Tesla Model S - 5 stars
I’ve been delaying this review because I’ve honestly been overwhelmed about what I would write, and what I would say. So here it goes. As I think back over the last 39 years that I’ve been here, I think about what products have I used, purchased, owned, that have given me a glimpse into the future… radically changed my expectations of what’s come before, created an exhilarating, fun, happy, adrenalin inducing experience. There are a small handful. Perhaps the device I have most connected with in the past 4 decades has been my phone or my camera.
This car though….
I want to preface by also saying that I read the Elon Musk Biography after getting my Tesla and I think that has shaped my perspective on what Elon and the employees of Telsa are doing. I think it’s profound and will impact each and every one of us, in the same way the efforts of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg have. These people are giants in the technology world. Yes, to own a Tesla you need to be in a position to have a substantial amount of money. This impact won’t come in the form of people buying expensive cars. but the innovation that comes with building a company that does one thing and only one thing. Move us off the substantial role fossil fuels play in moving us around. There is still the issue of what and how electricity is generated but for simplicity I'll leave that aside (Washington state is mostly a hydroelectric state, West Virginia not so much). I cannot underscore enough that Telsa is building battery and motor technology at scale, so that they can sell hundreds of thousands of cars per year, and fundamentally change the way we move.
It’s early days. In fact, as an early adopter, many were frankly surprised I waited as long as I did to get a Model S after the introduction of the car 3 years ago. I too am a bit surprised by this, but it really came down to a few critical points for me.
First, In April of this year Tesla introduced all-wheel-drive. As a resident of Seattle, Washington and someone who has always had an all-wheel drive car, this was simply a requirement for me. Additionally Tesla has introduced a slew of new features and capabilities in the past 3 years similar to how Apple introduces new features and innovations. Think iPhone 4 to iPhone 6. The funny thing about the all-wheel drive model is that it’s actually more efficient than two wheel drive.
Second, I got into my first Model S when I hailed an Uber in Chicago back in May of this year. Up till then I have actively avoided getting into a Tesla. This is despite having lived less than a mile from the first Telsa showroom in Menlo Park, CA where I lived for 3 years. This Uber ride opened Pandora’s box. I could not avoid thinking about this car and the lifestyle I could have without gas.
Third, one of my work colleagues got a Tesla and I succumbed and took a ride. Once he showed me auto-pilot I lost my shit. That was it. THIS WAS THE FUTURE AND I WANTED IN.
I’ve purchased and leased a few cars in my life. This to me is the least desirable part of getting a new car. Visiting a show-room, test driving, selecting options, doing an inventory search to be told you can have silver and sunroof or black and Xenon lights…. BUT I WANT BOTH! Then you negotiate and deal with all that bullshit. You never feel like you got a good deal cause you know someone got a better one. Then there is leasing or lending or paying cash (always the best). 800 ways to get screwed over. Then the special “coating” on the paint and all sorts of other non-sense. GAP insurance! Bleh.
Buying a Tesla is like buying a custom Apple computer. There are a select few options, you punch in your credit card, hand over $5000. Your car then goes into the queue.
About a week later your car is released for production. It turns out on average, a Tesla owner makes 3 changes to their car after placing order. I made 2. I changed the color and I added an option (power lift gate). I did some research during this time as well to determine if I want to get the bigger or smaller battery.
The Tesla website is all about 100% transparency. The Lease / Purchase pricing / modeller have all the details in plain sight. No hidden fees. What you see is what you get. My lease monthly payment was 100% accurate and based on the options I chose. No surprises.
Once your car is released to production, it takes about 1-3 weeks to build it from scratch and then another week to transport. The car is built in Fremont, CA. Ironically on the site of a factory that Tesla purchase from GM/Toyota when they decided to shut it down and lay off all the machinists…. some of whom now work for Tesla.
Here is a video worth watching of how the car is built.
This is another great video of highlights if you are short on time.
4 weeks before you get the car you finalize your financing. You get an email, you pick your options, and then you upload / electronically sign all the paperwork. A week before the car is delivered you set up and appointment and then you go and pick it up.
Picking the car up
On August 4, four weeks after paying my deposit, I headed down to the dealership. My car was sitting there with a big red bow on it. I spent 1 hour with the delivery specialist learning about the car. There is actually a lot to learn, so I didn’t want to rush things.
It’s hard for me to really describe all the little things that blew me away. I signed one piece of paper and the car was “mine” but it was already personalized. It had the VIN number they assigned to me weeks ago, the Tesla iPhone app was set up to talk to my car by punching in the same username and password I used to purchase the car. The car came with 2 keys. The key is a miniature version of the car (like a toy model). The car unlocks as you walk up to it and the handles come out welcoming you. When you walk away, the car locks itself and the handles retract.
