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2015 Tesla Model S (85D)
Tesla Model S
Tesla Model S Tesla Model S
Tesla Model S

19 1/2 years seems like a good run, so I wanted to replace the Infiniti before it broke down on the road (still had all the original belts and hoses!). Looking to the future and leaving the past behind, as an electrical engineer the choice of electric car was obvious. I had been thinking about it for some time, and of course was a bit stymied by the price. I really was waiting for the more economical model (eventually named the Model 3). Expected to be out in 2017, I doubt that I would really be able to get one before 2018. I would have to get another car to reach that timeframe. Also, it is now clear that the Model 3 will be no Model S in range or luxury. Beyond that, initially I had three points of concern:

  1. I really liked the sun/moonroof on the Infiniti and didn't see that it was offered by Tesla.
  2. The G20t was a perfect size; the Model S is 21.2 inches longer and 10.6 inches wider; I don't really want to be navigating a larger car.
  3. The Tesla only offered rear-wheel drive. My road has a steep hill which often is snow- and ice-covered. The Infiniti with front wheel drive and limited slip differential worked swell. It looked like I'd be taking a step backward.

It turned out that the panaromic glass roof option included a sun/moonroof -- #1 eliminated. As for #2, I guess I'll just have to accept the wider size (as far as the length, it offers a backup camera and sonar to make parking easier -- and the newly announced autopilot will eventually let it park itself!). When investigating, I learned that the performance of the Model S in snow is celebrated; it has a low and well-distributed center of gravity (heavy battery on bottom). There are lots of sales in Scandinavia, so I figured that my road can't be worse than Norway. I'll just have to hope for the best.

On Saturday August 2, 2014 I test drove one out of the King of Prussia mall in PA. At that point, unless I hated it I had decided to proceed. Well, I didn't hate it! So the following Monday I placed my order. Delivery was supposed to be in November. I intentionally ordered it at the end of the summer because I really don't use my car that much in the summertime (motorcycle weather) and wanted the new car for the winter season. So I waited.

Mid-October, and Tesla announces a dual-motor option for the Model S that provides all-wheel drive. This is so very compelling: it solves my #3 above concern decisively; and in fact it gives the car even slightly more driving range per charge. The control system automatically distributes torque between the front and rear optimally. So I had to get that option.

Turns out it is not really an add-on option; Tesla doesn't categorize its cars with a model year, but in fact the dual motor option is for the 2015 model year and cannot be added to the 2014 model. I had thought that the 3-4 month leadtime was a big disadvantage, but it turned out that it was a boon in my case. I switched my order, which amounted to canceling my initial order and placing a new order. Anticipated delivery extended to February 2015. I was not pleased to have to wait out the bulk of the winter, but really I was lucky. If my car had already been manufactured, I would not have been able to switch to the dual-motor version. So I must count my blessings.

After a 7 1/2 month wait that felt like an eternity, I picked up my Model S on March 18, 2015. I will have to update this post after using it for a while!

I put in a 50 amp outlet for the garage in August 2014 in anticipation. Had to add another breaker to the electrical panel. My estimated cost to run is as follows:

85 KWH battery / 280 mile range = 303.6 watt-hours per mile
x 13 cents per KWH (currently) = 3.9 cents per mile

The G20t got 28.3 mpg; at $2.45/gallon (currently) it cost 8.7 cents per mile.

My Yamaha motorcycle gets 51.5 mpg which equates to 4.9 cents per mile.

The Supercharger network lets you charge for free, but the closest to me is I-95 in Delaware. Of course, currently (March 2015) gasoline prices have plummeted from last year. Who believes they won't go back up again? So effectively, even at current prices, the Model S is cheaper to run than either my motorcycle or predecessor car. But that really isn't a valid rationalization to buy a Tesla, the amortization never would make it cost effective for that reason.

I have always been a do-it-yourself fellow, but must abandon that train of thought for this car. The only thing I'm permitted to do is add window washer fluid. And buy tires eventually. Then again, there is no motor oil (no engine), transmission fluid (no transmission), or antifreeze (no radiator) to check, change, or top off. There is battery coolant, however (not allowed to touch!). So far I am quite happy with Tesla's design decisions -- there's even a mobile app to control various things through your smartphone.

