Archive for the ‘Tesla Motors’ Category


Tesla Motors continues its aggressive growth with the opening of its first store in the Coachella Valley.

In a space once occupied by a VW dealer, this new Tesla store looks like a traditional car dealer – a novel concept for Tesla.  It’s not the small format gallery-like storefronts I’ve encountered in shopping malls like the Century City Shopping Center or Topanga Plaza.  The space is sleek, clean, smartly-styled and freshly painted, but it’s definitely a hybrid format marrying the mall gallery with a brick-and-mortar dealership.

The new Tesla Store is located across from the Honda dealer in the Cathedral City Auto Mall.

The new Tesla Store is located across from the Honda dealer in the Cathedral City Auto Mall.

Located at 68080 Perez Rd in the Cathedral City Auto Mall, Tesla steps into the sunshine of the Southern California low desert.

The Coachella Valley is a natural fit for an electric car with its abundance of wind and solar energy. It wouldn’t be hard for a homeowner to put enough solar panels on his or her roof to power both the house and charge the car.  It’s kind of the Holy Grail of the EV world to be able to charge batteries with pure solar power, eliminating the carbon emissions associated with coal or natural gas power plants.

You can't miss the "Now Open" sign. And lots of curious people were there to marvel at the Model S.

You can’t miss the “Now Open” sign. And lots of curious people were there to marvel at the Model S.

Quite a few of the cars on display had manufacturer plates; however a few had window stickers implying that they were for sale and that if you had $100,000 burning a hole in your checkbook, you could have driven off in one of these beauties.

This lovely Grey Model S has the P85 package. The performance version of the Model S with the 85 kWh battery.

This lovely Grey Model S has the P85 package. The performance version of the Model S with the 85 kWh battery. Note the dealer plates.

This White Model S had the 85 kWh battery package and a few other options that pushed the sticker price past $91,000. I think this one was available to drive off the lot. It had the sticker on the window!

This White Model S had the 85 kWh battery package and a few other options that pushed the sticker price past $91,000. I think this one was available to drive off the lot. It had the sticker on the window! However, Telsa says it doesn’t sell cars off the showroom floor and it doesn’t keep inventory at its stores.

The sheer size of this store allowed Tesla to show off things like the chassis, motor and battery pack. This skeleton (below) shows just how “simple” this car is. It has the 85 kWh battery pack – that large flat rectangular module that creates the floor – and optional air suspension struts that look very odd in the rear because there is nothing to hold them down.

The electric motor is mounted between the rear wheels. On the left is the motor, the inverter is on the right. Both modules look the same.

The electric motor is mounted between the rear wheels. On the left is the motor, the inverter is on the right. Both modules look the same.

This close up of the front mechanics shows the power steering module and steering rack. Certainly not the usual complicated packaging you would find in a conventional internal combustion engine car.

This close up of the front mechanics shows the power steering module and steering rack. Certainly not the usual complicated packaging you would find in a conventional internal combustion engine car.

These cutaways also show that the entire frame of the Model S is made from lightweight aluminum. Weight is the enemy of fuel economy and battery life.  Even with all the aluminum, the Model S weights over 4,600 pounds – that battery alone is nearly 1,000 pounds.  Still, that expensive aluminum sled is good for around 250 miles – all but eliminating the dreaded “range anxiety” associated with lesser EVs like the Nissan Leaf or the BMW i3 EV.  Even the new 2015 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive, with a Tesla powertrain and battery is only good for 85 miles, not nearly enough for an LA –> PS run.

The store has a lovely airy feel - a vestige of the prior tenants - but without vulture salesmen, the place takes on a whole different aura.

The store has a lovely airy feel – a vestige of the prior tenants – but without vulture salesmen, the place takes on a whole different aura.

Like other Tesla stores, you can see and feel the colors and explore the options available. A large touch-screen lets you configure and place your order online.

The large touch-screen (center) allows you to configure your new Model S. Be careful, checking too many boxes can lift the price past the $100,000 mark. The most important option, by far, is the 85 kWh battery pack - a $10,000 up charge from the base 60 kWh unit.

The large touch-screen (center) allows you to configure your new Model S. Be careful – checking too many boxes can easily inflate the price past the $100,000 mark. The most important option, by far, is the 85 kWh battery pack – a $10,000 up charge from the base 60 kWh unit.

I’ve been following the Tesla resale market in LA.  With a very limited supply, the residuals hovers in the 85%-90% range.  Unless you have to have a Model S immediately, I think it’s better to just order a new one and take advantage of the $7,500 federal and $2,500 California tax credits yourself.

The most important option is the $10,000 85 kWh battery pack which increases estimated range to 265 miles from the 208 miles offered by the base 60 kWh battery.  Your range WILL vary depending on driving style, weather condition and how much energy you use for comforts like HVAC. I have a feeling that my range would be more rapidly depleted by high speeds on the highway and my habit of leaving the climate control on 68 all the time.

The other must-have option is the $3750 Tech Package with all the goodies you’d expect to be standard like onboard maps and navigation, automatic keyless entry, GPS-enabled HomeLink, power liftgate, memory seats and mirrors, auto-dimming mirrors, LED daytime running lights, etc.

The wall of branded tchotchkes is tempting. I already own one Tesla t-shirt (a fine light-weight cotton) and I really wanted the red Tesla retro-styled lunch box (bottom right corner).  Cool stuff for those like me who can't quite afford the car.

The wall of branded tchotchkes is tempting. I already own one Tesla t-shirt (a fine light-weight cotton) and I really wanted the red Tesla retro-styled lunch box (bottom right corner). Cool stuff for those like me who can’t quite afford the car.

One of the most fascinating and attractive features of owning a Tesla is having access to the company’s ever-growing network of Superchargers.  A properly-equipped Model S can charge for free at any Supercharger forever.  Tesla estimates that in 2014, Superchargers will cover around 80% of the most commonly-traveled corridors in the U.S. and Canada.  And by the end of 2015, Tesla projects nearly 98% coverage.

The Cathedral City store does NOT  have a Supercharger.   However, the store is equipped with a few high power wall connectors (HPWCs), each juiced with  240v and 100 amps.  That’s a lot of electricity, considering my entire Palm Springs condo runs on 100 amps.  My electrician in LA told me that he could put a 240 volt plug in my garage to charge an EV.  However, where you need 30 or 40 amps for a Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt, Tesla specifics at least 50 amps.  I can do it; but many older homes wouldn’t be able to deliver sufficient power.

You can stop by the Cathedral City Tesla store anytime and plug in your Model S for free at one of its three outdoor HPWCs. Walk up Perez Road to the 7-11 on the southwestern corner of Highway 111 and Perez and get the rare Dr. Pepper Slurpee while you wait for your Model S to charge. Or go inside to the customer lounge in the back of the store, enjoy free beverages, snacks and videos of Elon Musk waxing about the virtues of Tesla and pure electric vehicles.

High Power Wall Connectors (although not in a wall) at the Tesla Store, Cathedral City, CA.

High Power Wall Connectors (although not in a wall) at the Tesla Store, Cathedral City, CA.  Currently there are only three available to the public.

The Supercharger is a 480 volt proprietary DC rapid-charging station that provides almost 100 kW of power, giving the 85 kWh version of the Model S an additional 150 miles of range in about 30 minutes. I asked one of the Tesla reps about Superchargers. He told me that one would be coming online in the next few weeks in Indio, on the I-10.  It’s located in the Indio Towne Center at Avenue 42 and Jackson Street. 

With the addition of the new Cathedral City store, the Coachella Valley becomes even more accessible to Tesla Model S owners in Los Angeles and San Diego. I don’t have to invest in a charger at my vacation home/condo, I can recharge at the store.   For full-time residents of the Valley, having local sales, service and support sends a clear message that Tesla is present, accounted for and ready to make your transition to a gasoline-free future a reality today.


Nicola Tesla 1856-1943

Nicola Tesla 1856-1943

Nicola Tesla was not your ordinary inventor. He patented the systems of generating and transmitting alternating current (AC) electricity used in virtually all electrical systems worldwide. He worked on wireless electricity transmission, vertical take-off flight and a “death ray” particle beam. He invented radio but Marconi got the credit. He thought that we would eventually harvest energy from the universe to power our world. Tesla was certainly ahead of his time. Maybe he had stumbled upon the hypothetical “dark energy” our current-day theoretical astrophysicists and cosmologists say is responsible for the expansion of the universe. Who knows?

Although more than a century has passed since Nicola Tesla first patented his brushless AC induction motor,  essentially the same design is used for modern electric  motors used in electric and hybrid vehicles, including those used by Tesla Motors in its ground-breaking Model S.

Tesla’s first piece of “technology” was the Roadster, a low-volume, hand-built sports car capable of highway speeds that used lithium-ion batteries with a range exceeding 200 miles. Almost 2,500 Roadsters were produced during its six year production run from 2006 – 2012.

Tesla Roadster

Tesla Roadster

Where the Roadster was more a proof-of-concept car for wealthy early adopters, the company’s Model S, a slick mid-sized 4-door sedan/hatchback, is the real world electric car we’ve all been waiting for. With the optional 85 kWh battery pack, it has a range exceeding 250 miles and with the ever-growing network of Tesla Superchargers, you can now drive your Model S, coast-to-coast, gas-free with free charging.

Starting at $63,570, the Model S (with the 60 kWh battery) compares most closely in size, style and price to the likes of the Mercedes-Benz CLS, BMW 6 Gran Coupé, Audi A7 and Porsche Panamera.  The manufacturers love to use the oxymoronic term “four-door coupé” for these sexy, raked-roofed sedans with reduced rear-seat head room.

Tesla Model s in Grey

Tesla Model S in Grey

The P85 Performance Model S, with the 85 kWh battery pack and all the options ticked, tops out at around $118,000. The Germans can blow past that price with ease, but the P85 can hold its own in a drag race with 416 hp, 446 lb-ft of torque available from zero and a claimed zero-to-sixty time of 4.2 seconds (Car and Driver clocked it slightly slower at 4.6 seconds). That’s faster than the “standard” 2014 Mercedes CLS550 (with a 402 hp 4.6L biturbo V8) but slower than the CLS63 4Matic (with a 550 hp 5.5L biturbo V8).

The Tesla Model S P85. Just look for the badge on the left rear of the car.

The Tesla Model S P85. Just look for the badge on the left rear of the car.

But there is a problem with all these comparisons. There is no other premium luxury electric vehicle to compare with Tesla.

The P85+ Performance badge. Someone spent money!

The P85+ Performance badge. Someone spent money!

Inside the rarified environment of an expensive German luxury car, you are surrounded by a century of progress. Everything from the switchgear to the quilted leather to the fonts on the instruments are products of a phalanx of engineers and designers and a yottabyte of accumulated customer experience and market research data. In a way, it’s kind of ponderous and calculated.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Each brand has its identity and heritage to uphold with each new model and each new generation of existing models. And customers have come to expect certain things from a brand. Billions are spent on marketing and vanity projects like Formula 1 racing – all for bragging rights that mean something and nothing all at once.

So what happens when a completely new product shows up in the market? Something that is a creation of a Silicon Valley technology start-up, not something from an established manufacturer? What if there is no turbocharged, direct-injected, fire-breathing internal combustion engine, driven by 8 forward gears, double clutches and torque converters. A drivetrain without countless, greasy moving parts, spark plugs, pumps, fuel lines and filters?

What if there is a big, rectangular 1,300 pound 85 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that looks kind of like a waffle wafer cookie that screws into the floor pan thereby creating a very low center of gravity? What if the propulsion came from a liquid-cooled three phase, four pole AC induction motor with a copper rotor, variable frequency drive inverter with regenerative braking and a single speed fixed gear transmission?

The platform for the Model S with Air Suspension. The battery is the big flat pack shielded by the frame.

