8.0 Update

I have a classic Tesla.  A classic Tesla is the euphemism for a Tesla Model S without the autopilot sensors.  The new 8.0 software has three annoying issues for my usage:  reduced USB media support, automatic map zooming, and the challenges to have the camera on all the time.  At times I feel like the Tesla software team does not seem to realize how people use their car and do not implement and test for these situations.  Tesla has eliminated previous functionality with the 8.0 software update.

Camera Disappearance

With 8.0 it is impossible when switching between apps to maintain the camera on.  Each app now has a default position.  Some apps override the top position, others override the bottom position.  The driver cannot configure this behavior or change it.

I always drive with my camera on.  I have since I first got the Tesla 3 1/2 years ago.  The vision through the rear view mirror is so limited because the back window visibility is so small.  When you turn your head, you can’t see much out of the back windows, so the safest way to drive is primarily depending upon the camera and side mirrors.

When I get in the car in a busy parking lot, I always first check the camera for cars, children, and  pedestrians before switching into neutral.  Sometimes I wait a while before the situation clears before moving into reverse, so I want the camera on right when I get into the car in the lower screen.

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Calling the Tesla Mothership to Report Camera Issue

I also live in an area that is frequented and at times congested by bicycles.  Unfortunately a few of these bicyclists do not obey the rules of the road, and when driving I need to be very cognizant of their behavior.  I can’t really do that without the camera on, and do not want any app to override the camera.  If I choose to have a full screen app, I may want to override the camera but I rarely want to have a full screen app.  The older software occasionally would override the camera in the lower window, but now I am forced to frequently flip and manipulate windows on a daily basis.

USB Media

I am personally not a big fan of streaming.  I have used it a number of times including a three month trial period.  I find though when listening to a stream, I run into a lot of music I don’t really care for, and then turn it off when it plays something I don’t like.  I have very eclectic tastes, and these algorithms don’t seem to be able to figure out what I might like.  I have the same issue with Netflix suggestions. I also like to go to very remote places where cell service is non-existent, so streaming is often useless.

So I stick with my large collection of music primarily though my USB stick.  As many other Tesla owners have complained about there is no longer a way to find music through an alphabetical sort.  Now all your music is in one gigantic list that you must scroll through.  This feature existed before and was removed with 8.0.

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Just a Gigantic List of Artists to Scroll Through

Others have voiced many other complaints about the media player, and some owners are quite upset. My usage model is pretty simple, I just generally play an album in its entirety, listen to an audiobook, listen to a podcast from my phone, or check the news on a NPR station.   I don’t have the time or energy to make playlists or switch music around at any frequency.

Automatic Map Zooming

I really dislike the auto zoom algorithm of the maps.  I have a sixth sense of direction and rarely get lost.  I use maps and navigation for three purposes: find new places I have never been before, estimate the amount of travel time, and watch for traffic problems.  Unlike most people, I do not like turn by turn directions or Waze.  I turn the voice directions off completely, and primarily rely upon the map orientation to find my way around.  So I almost always want the map at a full zoom mode, and adjust it manually to fit my needs.

In 8.0, the map now automatically zooms itself in when it decides to.  Yesterday I was in the East Bay heading north west to a new place close to Berkeley.  I turned on navigation because I had never been to this address and I wanted to choose between the often congested freeway or a scenic route as shown below.

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Watching Traffic Through the Busy East Bay

The map before I began driving immediately zoomed into the local street view, that I did not need.

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Please, Please Do Not Needlessly Zoom in on the Map When Not Asked

That information is available on the dashboard, and if I wanted to look at that on the big screen, I can manually zoom in.  I can’t maintain a wider picture of the map; if I zoom out again, it will zoom back in again.

Conclusion

These three issues with 8.0 are not major issues, but they are not minor issues either.  These three issues are just my personal concerns, and other drivers have their own dislikes.  I don’t like the Tesla software is not backward compatible.  They should not be taking away features that the user base has come to rely upon.

I have called in two of the three issues before writing this article.  I wanted to make sure that my facts were accurate, and I also wanted to report to Tesla that these problems to Tesla directly.

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.

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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.

Gigafactory Grand Opening

Gigafactory When Completely Built

Gigafactory When Completely Built

Tesla this week launched the Gigafactory with a press event on Wednesday, and then a party for invited guests and lottery winners on Friday evening.  I was interested in attending in person but did not win the lottery.  Those who were privileged enough to attend Friday’s event got a tour of the factory and then a 20 minute presentation with a very short Q&A.

The 5.8 million square feet Gigafactory will be the largest building in the world by footprint, the Boeing plant in Seattle is bigger by volume.  The Gigafactory is currently only 14% complete with 1,000 people working on site.  The To get an idea of the size gigafactory you can watch this short video by Wired.

The factory is currently producing packs for PowerWalls and Powerpacks. A report from the tour indicated that the current lines for these products was not particularly large. I have heard only a few actual customers who have received a Powerwall for their home.

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Official Tesla Reusable Bottles

Tesla did a (very poor quality) livestream of the short presentation.  Ironically while Elon and JB were drinking from plastic water bottles, they discussed the subject of recycling.  I’m not sure why they can’t use their own reusable water bottles that they sell in their store.

Lithium is a very abundant material on earth and there is plenty of it to convert every car in the world to electric.  All battery recycling will be done at the Gigafactory, and the materials can be pulled out of old batteries and placed in new ones, which will greatly save on the cost of new batteries as the raw materials is the most expensive part of the batteries.  When the factory is operational, it will operate only on Geothermal, wind, and solar energy.

I’m sure the attendees enjoyed the tour and the event, but there was not particularly much new information.  I would have enjoyed the tour even just to get a sense of the enormous sense of scale of the factory.

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.

 

Noses and License Plates

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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?

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

 

 

2016 Shareholder Highlights

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Elon Musk and JB Straubel Talking About the AC Propulsion Prototype Car

I attended in person the almost four hour shareholders meeting in Mountain View, CA.  This meeting was more of a Tesla history lesson than a shareholders meeting.  At times I was very bored as I have been following Tesla since 2007, and a lot of the information was unnecessarily long.  The large recognition of a variety of Tesla employees was nice to see as Tesla is not just Elon. There were a few interesting tidbits during the history lesson and the 30 minutes of Q&A.

Model 3 Supercharging Fees

Elon stated the Model 3 will have a fee to use the superchargers.   The pricing model is unknown and could be a simple upfront fee or a pay per use model.  The 60kWh version of the Model S had a simple $2,000 fee to enable supercharging.

Model X Regrets

Elon admitted that the Model X was over engineered.  He regretted not launching a simpler Model X and following up future versions of the car with these new features.  He also admitted to a lot of problems with the falcon wing doors, and that the remaining issues are software related for a various corner cases when the doors should or should not open.

I really liked that Elon acknowledged this mistake;  I am much more comfortable with honest leaders who both recognize and publicly admit errors.  I also think that if the Model X had a simpler base version with standard doors and standard seats, a lot more vehicles would have been sold.

Model S and X as Technology Leaders

The Model S and Model X will always be the technology leaders and will be continually improved.

Building the Machines that Build the Machine

Elon also demonstrated a huge amount of interest in building the machines that build the machine. He used the analogy of integrated circuit (IC) design to car factory design.  When designing an IC, the designer and software make tradeoffs between speed, size, and power consumption of a chip.  The process is very complex today as the individual components and wires are extremely small.  During this analogy, Elon referred to both the slow rate that cars are leaving the factory and the number of layers in an IC.  With these references, I can speculate that Elon thinks that there are ways the factory robotic process can be combined.  Very simplistic ideas could be that multiple robots are working on a car at the same time; perhaps one robot is above the car, another below the car and a third on the side of the car.

The New Model S Nose

On display at front was an older Model S, a new Model S with the new nose, and a Model X.  I don’t really have a strong opinion about the new nose.  From all the Model Xs I have seen in California, I have found that the new nose looks better on some colors than others.

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Model 3 Supercharging Undefined

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The Model 3 is “Supercharging Capable”

With the announcement of the Model 3, Tesla has not yet defined the usage of the superchargers leaving a series of open questions for the future.

  1. Will there be enough superchargers to support all the different Teslas in urban areas?
  2. Will the Model 3 supercharging capability be an add on cost over the base model or a pay per use model?
  3. Will Tesla develop enhancements to the supercharging stations, the Tesla app, or expand the valet service to improve throughput at crowded superchargers?

To answer these questions, lets look at how the supercharging works today and some challenges to the current system.  As a long term Tesla owner and driver who has visited exactly 100 superchargers, I have used the system a reasonable amount and foresee some challenges with the introduction of the Model 3 that are hopefully clarified before they are delivered.

Supercharger Use Models

Long Distance Driving

Initially the superchargers were envisioned to enable long distance driving.  Even with a battery capable of 200 miles of driving, many people typically on perhaps a monthly basis take trips to further destinations.  The superchargers were conceived to address the need of long distance driving and were primarily located in remote locations on major interstates.  But two of the first superchargers were also located in the middle of Los Angeles (Hawthorne) and the San Francisco Bay Area (Fremont).

Local Supercharging

Electricity is much cheaper than gas.  Charging in your garage is much nicer than charging at a supercharger.  The process is simply much more convenient and inexpensive for the vast majority of Model S and X drivers who own a home or have easy access to a plug at work.

Given the price point of the Model S and X, most owners live in single family homes.  But a significant number live in apartments and condominiums and depend upon charging in other locations.  Some owners rely solely on superchargers for their daily driving needs.  Many Tesla employees in the sales centers have told potential customers that they can use the superchargers for regular driving.  On my travels, I have met several drivers who have only charged their Model S for years now using superchargers.

Tesla has given different statements on supercharging for local use.   Tesla last summer sent a few owners letters stating that they should be more considerate when using the superchargers.  After quite a bit of controversy about these letters, Tesla quickly stopped sending these letters but never clarified any position about using the superchargers.

Current reality of Superchargers

Remote locations

Generally outside of holiday weekends, most superchargers located in remote areas are rarely full or particularly busy.  These chargers are located in small towns with only a few conveniences for road travel.  On busy weekends, several superchargers on Sundays can be quite busy and drivers have had to wait for empty stalls.

Supercharging in Urban Areas

Supercharging in areas such as Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area has become crowded. On long trips home I often stop at the San Mateo supercharger to top off the battery in order to drive home while spending 15 minutes shopping at the nearby Whole Foods.  This supercharger has eight stalls that are frequently completely full, and I have had to wait a few times.

I have witnessed many people charging in urban areas filling up their cars to the maximum range.  So my assumption is these people are using the superchargers for their daily needs and wish to minimize the number of times they need to charge.  Unfortunately, a full range charge is a much slower process than filling up the battery just enough to get to the next supercharger station.

Valet Service

At a handful of busy superchargers have some version of valet service.  At San Mateo and Fountain Valley attendants have been seen that help control the charging.  There are no reports that these attendants do anything other than try to encourage people to return to their car when the charge is complete or maintain the line.  These attendants also only are at the site during peak usage times.

At Burbank, which is located at a service center, the attendant has also served as a valet.  On my trip to Southern California in February, on one visit I handed the attendant my key and he moved my car to the charger when a spot opened up.

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Supercharger Valet at Burbank Supercharger and Service Center

Model 3 Supercharging Futures

The Model 3 is considerably cheaper than the S or the X, so clearly the number of owners who do not live in single family homes will be significantly higher.  The strain on the supercharger network will be much higher.  If the supercharger network is doubled by the end of 2017, perhaps most of these new stations will be in urban areas to support this growth.

The current version of the Tesla website has it listed as supercharging capable.  Tesla is implying they will in some manner require Model 3 drivers to pay for supercharging.

Model 3 Supercharging Cost

The Model 3 clearly will have the hardware inside to be able to supercharge.  Tesla can offer a variety of methods to charge the Model 3 owner for supercharging.  A flat life time rate of $2,000 as was used in the past for the Model 60 is an option.  A supercharging contract on a monthly basis is another option.  A third option would be a system that paid per charge; the pay per charge rate could be either by energy added or by time.  The time method would discourage people from filling up their battery to the last kW as this takes a lot more time.  Tesla could also charge you only if you are within 50 miles from your primary home address.

Automation

Various owners have suggested different schemes to help direct traffic at the superchargers.  Perhaps an indication light on the charger itself to select the next best available charger.  The Tesla app tells drivers when their charge is completed, but often drivers are not immediately available to move their car.

Better Pair Signage

The charging stations are paired.  The rate of charge on your car depends upon the rate of charge on the paired station.  The markings indicating the pairs are not very easy to find, and you cannot easily tell how far along your pair is in the charging process.  Ideally you want to find a station with an inactive pair.   The photo shows this station marked as 3B but all superchargers labeling is not consistent.  Also the pairs are not always laid out in the same manner from station to station.

Tesla could improve and standardize the pair labeling, and also inform their customers about the supercharger pairs.  I have talked many times to owners at superchargers who are unaware of the pairing.  The conversation typically comes up when someone tries to charge at my pair, and I suggest that they will charge faster if they move to another station.

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One of Several Methods Supercharger Station Pairs are Labeled

Checking the Rate of Charge

I always check the rate of charge before walking away from the car.  At times I will find the station is faulty and the rate of charge is really slow and I will move onto the next station.  If the rate of charge is extremely low, I will call the Tesla number 1-877-798-3752 and report the problem.  It would be nice if the car itself detected that the rate was quite low and provide a message on the screen and the app, so the driver does not have to do a manual visual check.

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How to Check the Rate of Charge on the Screen (120kW is the Maximum)

Summary

The supercharging system works really well today outside of a handful of locations.  The Model 3 will put a lot more pressure on urban superchargers.  Hopefully by the time the Model 3 is closer to production, Tesla will produce a more clearer supercharger use statement, and perhaps have valets are the very busy sites.

How do you think Tesla should charge Model 3 owners for using the superchargers?