Upgrading my Model S?

In the middle of last month I got an unsolicited email from Tesla headquarters asking me if I wanted to upgrade my Model S.  I have not seen much chatter about this on the web and the email was addressed directly to me.  I have a VIN less than 5,000, so hand soliciting owners with less than 5,000 miles is not surprising.  A Bloomberg reports states that Tesla is strongly pushing to show positive cash flow in the third quarter.

The bulk of the email stated the following:

This is X with Tesla Motors Headquarters. Today, I am writing to you to explore upgrading your Model S! 

Our newest release of Autopilot hardware and software will revolutionize your commute and we’d like to offer you an easy path to upgrade your Model S to a vehicle with these new features.  Model S also features new options such as improved seating, Dual Motor All-Wheel Drive, Ludicrous speed, range of over 280 miles, new colors, new fascia and much more.  Above all, we have made the upgrading process simple and convenient.   

We are also excited to share that we have reintroduced the Tesla Referral Program! From now until October 15th you will receive a $1,000 credit towards the purchase price of either a Model S/X.

I had not really looked into upgrading, as I tend to hold onto cars for at least ten years unless there is a compelling reason to upgrade.  But I thought I’d look into how much it would cost to upgrade my Model S.  I had no interest in the Model X.

Possible Configuration

Base Model

There are currently four battery sizes available:  60, 75, 90 or 100 kWh.  The 100kWh only comes configured as a P100D with dual drive.  The 90 is also only available with the dual drive but the 60 and 75 can be configured with rear wheel drive.  My main interest is battery range as I like to take long trips and have the most flexibility on when and where to charge.  The following table shows the four battery options, the EPA mileage estimates, the amount of upfront cash required before sales tax, and the cost per mile.  The 60 and 75 rear wheel drive version and the 90D are in the same ballpark; if you have any interest in a longer range vehicle, you are paying the same proportion in cost for more battery cells up to the 90D.

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The P100D is a $42,500 jump from the 90D.  The 90D goes from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds, the P100D goes from 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds.  If I were to upgrade, I would definitely go with the 90D.  The P100D’s range is not that much more for the extra cost. I live in an area with increasing congestion where it is increasingly difficult to enjoy fast 0 to 60 acceleration.

Options

Autopilot

I’d pay the $3,000 for Autopilot 2.0 hardware.  The primary feature I would be interested in is intelligent cruise control.  I’ve always found traditional cruise control generally more frustrating than anything else because there are always too many cars on the highway to maintain a constant speed.  The rest of the autopilot features don’t interest me all that much.

Smart Air Suspension

I bought the smart air suspension on my Model S in order to improve the efficiency while driving on the freeway.  Unfortunately I have found very little efficiency improvements using the smart air suspension.  For $2,500 and more maintenance issues, I would definitely pass on this option.

Panoramic Roof

I’d definitely configure the car with the Panoramic Roof for $1,500.  I don’t think I have ever bought a car without some sort of sunroof.

Wheels

After so much hassle with my 21” tires, I definitely would choose 19” wheels.  Low profile tires are just too much of a hassle on a wide vehicle.  I am tired of tight parking spaces, curb rash, and the increased vulnerability and wear of low profile tires.

Ultra High Fidelity Sound

For $2,500, I am a sucker for better sounding music in the car even though I don’t listen to it all that much.  I know there are after market options, but that to me is just a hassle.

Premium Upgrade Package

This $3,000 package includes a lot of miscellaneous things.  I would like to have the filtration system to some agricultural smells, and I like having a power liftgate.

Other options

I don’t have any needs for the Sub Zero Weather Package, Rear Facing Seats or the High Amperage Charger.

Aesthetics

Deciding the exact color seat combination would probably be a last minute decision.  I’d probably wait for the grey second generation seats in Mid 2017 that are a $2,500 upgrade.  I’m happy with my black interior, but I’ve always liked grey interiors the best.

Pricing

Tax Credits

I would be unlikely to get my federal tax credit of $7,500.  I did not get the credit on the Roadster, and I did not get all the credit on my Model S.  I am very fortunate to have retired very early in life, and my investments are tuned to only generate enough interest and dividend income to offset property tax and mortgage interest.  Adjusting this even in one tax year is not that simplistic, and definitely hard to do in the last quarter of a year.

