2015 Tesla Model S (85D)
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:
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:
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.
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!
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:
Four year update (March 18, 2019): Today is my car's four year anniversary. 42,150 miles; 12.6 MWH; average of 299 Watt-Hours/mile. The car is great, but now it is being left behind somewhat: the vehicles sold since 2017 have newer hardware (more cameras and I think more powerful computers). Eventually full self-drive is supposed to become available for those; presently only a Navigate on Cruise option is available (not for me): it prompts for directional signal action in order to change lanes on an interstate highway trip to get to the off-ramp and seek a faster lane. Contrary to what Elon Musk demonstrated on 60 Minutes, it does not do it on its own! Not too impressive. The newer hardware -- with its 360° cameras -- can upload videos to the cloud automatically if someone hits the car in a parking lot. That's a nice feature. If and when Tesla delivers true self-drive I might consider upgrading to a new Model S.
I have given up hoping for fixes to the cruise Resume I mentioned above and the flash drive mp3 organization that they destroyed in the v7 software rollout. I am aggravated because these problems are trivial software fixes that they apparently don't care about. Instead, Tesla puts programmers on assignments to add a fireplace video, Mars views, and whoopee cushion sound effects to the flat screen and entertainment center.
I installed a Tesla wall charger in my garage to make the 240 VAC outlet I originally put there for the portable charge cable provided unnecessary. It's nice, but I rarely use it because I am grandfathered for free supercharging plus the pseudo-free charging I get at the JHU parking garage. I only installed the new charger because I finagled a free one from them as a consolation gift over a disagreement on a Model 3 order. It looks nice, though!
Five+ year update (August 28, 2020): I forgot to comment here on the car's five year anniversary, but I'm only 5 months late or so. 53,507 miles; 16.092 MWH; average of 301 Watt-Hours/mile.
The car continues to be par excellante, but my dismay with Tesla the company is growing. First, battery issues: I bought the 85 KWH version, the largest offered at the time. This amounts to an estimated 269-270 mile range. I routinely charge to 90%, and remarkably for over four years it never changed, charging to 241. I had actually expected it to gradually diminish, though not by much. Prior to purchase I researched this and expectations were that after 100,000 miles or 8 years or so to see a 5% reduction. Well, a software update in May 2019 had its capacity suddenly drop to as low as 235
From the beginning all software versions permitted the user to have a full- or half-window browser. I'm skipping complaining about the removal of user options as to what and how the display windows are arranged. An October 2019 update eliminated the half-browser option and it has never been restored. As an explanation, Models S and X have a portrait orientation flatscreen. Models 3 and Y have a landscape configuration. The half-screen browser was never available for the 3 because that makes no sense with that setup. But it was very nice for us S and X owners. For instance, I generally had the browser on my home video camera (which recent software versions forced to be at the bottom half of the display) while the upper half was the road map. With only the full-browser size, it leaves about 10% of the screen available to show a miniscule section of the map. That's a great disincentive to have the browser display at all (when it manages to function). This also doesn't sound too awful, but it was fine the way it was before; they just removed a very useful display mode. We S and X owners tend to believe that Tesla doesn't care at all about us even though the company itself would not exist without the "early" adopters -- only mass-produced 3 and now the Y matter.
Originally Tesla offered telephone and email assistence. They didn't necessarily respond in a useful manner, but at least they received messages and usually replied. Over the last couple of years all contact has been transferred to the phone app. Which could make some sense, although there are times when actual real-time connections with a live person is preferable. This issue, and service quality in general, is very dependent (from the forums) upon the particular Service Center (SC). I have had pretty good luck with my SC (they put a post-it note at intake providing a phone extension that sometimes gets answered). It seems to now be generally accepted that Tesla provides very low quality service. The saving grace is that many of our cars rarely require any.