If you have never seen a Telsa, you should check one out. I can’t do some of this justice. It has a 17 inch LCD screen that is the control center for the car. This may seem overwhelming at first, and it’s the first thing any passenger comments on. But after a few days, you get used it like you did the giant screen in your pocket. It just becomes how you use your car and anything else crazy small / silly.
Driving the car
A couple of things to point out. You get used to the future very quickly. It’s easy to get excited about the insane acceleration. 0-60 in a few seconds. But I almost never do that. I don’t drive with a heavy foot. But what I LOVE to do is get where I want to go quickly. So for me having linear power from 40-60 or 0-40 is where I have fun. The car doesn’t hesitate. You press the pedal and it moves. It’s connected to your brain INSTANTLY. It’s responsive like your body. There is no lag. There is no delay. There is only immediate jaw dropping movement of a giant aerodynamic space ship.
The center of gravity of the car is low and heavy due to the placement of the battery. In fact this is one of the unique qualities of the all electric design and drivetrain. The car does not flex. It does not sway. When you crank the wheel in any direction the car moves without any other motion except what you told it to do. It does not lose traction. EVER. It’s glued to the road.
The car has regenerative breaks. And this is the part that takes getting used to. But once you do, you’ll find that when you get into a regular car, you can’t drive any more. You see, when you let go of the gas, the car turns that breaking into energy. It’s like having gas/breaks on the same pedal. When you get good at this you’ll find that you rarely need to use the brake pedal to slow down at highway speed. This improves the driving experience and efficiency.
Then there are the dozens of small things. Some of these are not new to Tesla, but are nice anyway
The car automatically applies and removes the parking brake every time
Every morning when I sit down, my calendar is on the screen. This is so awesome. It feels so natural to get a nice overview of my day. In fact, when I have a meeting in the morning not in my building this ensures I go to the right place. I have often forgotten :-). And if the meetings have location in them the car will proactively give you traffic / navigation tips as well as let you navigate with the address in the location.
Every screen in the car, shows your car. It shows the color, the state of the doors and lights. Small detail but really nice touch. This is MY CAR through and through.
The car has two hill descent braking modes to keep the car from sliding back on a hill. A few weeks ago they introduced this for flat surfaces. This is not a feature that shipped with my car, it was a software update to turn on. You know, like when Apple ships new features in iOS that you didn’t have w/o having to buy a new Phone. This is UNHEARD of in the car world. NEVER have I gotten a new feature after buying a car
The car is wrapped in parking sensors. 3x a normal car.
The rear camera is HD. You can drive in reverse without looking out your rear window
Every time you move a thing (seat, wheel, setting) a little drop down appears asking if you want to save the change to your profile
When you arrive at home, based on GPS, the car drops down the button to open the garage door opener
The car comes with free unlimited LTE service for Maps, web browsing, and internet radio streaming (Slacker Radio and TuneIn)
You can unlock, lock, drive, turn on climate, turn charging on/off, find your car, and a bunch of other things from the iPhone and Android app
The car has a feature, smart conditioning, that learns your commute behavior and calendar details to cool/heat the car at the right time before you get into it
There are dozens of things like this where you notice…. this car is not like any other car. It was built by people who wanted to build the best car on the planet. By definition this means giving you things that you did not think you wanted or needed. This is the hallmark of a great innovative company. Do the things you need well, and exceed your expectations by doing things you didn’t ask for. This is delight. Then you get used to them and can’t live without them. This is called stickiness or retention. And for many Tesla customers, they become evangelists… promoting the car to their friends. I have sold or had a role in selling at least 3 Teslas so far… based on my personal endorsement and excitement.
Now when I drive a gas car I do silly things like get out of the car while it is running and wonder why the car is still on. I let go of the gas and expect the car to slow down. Things like that. Things that I didn’t know I would find natural and delightful. Even unlocking, entering and starting a car feels clumsy anywhere else. Oh I know, poor me. But hey, life is short. My brain should be doing and thinking about other stuff.
New features - software updates
Tesla can communicate with every single Model S car it has produced. It uses this in two ways. Delivering software updates, and collecting data / telemetry to improve everything.
I would estimate that in my 4 months of ownership I got 5 software updates. Most of them were minor, but some carried features. And I got one huge software update known as “7.0” which delivered a new dashboard and autonomous driving.
