Life Is Like A Model 3 Reservation … You Never Know What You’re Gonna Get

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Tesla is still not talking much about the Model 3, but everybody else is. Have you noticed a wee bit of divisiveness in discussions of the Model 3 since the employee delivery party on July 28th? What I’ve been pondering since then is how the existing gap of split opinion regarding the most anticipated car in the known universe seems to have suddenly ripped open wider than the jaws of the car crusher at Monster Joe’s wrecking yard.

The “naysayer” Perspective

On the one hand, those who have not yet bought into uppity Tesla’s business model and/or Elon Musk’s vision of the future (I’m not going to actually call them naysayers because the term is pejorative) have been handed quite a few bullets for their anti-Tesla arsenal. Although official pricing places the base Model 3 at the long promised $35,000 price point, you can’t order the base model just yet. If reservists near the front of the line want to take delivery sooner rather than later they’ll have to pony up for the version with the premium interior and the longer range 310 mile battery, which ring in at $5,000 and $9,000 respectively. Even when the base model is available many will be forced into paying $5,000 for that interior “Premium Upgrade Package” because it is just that, a package. It’s an all or nothing deal. If you want, say, the center console add-on with phone docking, you have to take the half-dozen other included options as well. And as best as I can tell, if you want any form of cruise control, you’ll have to pay a separate $5,000 for the suite of driver assist features that Tesla terms “Enhanced Autopilot” (both packages are detailed here).

Additionally, regardless of delivery date, all Model 3s are going to come with a single fixed touchscreen to control nearly all aspects of the vehicle. It is virtually the only interface to the car. There’s no instrument cluster and no Heads Up Display (HUD).

Furthermore, Tesla doesn’t have a stellar record for communicating clearly and uniformly about the Model 3. Example: For a period of time, it was stated that the Model 3 would come with a free limited supercharging plan. The offering seemed to be a good compromise between the loss of the prepaid unlimited SC package enjoyed by early Model S/X adopters, juxtaposed to no free supercharging whatsoever. But midstream in Model 3 development Tesla dropped the new plan. This cannot make the folks who placed a $1,000 reservation with that promise in mind very happy. And even with the car now in production — albeit deliveries restricted to employees and insiders — Tesla remains rather circumspect regarding a number of details even as cars roll out the factory door.

The “fanboy” Perspective

All of the aforementioned objections are cast off effortlessly by those who have bought into the Tesla business model and/or Elon Musk’s vision of the future. And no, I’m not actually calling this group fanboys because that term too is usually employed in a dismissive way. Such language only forces people further into their respective points of view and thus inhibits a broader understanding. Once the ego has been insulted it takes up a defensive position, thwarting all subsequent attempts at worthwhile communication.

Anyway, some rather succinct arguments have been put forth suggesting that not only has Tesla delivered the Model 3 as promised, but in fact has done so with pretty wrapping paper and a bow on top. The Model 3 is a pure electric vehicle with a current 310 mile range that will likely be available to mere mortals in the next few months. And even the 220 mile affordable $35,000 base model is estimated to be delivered to those near the front of the line by yearend. So why quibble over a few months? People tend to forget that when Elon Musk projected a time frame of “July 2017” at the May 2016 shareholders meeting, the date was simply a goal to get all the suppliers geared up to deliver in volume. There was no estimate given for commencement of production. Here’s the link if you don’t believe me. Now fast forward about 12 months and suddenly Tesla is forecasting that they’re going to be trickling out some actual production vehicles in July. And what do you know … out they came! Who can deny this is a remarkable feat of near superhuman execution?

Supercharging mania and poor communications aside, Tesla has gotten the Model 3 off the ground. And, it looks and feels like a TESLA. The car is gorgeous in all its many colors and has that quality we often look for in a human mate — it’s as beautiful on the inside as the outside. The Model 3 is sleek, sexy, techie, and promises to be the center of attention wherever it rolls. The battery upgrade, while not cheap at $9,000, represents the least expensive range upgrade from Tesla to date, ringing in at about $100 per additional mile of range, compared to the Model S battery upgrade which comes in at roughly $300 per additional mile. Net reservations are up since the delivery party.

