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Plug-In Drivers Not Missin' the Piston Electric vehicles are here to stay. Their market acceptance is currently small but growing...

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Tesla Robotaxi Fleet - Do I Have To Buy FSD?

This post is to explore one question: 
When the Tesla Robotaxi service starts, do you need to have Full Self Driving (FSD) to participate? 

As a sidebar, we'll discuss 'when FSD will be released as v1.0?' This is the date that you could nap in the car or watch movies as it drives you around. 

In 2020, there was only one way to have the FSD feature in your car: you had to buy it. However, at customer request, Elon Musk committed that in early 2021, the option to lease FSD would be available (see tweet below). 

This means that when the Robotaxi service starts, there are three FSD-related states a car could be in:

  1. FSD Purchased 
  2. FSD Subscription 
  3. No FSD

Some in the Tesla community have asserted that unless you are in category 1 or 2, you won't be allowed to participate in the Robotaxi network. With the subscription model, you can make a shorter-term commitment to FSD, but as I write this, the terms of the subscription have not yet been released (will it be annual, monthly, trip or distance-based...?). 

I'm proposing that Tesla will want to allow as many owners as possible to participate. That would mean allowing cars in all three categories. But this brings up a dilemma, cars in the network will be in FSD mode, but category 3 owners have not paid for FSD. This is a solvable problem. For a car that has connectivity and advanced software, this is an easily solvable problem. 

Here's how I propose it could work: When a car that has not purchased FSD or subscribed to FSD joins the Tesla network, FSD would be enabled while (and only while) the car is participating in the Tesla network. Additionally, there would be two owner payment tiers for vehicles that are participating in the network. For vehicles that have FSD, they would receive the highest tier payment. Vehicles that didn't already have FSD, would pay an FSD micro-lease payment with every trip they make. 

For example, say a fair for a trip was $5. In the highest tier, some portion of this would go to Tesla (let's assume 40% or $2) and the remaining funds (60% or $3 in our example) would go to the car owner. 

Well, if the car has to micro-lease FSD, then the percentages would be a little different. Let's see how the split might look for category 3 cars with our made-up revenue split of a $5 fare. Tesla network cut (again assuming 40% or $2), FSD micro-lease (assume 10% or $0.50), and the remaining funds (50% or $2.50) would go to the owner. 

With FSD  No FSD
Tesla Network Cut40%40%
FSD micro-leaseN/A (0%)10%
Owner Funds60%50%

This allows all of the Tesla vehicles (that have FSD hardware) to participate in the network. This is important since you'd want a network with good coverage or it would limit the number of people interested in using it. It also rewards the Tesla owners that have paid for FSD with a little more revenue when they join the network, while still allowing people that have not purchased or leased FSD to profitably participate. 

You might be asking yourself why Tesla should get 40% when your car is the one picking customers up and dropping them off.  First, a reminder that 40% is just a number that I made up for an example, but Tesla will have expenses too. That 40% (or whatever the number turns out to really be) goes towards the app development, the servers to run the app backend, some profit margin for Tesla, and (the big one) insurance for your car while it's in the network. 

There you have it, my reasoning as to why and how non-FSD vehicles will be allowed into the Tesla Robotaxi Network. Please let me know where you think I got it right and where I'm off base. 

Before we go, I promised a sidebar on when I think the Tesla Robotaxi service will start. There are the nay-sayers that don't think FSD will happen this century. They are clearly wrong. The FSD beta is out now and there have been some impressive videos with it navigating tricky situations, so it is coming. The only question is when. On the other side, there are enthusiasts that think the steering wheel can be removed from Teslas before 2022. I fall in between these two camps. The FSD beta is impressive and this allows the long march of the nines to begin. The car will quickly be a 99% effective driver and this might seem like we're at "mission complete" but a crash every 1000 miles or so not good enough. To be a true FSD system, it has to be better at driving than the average human, better than the average taxi driver, even better than you. That will mean that it has to be at 99.99999%. It will have to be able to handle strange cases of trees falling across the road, things flying off trucks, double-parked cars, drunk drivers... The list of things that you handle by experience and intuition are difficult but not impossible for an AI to learn given enough training and corner-case examples. Considering all of this, my estimate of when FSD will be ready and legally allowed nationally in the US is 2027. I hope I'm wrong and it happens sooner, but if I had to bet, that's where I'm placing my chips. 

