Noses and License Plates

newnose_0005

Model X Nose with a License Plate

The nose design of the Model S has always been my least favorite part of the car.  An electric car does not need a large open grill to cool off the non-existent engine, so for aerodynamic purposes, the front nose is a solid piece.  I liked the Model X nose a little better, and now the new Model S’s have this same nose.  I was noticing that the nose looked quite different on the cars depending upon the exterior color.  I recently was down in Monterey for the weekend and charged at the local supercharger attached to the service center.  To my surprise I really like the new nose WITH a license plate.  The license plate fills in the awkward blank space nicely, and I think it would also apply to license plates of different shapes like the ones in Europe.

Many drivers prefer a car without a front license plate largely for aesthetic reasons.  The license plate will affect the aerodynamics of the car, thereby technically reducing efficiency and range by a tiny amount.

In some states and countries it is illegal to drive without a front license plate and the law is rather strictly enforced. Throughout most but not all of California, many people drive without a front license plate without any problems or tickets for years. Steve Jobs actually drove around for years without any license plates by changing cars every six months.

I’m including a photo of the Model S with both noses and the Model X with the new nose.  The black area of the new nose with the Tesla logo looks a little thin and unbalanced without a plate.  Anyone else like the new nose more with the license plate?

IMG_0329.jpg

Classic Model S, Model S with New Nose, Model X

 

 

Advertisements

Model 3 Line

In the morning of March 31, 2016, Tesla fans demonstrated an enthusiasm in parallel with Apple fans throughout the world.  Unverified reports state that 20 to 600 people waited in line before the store opening at various sales centers throughout the world.  I visited two Tesla sales centers to witness the phenomenon myself.

The Tesla Palo Alto store is the closest location next to the Tesla headquarters.  At 8am an estimate of about 115 people were in line.  Around ten to fifteen people camped over night.  Their tents and blankets were quite clean so they didn’t exactly look homeless.  In front of the store there is a small patch of landscaping that might be a little softer to sleep on than asphalt.

IMG_3922

Camping in Line for a Model 3 at the Palo Alto Store and Service Center

I spent some time talking to the a couple of folks in line that had not camped but arrived about 3:30am.  My first question was why are they doing this?  Clearly they were Tesla fans interested in getting a Model 3, but the true reason why they were in line was that it was a fun experience.  One person I talked to said that he had lined up for Apple product launches in the past and enjoyed the camaraderie.  In some ways, these lines are in effect a party where you have a natural starting point for a conversation. He said camping was brutal and that he would not do that again.  Although we have beautiful weather in California all year, the temperature fluctuates a lot in a given day through the year, and the nights often drop down to the 40s.   Most folks were talking in small groups and others were on their computers or phones.  The majority of people were men around 30 to 45, but in general there was a somewhat diverse crowd.

IMG_3926.JPG

Stretching in Front of the Palo Alto Service Center

I also stopped by the store at the very well landscaped outdoor Stanford Shopping center which had a similar crowd, and the first person had arrived at 4:30am.  No one had camped overnight.  The Tesla employees said his boss only expected a few people not the crowd of around 150? people in line at 8:45.  The outdoor mall location had easier parking and perhaps easier access to restrooms than the other location.

IMG_3932

The Model 3 Line at the Stanford Shopping Center

I’m excited for the Model 3 but if I were to purchase one, I would replace my Model S so I am in no hurry to get in line.  If I were to make that decision I would really need to understand the exact specification of the Model 3.  The primary factors of importance are the battery range, the width of the car, the trunk space and if the rear seats fold flat and flush.

Witnessing the enthusiasm for Tesla was an enjoyable experience this morning.  I share the sentiment with the campers that the Model 3 is potentially a very exciting product.  Never before have hundreds of people waited in line to make a deposit on an unspecified car.

Remote Trip Planner Test

I recently took a long trip through Southern California and tested the features of the Tesla Trip planner in a very remote environment.  This particular excursion was not a simple long drive to a single destination estimating the amount of charge needed at each supercharger as I had focused on in my earlier testing of the trip planner with software 7.0.  On this road trip I drove to, through, and out of Death Valley National Park – one of the most remote (and beautiful) places on earth with an updated version of 7.1.  This post discusses both the current pitfalls with the trip planner software but also some advice for Tesla drivers in remote areas.

The software itself is helpful but the driver still needs to understand how the software works and not get too nervous with strange behavior.  The software has improved since my earlier test as the number of false warnings has decreased but many issues still remain.  I also discovered a new problem that I had not seen before, but likely was part of the earlier versions.

