In December 2015, I hatched an admittedly convoluted plan to purchase a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Tesla Model S some 2,600 miles away in Columbus, Ohio; fly out to pick it up; … then drive back to my home in California with a few fun stops along the way. Thankfully, just about everything worked out flawlessly and I made it home safely.
Having owned the beast for a year now, I took some time to step back to think about what it’s been like to own a Tesla Model S as compared to our 85 mile range Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive — as well as what ownership is like compared to more conventional gasmobiles.
Taking a 30,000 foot view of the last year, it has truly been phenomenal. The car drives like a dream. It’s quiet. Thanks to the skateboard design of the battery pack, it has an amazing center of gravity which is a key contributor to great traction, which doubles up with the super intelligent traction control system that all but prevents the wheels from slipping and “burning out.” It’s packed with technology making an IT geek like me smile every time I get in. And it has enough range to make range anxiety a thing of the past.
The Power of the Supercharger
While on my road trip, I vetted the Tesla Supercharger network, which I found to be more than sufficient for long-distance road trips across the arterial highway routes in the US, and with more Superchargers being added seemingly every week. Coming from a year of driving my wife’s electric Mercedes and a few months in a Nissan Leaf of my own, the Tesla Supercharger network truly was a game-changer.
With CHAdeMO and SAE Combo Level 3 chargers (aka DC fast-charging stations), there are usually only one or two chargers per location. On top of that, they aren’t fast enough to add enough range to truly enable anything even remotely resembling a road trip. On the Chevy Bolt, for instance, stops will have to be ~60 minutes to get a 20–100% charge. Yes, that’s not terrible, but it’s also less than half the speed of a Supercharger, which will add ~170 miles of range in just 30 minutes.
On my road trip and many long-distance trips since, the Superchargers provide the perfect balance of a pit stop — time to go to the bathroom (which are typically in high demand after 2+ hours of driving with my family), grab a coffee or a bite to eat, stretch my legs, and get back on the road. Extending that to an hour adds quite a bit of idle time to the agenda. Yes, it’s still possible … but it’s going in the wrong direction.
Supercharging is a game-changer for today’s EVs and becomes an absolute “have to have” for EVs with 200+ miles. This single fact will become evident as the masses of Bolt owners hit roads around the US over the next few months.
For better or worse, I was able to experience Tesla service firsthand a few times over the last 12 months. I had my door handle extending mechanisms replaced, which took a ranger appointment and an in-house visit to fix completely. Initially, they were only going to replace the one … but when they were at my house fixing it, they confirmed that the others needed to be replaced as well. To Tesla’s credit, the process was painless and they came out and picked up my car, brought a loaner to me, and vice versa to return my car to me.
Everything about how Tesla processes service requests to how the services are scheduled to the unique approaches to repairing vehicles is a vast improvement over conventional dealerships. For the first door handle, Tesla offered to fix it in my garage with the Ranger service. That meant no dropping my car off, no waiting an hour at the dealership, no hassle of loaner cars … I opened the door and they went to work while I went inside and made dinner. It was great.
For the seatbelt recall earlier this year, Tesla staffed service techs at Supercharger locations to perform the quick 5 minute recall check in order to make it even easier for customers. This was a great example of how Tesla can and is leveraging its unique differences to improve the customer experience.
In another interaction with Tesla service, I received a proactive call from Tesla Service to schedule a replacement of an electrical switch for the battery that wasn’t performing up to Tesla’s high standards. There was no impact to me and I received a loaner for the duration of the check. It took all of 1 day and I actually enjoyed getting to try out a different configuration of the Model S for a day.
This shows how Tesla is thinking of the vehicle as more of a smartphone than a car. Remote monitoring of vehicle health including diagnostics enables a level of preventive maintenance that simply does not exist in other car companies. This is just one more example of how Tesla doesn’t just have the longest range EV on the road but has exceeded current vehicles in just about every way.
Finally, in my most recent service experience, a notification popped up in my car that my 12 volt battery needed to be replaced. This was a known issue but it happened 2 days before Thanksgiving — for which we were planning to drive several hours a day for the entire weekend. I called Tesla and in under 5 minutes on the phone Tesla had confirmed that the battery needed to be replaced (again remotely, with no action required from me), confirmed that the battery didn’t need to be replaced immediately (had 2 weeks of life left), and had an appointment booked for early the following week.
Overall, my Model S has had more service issues in 1 year of ownership than my Prius did over 6 years, but frankly, because of how much better the car is than any other car out there, AND just how painless Tesla Service is, I don’t mind it one bit. In fact, I enjoy calling them about an issue because they’re just so darn good at doing service.
A point of caution moving forward: it will be challenging to deliver the same high quality of service as they do today when Model 3 … and Model Y come online. I fully expect service staff to grow over the next 2 years and for the number of service locations to increase accordingly.
The Best Jerry, The Best*
My favorite part of owning the car is the rearview mirror. It’s no technical marvel — though, it is photochromatic, meaning it gets darker when bright lights (headlights) are shining in it, but that’s beside the point. I love seeing the people behind me pointing at my car and having little discussions. In addition to being in a Tesla, which draws looks by itself, my license plate is “NOGAAAS,” which helps close the gap for folks who aren’t as familiar with Tesla or electric cars.
I imagine what they’re saying and can honestly tell when they are talking about the car. I love that the car gets people talking about it. They may just know that Tesla is a nice car or a fast car or a high-tech car, which gets people excited about it … but it’s also an electric car, and to have people excited about electric cars and to get them talking about them is a huge win.
The car starts the discussion and I’ve swooped in many times to fill in any gaps in knowledge about it — dozens of times over the months I’ve owned it. For people I know, I’ve had several dozen people drive it. Again — it’s a sexy car and that draws people in and gets things going. Perhaps unsurprisingly, nobody was asking to drive my LEAF when I owned it … or my wife’s electric Mercedes. The Tesla is a different beast.
*This subheading refers to a somewhat obscure scene / character from the popular sitcom Jerry Seinfeld. 🙂
Put a Bow on It
In summary, this is the best car I’ve ever owned. When combined with the Supercharging network, it definitively puts range anxiety to rest once and for all. It packs more tech than any car I’ve seen in a way that’s more intuitive than I would have thought possible. It drives better (and quieter!) than any other car out there, and is faster to boot.
The Tesla app on my smartphone gives me all sorts of fun control and visibility of what it’s doing that has been helpful to me more than a few times. It can even unlock and turn on the car, allowing it to drive without a key in it. My wife — who’s not the most tech-friendly person and not a huge EV fan — feels comfortable driving in it with minimal instruction … which is great for my stress level and our marriage. 🙂
The only downside is the price … and that’s going to improve by leaps and bounds in another 12 months.
If you’re looking to buy a Tesla, feel free to use my referral link (here) to save $1,000, which is the only way to get a discount on a new Tesla.
All images by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica