Posts Tagged ‘Tesla’


If you’re like me, you’ve been following the rapid ascent of the Tesla Model S in the Los Angeles market.  On my daily commutes and errands, I’m sure to see at least one, and sometimes several Teslas slinking through traffic with those sexy reverse-angled signature LED daytime running lights.

The 2013 Tesla Model S in Blue. Tesla likes to keep the color names simple: Black, White, Silver, Green, Blue, Grey and Brown.

The 2013 Tesla Model S in Blue. Tesla likes to keep the color names simple: Black, White, Silver, Green, Blue, Grey and Brown.

More than any other alternative fuel vehicle, the Tesla is the first all-electric car that has real-world appeal to me. I drive to Palm Springs most weekends and I need cargo space for our family which includes two demanding dachshunds who travel in luxury crates.

The rear of the Model S is beautifully-balanced, understated and elegant.

The rear of the Model S is beautifully-balanced, understated and elegant.

The Tesla Model S, with its large battery pack sandwiched under the floor of the car, achieves a real-world 200+ mile driving range. The base 60 kWh battery pack carries a 208 mile EPA Certified Driving Range while the more popular 85 kWh pack option has a Certified Range of 265 miles.

The 4-door coupe styling is familiar from rivals like the Mercedes CLS and Audi A7. I like the frameless windows.

The 4-door coupe styling is familiar from rivals like the Mercedes CLS and Audi A7. I like the frameless windows.

With electrons to burn, you can zip to San Diego, Santa Barbara, Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear or Palm Springs without any range anxiety. Sure, go ahead, burn extra electrons with the AC blasting, Google Maps navigating and wireless devices charging.  As long as you can plug the Model S in somewhere at your destination, you should have no trouble driving around for the weekend and returning home in complete zero-emission bliss.

Here’s a rundown of the other pure electric vehicles on the market and their EPA certified driving range.

  • Chevrolet Spark EV – 82 miles
  • Honda Fit EV – 82 miles
  • Fiat 500e  – 87 miles
  • Ford Focus Electric – 76 miles
  • Nissan Leaf – 75 miles
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV – 62 miles
  • Toyota RAV4 EV – 103 miles

None of them could make a 120 mile trip to Palm Springs (or any other So Cal destination city) and, with the exception of the $50,000 Toyota RAV4, they are all too small for my needs.

Charging a Tesla is much faster than you’d think. Using a 240 volt charger, the battery replenishes at the rate of 31 miles per hour. Opt for the Tesla Twin Charger (installed in the car itself) and using the same 240 volt hookup, the battery absorbs enough electrons for 62 mile in one hour. Essentially, a nearly depleted 85 kWh battery can be fully charged in only 4 hours. That’s damn fast for such a large, powerful battery.

The rear doors are slim and attractive. The windows are frameless. Although it was a bit of a squeeze to get in due to the heavily-raked roof line, there was plenty of room due to the flat floors and lack of a transmission tunnel.

The rear doors are slim and attractive. The windows are frameless. Although it was a bit of a squeeze to get in due to the heavily-raked roof line, there was plenty of room due to the flat floors and lack of a transmission tunnel.

Around town, there are very few people who drive more than 200 miles a day. For most people, a 200+ mile range on one charge would be sufficient for 3-5 days of ordinary commuting. And if you can afford a Model S, it’s highly likely that you have a home and/or parking accommodations convenient enough for your own home charging station.

What cars compete with the Tesla Model S? It’s a stylish, luxury, 4-door sports “coupe” design, similar in size to and highly competitive with the Audi A7/S7, the BMW 6-series Gran Coupé, Mercedes-Benz CLS and the Porsche Panamera.

Tesla Model S $69,900 -$94,900 (before federal tax credit of $7,500 and any state credits)
Audi A7/S7 $60,100 – $78,800
BMW 6-series Gran Coupé $77,600 – $91,400
Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class $72,100 – $107,425
Porsche Panamera $78,600 – $161,100

Why would I want to be a pioneer, an early adopter of this new breed of electric vehicle? Why would I give up on my life-long love affair with the internal combustion engine (ICE)?

The Model S in Red. The daytime running lights are very distinctive. Of course, LED DRLs are nearly mandatory on any new luxury vehicle, thanks to manufacturers like Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

The Model S in Red. The daytime running lights are very distinctive. Of course, LED DRLs are nearly mandatory on any new luxury vehicle, thanks to manufacturers like Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

I’ll try to answer the question with another one. I used to own a BlackBerry “smartphone” with a physical keyboard. When Apple introduced the first generation iPhone, I said that “no one would choose that horrible touchscreen over this great physical keyboard,” despite the BlackBerry being such a comparably clunky design.

