Foot in mouth: Tesla edition

Conversation after a neighborhood tennis game….

  • Dave: Whose Tesla X was that parked in your driveway yesterday?
  • Me: Why it was [John; also part of our tennis circle]’s of course! How many sanctimonious douchebags can there be in one town?
  • Dave: I just bought a Tesla X.

(“John” is not sanctimonious or a douchebag, incidentally. He is rich enough to buy a Tesla for fun/curiosity/novelty and doesn’t have to justify the cost with a planet-saving vision.)

Readers: How is Tesla doing now, both financially and as far as dominating the market is concerned? What are the redesigned 2020 cars that are worth looking at? We still need a new family sedan. The Hyundai Sonata is all new for 2020. Also the Subaru Legacy, which has AWD for our New England winters (NYT predictions of a Florida-style climate for Boston have so far not panned out). We will probably do a three-year lease since cars seem to be advancing at a rapid pace and we don’t want to spend a lot because we don’t have anyone to impress (nobody over the age of 5 anyway).

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Mid-engine Corvette is a supercar for supersized people?

Americans are at the large and heavy end of the spectrum of humanity. Car and Driver says “The 2020 Corvette Is at the Large and Heavy End of the Mid-Engined Crowd”. Coincidence?

Large exterior dimensions portend generous passenger and cargo space; the latter has been a long-running Corvette strong suit. That remains true in the C8. Its head- and legroom figures nearly match the C7’s (legroom is down by 0.2 inch), which is above the mid-engined-supercar average. From the driver’s seat, it feels more spacious than the C7, although the Cayman, R8, and NSX have more headroom.

But generous dimensions also mean mass, especially at the Corvette’s aggressive price that doesn’t allow engineers to throw endless expensive lightweight materials at it. Chevy is being coy on weight by only divulging a dry-weight figure of 3366 pounds. That implies a curb weight of roughly 3600 pounds, which is about 150 pounds heavier than the C7 (which itself gained 100 pounds over the C6). That makes it far heavier than the mid-engined cadre, more than 400 pounds above the lightest, such as the Cayman and the McLarens. Only the Audi R8 and the Acura NSX, which is laden with electric motors and a battery pack, weigh more.

Given that we won’t trust distracted humans to drive soon enough and our roads are generally too traffic-clogged and/or police-patrolled to use more than 10 percent of this car’s capability, does it make sense to spend $60,000 on a mid-engine C8 Corvette? (not “rational sense” of course, in that a Toyota Camry will handle any transportation task better, but “fun and way cheaper than most things in aviation sense”).

One interesting aspect to a two-seat car is that I think it becomes legal to drive with a child in the front seat (the otherwise dangerous airbag is automatically disabled via a weight sensor, right?).

A few snapshots from the Conrad Hotel in Washington, D.C.:

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Is it true that the electric car companies can’t agree on a connector?

We need to have an electrician do some work at our house and I thought it might be fun to have an electric car charger installed. Of course, we don’t have an electric car, but maybe one day we will? We can’t fit a car into our garage (packed with junk due to brilliant architect’s 1960s decision to build this house with no basement) so the charger needs to be outdoors.

At first I was thinking “Shouldn’t this just be an outdoor 240V outlet?” Then I discovered that there are “charging stations” for sale. Is there anything more to them than an extension cord on a reel? It is the car that decides when to start and stop charging, right, not the charger?

Finally, even if we wanted to buy one of these cord reels, which one should we get? Some web pages imply that there has been a VHS v. Betamax situation. Is that all sorted out now by the Combined Charging System?

(Despite the fact that it is fun to ridicule the Tesla fan club, I think that if we did get an electric car it probably would be a Tesla due to the “dog mode”. See“Car/Kennel” for what I wrote about this in 2003.)

[Update based on comments below and further research: A hard-wired system seems to be required for reliability. J1772 is the standard connector except for Tesla, which requires a dongle adapter (i.e., there is no standard connector in the U.S., since the volume leader uses a different connector from everyone else). Total “Charlie-Foxtrot” as we say in aviation! Progress means that, unless you want to have huge amounts of power going through a dongle that is exposed to rain, every time you buy a new car you have to hire an electrician. If the family has two electric cars, it may need to have two different charging stations installed.]

Small parking lot in our suburb during lunch today included three levels of sanctimony: basic, plug-in, complete.

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Tesla free supercharging for the life of the car will discourage upgrades?

A friend owns a Tesla X (see my review) that came with “free supercharging for life.” The company periodically pings him to try to get him to trade in the current car on a new and improved Tesla X. He can easily afford this, but if he does it he says that he loses the free supercharging, which is attached to the “life of the car,” not the “life of the buyer.” Having purchased the car for its novelty value, he enjoys the experience of getting free electricity.

I wonder if Tesla has made a huge strategic mistake. Doesn’t the typical car company make much of its profits off loyal repeat buyers who trade up every 2-4 years? How can it be smart to set up a structure in which the earliest and most enthusiastic buyers are discouraged from trading in and buying a new car?

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Tesla 3 is cheaper than a Honda Accord …

… but Uber and their drivers are too stupid to realize this.