The autopilot hardware is installed and the software will gradually be rolled out. Currently it will warn me if I cross over a lane marker without using a turn signal. The cruise control also follows the car in front and will even slow to a stop -- and go again if not stopped for more than a few seconds. One only needs to steer! Still reaching for the missing clutch occasionally. But I'm now back to a hatchback (a la my Tercel) which lets the car transport large objects easily -- and I really enjoy the powered up/down hatch for grocery shopping, etc. Also, it is neat to never use a key: the pocket fob unlocks the car just by walking up to it; get in and drive away immediately! (The mobile app can activate the climate control to get it ready before you arrive, plus you can honk the horn or flash the lights with the app to find the car in a parking lot. But you don't even need to do that, because the app shows you where the car is on a map via its internal GPS.) I also like that the car shows you exactly what the voltage and current is during charging, in addition to the current charge level and time remaining to completion.

Consumer Reports described the Tesla with the words "sheer technological arrogance." I can't argue with that description. But the phrase I would use is "smooth elegance." With no transmission or shifting, it simply glides seemingly without effort. I am not unaware of the multitude of technical functions going on figuratively under the hood to mask its true complexity, but those intricacies are hidden from the casual driver. Which is a pretty good definition of smart design. I take pride that my fellow engineers have created such a phenomenal marvel. I will strive to inspire my students to do likewise.

Back in 1995 when I bought the Infiniti, there were very few of those on the road in the vicinity. Now they are extremely common. Currently I spot a Tesla on my journeys about once every two or three weeks. Maybe in 20 years Teslas will have become as commonplace on the road as Infiniti?

Here is Tesla's Model S page.

Above is my first visit to the Supercharger at the Delaware rest stop on I-95. Took me a while to find it (add a road sign!) and tedious jockeying to get close enough to the very short charge cable (the painted lines don't match the proper parking spot). Initially I was alone but shortly thereafter two other Tesla's showed up. 290 amps at 371 volts!!! No wonder the cable is so short. I got my Maryland registration so it now sports N3IC license plates.

Gas Can!
Blasphemous, or at least incongruous -- taking a Tesla to a gasoline station! But how else am I going to fill up a gas can for my lawnmower, leaf blower, and backup generator?

October 23, 2015 update: last week they rolled out the long-awaited v7 software which incorporates autopilot and autopark. They work quite well. Jury is still out on the autopilot; if highway is relatively clear I am less concerned about keeping hands on steering wheel; otherwise caution keeps hands on wheel, but that can create more mental tension than simply steering manually. My attitude might change after getting more experience. I especially like the new dashboard radar/ultrasonic view of the actual field response instead of simple icons. The autopark is impressive (it parallel parks on right or left side of the road, must have two cars with curb in between). Also, the automatic hold feature is great: and so simple that I cannot think of any reason for any capable vehicle to not provide this; if you step on the brake while stationary, it automatically holds the brakes on (so you can release your foot); whenever you touch the accelerator or brake pedal the brake hold releases. Simple, useful, and elegant!

I now have accumulated 7038 miles, averaging 295 watt-hours per mile. I know that that number is going to rise significantly over the winter because the battery performs more poorly in cold temperatures. Between charging at the supercharger and the JHU garage (which is free after paying the $9/day parking fee), I don't often have to even charge at home! For the last three visits the garage charger showed consumption of 35.3, 58.3, and 34.6 kwh for 112, 189, and 112 miles, which equates to 310 watt-hours per mile; which means that the electric charger conversion efficiency is 95%. If I didn't use the free chargers, the cost per mile at my current 12.82 cents/kwh would be 4.0 cents/mile. At the current gas price of $2.09, my Yamaha costs 4.1 cents/mile.

January 10, 2016 update: Over the weekend they rolled out a v7.1 software update. This extends the autopark to perpendicular parking in addition to the previous parallel parking. It backs into the space, which is what I normally do; I am guessing that it uses the rear backup camera as part of its process. They also added a summon feature, which lets you use the fob (when outside, but near the car) to have the vehicle creep forward or backward! Neat! The purpose is to let you get out of the car before backing into a tight space, and to roll the car out of the spot before getting back in. It is a little more sophisticated than just simply going straight, as it will observe and evade nearby objects. This update also offers automatic garage door activation: now I don't even have to tap on the drop-down menu to open the door -- it automatically opens it when I approach! After a few months of using the autopilot I have gained more faith in it; I routinely drive 100 miles or thereabouts on I-95 letting it steer for the most part. In fact it really does reduce normal driving stress.