Always Roughly Plan Your Journey

On any road trip you need to plan to some extent your itinerary.  For people who don’t like rigid schedules, I would still recommend estimating distances and travel time for various options on a given day.  With gas stations ubiquitous, an ICE vehicle can travel without worrying about filing up, but with an electrical vehicle in remote locations — even with superchargers — some up front planning is recommended.

Tesla recently added some superchargers enabling driving to Death Valley.  A few owners had earlier ventured to Death Valley by using a charger at the RV park in the middle of the national park.  I was traveling during a busy season (where RV charging can be more challenging), and I also did not want to stay in the park during this visit.  I was going to depend upon the three supercharger stations in and around Death Valley:  Lone Pine, Inyokern and Beatty.  Also in and out of Death Valley National Park only has a few places where you might be able to charge in a true emergency such as in Panamint Springs.  But there are many long sections such as between Panamint Springs and Searless Valley where there are almost no buildings of any kind.

triangle

Superchargers Surrounding Death Valley and Distances Between Them

On a quick look at the map, one could think that charging will be no issue.  The maximum distance is 141 miles going through Searles Valley and Trona between the Beatty and Inyokern chargers.  Unfortunately most mapping software wants you to drive through Olancha.  The road through Searles Valley is more interesting, but currently there is a few miles of unpaved gravel road that is under repair.  I like using the supercharge.info map more than the Tesla version when planning as the Tesla map is in only in black and white.

The simple mileage numbers do not tell the whole story.  The next step is to look at the evtripplanner.com software numbers.

evtripplannerdv

EVtripplanner Estimates From Beatty, NV supercharger to Inyokern, CA supercharger

In some ways although the energy usage is accurate, the overall elevation number is a bit misleading.  Starting at Beatty at 3,300 feet, you drop into Death Valley at about 0, but then need to climb back up to Towne Pass near Panamint Springs which is another 5,000 feet in elevation.  The supercharger at Inyokern is at 2,434 feet.  Although you regenerate a lot of electricity on the downgrade, you can’t recover all of it.  Both algorithms in evtripplanner and Tesla’s software do consider the topography during the trip to estimate energy usage.

Watching Energy Use While Driving

You have done a lot of planning and now are actually on your trip.  There are several screens you can look at to see if you can make it to your destination safely.  But unfortunately Tesla still has not added waypoints, making planning in the car quite difficult.  I like to flip between four different indicators when I’m watching my energy consumption as I’m showing in the photo.

consumption.jpg

On the dash if you have the energy widget up it will tell you some useful summary information since the last time you charged.  Also you can dynamically watch your energy usage while driving.  I watch the orange / green power meter.  On a gross level, if you are in the green you know you are regenerating energy.  If the indicator is above 0, the color is orange.  When trying to save energy, the consumption should be between 20 and 40 kW in “normal” conditions.

I would really like this screen to be redesigned.  The Miles Per Hour indicator is very large and prominent with the numeric display.  Half the tachometer is used up to also indicate the speed of the vehicle with the blue line.  I never look at this and the only thing remotely interesting is the listing of how fast the car could technically go.  When trying to be cautious of the energy usage, the scale between 0 and 40kW is pretty small.  I would really like the entire gauge to be energy usage not half of it to allow me to monitor instantaneous energy usage on the dash itself.

I can also monitor energy usage on two screens on the touchscreen .  The consumption tab is the most interesting of the two tabs. Consumption lists average or instantaneous use over 5, 15 or 30 mile sections and at times can be too much information with too many options.

A graph also exists of the overall trip energy consumption as shown in the upper right.  This shows you how much energy the trip planner thinks you will use over the course of your trip marked with the grey line.  As you are driving and do not match its estimates, the route is shown in green.  I don’t use this screen much but it can be useful as it indicates the route’s topography changes.  A flat route is a simple line, a mountainous routes will show curves in the graph.

Visiting within the Park

Of course when visiting the park, you simply do not want to drive through it.  You want to stop and look around and hike a bit.  This requires more energy planning depending upon how far you want to go.  A drive from Beatty through Badwater, the lowest point in North America at -282 feet, and to Inyokern would be pushing a 85kW battery.

badwater

EVtripplanner Estimates Using a Waypoint of Badwater

The estimate is that is 207.7 miles and 56kWh under ideal conditions.  My battery has already degraded by 8%, so I actually have a 78kW battery.   In the summer, Death Valley is one of the hottest places on earth and filled with European tourists.  In the winter it can be extremely cold.  On this trip it was a very pleasant winter 80 degrees, but I would not feel comfortable driving all the way down to Badwater and expecting to arrive safely at the Inyokern supercharger.  I don’t know the actual weather or wind conditions when I will be driving and I don’t really want to drain my battery down to zero in such a remote location.

Record Wildflowers

My trip happened to coincide with a large wildflower bloom.  This last year we have finally gotten some rain in California, and there was actually a bad flood in Death Valley.  One result was a very large bloom of wildflowers in the far southeastern part of the park.  To get to the best wildflowers clearly required a return to the Beatty supercharger.  The photo does not give justice to the sublime beauty of the desert.

wildflowers

Wildflowers In Death Valley February 2016 Near Ashford Mills

Electrical Options

I did decide to ask various folks at Furnace Creek if I could charge my Tesla. The RV park was full.  I inquired at the Furnace Creek Ranch and they clearly stated only guests could charge.  The visitor center also had no options.  My last place to inquire was at the Timbisha Shoshone Indian Reservation within the park.

I have passed by this small reservation for many years wondering why they never offered any visitor services as they are in the middle of the park.  To my great surprise they finally opened up a small eatery.  I’m not sure what I am more passionate about saving the environment or social justice.  I very happily ate an Indian Taco for lunch made with that delicious fry bread along with some shaved ice.  I encouraged them to install an electric charging station as Tesla owners could top off while eating lunch.

shoshone

Delicious Fry Bread at the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe’s  Eatery in Death Valley

When I finished my excursion to the flower fields, the trip planner went a little crazy again.  Instead of heading directly back to Beatty, it wanted me to continue on south through the park and into Nevada on a longer course to the Beatty supercharger using a lot more energy and time (shown on the lower right).  The day earlier I had the same problem when driving into the park as the trip planner wanted me to go up and around the park (shown on the upper left).

avoidingthepark

Trip Planner Twice Wanted to Loop Around Death Valley National Park on Longer Routes

After driving in the correct direction to Beatty, the trip planner returned to the correct routing.  Over the last ten years or so as GPS devices have become popular, I have a recurrent thought that the current generation of people will begin to loose their sense of direction, or people with a weak sense of direction will learn to depend upon apps like Waze without really understanding where they are headed.   In remote areas with a Tesla, a driver needs to truly understand their route.

Lost Connection

When traveling from Bakersfield over to Lone Pine two days earlier, I drove on Highway 178 that was in a deep river valley with no buildings.  Many parts of this road had no internet connections, so the software weakness that I reported in my earlier report still exists.  The trip planner got completely confused and told me I was going to be out of energy before I arrived at the supercharger.

falsewarnings

False Warnings From Trip Planner When Cell Connection is Lost

Summary

Until Tesla’s trip planner adds waypoints, EVtripplanner is an essential tool before beginning a journey.  With 7.1, the software still issues false warnings and wrong directions.  Until EV charging stations are ubiquitous, drivers need to plan their trips ahead of time.

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.

My Model S 50,000 Mile Service Record

Consumer Reports surveyed 1,400 Tesla owners and lowered their prediction of reliability from average down to worse-than-average.  Tesla stock has dropped on this news today.

Consumer Reports sites problems with display screen freezes, replacements of the cars’ electric motors and sunroof leaks.  Most early Tesla owners such as myself have experienced a number of problems, but newer Model S cars appear to have had less issues as Tesla has made the car more reliable.  Buying a brand new platform from a new car company with a below 5,000 VIN number, I knew I was an early adopter and expected some problems to crop up.

What Consumer Reports did not mention is that Tesla service is stellar.  They valet your car to your home or office with a loaner Model S (in most but not all cases).  Appointments are not always fast if the issue is not urgent, but they treat their customers universally well.  Part of the company culture is treating their customers with respect which is the opposite of most car companies.  I have only been inconvenienced once with this level of service in the 6 1/2 years driving Teslas.

During my 50,000 miles 2 1/2 year journey with the Model S, I have had a series of seven issues with my car all of which I have documented on this blog.