The fact that Tesla can do this and no other car company can is profound. This distinguishes Tesla more than anything else. It gives them market power, consumer connection, telemetry that no one can match and no one will be able to connect as end to end as they have, given they own the entire customer relationship from building, selling and servicing the customer.
The scary thing is. Like many of the things I have described this just feels normal. Something not working or acting up? Press the voice button and say “Bug report….” followed by the issue. A few weeks later it’s fixed. Get in the car in the morning, oh look. New features. It’s Christmas!
Charging the car
I realized in the first week that I will probably never stop at another gas station again on my commute. You see, I had already decided I will be in a Tesla for life. I have no desire to go back to gas cars. I have zero range anxiety. I have driven every day to work, and around town the car has never gone below 60% charge. I took a 300 mile road trip and stopped at a super charger and went from 60->90% in 20 min. The super charger is another thing that is mind blowing. In the past 3 years Telsa has built hundreds of them around the world. They are very high speed chargers and can charge a Tesla at the rate of 320 miles per hour. Compare that to my home which charges at 30 miles per hour. That means that for an average road trip a 10-20 min stop is plenty and if you combine that with a bathroom break, cup of coffee or meal your downtime is very small. super charges are free, paid for by solar power Tesla generates or buys, and fast.
I can also charge at thousands of locations which you can find on PlugShare, an app for finding charging spots. Charging infrastructure in the US is plentiful and getting better.
Every month I get an email from Tesla that they have added a new super charger in one of the 3 states that surround me. I expect in the next few years, these will be like gas stations.
After ordering my car, Tesla hooked me up with an electrician who installed a standard 50A 240V outlet in my garage at a cost of $600. That is all I needed to charge the car as the car comes with the necessary cable. I understand that Washington is updating it’s building code to start requiring 240V outlets or at least conduit / dark wires in apartments and homes. This is a smart move as the incremental cost when you build is small.
To charge the car you press a button on the charger cable end, and a small robot door opens up on the car (like a gas cap) and you plug in the cable. My car will charge at 30 miles per hour. So for my daily commute the car will charge in 1 hour and 20 min. I do this every day, and every day I leave my house with 214 miles of range (the car only charges to 90% every day to preserve the battery, but you can override it to charge to 100% for a trip). My car will charge from empty to full overnight. But as I mentioned, I have not needed to do this yet.
In the past 4 months I have almost exclusively charged at home. I have never charged at work (I could). I do charge in a couple of free EV charger locations downtown Seattle and I charge at SeaTac airport for free while I travel. Sitting idle the car looses about 1-2% of charge per day.
I have called Telsa 3 times with problems. The first problem was that the car cell radio would die. I speed dialed them and was greeted by a human who had all my car details in front of him. This comes from the car VIN number. I explained the problem, he indicated it was a known problem affecting a small number of new cars. He explained how to reboot the cell radio and collected logs from the car. He said a software fix should be forthcoming in a few days. The next day I got an email from him personally. I didn’t even give him my email address but he had it all there.
I called Telsa again when my iPhone 6 with the iOS 9 upgrade didn’t work with bluetooth. They said I was the first person to report this but they needed to get some data from my car to trouble shoot and asked my permission. I said yes. A few days later I got an email explaining that they reset my bluetooth radio firmware and that this should resolve the issue and I should pair my phone again.
There is a common theme you will note. Tesla follows up with you. They are both pro-active, courteous and follow-through. Every thread is closed. This is tremendously important to me and very confidence inspiring. Follow-up and follow-through are some of the most important things.
This is probably the least understood and most complex area of the car. Starting a few months back, Tesla began adding hardware to the car that would provide autonomous features. This includes radar, sonar, sensors 360 degrees around the car. it can see using imagery, infrared, sound. It uses these sensors for a number of capabilities all rolling out over time.
First came intelligent cruise control. You tell the car go 65 and based on the speed of cars in front of you it will slow down or speed up. Also the car can “read” speed limit signs and inform you of the speed limit. Finally it will come to a full stop and resume driving if you are behind a car.
Next came self parking (a feature some cars already have). This means the car can self identify parking spots and suggest parking in them. This works really well. In addition to this the more controversial self driving feature where the car will steer, change lanes etc.
THIS IS MIND BLOWING. The car is a robot. It’s many many years away from being perfect. But it will learn from collecting data, sending it back to Tesla and improving the algorithms / driving computer. It’s mapping the roads around the world at high resolution every time you drive. Tesla is using its cars to learn. Eventually the cars will communicate with each other so that there will be a network of cars working together to drive.