One year update (March 18, 2016): Today is my car's one year anniversary. 11,723 miles; 3550.8 KWH; average of 303 Watt-Hours/mile. Interesting that I actually predicted 303.6 a year ago! At current gas and electricity prices ($1.95/gal, 12.9 cents/KWH) it costs 3.9 cents/mile; my Yamaha motorcycle costs 3.8 cents/mile. But that presumes that I actually pay for the electricity; between the weekly supercharger visit and the weekly JHU parking garage visit during the semester, I sometimes "top it off" at home for 30-50 miles worth before a trip, or not at all; effectively the actual mileage cost is close to zero. It definitely gets less range per coulomb when it is cold, which shows up as fewer actual miles driven than the console predicts. In the summer the reverse is true. It is a bit mysterious in that I believe it uses some juice to warm up the battery manifesting as a higher energy draw in the first few miles of travel from cold. When it was very cold outside earlier this winter I took advantage of the phone app's remote activation of the climate control system: so the cabin was up to temp upon entry! Surely that used up some battery energy. It also seems to use up a few extra miles of predicted range almost instantly. A while back I had tried their two "range" modes of operation but didn't notice an appreciable difference in realized miles, so I went back to normal operation. Re cold weather operation, it limits the discharge rate, which means you can't get the maximum acceleration (but there's still plenty to spare); but more noticeably, it limits the regenerative braking which at times can be close to zero (until it warms itself up). That is a bit disconcerting, because it affects the way one drives; normally backing off on the accelerator pedal effects the regenerative braking so much that it is often not even necessary to touch the brake pedal other than to come to a complete stop. When the regen is limited one has to be ready to actively use the brake like with a combustion engine. The battery gradually heats up and the discharge limits move towards normal operation. That can take over a half hour when it is very cold.

The car simply remains a dream, especially with the autopilot and autoparking options I mentioned above. I have pinpointed several software bugs, all related to the entertainment system, which I have reported; it is uncomfortable being on the customer side instead of the embedded system developer side because all I can do is wait for the fixes when otherwise I would debug and fix it myself. But these are not horrible bugs, just silly things that should be corrected. One feature change which I do find horrible is the effective elimination of the cruise control's Resume action: when you stop the cruise, previously a tap of the button resumed cruising at the previous set speed just like every other car out there; now the "improvement" has that same tap restarting the cruise at the speed it thinks you should go based upon the speed limit and offset setting. I hate hate hate this as it is not deterministic (if it doesn't see a speed limit sign it does resume to the previous set speed, so it is a race to resume before it can observe a sign and sometimes the set speed changes in the split second between looking at the predicted number and tapping the control). I have submitted input on this and hope that many others will do so too, so Tesla will either put it back the way it was, add a binary control to select the operating mode, or choose separate actions to activate one or the other behaviors.

I don't have the heart to go into this right now, but on February 2 an idiot 21-year old Sinai Hospital (Lifebridge Health) shuttlebus driver decided that she could squeeze past me on a narrow road. I stopped completely on my side of the line and she sideswiped me in the process. There are no Tesla authorized body shops in the Baltimore area, and I have a three-week(!) repair scheduled for March 28 at a shop in PA that restores Ferrari's. I am really not looking forward to being Tesla-less for that duration. After I get it back I'll put the damage photos up here. I am also now due for the "Annual Service Inspection" which I will have done after the body repair. This service does: Multi point inspection (w/ tire rotation and alignment check), Cabin air filter replacement, Wiper blade set replacement, and Key fob battery replacement. It's not like there's any oil or radiator fluid to change, points or spark plugs or transmission to play with!

Accident Accident Accident

Repair update (April 8, 2016): Karosserie, the Tesla-authorized body shop, had the repairs completed in 10 days instead of the specified three weeks -- I guess they didn't want to over promise. Well, it looks brand new (which it should for an $11,406.79 bill)! I'm happy, so I posted the before pics just above. While I had the rental car I caught myself a few times when I realized it wasn't going to slow itself down in traffic, couldn't zoom past suspiciously oblivious drivers, or of course drive or park itself. Last week Elon Musk gave a nice presentation (video on their website) announcing the $35,000 Model 3. To be delivered starting at the end of 2017. So my estimate back in 2014 that that model wouldn't really become available until 2018 seems like it was accurate. Still glad I went ahead with the Model S, which gives me three years more with it plus a better car to boot.

On the trip home with a rejuvenated Model S, I stopped at the Delaware supercharger; perplexed when it wasn't there, I found that they had constructed an entirely new set a few hundred feet away. This area has 12 spots instead of the lacking 4 of its predecessor. (This time they painted the lines correctly, too.) Alone initially, three others appeared while I was there:

New Supercharger New Supercharger

Check back for updates!