Disclosure: I'm long Tesla stock

Friday, January 15, 2021

Tesla Embedded Flash Upgrade (eMMC)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently sent a letter to Tesla saying it has determined that the screens are defective and pose a safety risk because they can cause backup cameras to go dark and defrosters to malfunction. This issue impacts about 159,000 Model S and X vehicles built between 2012 and 2018. 

The problem is not with the screen directly, rather it is with a small flash memory chip in the control unit for the screen. The system reads and writes to this memory often for many activities. As the chip begins to fail, these read and write operations often have to be repeated several times before they are successful and this causes the touchscreen to be slow, unresponsive, or to fail completely. 

Voluntary Recall Covered Most But Not All

Tesla is aware of the issue and sent the above letter to impacted vehicles in November of 2020. Tesla says they are fixing it at no cost and if you've already paid for it, you'll get a reimbursement. Great, problem solved, right? You might notice, in the second paragraph, that Tesla has some caveats. The first caveat is 8 years. Well, it's 2021 and the problem is only in vehicles in 2012-2018, so that's no problem. Tesla didn't make too many cars in 2012 compared to later years and 2012 vehicles have likely already had this done, so their owners are likely getting a refund. The second caveat, on the other hand, is 100k miles; that can be a problem. There are some road warriors out there that love to drive or drive a significant number of miles related to their employment. These folks could easily be over the 100k mark in a 2013+ vehicle.

Because Tesla's voluntary recall from November left out some customers that did nothing wrong, NHTSA is pressuring them to do the right thing and cover everyone. Repairing this only costs $120 in parts for the new flash chip. And, Tesla offers an upgrade to the entire media control unit (MCU). The newer MCU infotainment system allows owners to play more games and to watch Netflix. This means that some people that come in for this, might opt to upgrade for $2500. This means that Tesla could actually make money from this and customers would have a more capable vehicle.  

I don't know what percentage of these 159,000 owners fell into the over 100k miles and how many were (like me) under the 100k mark. 

When I had my 2016 Model X in for service they replace my flash for no cost to me but there were some things that I think you should be aware of if you take your Tesla in for the eMMC upgrade. 

Getting The eMMC Upgrade

As mentioned above, my 2016 Model X recently had the eMMC upgrade. The 8Gig flash was replaced with a 64Gig flash unit. A larger flash will mean that the reads and writes will be distributed over 8 times more space and each sector will have less wear and tear. This alone will improve the lifespan of the unit. Additionally, Tesla has made some software updates to be more selective about what they write to the unit. Hackers have monitored the traffic and found that they were writing a lot of unnecessary kernel debug information.

So happened when I received the upgrade? 

I asked if there was anything that I needed to know. They said, "No, the fob is on the dash and that the invoice will show up in your account soon." I hopped in my car for the drive home. Whoa, the first thing that I noticed was the nav was in bright day mode. I keep the display in the much cooler dark mode (as everyone should). And the map was in gaudy satellite mode. I quickly switched this to the much cleaner roadmap and dark mode. Okay, now that I look at the screen without being grossed out. I tapped nav to select home and it was no longer there. This is not surprising, they replaced a memory card, so I should expect the vehicle to 'forget' some things.

On the drive home I was on the freeway and attempted to turn on Autopilot. It refused to start. Ugh, it's a beta feature and you have to explicitly accept/enable it in the software controls before you can enable it. I had to drive myself the entire way - what is this the 19 hundreds, can you believe it!☺ It was five o'clock traffic and using AP really removes a lot of the traffic stress. I missed having it.