The Autonomous Factor

Now let’s talk about the car’s beauty mark, seen by some as a mole. The Model 3 interior reeks of autonomous driving technology. This particular flavor of electric Kool-Aid being served up by Tesla may have a few folks — who have otherwise bought into the vision of a solar-powered all-electric transportation future — reaching for the caution button.

Elon Musk has two well-articulated goals regarding terrestrial transportation: sustainably powered vehicles and carsharing (which takes the form of an Uber-like driverless service known as the “Tesla Network”). In a guest appearance at the recent National Governors Association meeting in Rhode Island, Elon shared his current vision of an autonomous transportation future. Here is an excerpt of an exchange between Elon and the host chair (Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada):

Governor Sandoval: “What would you want things to look like in 5 to 10 years, associated with energy, and with autonomous [and] electric vehicles?”

Elon Musk: “Uh. Hmm. Well I think things are going to be — uh, they’re going to grow exponentially. So there’s a big difference between 5 and 10 years. Uh … my guess is … yeah probably in 10 years more than a half of new vehicle production is electric in the United States. And China is probably going to be ahead of that.” … “I think almost all cars produced will be autonomous … in 10 years. Almost all. It will be rare to find one that’s not in 10 years.” (He also pointed out that new vehicle production is only about 5% of the fleet) … “It will take another 5-10 years before that becomes — before a majority of the fleet becomes EV or autonomous.”… “But if you say go out 20 years… overwhelmingly things are electric, or autonomous… overwhelmingly”.

Governor Sandoval: “Fully autonomous?”

Elon Musk: “Fully autonomous.”

Governor Sandoval: “So no one will have to touch the steering wheel, if there is one?”

Elon Musk: “There will not be a steering wheel. Twenty years? It will be like having a horse. Some people will have horses. Which is cool.” … “There will be people who have non-autonomous cars. Like people have horses.”

A look inside the Model 3 demonstrates that Elon is dead serious about his projections. One explanation for the recent explosion of opinion regarding the Model 3 may be that the people who have fully bought into this two-pronged vision of both an electric car future and an autonomous/carsharing future are simply more forgiving of Tesla’s helter-skelter communications and various other transgressions. This sub-group is more tolerant because Elon has built them the exact car they want!!

Conversely, the Tesla enthusiasts who have taken a “wait and see” attitude on the whole autonomous driving thing have been thrown a couple of curve balls. They have lost their legacy dashboard and all its discrete telemetry. They’ve lost all those little switches and sliders scattered across the dash. They’ve even lost their key fob. These folks have to take a leap of faith that it will be possible to quickly adapt to a new way of driving, and be safe on the road while doing so. Such folks may naturally have a different perspective on things. Perhaps it is more this latter group (termed “whiners” in the forums) who are complaining about missing accessories, bundled option packages, having to pay $1,000 extra for a color other than Henry Ford black, or having to shell out $1500 more for more glamorous looking wheels?

A Personal Bias

I am self-admittedly in the autonomous wait-and-see camp. I’ve only bought into one of the aforementioned visions at this point. A more conventional interior would have suited this old man just fine. I also object to paying $5,000 just to obtain some form of cruise control. I resented it when GM showed off the cool camera rearview mirror gizmo for the Bolt EV at every opportunity, only to later learn that the accessory was only available as part of a multi-thousand-dollar options package. And I resent Tesla doing the same, locking out some buyers who don’t want or can’t afford the whole kit and caboodle. And the commonly issued “everybody else does it” excuse falls on my deaf ears. Tesla is not everybody else.

Moreover, I don’t see driverless cars overtaking the roads in the timeframe outlined by Elon Musk. We haven’t even reached a point where we’re able to prevent two trains on a sensor-laden closed track from banging into each other on occasion. It seems that the extreme nuance of driving a car, given the ever-changing ambiguities of the road, is just too much for a machine to handle. You almost need an “intelligent” machine. Not just a learning machine with a neural net, but one with human-like thinking ability.