The California state tax credit is a bit more complex and caught up in politics.  Right now if you try to apply you will be put on a waitlist.

waitlist.jpg

For both my Roadster and Model S, the rebate arrived very quickly and the process was painless.  Recently though the California government stopped this incentive for high income earners and increased the incentives for those with low income.  California uses gross annual incomes to determine whether or not you are eligible for the income.

income.jpgI would not count on the $2,500 California rebate if I bought a new Tesla both for political reasons and my personal widely fluctuating income.

Trade In

I have to admit the number one thing I was curious about in this process was the value of my current Model S with 59,000 miles on it.  The process to get a quote took a while but in the end, I would receive $41,000 plus a $1,000 loyalty credit contingent upon an inspection.  I don’t have any scratches on the car but they would likely deduct some curb rash repair fees.

Numbers

The most likely configuration I came up with was a 90D with about half the options for $102,000.    I would need to add in 9% sales tax and then subtract out my $42,000 trade in. I do still have $800 left in credit for an earlier referral but that might be used up to clean up the curb rash on my wheels.  In the end to upgrade my car would cost me around $70,000!

Conclusion

I have no interest in changing my under warranty 59,000 mile Model S for the a very similar car with a small increase in range for $70,000.   In the unlikely occurrence that my Model S was totaled, I might be interested in leasing and switching the cars around till I found the perfect body size for me – even driving an X for a few years then switching to a Model 3.  Upgrading a car to essentially the same car is just not all that interesting.

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Autopilot & Self-Driving

Today I spotted what I suspect is a Tesla self-driving test vehicle on the day of the sad news that a Tesla owner died while driving his Tesla autopilot vehicle.  Autopilot is not a fully autonomous self-driving vehicle.  Tesla’s autopilot feature automates more of the driving experience by maintaining the car in the lane and controlling the speed of the vehicle based upon traffic in the front.  If it senses a hazard, the system will do the best to respond, but I doubt any amount of hardware or software will ever completely avoid all collisions.

Tesla’s Self-Driving Test Vehicle

A complete self-driving vehicle would allow the driver essentially to sit in the back seat and be chauffeured around town.  Both Google and Apple have efforts in this area.  Today I saw the first car that I strongly suspect is a Tesla self-driving test vehicle.

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Tesla Self-driving Test Vehicle on Palo Alto Roads Jun 30, 2016

The Tesla self-driving test vehicle is disguised as cleverly as possible.  A giant Stanford logo on the rear windshield and a Stanford license plate frame with a paper plate.  Clearly, Tesla is trying to convince locals that this is part of a Stanford research project.   Although Stanford is a very wealthy university, I doubt they would be using a brand new Model S for experimental purposes.  My suspicions were confirmed that this was a Tesla corporate vehicle when I saw it enter the back parking lot of Tesla headquarters!

The Google test vehicles always have the tell tale device on the top.

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Original Google Self-Driving Vehicle Used a Lexus SUV

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Newer Google Self-Driving Test Vehicle

Autopilot Crash

The Tesla owner died in a collision with a large truck.  Ironically Joshua Brown had earlier posted a dash cam video of how autopilot had avoided a crash on youtube.  Unfortunately, the more recent circumstances were different and explained by Tesla:

What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S. 

A Model S or X with autopilot is not a self-driving car.  Drivers still need to maintain their hand on the steering wheel and watch their surroundings.  Whether or not this unfortunate incident could have been prevented by a driver or an automation system is not known at this time.

Self-Driving Roads

I’m not super enthusiastic about self-driving cars.  I have test driven autopilot and since I don’t commute in heavy traffic, I don’t find it of much interest in its current state.  Although I only performed the test one day, I found it hard to not pay attention to the road but still be alert.  I think this awkwardness would likely become more natural over time.