I finally made it home and now I knew there were a few more things they should have told me at the service center. It was time to take account of what needed to be restored. Here is the list of things that my vehicle 'forgot' and 'remembered' as part of this upgrade: 

Things it forgot:

  • Autopilot (had to acknowledge it's beta)
  • Its name
  • All driver profiles including Easy Entry and Curb View
  • Game scoreboard/progress
  • Garage door opening/closing (HomeLink)
  • Wifi settings/password
  • Screen mode: Night mode, satellite view/road view
  • App/mobile access setting ('Controls' and then 'Safety & Security')
  • Location Favorites
  • Recent Trips

Things it remembered:
  • Streaming favorites/stations
  • Binnacle settings

Seems odd that it remembered my streaming stations, but forgot driver profiles. 

I asked my service advisor why they did save and restore these settings. They said that they have a tool that attempts to read the old flash chip and then place those settings into the unit, but the old units are often too corrupt to read. I'm not sure I buy this explanation since the profiles, for example, were still working so this section of the old flash was still readable. Perhaps their tool is not as persistent as it should be or does not cool the flash to improve its readability... 

So, if you go in to get this upgrade, know that will likely lose all of your settings. If you happen to have a few restored, count yourself lucky, but at least you won't be disappointed if you lose them all if you come in with that expectation. 

Profile In The Cloud

Musk has said that they are working on a feature to move driver profiles into your cloud account. This would be a nice addition. It would allow you to hop into any Tesla (like a loaner) and automatically have the car know your seat/mirror/steering wheel settings as well as your favorite streaming services... This would be very handy and it would eliminate the above problem.

Disclosure: I'm long Tesla

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Tesla Cycle

Today (January 7th), Tesla stock blasted through $800 per share. As it did, Elon Musk's net worth surpassed Jeff Bezos' and Musk became the richest person in the world. 

As you know from our recent post, we've installed Tesla Powerwalls on our home. Today, was the day that I paid for those Powerwalls. 

Putting these two things together, I found it ironic that I was paying a handsome sum to Tesla on the same day that Musk made this achievement. I'm not saying that I should be able to skip the payment just because Musk made guap, just noting the irony. I'm getting a great product from a great company and I'm happy to pay the agreed-upon price, especially since my realized gains from Tesla stock investing is paying for these Powerwalls.

I have been investing in Tesla for a long time. Musk might be the richest person in the world now, but he's also made a lot of other people rich along the way. Some of those people are like me, both investors and customers. I don't want to know how much stock I'd own today if I'd held TSLA in 2016 instead of buying a Model X. Owning the X has been incredibly rewarding, I have no regrets.

This owner shareholder combination got me thinking about how many people were in a similar situation. They were able to afford Tesla products in part because of how well their TSLA investments have done. Or they became shareholders because of how much they love the product and/or mission. This is a positive feedforward system: owners become shareholders, shareholders become customers. Then customer/shareholders sell a fraction of Tesla stock holding to buy a Tesla product, Tesla sales increase, Tesla share price increases, remaining Tesla stock holding value increases... rinse and repeat. I'm calling this the Tesla Cycle. Of course, there is no such thing as a perpetual motion cash machine, nor am I suggesting that you take this as stock advice. But we've been able to do this multiple times to buy multiple Tesla vehicles and our Powerwalls and I wonder how much of Tesla's growth to-date has been driven by this cycle. 

If millions of people are customer/shareholders, this could be a significant flywheel that has brought in significant revenue and growth to the company. If you've hung out on Tesla twitter or the Tesla forums, you've seen that, for many people, Tesla is the first (or only) stock that they've ever owned, some opened a stock account specifically to buy TSLA. Similarly, in these online forums, you've seen that a Tesla car was often the most expensive thing (or at least car) that many of the Tesla fans have ever purchased. Tesla has throngs of fans, if even a small percentage of them are participating in the "Tesla Cycle," it could be a significant factor in the company's growth over the past few years.