We are on the brink of experiencing artificial intelligence in our cars.
THIS IS THE CRAZY THING ABOUT TESLA. They are not a car company. They happen to exclusively make and sell a car. But they are first and foremost a technology company that is going to change the way we drive, change the way roads are built, highways designed and how we commute. This is the future and I bought a ticket.
The third auto pilot feature will come in the form of self driving. Right now this has only been described “on private property the car can drive in or out of your garage and around your property”. The scenario could be something like you have a tight garage, and so you can get out of your car, and the car can drive itself in. Or you can have your car pull out of the garage, pull around to the front of the house. This could be more of a novelty for now, but it points to something much more significant.
Let’s face it. I HATE SERVICE. Half the time you have a problem they cannot fix, or don’t understand. I made a Tesla service appointment to deal with a ticking noise in the seat. I called and made an appointment. At this point it’s worth pointing out, Tesla is going through a surge in popularity. Particularly in Seattle. Service is busy. They could not see me for 2 weeks. In a way this is a good thing so long as Tesla can scale with their customer base, which I expect is exploding in technology centric / affluent areas like Seattle, and many parts of California.
The appointment followed with a series of emails from Tesla (again I never gave them my email except once when I bought the car). No nonsense around “how can we reach you”. The emails include appointment details, directions, and contact info.
On service day I drove in, parked, walked in and was greeted by my name. These are Tesla employees, not employees of a dealer who has a loose affiliation with the company making your car. This is an american car, made in america, with manufacturing, R&D, sales, and service people all reporting to the same guy. You know, it’s like an Apple or Microsoft store. People in this case are motivated to help you. It’s their product.
Within a few minutes with the shop foreman / technician, problem was identified, with a known fix (new seat base), and part ordered. Later that day I got a follow up email apologizing for the problem, the inconvenience and letting me know my seat was ordered but needed to be manufactured as they don’t stock seats. I was told to expect a few weeks.
All I can say is, when my expectations are set, empathy shown, I feel good. Like I am being taken care of. This is what makes customers for life.
The Tesla Experience
I expect I’m probably more enthusiastic than many Tesla owners or non-owners. After all it is a car right?
I don’t believe this. Tesla, and the Model S is a snapshot of a vision. A future beyond carbon polluting transportation. A car company that tried not to burn any carbon to make cars, and who’s cars don’t pollute (assuming of course your electricity comes in the form of clean energy - which it does in Washington). Something that is required to reverse the trend this planet is headed on. Someone trying to reverse this trend so a few generations of humans don’t live in a dying planet.
Beyond all that stuff. It’s exhilarating to own and drive this car. In addition to what I said above, Tesla has produced one of the finest cars ever made. The best driving experience hands down. The most fun I have ever had owning, driving, dealing with. The only thing that might be better is a convertible Tesla.
As we wait for the Model 3 to be released, and Tesla can start selling to a whole customer base that will never experience a Model S, we can be certain that innovation will continue to move us further and further away from gas powered vehicles to intelligent, connected, fun driving.
Elon Musk, and all the employees at Tesla have a lot to be proud of. It’s so easy to be critical of companies and people. But lets give credit where credit is due. These people took (and are taking) a huge risk to do something good… downright amazing. No compromises by retrofitting electric drivetrain into a gas car… a true electric super car through and through. And in doing so putting a smile on my face (and definitely my kids faces when I hit the gas) every day.
★★★★★Exceptional. A spectacular product.
If you are interested in reading more, I would recommend the following articles
How Tesla Will Change The World - I read this article and was convinced this was the future. It's a great read.
Elon Musk Biography - Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future - this is a must read in my opinion
I have done a bit of research and found the following things out
Best booster seat - Cosco Top Side Booster, Leo - most booster seats don't fit well. This fits perfect
Phone holder - Surprisingly it's hard to find a place to put your phone. I found this on eBay. It's some weird made in china custom molded thing, but it works great
Keys - I dropped my key on a pavement the first week and damaged it. These silicon sleeves are great.
Options - in hindsight I would have gotten the air suspension. The Model S is very low to the ground, and this has posed a minor problem on Seattle streets. I wish I would have gotten the air suspension that remembers settings based on GPS location
Battery - no regrets, although next time I'd consider the 90D (not P).
PS - thanks to this car, I’m now also the proud owner of a 5600 kWH generating solar array. My driving and my car is completely zero emissions. Once you get a Tesla it’s hard to avoid moving off the grid. Did I mention Elon’s cousins run a solar company ;-)? Read the biography. The Musk Legacy will be profound.