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.

dollarpermile.jpg

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 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.

IMG_3332

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.

IMG_3348

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.

P85D Loaner Report

A P85D in My Driveway (only Temporarily)

A P85D in My Driveway (only Temporarily)

I recently had the great pleasure to take a P85D loaner while having my car serviced.  Actually I was just getting the center consoled installed!  While they installed the console, I drove the P85D for 125 miles.  One trip over the mountains to the coast and back, and the second morning finding some errands to run around town.  During the extended test drive, I found a number of small things about the D that I was not expecting.

Acceleration

As has been reported many times, the acceleration is insane and very reminiscent of my four year Roadster experience.  Super fun and smooth from a dead stop.  In 2013, I had driven a P85+ loaner and was not overly impressed with it.  I did not like the car’s reaction to full acceleration from a dead stop as the front lurched up and the wheels squealed a bit.  The D was very fun; I kept it in insane mode for the day and never tried the sport mode.   I definitely used a higher rate of kWh/mile than normal while enjoying this faster acceleration.

Motor Noise

Interestingly enough the motor noise was substantially different.  At first I felt like a small jet was flying by.  The volume was definitely louder than my S85.  But after the first 30 minutes of driving I no longer noticed the noise difference.

Handling

The P85D loaner seemed to handle exactly like my S85; both cars are equipped with air suspension.  I couldn’t really tell a difference.  I did take a good drive over and back to the coast on some really fun twisty mountain roads.

Radio Reception

During my Roadster driving days, I had horrible radio reception.  I still listen to some AM and FM radio on a somewhat regular basis.  The FM signal was not as crisp as in my car, but the AM station was completely inaudible.  I suspect with two motors, the electromagnetic interference is worse.  I easily showed this to the valet that picked up my car as we listened to an AM and an FM station side by side in the loaner and in my car and the difference was very noticeable.

Parking Sensors

False Edge Warning with Sensors

False Edge Warning with Sensors

While driving, the car indicated several times that I was quite close to some mysterious objects in the road. I have driven several loaners in the past with parking sensors and do not recall ever getting these warnings.   The camera screen warned me more than once that I was close to a physical object.  Also twice the dash flashed a warning in red graphics that I was about to hit a car or person in front of me.  I like to drive away from all traffic and am by no means a tailgater. I did not have enough hours with the loaner to determine the true cause of these warnings.

Car “Smell”

When I first got into the car, I noticed an astringent strong smell.  This smell was so distracting, I rolled down the windows for a long period.  I spent most of the 125 miles with the sunroof and windows down in one configuration or another.  The weather varied between 60 and 75 degrees, so driving in this top down fashion was appropriate, but that smell took about 24 hours to not be noticeable.

I don’t know if this car smell is because of some new surfaces in the manufacturing process, unusual behavior by another driver, or a chemical in the mysterious spray bottle I saw being used on the car before I picked it up.  I can’t quite identify the nature of the smell other than unpleasant; my nose and sense of taste can’t determine the list of spices in restaurant food either.   I know whoever that I am quite sensitive to the smell of cleaning agents.

Higher Rear Headrests

The newer rear headrests are so high, I almost wonder why there is even a rear window!  At this point I largely depend upon the cameras, side windows and rear view mirrors.  Only when changing lanes in dicey situations do I use the rear window, But with the new seat backs, the rear window almost useless.

Why Even Have a Rear Window?

Why Even Have a Rear Window?

Conclusions

I think Tesla now has a wonderful option for folks who feel the need for speed.  I was not fond of the P85+ but the P85D characteristics are really nice.  My area is in a big economic boom with more and more people and traffic.  It is getting harder and hard to find places where I could really enjoy the insane acceleration.  To trade in my 39,000 mile S85 to a P85D at this point would be a large outlay in dollars that I could not justify.