“Tesla Model 3 vs. Honda Accord — 7 Scenarios” (CleanTechnica) is kind of fascinating. The author figures out that it is cheaper to drive a Tesla 3 than a similar-size Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, or Nissan Altima. Yet he never questions why it is that people for whom driving is a business haven’t figured this out.

He finds some sky-high residual value estimates for Tesla 3s and never asks “If the resale value is so great, why isn’t it cheap to lease one of these?”

Is this additional evidence that, as a reader commented on an earlier post, Tesla is a religion, not a car company?

[Separately, my most recent Uber ride was in the back of a late-model Honda Accord. It was significantly louder on the highway compared to the middle seat of our 2018 Honda Odyssey EX-L. Maybe nobody can build a better car than an Odyssey!]

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True cost of Tesla ownership can now be calculated

Tesla is offering leases for the Model 3. The stripper version (“Standard Range Plus”) is supposedly $39,500 to buy. It can be leased for $2,000 “down payment” plus $545 per month for 36 months and 12,000 miles per year. In other words, $600 per month.

What does a conventional sedan cost? US News says a Nissan Altima, which is about the same size as a Tesla 3 and has awesome ratings, is about $300 per month (depending on region). The Nissan comes with the added potential benefit of being able to buy the car at the end of the lease in the event that the value is higher than the predicted residual value (likely worth $1,000? Let’s mark it to zero for this analysis).

[Nissan fit and finish should be way better; UBS found that Teslas were well below average: “The car scored ‘below average’ on the fit & finish quality audit which looked at >1, 500 gap measurements,” UBS’ Colin Langan wrote in the note to clients. “The team also found the body-wind noise was ‘borderline acceptable.'”]

So Tesla costs $300/month more. What does it save in fuel (costs, if not CO2 emissions)? Let’s say that 1,000 miles per month are actually driven. The Nissan will consume 33 gallons of gasoline to go 1,000 miles (EPA combined), about $85 worth at current retail prices.

Electricity here costs 22.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (BLS). People say that the real-world electricity consumption of the Tesla 3 is 300 watt-hours per mile. So it would burn up 300 kwh to go 1,000 miles or $67.50 in electricity (but the Tesla Superchargers cost 31 cents per kwh so it would actually be more expensive than gasoline?).

It seems that the gas versus electricity cost is a wash. So the Tesla 3 costs $3,600 more per year to own than a comparable-size conventional sedan.

Maybe it is a better product? Consumer Reports gives the Tesla 3 a score of 65, with a mediocre rating for noise and a poor rating for ride quality (everyone who has been in our friend’s Tesla X, including the owner, says that our Honda Odyssey has a much smoother and quieter ride). The Nissan Altima rates 76 and actually did deliver its EPA-promised gas mileage in Consumer Reports testing. The only area where the Tesla seems to have beaten the Nissan was in acceleration, being about 2 seconds faster from 0-60 (given our average practical highway speed here in Boston of about 30 mph, the relevance of this number is unclear).

How about the autopilot? The Nissan puts virtual fences around the human driver, but does not attempt to drive. Consumer Reports liked the Tesla autopilot overall, but put in some caveats: “Some drivers may be frustrated by how the system operates, because too much pressure on the steering wheel will turn off Autopilot. So drivers must be careful to put some pressure on the wheel, but not too much. The system can be operated in many situations that it is not designed for. For instance, it can be engaged on a curvy back road with only a single lane marking. In such cases, it operates erratically rather than restricting Autopilot’s operation.”

Assuming that the autopilot actually did work perfectly all the time, then we could say that people are paying $300 for every 1,000 miles to have the autopilot drive for them. If it takes 30 hours to go 1,000 miles, it is a $10/hour system.

Finally, let’s look at the three-year cost to lord it over the neighbors with one’s all-electric virtue:

  • $10,800 in extra lease payments
  • $1,000 in expected trade-in value for a lease with the right to purchase (our 2014 Honda Odyssey was worth about $2,000 more to the dealer than agreed-on residual value)
  • $1,200 to install a charger at home (probably closer to $2,000 here in Massachusetts)

Grand total: $13,000 (enough to earn a pilot certificate and do a bunch of family trips in a flight school rental aircraft during those three years, yet I am willing to wager that plenty of Tesla 3 owners would say that they can’t afford aviation as a hobby!).

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Tesla Y shows that the electric car revolution is proceeding slowly?

Forbes predicts that the new Tesla Y crossover won’t be in volume production until 2021. That would be 9 years after the 2012 introduction date of the Tesla S.

Is it fair to say that Earth’s transition to electric cars is proceeding more slowly than expected?

Usually when a better technology comes along, doesn’t the old tech typically disappear from the marketplace within less than 9 years?

Is the glacial transition here due to the fact that the car industry is special? That the gas station infrastructure is too hard to replace with charging infrastructure? That electric cars currently aren’t actually “better technology,” but just a way for a handful of conspicuous consumers to display their better taste and superior virtue? Something else?

Considering the number of moving parts in an engine and the declining number of people in the U.S. with sufficient skills to turn a wrench, I would expect electric cars to supplant gasoline-powered cars within a few years of the electric vehicles being definitively “better.”

Readers: What do you think of the Tesla Y? Are Tesla cars improving at a faster or slower rate than cars from Honda and other engineering leaders?

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Energy and cost efficiency of different forms of transportation

“Lesson From The A380 And California HSR: Smaller Is Better In Transportation” (Forbes), by Brad Templeton, contains a lot of interesting numbers:

In the Department of Energy Transport Energy Data Book you will see some surprising numbers. For example, for transit buses you’ll see that the average American bus uses 4,102 BTUs per passenger-mile, while the average car uses 2,939. (A gallon of gasoline is around 115,000 BTUs.) Yes, US bus ridership is so poor that it would use less energy to move all bus riders in cars, at the national average of 3 people for 2 cars. You don’t even need to fill all the seats, and the cars are just average efficiency. The Toyota Prius is twice as efficient as that average car. People driving around alone in hybrid cars out-green the bus system.

You can compare what you would guess is an efficient electric train, the New York MTA subway. The DoE reports it uses 503 BTUS (of electricity, not heat) per passenger-mile. Even measuring the heat, that’s better than those cars and buses, but about the same as that Prius.

Looking at the MTA again, it spends about $16B to for 13B passenger miles, or $1.23 per passenger mile. Typical car ownership costs in the USA for late model cars is 50-60 cents per vehicle-mile, plus parking. Drivers get subsidies (though they pay gas taxes and other taxes for the roads) but the MTA isn’t paying for its tunnels either.

This is consistent with what I’ve heard from other sources: The idea of building and maintaining rails is obsolete for passenger transportation.

Separately, the article covers the demise of the Airbus A380, which saddens me because I’ve heard that it had the lowest level of cabin noise of any airliner ever produced (the A350 is a close second) and I never got to experience it (there have been some A380 flights in and out of Boston, but they are not common).

Maybe the countries that say they are morally obligated to assist refugees will snap up all of the A380s and send them out daily to pick up 1,000 refugees at a time from the world’s poorest and most troubled regions. If you are sincere about wanting to help people, why demand that they walk 1,000 miles to get that help?

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Middle class Californians subsidize wealthy Tesla owners, 2019 edition

“I got an electric car. My electric bill went down” by Brad Templeton is worth reading. He summarized it on Facebook:

Surprise: I got an electric car and my power bill went DOWN. Why? When you get an electric car in California, it allows you to switch to a heavy “time of use” power plan with expensive power in the peak (2pm-9pm) and much cheaper power in the night. I charge my car at night and moved my pool pump to the night so the net was my bill went down — my electric car gets almost “free” electricity, it seems. YMMV.

One angle he doesn’t cover is that the guy who could afford to purchase a new Tesla is being further subsidized by people who can’t afford to purchase a new Tesla (or any other new car!).

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Audi A8 long-term rental review

Regarding my equipped-with-active-suspension dream machine, from our reader/hero Scott Locklin:

I rented a 2018 Audi A8 for 10 days on the Autobahn [459 euro through kayak, 19 percent of which was VAT]. The electronics, as someone noted were pretty good. The HUD with speed limit and directions indicator was a cool feature, though it doesn’t work with polarized sunglasses. Wonder what HUD using pilots use for helmet shades these days; never thought of that before.

Oh yeah, one of your commenters identified that the 3D map view was mighty cool.

The ‘cruise control’ was, as you noted, awful and dangerous. I also disliked the collision avoidance system intensely, and couldn’t figure out how to turn most of it off. Basically it was a simple algorithm hunting for the lines on the road. Unfortunately there were a lot of dangerous ‘damped oscillator’ solutions to this, which boggled my mind, as there should be fairly simple ways to overcome this. The wheel jerking from this algorithm was alarming and possibly dangerous; there was an incident where there was a semi broken down in the traffic lane on the autobahn, and I needed to fight the steering wheel to avoid it. There was no time to signal a lane change which would have prevented the monkey vs machine steering wheel battle. I think the ‘collision’ software might have slammed on the brakes at the last minute had I continued, but that would have been a disaster also.

Another bizarre thing; the ‘collision radar’ in tight parking garages was incredibly loud and had me stopping 2 meters short of where I needed to be in this giant car in tiny euro sized parking spots. I couldn’t turn that off either.

The active suspension, meh, it was OK. Nothing special. It sucked you lower if you press the perf button, and was more billowy otherwise. No real complaints about the ride or steering in either configuration. I prefer the ride of a BMW for fancy car feels. The Audi was less precise. Probably more comfortable. My daily driver is a Subaru, so I’m not exactly cognoscenti tier here.

The here.com was hit and miss; they had me in a cow pasture at one point looking for a famous statue. Off road performance was pretty good though I didn’t realize until I returned it that it goes for $85k and has the “most advanced” autonomous vehicle features in it. Seemed like driving a larger, high performance German Ford LTD [Editor: Ouch! Looks like we’ll be sticking with the Honda Odyssey]

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