I also wonder if we are going in slightly the wrong direction with self-driving vehicles.  We have Tesla, Google and Apple each working on their own technology.  Perhaps a better approach would be to have self-driving roads.  If all cars were self-driving and using the same standard, the road would in a sense drive each car.  The road would control the speed of each car and when you could enter or exit a lane.  The road could be virtual using cell signals between cars or a larger software system in the cloud.  If the road would control the speed and the driver had no control, you would be essentially having your private railway car.  The hard part of this vision would be incorporating all the non self-driving cars in the picture and working very co-operatively.  But Elon is good friends with the Google founders.

 

Autopilot Test

My Model S was in for service again to fix the long term intermittent problem of my bluetooth failing.  I requested a loaner with autopilot. This service visit I received a P85D with autopilot and drove it for over 100 miles in a variety of conditions.

Autopilot currently consists of four separate features:  automatic steering (auto steer) on freeways and highways, automatic lane changing, traffic aware cruise control, and automatic parallel parking.  The auto steer and auto lane changing are the most amusing and entertaining.  I found auto steer to be a bit buggy and not particularly useful.  Traffic aware cruise control is probably the most useful feature of the bunch and could be really great for someone with a nasty commute.  Auto parking worked well but only under specific conditions.  I’ll talk about each of these four features in some detail.

Auto steer

To turn on auto steer, you pull the cruise control stick towards you twice in a row on an appropriate highway.  Auto steer follows the lane markings on a highway and attempts to keep the car in the center of the lane.  Because it follows the lane markings, it really only works well on freeways or highways with uninterrupted center lines.

I tried auto steer in a variety of conditions.  On the freeway it worked quite nicely in the center and middle lanes.  In the far right lane, auto steer’s performance was weaker because many times the far right lane markings were weaker.  A couple of times it jerked the car over to the right on the freeway.  The software seems to handle an exiting lane fine and stayed in the far right lane.

In California, we are finally experiencing a lot of rain as the El Niño weather pattern has started.  Several times during moderate rain on the freeway the auto steer turned off.

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Auto Steer Turned Itself Off in These Rainy Conditions

I did a fair amount of driving also on “highways” – two lane roads through the mountains and along the coast.  Where the road was gentle and consistent, auto steer did fine.  For other highway driving, auto steer was a challenge.  A couple of times the pavement line on the right hand side disappeared, and it jerked to the right.  When a left turn lane appeared, the car got confused.  One very long reasonable U shaped curve, the software got quite confused and drove the left tires at one point over the center marker.

After a days worth of driving I got pretty comfortable with auto steer and allowed the wheel to move my hands around, which at first felt a little strange.  I think I would only use auto steer on real freeway driving where there are consistent lane markers.  In some ways I think auto steer is a technology looking for a problem.  When I am driving on a freeway, I do not mentally steer, and I am already driving on “auto pilot”.  Having the car auto steer on, I found took more attention than normal.  I found this feature to be quite entertaining but not particularly useful in this simple form.

Auto Lane Change

I experimented with auto lane change a number of times and it worked flawlessly.  It is super easy to use, just turn on your turn signal indicator and it will change lanes for you.  I never did try it in conditions where there was a car in another lane as that felt dangerous.  Again I’m not sure I need this feature.

Traffic Aware Cruise Control

On the other hand, I really liked traffic aware cruise control.  Since the car’s sensors’ detect a car ahead of you, it calculates the correct speed to maintain a safe distance from the other car.  I don’t use cruise control a lot because of this exact problem.  When I have conventional cruise control on and another car appears in front of me, its often too much of a hassle to adjust the speed.  But this traffic aware cruise control solves this problem beautifully.  I can see how useful this would be if you are unfortunately stuck in commute traffic.

Fortunately, I do not commute, and even when I did work my longest commute was 15 minutes.  When I am stuck in stop and go traffic, I really do not enjoy driving, so I would like this feature.  My only minor complaint is that I would like to adjust the distance a bit.  I like to keep larger distances than normal from other drivers.  Perhaps that is wasting space on the road, but I found with traffic aware cruise control, I felt a bit like I was tailgating.

Auto Park

I confess I am not a good parallel parker and avoid it.  When I do parallel park, I typically find spots at the beginning or end of a line as they are so much easier to get in and out of.  Now that my mirrors change positions in reverse, I can safely avoid any curb rash on my wheels.