  1. Serious problems with tire alignment ruining tires
  2. Door handles that would not open
  3. Bluetooth issues connecting to the iphone
  4. Faulty tire pressure warning sensors
  5. Panoramic roof liner had exposed adhesive
  6. Roadster adapter cable failed completely
  7. 12 Volt battery replacement

My issues have been both serious and minor with some difficult to diagnose and fix.  I am hoping to report on the tires soon.  The door handle problems were with the first design of the handles, and new cars do not have these issues. I have not had my motor replaced due to any noise issues although I can hear it a tiny bit more than when I first bought the car. The drive unit is under warranty for a total of 8 years and infinite miles. I won’t think of replacing it unless the noise is a lot more than barely perceptible.

Can I say my car has been as reliable as average?  As much as I adore my car and Tesla, the true answer is no. I think even achieving an average or close to average rating is fabulous for a brand new car company.  I would not expect a great reliability from a new company doing something radically different in the first 10,000 cars they produce.

Ironically today my car is in for the service of the bluetooth.  I have had intermittent problems connecting to the phone along with the 17” screen telling me the bluetooth needs to be serviced.  I had to wait several weeks for an appointment, but I have a loaner in the driveway.  Unfortunately it is an older P85+ without autopilot.  I was hoping to test the autopilot and write my impressions here on this blog.  Even with these issues, Tesla employees are great to deal with and they make servicing the car painless.  I can’t imagine going back to dealing with an ICE as my daily driver.

My only question is should I buy the extended warranty?  I had gathered my list of service issues in an attempt to make that decision making writing this timely post easier.  I’d love to hear your thoughts if I should spend $4,000 to extend my warranty for another four years and 50,000 miles.  I do not expect to be driving as much as I have in the past.

Tesla Neuroeconomics

An episode on the PBS Newshour from about two weeks ago featured a story about Neuroeconomics.  A lot of brain research today is studying where our brain lights up during different events.  A lot of current thinking (which I think is way too simplistic) is that our brain completely controls our actions, and if we pinpoint everything down to a particular neuron location, we will solve many of humanity’s problems. Since this blog is not about philosophy or neuroscience and about Teslas, I’ll leave my extensive studies of these other subjects aside.

The segment discusses “Why We Crave What Is Cool” and how we buy things based upon social status.  At one point in the video they go to a Tesla showroom in Pasadena, and the reporter says:

PAUL SOLMAN: Owning a Tesla says, I’m a well-heeled environmentalist, a Volvo, I care about safety.

Yes, perhaps a Tesla does make this statement.  I bought Tesla far before the general public knew about Tesla, and I simply wanted an electric car driven off my solar panels with a range more than 50 miles round trip.  Other Tesla owners have a variety of reasons for buying a Tesla such as fabulous performance.

Only in the last year or so now that Tesla has become well known has it become somewhat of a status symbol.  I always question why these researchers often assume such simplistic brains and simplistic motivations behind car purchase decisions.  Perhaps many of us really do not care about our social status.

Side note:  In the United States today, there is a dearth of quality news reporting in media or in print. I generally respect the PBS Newshour for balanced reporting with decent world coverage and some interesting stories.  I have to admit, I record the episodes, often watch them days later and fast forward through a lot of stories particularly about politics.

Tesla Sending Supercharger Abuse Notes!

After the shareholder’s meeting in June there was a large controversy over a comment Elon had made that was unclear.

“So, free long distance forever is what the Superchargers are providing. There are few people who are like, quite aggressively using it for local Supercharging, and we also send them just a reminder note that it’s cool to do this occasionally but it’s meant to be a long distance thing.”  Elon Musk

On the Tesla forums on the web were extensive threads discussing what Elon meant.  Now two months later people are beginning to receive these letters.

As a frequent user of local Superchargers, we ask that you decrease your local Supercharging and promptly move your Model S once charging is complete.  Doing so ensures a better experience for the Tesla ownership community and allows Supercharger resources to be available for those who need them most.

….Thank you for your cooperation and continued support of Tesla Motors” 

A few people are reporting getting letters today on the various public forums.  Those folks are saying they are not regular local supercharger users and are using it for long distance travel.  Perhaps the algorithm they used to determine which owners receive this note is a little flawed.

Tesla really needs to clarify their position on supercharging use.  Is it truly free forever after paying for it as part of the price of the car?  What about those who do not have the ability to charge at home?  Why not send out a clarification letter to all owners?  Why don’t they clarify their policy on their web site?

Unfortunately, Tesla has on its hands a true communication problem with their owners.  I have watched many different things occur on the various forums and this one seems to have many long term supporters upset. I don’t know why they cannot clarify this stance on supercharging directly and clearly to all owners instead of creating a controversy.  They really need help with public relations and communication.