 120kW)  
  • Another US price reduction in July 2019 as the tax credit halves again (perhaps $1000 this time)
  • Model 3 orders/deliveries start in Europe and China
  • European Gigafactory location announced / groundbreaking
  • The mid-range Model 3 discontinued soon after the standard range is introduced (after all it is called the Lemar (LEMR) b/c it is a limited edition)
For completeness, I'll include a few things I don't expect to see from Tesla in 2019:
  • Full self-driving
  • TeslaTunes streaming music service
  • Tesla Network ridesharing service
Following Tesla, there are always surprises. You never know when Elon Musk is going to launch a car into space, tweet about drilling tunnels, sell (not a) flamethrowers, or build a 50s style diner with food delivery via roller skates.

What surprises do you expect from Tesla in 2019?


Friday, January 4, 2019

Driving A Tesla Model 3 To The Moon - 11 Years Of Solar Production

  • If you could drive a Model 3 to the Moon, how much energy would it take?
  • The Moon is ~238,900 miles away
  • In a dual motor Model 3, it would take 69,281 kWh to drive that far
  • We have generated 69,460 kWh from our solar PV systems
  • A brief history of our EV ownership and PV installations

Eleven years after the PV on our rooftop came to life, it has generated 69,460 kWh of energy.

The graph shows that we have not one, but two PV systems on our roof. Our first system was installed in late 2007. This is a 4 kW array and it has produced 41,398 kWh. Our second array was added in 2015. It is an 8 kW array and has produced 28,062 kWh.

Why Solar?

In 2007, we purchased our first EV, a Chevy S10e electric truck. With the aged NiMH batteries, it only had 40 miles of range, but it was great. It was my commuter and errand runner. It was nice to have a truck for Home Depot runs. Our first PV system was installed later that year so we could power our EV with homemade electrons.

In 2011, we traded the truck in for a Nissan Leaf with nearly twice the range. Now even more of our miles were electrically powered and we started taking short road trips in the Leaf.

In 2015 we added more PV, tripling the capacity of our system.

In 2016 we traded our remaining gas car in for a long-range Tesla Model X. We were now a 100% EV household.  With 2 EVs in our household, we are no longer buying gasoline and all of our transportation is "fueled" from the grid and our solar panels.

In 2018 we traded the Leaf in for a long-range Tesla Model 3. We are now a 100% Tesla family.

We have switched to Time-Of-Use electricity schedule. The solar panels reduce our daytime use and we charge the cars overnight at off-peak times. The off-peak rate here is only 4¢ per kWh. Electricity was already a cheap fuel, this makes it even more affordable.

Enough Energy To Drive To The Moon

The energy our PV systems have generated is enough to power our Tesla Model 3 for ~240,000 miles. Based on the EPA rating, this is enough to drive around the equator nine and a half times or, if you prefer, the distance to the Moon. This is also more than 1 light-second (appropriately powered by light).

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Tax Credit & The $35k Tesla Model 3

The New Year is here and with it, the tax credit for new Tesla vehicles drops by 50%, from $7500 to $3750. In July of 2018, Tesla sold their 200,000th EV in the US; that meant that the tax credit for Tesla's vehicles was set to begin its phase-out by dropping to $3750 on January 1st, 2019; then to $1875 on July 1st, 2019; and finally vanishing as we ring in 2020.

You will undoubtedly see headlines such as "All Tesla Cars Just Become $3,750 More Expensive", but that may not be completely true.

There are a couple bills that could extend the tax credit. One extends it for 3 years, while the other extends it for 10 years. There is even a 3rd bill related to the EV tax credit, but this third one seeks to eliminate the credit immediately. For this exercise, we'll assume that none of these bills pass, although we have our fingers crossed for the first two.

The EV Tax Credit & You

The incentive dropping might not be as bad as it seems at first. The way that the tax credit works, it can only offset your tax liability. The US tax credit is a non-refundable credit with no carry-forward provision. This means to take full advantage of the $7500 credit, you would have needed to have a tax liability of $7500 or more.

To clarify, your tax liability is not the tax bill you may have to pay when you file. Rather, this is the sum of all your federal withholdings throughout the year then adjusted by the payment or refund from tax time. I'll give a few simplified examples, but taxes are complicated, so consult your own tax professional as needed.

Half Tax Credit Amount Might Be Just Right

If you've been holding out for the more affordable $35k version of the Model 3, you might be disappointed if the tax credit is halved before you can pick up your car. The good news is that it might not matter. Remember the two points from above: One, you can only use the tax credit to offset your own tax liability (it is not just a payment to you); and two, there is no carry-forward to the next tax year.

There are plenty of people with large tax bills that prefer to buy affordable cars, but there are also plenty of people on the reservation list that are stretching their budget to buy their first Tesla. If you are doing "the Tesla Stretch" then this reduction in the tax incentive might not matter to you.

How Much Tax Credit Can You Use?

You can find your gross tax liability on line 47 of Form 1040, on line 30 of Form 1040A, or on line 10 of Form 1040EZ. If your income is similar this year to last year's, then last year's taxes will give you a good idea. However, if you don't want to dig out your old taxes, let's run some back of the napkin numbers.

Let's see what income you would have needed to take full advantage of the $7500 tax credit. Before we start with the numbers, it is impossible to have a single answer to a tax question because everyone's situation is different and will be impacted by things like:
  • Filing/marriage status 
  • Mortgage interest
  • 401(k) contributions
  • State and Local Taxes You Paid
  • Interest You Paid
  • Gifts to Charity
  • Medical Expenses
  • Casualty and Theft Losses
  • Personal Legal Bills
  • Health Insurance Premiums
  • Babysitter Payments While Volunteering
  • Lifetime Learning Expenses 
  • Self-employed Social Security
For this exercise, I'll assume Married Filing Jointly, using just the standard deduction, making some pre-tax 401(k) deposits (assuming you're using a traditional 401(k) and not a Roth 401(k)). If you're over 50 years old, you can put an additional $6,000 into your 401(k), but for this example, I'll assume you are under 50 or not opting for the $6k catch up. If this is not your situation, the exercise will show you how to construct your own.

For a household to have a $7500 in tax liability, you first need to have more income than the standard $24,400 deduction then there's the maxed out pre-tax 401(k), that's $19,000 for 2019. Then you enter the 10% bracket for the next $19,400. Next, you enter the 12% bracket. You'll need to earn another $46,330 in this bracket to hit the full $7500 in tax liability.

Adding this all up, to utilize the entire $7500 tax incentive, you'd need to have a household income of ~$109,000+. According to Bankrate, only 20% of US households have a $100,000+ income.

How Much Tax Credit Can You Use?

Using the same back of the napkin math for the half tax credit, you'd need to have a ~$78,000 household income to qualify for the full $3,750 tax credit. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income is ~$60,000.  So for most US households, a $3750 tax credit is adequate to refund all of your tax liabilities. The average Tesla buyer is likely to be above the median income, but even if you are ~$20k above the median, the half tax credit is enough to wipe away most of your federal tax liability for 2019.

Conclusion: Tax Credit for the $35,000 Model 3

If you've been holding out for the $35k base model variant of the Model 3, but you're bummed that the tax credit is currently cut in half, the odds are that the half tax credit is nearly as useful. We just need to see the $35k Model 3 shipped in the first half of 2019.