Auto Parallel Parking is a feature I do like but in the first release it is quite limited.  You must be on a street with sidewalks and be parking in between two parked cars.  I found several places I wanted to try this feature, but in my area 75% of the parking opportunities did not match those conditions.  When I did find an appropriate place, the car parked itself very nicely.  It did allow me to parallel park in front of a fire hydrant though.

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Beautiful Parallel Parking Job With the Right Conditions

P85D

I enjoyed driving the P85D.  This time I could feel that the handling was significantly improved over my S85.  Because the roads were so wet, the car did slip when I floored it in ludicrous mode.  But I did enjoy the increased acceleration.  I do not know if I would spent the significant extra dollars though to buy the increased acceleration.  Where I live there are just so few times when I could enjoy it.

Summary

Autopilot costs $2,500 if purchased with the car.  The parking sensors themselves are now standard equipment with the car.  I really like traffic aware cruise control and would likely buy this package primary for that feature.  But I’m not compelled to upgrade my Model S for the auto pilot package.

2015 Shareholder Meeting

I attended today my first Tesla shareholder meeting. For somewhat bizarre reasons, I did not become a shareholder in Tesla till last year when I bought some shares.  The amount is quite small (far less than 1% of my net worth) and has no bearing on the honesty of my blog.

Unlike traditional dull shareholder meetings in the past, this meeting was quite enjoyable.  The business part was over quickly and included a warm thanks from Elon to the retiring CFO.  Elon gave a short overview speech and answered about 10-15 questions from the audience.

After the official meeting, I went to charge my car at the new supercharger located in the parking lot.  As I was chatting with a fellow shareholder I met at a supercharger in Oregon, I noticed the CTO JB Straubel talking to some owners.  I took the opportunity to join in the conversation and ask some questions myself.

Model S / Autopilot

Elon mentioned that Teslas (not 100% sure if Roadsters are included) have been driven 1 billion miles as of today June 9, 2015, and that the new 70D is about 1/3 of Model S sales.  Elon has been testing the autopilot features and will be released to Beta customers by or near the end of the month.

Model X

Elon did say the Model X is coming in 3 to 4 months and had a photo of it on the screen.  I think the following quote is quite telling:

“The Model X may be a better SUV than the Model S is a sedan”.

Powerwall

Both Elon and JB expressed dissatisfaction with the current information available about the Tesla Energy products.  Elon announced that the Powerwall now has a significant increase in power output making it a more usable solution for backup power in case of a power outage; a typical home can now run everything except air conditioning.  Price with install for an existing solar customer will be $4,000.  They are prioritizing deliveries to existing Tesla customers with solar.

I asked JB about the huge interest Tesla is seeing for the Powerwall as my return on investment with existing solar is 18 years.  He said there are very specific markets:  Germany, Australia, and South Africa where the economics make sense. He also mentioned the large interest in the Powerpack product for utilities. If they need to expand, they can add Powerpacks to existing substations.  This advantage saves physical space and wires.  JB mentioned keen interest among specific utilities.

Superchargers

The new Mountain View supercharger was opened up.   I charged at my 86th supercharger today.

New Supercharger Cable

New Supercharger Cable

Tesla had representatives hanging around to talk to the customers.  The only real difference now is that the charging cable is liquid cooled, flexible, thinner and lighter.  The cable is the same width as the one we use at home.  In California and warmer climates, the existing supercharger cables work fine, but in colder climates the existing cables can get very stiff.

These cables will support more voltage than today’s cables.  So eventually we will be able to charge above 120V.

Elon clarified that superchargers are really for long distance trips.  He acknowledged that there are some people using them for daily driving, and mentioned that a few are getting notes to that effect.  An owner can technically and legally use only superchargers for daily driving.

Elon did say that eventually all superchargers would be powered from renewables.  Where possible and appropriate they will have solar panels, or they will buy electricity from other renewable sources.

Battery Swap

Tesla does not think there is much interest in battery swapping.  The initial 200 people that were invited to the Beta of the station at Harris Ranch, only 4 or 5 swapped their batteries and only did it once.  Tesla has now invited all the owners in California, and they are receiving about the same amount of interest as the initial group.