Because I read the forums, I have been aware that a lurking problem exists for the computers. As an engineer this gets me very angry. The nonvolatile eMMC memory card is specced for a finite number of erase/write cycles, just like any EEPROM or flash memory cell (they tend to range from 10,000 to a million lifetime cycles). It turns out that Tesla had the CPU write inordinately long debug trails to the eMMC, and predictably eventually it fails because it is written to entirely too often! I don't care what Tesla says, this is a design flaw. One which I would not let my inexperienced students get away with. As the memory fails, the operating system manages what portion works invisibly, but the result is a general degradation in system operation. Eventually too many bits are out of service and the computer can't even boot. On July 10th this year the problem caught up to me. I couldn't reboot it. Now the car still drives because the "entertainment" computer isn't needed for that, but one cannot access the heat or air conditioning, defroster, sunroof, etc. Instead of trying fruitless phone contact I just drove directly to the SC (I am lucky because they built one two miles from home a few years after I bought the S). They were very good and immediately took it in; after about an hour they had managed to get it back working. I don't know what they did, maybe there is a hidden hard reset switch. The tech told me that (without asking) he had put a replacement CPU board on order in case I opted for its replacement. Which actually was very nice. For six weeks I received semiweekly emails indicating that the MCU1 part was "pending." Then my phone app indicated that a repair appointment was scheduled for this past Wednesday. I thought that was a mistake because it also showed that the part had not come in yet. Also, I had never indicated that in fact I wanted it replaced. And while the app showed the appointment, I didn't receive an alert, email, phone call, or any contact whatsoever about this. Note that while the 3 and Y mostly require use of the app, the app is purely optional for the S and X which have keyfobs. The MCU1 computer has become quite deficient like any aging hardware due to never-ending software bloat. The browser has always been barely functional, and many times won't work at all (probably due to reduced eMMC memory availability). Map display updates become sluggish, etc. The newer MCU2 is much improved. It turns out that Tesla finally has offered an MCU2 "upgrade" for the older vehicles (which really makes the software function as well as it was when the car was purchased). The upgrade cost is $2250. I seriously had to decide if I wanted a replacement MCU1 or the better MCU2. Because I purchased the Extended Service Agreement, an MCU1 replacement costs me "only" a $200 deductible. They would not offer any discount off of the MCU2 price even though they were on the hook for the cost of the replacement MCU1 (beyond $200). MCU2 would give the car some of the newer software options, like Netflix (which I wouldn't use). But the existing radio is incompatible with MCU2 so I'd lose the radio entirely (there are non-Tesla off-market workarounds). I admit I almost never use the radio anymore but it seems crazy not to have one! (The intenet radio is always available.) Adding in to the equation that my battery range is diminished, especially compared to current new models, my hardware doesn't provide 360° cameras for Sentry Mode, etc., I decided to just get the MCU1 replacement. Leaving it alone didn't seem prudent, I did see it fail two other times but it managed to reboot those times. My original intention in 2015 was to keep the car for the full 8 years of service and then buy a new Model S with many improvements and the promised Full Self Drive (haha). While the car is great the numerous Tesla corporate deficiencies have me wondering if I even want another Tesla. I'm still hoping that the company will get it together in the 3 years remaining on my service agreement and I'll be willing to go with the newest S. If so, the extra $2050 for an MCU2 didn't seem like such a great deal.
So I phoned the SC on Tuesday and actually reached a tech, who assured me they did have the part for me. I prefer just to wait for service, but was told it would take a day or two so I left it there Wednesday morning. At the end of the day I received an email saying she hadn't been able to reach me by phone (I had no incoming phone calls from Tesla), they had encountered some firmware issues and it would be carried over to the next day. I'm fine with that (except for the bogus phone excuse). Now to backtrack a little bit. If the MCU is completely dead it is somewhat reasonable that none of the settings can be retrieved. But it was my understanding that if the computer was functional, as mine was, they first would extract my user settings and apply them to the replacement (it's not really "new" -- it's an old part they've reclaimed). I had the foresight however to take dozens of pictures of the various settings before dropping the car off (forgot about the browser bookmarks, though). Needless to say, when I got the car on Thursday there were no user settings transferred. It took me a few hours to re-configure it all back. (Of course it would be great if they let us offload the settings to a flashdrive, if not the cloud, so we could retrieve it ourselves.)
I attempted to re-log into my Tunein account; previously all one had to do was enter the Tunein email and password (just like any other device). Now this option wasn't available! Instead the car displayed a QR code image and nothing else. So I installed a QR scanner on my phone and scanned the image. That took me to a Tunein log-in page on the phone's browser; from there I could enter my Tunein email and password. After the second or third try both the phone and car indicated that I had successfully logged in. I really don't see how this process simplifies matters. Next I tried to actually use Tunein. There used to be a Favorites tab which lists my account favorites. That is now gone. Eventually I figured out that if I selected the For You tab I could then scroll down to a Favorites section and tap on that to get to the same screen I had before for favorites. (But that has to be re-done whenever returning to Tunein.) And while I can re-arrange the order of those streams while logged in on a PC -- and that order is maintained on other devices -- this has never worked in the Tesla. Still doesn't. I just don't understand these user interface changes, they seemingly complicate use. I don't know how many of these changes are dictated by Tunein or arbitrarily chosen by the Tesla programmers. I tend to use Tunein and USB mp3 files exclusively in the car; when those don't work properly I use the phone's bluetooth audio connection instead (but then I have to use the phone for anything more than pause/play and it is using my phone's data plan).
Then I noticed that my odometer had gone from 53,507 to 36,435! Maybe this is a conspiracy theory, but the paperwork has the incoming mileage shown but the outgoing mileage is blank. Hmmm... On the one hand, that should increase the resale value at some point in the future. I really don't want to be dishonest, though. I will see if they can restore the proper mileage, but I haven't even driven the car yet (she actually delivered the car to my door) so I think I better make sure nothing else is wrong before bringing it back in. Of course the two trip odometers were reset to zero. Which I don't like because I kept one that was originally cleared so that I had a running tally of the total energy used. Nothing to be done about that. Everything seems to be working except for the texting. It was always touch-and-go anyway: the system claims to need a newer Android version for my phone but it worked properly anyway. Multiple flatscreen reboots can get it in the right frame of mind, and I've only tried that once or twice so far. I had gotten to the point where I was afraid to reboot in case it couldn't come back up, now that shouldn't be a problem. The next day texting was available, but I had to manually reconnect the bluetooth to the phone -- this might have been due to the vehicle renaming?
Got a software update this evening which actually is useful: phone app notifications if a door, window, or sunroof is left open. Too bad the app doesn't generate notification alert sounds. (I swear it did five years ago but then it stopped -- across multiple Android devices.) After the update my car forgot its name! This has never happened before, I'm guessing it has something to do with the new MCU install.
Check back for updates!
1995 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
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.
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.