Do you think there's anything to this? Did Tesla's stock growth turn individual investors into Tesla product owners? Did the love of the product turn customers into investors? Have you sold Tesla stock to buy something from Tesla?

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Installing Tesla Powerwalls

On the final day of 2020, we had three Tesla Powerwalls installed. A more detailed post will be coming with energy impacts, usage data, cost... Until then, here are some quick shots from the installation day.

Thanks to everyone that used our referral link and helped us get that red one for free. 

Friday, January 1, 2021

From Diesels To D-Cells :: The Electric Transportation Epoch Has Begun

Transportation is moving from Diesel trucks to D-cell trucks

Transportation is entering a new epoch #TheElectricEpoch

As we ring in the new year we're entering a new era of transportation and Diesel is the old acquaintance that should be forgotten and never brought to mind.

I must start this post with an apology for the title. I liked the "Diesels" to "D-cells" alliteration and ran with it. Obviously, D-cells are not going to be the battery cell of choice for the EV revolution, but they are familiar. The cells to 'drive' EVs are more likely to be pouch, prismatic, or cylindrical cells (like the 2170 or 4680). However, the D-cell is cylindrical so I guess you could call it the 3362 ☺

The Epochs of Transportation 

First, we walked, then we rode horses and carriages; next came the horseless carriage and those horseless carriages have been primarily powered by petroleum products for over 100 years. The decline of the petrol and diesel era has begun and now we're at the dawn of the electrically powered era. This new era will start with personal transportation, move to cargo short-haul, then longer and longer range cargo-hauling semi-trucks, the seas will be next, and finally air. Electric air travel will start with puddle jumper prop planes, expand to turboprops, and finally, a couple decades from now, electrified turbofans making trans-Pacific flights completes the transportation transition.

Are Electric Motors Up To The Task?

Diesel has been the fuel type and engine of choice for hauling and towing. Electric motors are more than up to the task of replacing the hauling and towing work of Diesel engines. In fact, some of the toughest hauling situations, like trains, use Diesel-electric drivetrains. Wait, that says "Diesel." In a Diesel-electric powertrain, the Diesel engine is used to power a dynamo (e.g., electrical generator). The dynamo generates electricity, this electricity is fed to an electric motor, the electric motor provides the traction force to move the train, pulling all the cargo laden boxcars up the mountain pass. This same basic drivetrain design is used for many freight ships often carrying thousands of cargo containers. These Diesel-electric traction systems behave more like a Chevy Volt in range-extended mode than like a Super Duty Diesel pickup. 

So the answer to the question, are electric motors up to the task is a solid 'Yes.' However, powering them with a Diesel generator does not move us to batteries (D-cells). This leads to the next question, are batteries up to the task? 

Are Batteries Up To The Task? 

The question was 'battery' but the topic should be broadened to "energy storage systems" to include ultracapacitors and hydrogen fuel cells. As we move to electrify land, sea, and air travel over the next couple of 

decades, each of these energy storage systems is likely to find at least a niche market. Although fuel cells will find niches, batteries will be the vanguard of the electric epoch, so let's start there. 

I've said it before and it's just as true now, batteries are the crux. The primary reasons that battery electric vehicles are not the dominant vehicle on the roadways today is battery energy density and cost. The good news is that both of these have been trending in the right direction.

These price reduction and technology improvement trends show no sign of stopping. There's more investment in battery research and manufacturing capacity today than we've ever seen before. With each year's advancement, electric cars become more affordable and more profitable. Tesla’s goal of bringing a $25,000 car to market largely rests on battery improvements that would halve the cost per kWh. Battery prices have dropped 90% over the last decade, prices will likely decline another 50% by 2025. Today batteries are about $150 per kWh, this trend places them at $75 per kWh. This means that the upfront cost of a battery-electric car will be about the same as an affordable gas-powered car in around 2022 and more affordable than an equivalent gas car by 2025. 