Space X

A shareholder asked Elon if SpaceX will ever go public as he wanted to own the trifecta of Elon’s companies (including Solar City).  Elon said that wall street lives quarter to quarter and that model does not work with long times for launching rockets.  He said that “Space X will go public once they have regular flights to Mars”.

Conclusion

The shareholder meeting was quite an enjoyable event.  Listening to Elon and his clear vision of “sustainable transport” and a few interesting tidbits was well worth the short drive.  The extra treat was to be able to ask a couple of questions directly to the CTO.  Just being around two very intelligent people doing interesting and valuable things is inspiring.

Range Anxiety

Elon Musk had a press conference today to discuss upcoming firmware improvements in version 6.2 and beyond.

Firmware 6.2:

  1. New Range Assurance Application that is always running in the background.  The car is always monitoring where it is in relationships to the superchargers and warns you if you may run out of electricity.  This monitoring takes into account current weather conditions and terrain.  You have to “opt-out” twice before running out of range.
  2. Built in trip planner that considers best route for your trip along with best charging opportunities.  The trip planner also figures out how long you need to charge at the location and lets you know on your smartphone that it is time to go.
  3. The supercharger status is also on a network.  The car is constantly communicating with this network.
  4. Automatic safety braking
  5. Side to side collision and blind spot warning
  6. Improvements in radio reception
  7. Valet mode similar to the Roadster
  8. Nuanced accelerator and brake improvements

Firmware 7

  1. New user interface
  2. Auto steering features

Other updates:

Model X is coming out this summer, and the first real auto-drive features will be available in six months.  Over the next twelve months all of Europe and the US (except for Northern Alaska) will be covered with superchargers. In 2015, Tesla will be deploying more superchargers in the world than the sum of all superchargers to date.

These new features are quite nice, and will be very helpful for those less technologically savvy.  I have to admit I have never had any range anxiety while traveling.  I am looking forward to having the whole continental US completely covered with superchargers.  I hope that means I can take a trip through the lonely deserts of southern Nevada and Arizona without depending upon charging at a campground.  For a true dream roadtrip, I would like a battery pack and a comfortable car that is still fun to drive that had a useful real world range of about 400 miles requiring just one charge per day.

Move Forward / Back Up

Firmware 6.1 has a number of new features including the long awaited reverse camera guidelines.  Recently a lot of auto-pilot and driverless car features have been announced by Tesla and other companies.  A pure driverless car will be of interest for some segments of the market – perhaps someone with a tedious commute.  But many drivers will still want to actually drive their car and enjoy being on the road.  Technology and automation is often but not always an improvement to our world.

Reverse Camera Guidelines

When I first got the Model S, I really wanted these guidelines but after driving the car for almost two years, I have a strong sense of both the front and back space of the car and really feel no personal need for these guidelines nor the parking sensors.

Backing Up Towards Another Tesla With Reverse Camera Guidelines and a Dirty Screen

Backing Up Towards Another Tesla With Reverse Camera Guidelines and a Dirty Screen

My parallel parking skills are not superb but this weakness is largely due to lack of practice as where I live I simply don’t parallel park frequently.  I have backed into so many supercharger stalls, I now feel very comfortable backing into parking spaces.

I now see both the reverse camera guidelines and parking sensors similar to training wheels on a child’s bike.  They are very helpful for a period of time or in unusual situations but at some point are not generally necessary.

Reverse In Parking Spaces

Recently a number of local municipalities are starting to design reverse in parking spaces.  The San Francisco Bay Area is getting more and more dense as we are experiencing another boom in Silicon Valley.  We have a lot more parking garages, compact parking spaces, bicyclists and pedestrians.  Back in parking spaces are safer because when you pull out of the spot you can see other cars, cyclists and pedestrians.  Also when loading items in your trunk, the trunk is near the sidewalk not oncoming vehicles.

The city of Fremont tested back-in angled parking five years ago.  Unfortunately the experiment failed miserably.  But five years ago there were not very many cars with backup cameras.  Fremont reported on the experiment:

“The typical driver backs up by looking out of their back window. Depending on the visibility, this can work when you are trying to fit between two cars, but it doesn’t work if there are no cars parked to guide you … so they ended up parking across the lines at all angles.”