1995 Infiniti G20t
Infiniti G20t
Infiniti G20t
Infiniti G20t Infiniti G20t
Infiniti G20t Infiniti G20t

In fall 1995, it was time to retire the Tercel, especially if I didn't want to put another clutch in it. So I bought my first new car. I must say that this was a perfect car for me. I prefer four doors vs. two doors (those doors are always too long). But this car is small (174.8 inches long, 66.7 inches wide) yet large enough to actually seat four people reasonably comfortably. I liked the sun/moonroof, too. There is an opening in the rear wall that lets one put long items (like 8 foot fluorescent lamp tubes) through the trunk into the passenger compartment when the rear seats are folded down. It has front wheel drive, and the touring option provided a limited slip differential. I could always manage in the snow and ice. I intentionally got a four cylinder engine for fuel economy (over its lifetime I got 28.3 mpg), because with the stick shift (the Tercel had converted me into a fan) there was plenty of power. I never put any ham radio equipment in it, but did modify the broadcast radio somewhat. I hated to see it go, but after 19 years I was losing confidence in it and wanted to move toward the future. I sold it to the couple above for their son three days after getting my Model S.

1981 Toyota Tercel
Toyota Tercel

In 1984, my boss at Telesaver (Dick) said I shouldn't be driving an old Nova, so he transferred his company car to me (I think he just wanted an excuse to have the company buy him a newer vehicle). So I got dropped off at his house and drove it home. That was quite a ride, as I had never driven a stickshift before and stalled it more than once. Actually, one day in 1972(?) I had conjured a friend to let me learn to drive his manual Mustang(?) -- but that was only for an hour or so.

I liked the car, especially the fact that by folding the rear seats down and the hatchback access it could easily carry a lot of stuff! I put ham radio equipment in it and three antennas on the roof. In 1986 when I left the company before it completely folded I was out of a job and didn't want to be carless, too -- so I had the business partially reimburse me for back pay owed (they had no actual money left) by transferring the title to me personally. In 1995 it was on its last legs, so I traded it in to Infiniti when I bought the G20. At that time the clutch was totally shot, but I could (barely) manage to drive it with extreme handling. Funny thing was, the serviceman at Infiniti seemed to have trouble even moving it around in the parking lot!

1972 Chevy Nova
1972 Chevy Nova 1972 Chevy Nova

In 1974 my grandfather couldn't continue driving, so I bought this Nova from him. (He only wanted me to take over the payments, but I paid him what it was worth -- or maybe a little less.) This was a relief, as the Ford needed constant oil and transmission fluid, like a dog marking its territory on whatever roads it traveled. It had no power and had trouble going over 60 mph. (Back then, the speed limit on I-95 and I-70 was 70mph.) The Chevy had a small V-8 (307) with plenty of get-up-and-go. So I looked forward to being able to drive at the posted speed limit. Unfortunately, right when I got the Nova a federal law went into effect limiting all roads to 55mph! I put ham radio gear in it. For some reason, I was reluctant to see it go -- so when I got the Tercel I kept it (unregistered) as the second car in the garage for some time. My little brother liked to chastise me about the 5-foot pipe I extended its tailpipe with out the garage so I could warm it up periodically. I eventually sold it to a high school kid.

1965 Ford Custom

In 1972 I needed a car to commute to school. Luckily for me -- and unluckily for him -- my big brother had to go into the Navy (the draft could only be put off for so long). So he sold me his very excellent Ford! At least with this car when you opened the hood, you could recognize the insides. Which was often necessary, to re-fill lost fluids, shove a screwdriver into the carburetor to open the choke when it flooded, etc. I don't seem to have any pictures, but it, my first car, was dark blue.

1967 Bee Incident

(This isn't a story about one of my cars.) In 1967 my grandfather had a stay in the hospital, and he didn't want to leave his car unattended. So we parked it in our driveway. I should mention that he was very particular about his cars -- every two years he bought a new Chevrolet. To our amazement and consternation, shortly after we parked it the sky darkened with a swarm of honeybees. Apparently the queen decided that the car would make a great home for her hive. So they all congregated on the left rear underside. We called a beekeeper who was all too happy to retrieve the entire nest and transport them to his bee farm. They slowly moved into his box as you can see from these pics. No harm to the car and ostensibly the bees were happier on a real farm.

Bees Bees Bees
Bees Bees Bees
Bees Bees Bees