However if I were buying my first Model S right now, the P85D would be in serious contention.  The dual motors would work both for having a lot of fun and the occasional trips to the snow.  I could potentially no longer keep the Toyota Highlander Hybrid that spends most of the time in the garage.  Unfortunately with climate change, the California Sierra Nevada mountains have had so little snow in recent years, I almost don’t even need a 4WD vehicle anymore.

No Further Improvements

Tesla from time to time sends owner’s emails about general Tesla news.  Typically by the time the emails arrive in the inbox, the news is already a bit old.  Today’s email was no exception and included the following information:

  1. Auto-pilot launched
  2. 0-60 in 3.2 seconds
  3. Consumer leasing
  4. Software 6.0
  5. Link to a shareholder letter

But what was most interesting was at the very last section of the email where Tesla wrote a “What’s Next” section:

“With the introduction of Dual Motor and Autopilot, there will be no further significant platform changes to Model S for about a year. We continue to see rapid growth elsewhere with the construction of the Gigafactory, the spread of Superchargers, and increased vehicle production.”

Clearly Tesla has received significant flack from recent Model S customers that were unaware of the upcoming D announcement and perhaps chose to purchase a P85 or P85+.

Also some customers may have felt a bit wronged when their car built only a few weeks earlier did not have the auto-pilot features included.

Tesla is not operating like a traditional car company in many ways.  For the most part, the customers greatly appreciate that fact as features have been added when they are available such as parking sensors.

Consumer electronic companies also use this type of announcement model but there is often enough unofficial information and general anticipation of upcoming features, that buyers can often choose to wait for a potential “expected” announcement of a new model. Perhaps Tesla is realizing that with an expensive automobile, customers perhaps need a little bit of warning of upcoming significant changes in options.

New Model Lineup

With the announcement of the all wheel drive D capability of the car, Tesla rearranged and simplified their offerings.  Prior to the big anouncement, the Model S was available in the following configurations:

60, 85, P85 and P85+

All of which I tested as service loaners. Just after the D announcement, Tesla offered various versions of the D, but now the options are simplified to the following four :

60, 85, 85D and P85D

The P85 and the P85+ are no longer available and also there is no all wheel drive version with the 60kWh battery.  The P85+ was no longer available immediately after the D was announced.  This decision was probably easy as the P85D is the top of the line performer as was the P85+.  The discontinuation of the P85 has caused a small uproar in the owner community.  Some consider their car less valuable than before.  But from a configuration standpoint, the P85 performance is not that much faster than the 85, and I did not care for the way the front of the car tilted up from a dead start.  I can’t wait to try a P85D loaner!

The table below lists the pricing of the four base models with the same options including the 19″ wheels.  The numbers are for a cash purchase in California including “Destination and Registration Doc Fees” and assuming the buyer qualifies and receives the $7,500 federal and $2,500 California tax credits.  For buyers in other states and countries, the final price may differ slightly but the variation of price between model to model will be the same.

Tesla Model Price and Feature Comparison Table Nov, 2014

Tesla Model Price and Feature Comparison Table Nov, 2014

I have also included the detail performance of each model.  Tesla is now using a range number for the car at 65mph instead of the EPA range.  Regardless, an easy estimate is approximately 2/3 of this value given spirited driving in all kinds of weather.

The interesting question on the table is it worth $24,600 for a car that is two seconds faster?

Discontinuing the 60D option was probably made after Tesla looked at the number of cars ordered.  The 60 is a good choice for folks who have more limited budgets and adding all wheel drive can tip the scale.

Green Car Reports recently stated that Californian’s buy 40% of all of the plug in vehicles in the United States.  Only in the Sierra Nevada mountains is all wheel drive necessary but many folks throughout California go there in the winter for skiing or snowboarding.  But I would suspect most of those buyers would be also choosing the 85 version in order to enable more long distance driving.

They also discontinued the brown and green colors.  I think I only saw a brown Model S once and few greens.  The green was almost black and very dark.  They also discontinued the Lacewood trim and a black roof on a non-black car, which I have never seen.  They also discontinued unlimited ranger service this year and now charge $100 per visit.