With many newer cars having backup cameras, I think this will mitigate a lot of the challenges in backing into parking spaces.

Tesla Speed Assist

Tesla along with Volvo, BMW and Mercedes-Benz can with both GPS speed limit data and front-end cameras that read the speed limit signs notify the driver of the current speed limit.  The newer Model S will soon be able to also warn the driver with a chime when they are driving over the limit or up to 10mph over the limit.

I was not particularly excited about this feature when first announced but recently a friend of mine got a speeding ticket for driving 70 in a 35.  She is not a reckless driver but owns a very cushy late model car and was driving on a country road where the speed limit is 55mph.  She passed through a town with a few hundred inhabitants and did not notice that the speed limit changed.  I can see the value of Tesla’s speed limit detector for situations like these.

Conclusion

Some technology improvements have really helped the world.  Others can be useful for only a period of time or have less value.  When choosing options I would consider both the short term and long term use of some of these features and also the monetary cost.

Satisfaction

Consumer Reports is a U.S. based independent nonprofit organization with the mission “to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.”  They analyze all kinds of products and report the results of their data in their magazine and on their website.  In their recent issue, they reported that Tesla drivers were more likely than any other car owner to buy their cars again the second year in a row.  This year 98 out of 100 Tesla respondents said they would buy their car again down from 99 in 2013.

Here is the top six brands based upon the percentage of owners who would buy the brand again:

  • 98 Tesla
  • 87 Porsche
  • 79 Audi
  • 76 Mercedes
  • 76 Lexus
  • 75 Jaguar

In comparison to the next highest rated brand was Porsche where only 87 our of 100 would buy their car again and no other manufacturer received an 80% or higher repeat rate.  The average repeat rate for all brands was about 70%.

If you look at the same ratings by car model instead of brand, the results are similar.  The Nissan Leaf achieved a 77, and the Chevrolet Volt a 85.  There were only four models with a number above 90.

  • 98 Tesla Model S
  • 95 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
  • 91 Porsche Cayman
  • 91 Porsche Boxter

The Consumer Reports article also stated:

“When given a choice between traditional gas engines and alternative powertrains, owners rank hybrids, electric cars, and diesels as the most satisfying choices in almost  every category in which they compete”

 

My Personal Satisfaction

Even after driving an electric car for 5 1/2 years, I still get the simple question “Do you still like your car?” from people on the street, acquaintances and people who have known me during these years.  My answer always is “Of course”.

Although I have had issues with my Model S and a case or two of less than stellar service encounters, I am satisfied with the manner that Tesla has dealt with my issues.  I hope to someday report more about my tires as I put more miles on the car.

If I have any general complaint about the car it is that it is simply too wide.  I personally do not need such a large car and just a few inches less in width would have been a big improvement for me as the San Francisco Bay Area is just getting more and more dense.  The increased density and increased property valuation results in both sadly a large homeless population but also parking challenges for larger cars.

I am also very fond of the fact that my car is never really out of date.  Sure, I don’t have the auto-pilot features but I doubt very much I would really use them much.  But from a software perspective my car is up to date.  Even just the other day I noticed that Tesla pushed me some new maps for my car.  My Toyota Highlander Hybrid on the other hand has maps that are eight years old as I’m not interested in paying for an update.

I had been contemplating writing a post about a few quirky errors that I had been seeing on the navigation.  I often use the navigation for secondary reasons.  I have a sixth sense of direction and really don’t use it to guide me to where I need to go but use it to estimate the time of arrival or to warn me about traffic problems.  Every time I have the navigation on the San Francisco Bay Bridge for example it wants me to exit on Treasure Island, which is a man made island in the middle of the bay.  Another example is that at times the blue lines on the map do not match the actual directions as shown in the photo.  I’m hoping this latest update or perhaps subsequent updates will clean up these errors.

There are so many things I like about driving an electric car.  The acceleration and filling up at home are probably my two favorites.   I simply can’t imagine wanting to drive an ICE again!

Direction of Travel Does Not Match Blue Line

Direction of Travel Does Not Match Blue Line