Yet, the same man who sees machines driving cars en masse in fewer than 10 years has also warned us against the dangers of artificial intelligence. Elon talks of “narrow AI” to power autonomous driving, but it seems a very fine line to walk. Technology aside, the one variable that may be missing from Elon’s equation is the human factor. Exponential growth notwithstanding, the wildcard may not be the tech. It may be the mass psychology of a society faced with the decision of whether or not to abandon the notion of personal vehicle ownership, let alone allow self-driving vehicles to take over the roadways. It may turn out that people have a lower tolerance to machine-made accidents relative to manmade accidents. Human behavior is extremely difficult to predict. If it wasn’t, every movie put out by Hollywood would be a hit and everyone would be rich from the stock market (well, not really). It’s hard to put your finger on how humans are going to react in any given situation.

The biggest wildcard may be the uncertainty of how people will react when the car next to them on the freeway is minus a human being at the wheel. The transition period. Humans and machines sharing the road. Who can say how that’s going to come off? Would it be surprising if human drivers don’t take to driverless vehicles following the rules of the road to the letter? Will there not be two totally separate classes of driving behavior on the highways? Will some road-raged hothead be tempted to nudge some new-fangled machine-driven car off into the bushes? I have a sneaking suspicion that self-driven cars will be about as welcome on the freeway as droids in a Tatooine jazz bar.

So all told, for a moment I started to second guess my choice to purchase the Model 3.

The Final Conclusion

But at the end of the day, in spite of my misgivings about autonomous driving, I’ve decided to go all in on Tesla. I have no idea if my notions about machine-driven cars are correct. The future is unpredictable, and what the heck … the Model 3 accommodates a human driver for the time being. Most importantly, it’s not business as usual. Tesla is blazing the trail everyone knows must be constructed but few have ventured down. Purchasing a Tesla is at the same time buying a car as well as casting a vote.

What I know is that Tesla is changing the world. I know that Elon Musk is one of the most important persons living in that world right now. Like me, like all of us, he is a flawed and imperfect human being. Many of course recognize him as a “genius.” I’ve been around such people. I refer to them as being Geniacal. It’s harder for such folks to relate to other people. They’re simply thinking on a different plane. I often see Elon responding to questions without adding the context that a professional speaker or orator would. That can result in garbled communications. He seems to sometimes make decisions and/or change his mind without always accounting for the human factor. That is my take anyway.

Yet I give Elon (and Tesla) much latitude because I know that he has to be exactly the way he is in order to complete his mission in life. To fulfill his destiny, if you will. His options packages are locked in. Those boyish-like traits of naivety, innocence, and stubbornness, coupled with a Spock-like brain, is the exact right stuff he needs to complete his life’s course. And his willingness to sacrifice almost everything to realize his vision is, frankly, awe inspiring. The man is not living a peaceful, contented life. To pursue such a vision, to storm the corporate temple of entrenched interests and upend the tables of the merchants and money changers … this is not the behavior of someone seeking out a comfortable life. Which he could have had.

So I want to support Tesla’s high-minded vision of an energy-sustainable world. My first electric car will therefore be a Model 3. There’s going to be a bit more compromise than anticipated, but I suspect that the car and I will get along just fine. It seems the touch display will be voice controllable. That’ll help. I’ll probably start to feel toward my Tesla the same as how I’ve felt about past owned Harleys … “If you want to keep living don’t even think about messing with it.”

Tesla has now gone into self-proclaimed production hell. I know that Elon and all of Team Tesla are doing their very absolute best to make a bunch of Model 3s. It is appreciated. Here’s hoping they will all be left alone to just do their work, because to quote Mr. Musk from the delivery party: “When you’re going through hell … keep going.”

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Steve Bakker

is a semi-retired teacher, writer, and technologist who is currently passing time by attempting to cure his ignorance as to how electric cars work.

Steve Bakker has 26 posts and counting. See all posts by Steve Bakker