The platform for the Model S with Air Suspension. The battery is the big flat pack shielded by the frame. Note the electric motor sitting between the rear wheels.

The entire powertrain sits between the rear wheels of the Model S. Weight distribution is nearly equal between the front/rear axles at 48%/52%.

How do you compare Tesla to other car companies when Tesla performs “service” and “maintenance” by a wireless 3G connection while your Model S recharges overnight? It sure beats taking the car to the dealer for service!

How do you compare interior volumes between a Tesla and similar-sized cars with internal combustion engines? Is it a fair comparison when the Model S uses space NOT taken up by an engine, transmission, gas tank and fluid reservoirs?

Tesla calls the front trunk the “frunk” – something Porsche has had for decades with its sports cars. You gain 5.3 cubic feet and it’s very handy. The rear hatch opens to a cavernous 26.3 cubic feet of storage space and, with the split 60/40 rear seats folded, a Shrek-sized 58.1 cubic feet opens up.  You can even get a trick rear-facing seat for two children that folds into the floor.

The cavernous rear compartment with optional rear-facing child seats. They fold flat into the floor.

The cavernous rear compartment with optional rear-facing child seats. They fold flat into the floor.

So much is fresh and reimagined with the Model S that it’s hard to encapsulate into words. First impressions are lasting ones. The Model S is sleek and sexy. It looks fresh and modern, with tight panels and high quality paint. It easily holds its own at any valet station with all but the most exotic Germans and Italians.

As you walk up to the Model S, its flush-mounted chrome door handles glide out to meet your hand. Sitting in the comfortable pilot’s seat and you are struck by the clean, clutter-free environment. Surfaces are leather or soft-touch plastics. Fit and finish are excellent as they should be at this price point.

The interior of the Model S is decidedly uncluttered.

The interior of the Model S is decidedly uncluttered.

The proximity sensors in the key alert the car to come to life – there is no start or “on” button.  A gigantic 17” color touch screen dominates the center stack. It pretty much controls everything with the exception of the headlights, turn signals, washer/wipers and cruise control. It’s stunning to behold and the software interface and touch capacity are easily as good as Apple’s polished iPad Air. It’s a Tesla in-house hardware-software design.

You've never seen anything like the 17" touch screen control panel in the Model S.

You’ve never seen anything like the 17″ touch screen control panel in the Model S.

The instrument panel is comprised of three customizable thin-film transistor full color screens with redundant navigation display.

The steering wheel and instrument panel of the Model S.

The steering wheel and instrument panel of the Model S.

Detail of the instrument panel with the optional parking sensors activated.

Detail of the instrument panel with the optional parking sensors activated.

Switchgear (power windows, door locks and side mirrors, headlights) and steering wheel stalks are from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin (Daimler AG holds a significant investment in Tesla Motors).  This is a good thing as the quality is high and it makes it easier for you to give up your Mercedes when you get your Tesla. The transmission control lever is located to the right side of the wheel.  The parking brake is also electronic.

Driving the Model S is unlike anything you’ve ever driven, so comparisons are difficult. Its premium quality and advanced engineering is evident from the moment you take off.  It oozes class and sophistication and it feels as rigid as a granite boulder.

I drove the P85 with 446 lb-ft of torque available from zero. Nothing is more intoxicating and addicting that having that much g-force power available without a drop of gasoline being burned. I might have broken the law.

The Tesla Model S with the optional Red Multi-Coat paint.

The Tesla Model S with the optional Red Multi-Coat paint.

Lift up on the rheostat and the regenerative brakes gently slow the 4,700 pound aluminum space ship without touching the mechanical brakes. Only very light braking is needed in most driving and you will find yourself playing with the regenerative braking to see just how infrequently you have to tap the mechanical brakes.  Tesla allows you to choose between “standard” and “low” regen-braking power. I’d choose the standard setting as it would be the most entertaining.