Cars "fueled" by electricity cost less than 50% per mile to drive and have far less maintenance costs. There are no fuel filters or spark plugs to change, the brake pads last far longer. Some people buy EVs today for environmental reasons, energy independence reasons, or performance reasons; these are the motivated early adopters. However, when battery-electric cars are cheaper to buy upfront and cheaper to operate, they will quickly move from early adopters to the majority of consumers. This will be the decade of the EV. More adoption will drive more investment, will drive more innovation, will drive more adoption, rinse and repeat. 

Lithium metal anodes, solid-state batteries, lithium air... there are many technologies under development that will open even more markets to battery-powered transportation.  

So to answer the question, are batteries up to the task? Today the answer is, for many applications, yes. For other applications, not yet, but the trend is in the right direction. 

The Genie Cannot Be Put Back In The Bottle

Bloomberg says your next car will be an electric truck. Market Watch says EV sales will grow 50% this year. These are just a couple examples of the expected growth for EVs in this decade. Once people own an EV, over 90% of them never want to own another petroleum-powered car again. This market growth will additionally be fueled by state and national restrictions on new gas-powered vehicle sales: 

  • China will aim for carbon neutrality by 2060 (link)
  • Sales of new gas-powered cars banned in California by 2035 (link
  • Biden wants to end gas car sales (link
More than 14 countries and over 20 cities around the world have proposed banning the sale of fossil-fuel-powered passenger vehicles at some future date.

What About Boats and Aircraft?

Electric tugboats have hit the waters in the Port of Tuzla in Istanbul and the ports of Auckland in New Zealand. The torque of the electric motor is perfect for this little boat that's a big powerhouse. Today's batteries are perfect for the short-ranges in which tugs operate. Using electric tugboats remove the particulate matter from the population areas near the ports. And once the boats they are towing are docked, they'll be plugged into shore power, using local grid power. 

As battery technology advances, the number and types of watercraft that are battery-powered will increase too. Just as electric cars started with niche vehicles like the original Tesla Roadster or short-range vehicles like the 2011 Nissan Leaf, electric watercraft will start with niche vehicles like tugboats and short-range personal vehicles like jet skis. And just like cars, the number and types of watercraft that can be electrified will start with a niche and slowly blossom into larger markets each year. Because of its higher energy demand, watercraft electrification will trail auto electric by 10 to 15 years. 

As for aircraft, these are a little more difficult than watercraft, but we're already seeing the first steps. The high reliability of electric motors makes them ideal for the safety requirements of a flight system. Today, there are training airplanes that are electrically powered. The small 2-seat planes and generally used for short student flights. This allows today's battery technology to fulfill this need. Flight schools using electric training planes have significant savings in fuel and maintenance costs. 

Just as with the other vehicles, as the battery tech improves, it will move up the aircraft food chain. When batteries cross the 400 Wh/kg mark, we should see aircraft with a range of over 1000 km. Each improvement in battery gravimetric energy density opens up new application opportunities. For those use cases that can't wait for batteries to improve, there are opportunities for ultracapacitors or hydrogen fuel cells to find their own niche. 

Today, private jets generally get less than the equivalent of 5 MPG, and a 747 flips this around and uses about 5 gallons per mile. Moving these to electrically powered systems 'fueled' by renewable energy sources will remove significant amounts of CO2 from our transportation system. 

The title is 'Diesels To D-Cells' and you might be surprised to learn that there have been aircraft diesel engines or aero diesels. They were used in aircraft in the late 1920s and 1930s, but never widely adopted. So for the sake of this title, I'll be generous and call that a transition from Diesels To D-Cells, albeit indirectly. 


The end of Diesel is coming. Anything Diesel engines can do, electric motors can do better. The current limitations of battery tech is the only reason that there is still a market for Diesel products. Advancements in battery tech are being made each year and there is no sign that this trend will slow-down. With each advancement, battery power vehicles become more and more capable. Personal transportation, freight hauling, watercraft, and flight will all become fully electrified over the next few decades.