Everything is hushed inside the cabin. Absent the normal hum and strum of an internal combustion engine and the steady symphony of climbing revs and changing gears, you become keenly aware of road and tire noise that used to blend into the background. There is a faint whine of an electric motor, but that’s it.

There is plenty of room in the back seat and it's very airy with the glass roof.

There is plenty of room in the back seat and it’s very airy with the glass roof.

The 17” center control screen can display all sorts of information and includes full internet connectivity. Tesla doesn’t treat you like a child and lock-out internet browsing while you’re driving. Hopefully you will have the good sense to leave the browsing to your passengers. Google Maps and the on-board hard-drive navigation display beautifully.

Model S interior detail: Optional console with wood veneer.

Model S interior detail: Optional console with wood veneer.

I fixated on the rearview camera. It’s a wide angle lens that doubles as a blind spot monitor. You can choose to leave the camera on while you’re driving forward. You see the nuisances in your blind spots in real-time and I found it extremely handy.

The Tesla rockets into lanes, passes with ease at any speed. Corners and curves are precise, composed and nearly flat. The standard variable ratio, speed sensitive electric power steering is tight and linear with excellent road feel – nothing like the disconnected vague feeling of most hybrids. Wind noise is kept to a minimum with a slippery coefficient drag the envy of most exotic sports cars.

The Model S in White

The Model S in White

According to my Tesla specialist, almost everyone opts for the 85 kWh battery (265+ mile range) and the $3,750 Tech Package. Frankly, everything in the Tech Package should be standard. It adds:

  • Onboard maps and navigation for North America
  • Daytime LED running lights
  • LED cornering lights
  • Automatic keyless entry
  • Lighted door handles
  • Electrochromatic (auto-dimming) mirrors
  • Power folding, heated side mirrors
  • Power liftgate
  • GPS-enabled Homelink
  • Memory seats, mirrors and driver profile

You can continue to pile on options like the $2,500 Ultra High Fidelity Sound package, $2,250 for Smart Air Suspension, $2,500 for an all-glass panoramic roof, $500 for front and rear parking sensors or $2,500 for extended Nappa leather trim.

The Model S with the optional glass panoramic sunroof.

The Model S with the optional glass panoramic sunroof.

The only glaring omissions from the extensive option list are adaptive cruise control and a forward collision warning system. The price of these systems have fallen dramatically and they are available on everything from a Porsche 911 to a Honda Accord to a Subaru Forester.  It wouldn’t be a deal-breaker as the Tesla is so good with everything else and I expect the company will add these options in the future.

So what makes the Tesla Model S such a killer app? Is it because the Model S is the top-rated car in the history of Consumer Reports? Maybe. Is it because of the rave reviews from the usually EV-adverse automotive press? Possibly.

A Model S recharging in a garage. The High Power home charger is $2,700. They told me that most people just use the provided charging cord plugged into a 240 volt outlet.

A Model S recharging in a garage. The High Power home charger is $2,700. They told me that most people just use the provided charging cord plugged into a 240 volt outlet.

But I think the reason is more obvious. The Model S is the first and only EV that doesn’t require owners to compromise. The 200+ mile range alleviates almost all of the dreaded “range anxiety.” Tesla’s nationwide network of Superchargers allow owners to top off their battery, for free, usually in less than 30 minutes. It makes travel from LA to SF a reality with only minor inconvenience.  Palm Springs, Santa Barbara and San Diego don’t require any stops. In just the past week, a team from Tesla made the trip from Los Angeles to New York City in just 76 hours.

Tesla Supercharger Station

Tesla Supercharger Station

elon-musk-blog-photoPeople also love the story of Tesla Motors. Tesla’s founder, Elon Musk, a South African-born immigrant, is brilliant, a big dreamer and a big gambler (much of it his own fortune from founding PayPal) on big ventures like SpaceX, Solar City and Tesla. He is doing what NASA used to do and his unabashed evangelism for his companies can make some eyes roll. The Model S, designed, engineered and built in California by a start-up company, is the 21st Century version of a Moon Shot.

The Tesla Model S is the future of the automobile. Everything else just seems dated.