The instrument panel is a large, horizontal thin film transistor (TFT) full-color display. Lovely stuff.

The instrument panel is a large, horizontal thin film transistor (TFT) full-color display. Lovely stuff. The gear shift and steering wheel control stalks, as well as the switchgear come from Tesla investor Mercedes-Benz. One thing you won’t find in the Model S is a “start” button. The car knows the key is present and it’s ready to go as soon as you sit down in the driver’s seat.

Today, the answer to that question is self-evident. Touchscreens are far and above the preferred keyboard.  But at the time of the iPhone’s introduction, touchscreens were small and not responsive and people weren’t used to them. That is why a hybrid phone made sense until touchscreen technology became so good that a physical keyboard was useless dead weight.  The exception at the time, of course, was the iPhone, which worked well as a pure touchscreen.

The interior of the Model S is a study in simplicity. The instrument panel is a large TFT video display and the gargantuan 17 inch center console tablet controls almost all the functions without physical knobs. Usually I like physical knobs, but in the Tesla, it's iPad-like touchscreen interface proves it can be done and done well.

The interior of the Model S is a study in simplicity. The instrument panel is a large TFT video display and the gargantuan 17 inch center console tablet controls almost all the functions without physical knobs. Usually I like physical knobs, but in the Tesla, it’s iPad-like touchscreen interface proves it can be done and done well.

The Tesla Model S is like the iPhone of the car world.  While it’s not perfect in its initial offering — the original iPhone had trouble with email and was too slow to be a useful computing device; likewise, the Model S is inferior to ICE cars for long trips.

Nice details: The door handles are nestle flush into the body for better aerodynamics. When the driver approaches the door, the car senses the key and the handles extend automatically. Slick touch and it worked perfectly for me.

Nice details: The door handles are nestle flush into the body for better aerodynamics. When the driver approaches the door, the car senses the key and the handles extend automatically. Slick touch and it worked perfectly for me.

The iPhone committed so completely to touchscreen tech that it was able to make something functionally superior to old phone designs, thus proving the future of phone design has arrived. Similarly, the Model S committed so completely to EV tech that it was able to make what Motor Trend, Automobile Magazine, Consumer Reports, and many others have declared is the best car ever made — despite its current limitations on long road trips.

Here are some concrete examples of how Tesla’s commitment to a pure EV allows it to make a car better than anything else on the road:

Design

A lack of ICE components allows a clean slate and every opportunity to take advantage of a singularly electric car. Many find the Model S to be beautiful; the designers were freed from the constraints of the need for air intakes, radiator, exhaust and other “complications” associated with ICE and/or hybrid technology.

Safety

Not having an engine, transmission, gas tank, exhaust system, and countless other drivetrain components allowed Tesla to put crumple zones and reinforcement bars in ideal places, often where an engine component would have been. The result is that the Tesla is one of the safest car on the road, at one point a testing machine was broken by the car!

Interior

Lack of an ICE drivetrain allows the Model S to fit up to 7 people and have more cargo space (58.1 cubic feet, with the rear seats folded) than many SUVs. No plug-in hybrid comes close to that.

Lift the "hood" of the Model S and you will find a large cargo space, like a much larger version of what you'd find on a mid-engine Porsche Boxster.

Lift the “hood” of the Model S and you will find a large cargo space, like a much larger version of what you’d find on a mid-engine Porsche Boxster.

Like the Porsche Panamera and Audi A7, the Model S is a 4-door hatchback design. However, unlike its competitors, the lack of mechanical and exhaust systems permit a cavernous space. Optional rear-facing seating for two small people increases the Model S's passenger capacity from 5 to 7.

Like the Porsche Panamera and Audi A7, the Model S is a 4-door hatchback design. However, unlike its competitors, the lack of mechanical and exhaust systems permit a cavernous space. Optional rear-facing seating for two small people increases the Model S’s passenger capacity from 5 to 7.


Reliability

Lack of moving components allows unprecedented reliability. Several Model S vehicles have gone over 500,000 miles and counting on the original batteries with no issues and less than 20% battery degradation. I’m not aware of a single drivetrain (battery or motor) breakdown in any of the 10,000 plus Model S vehicles on the road.

Service

Much of the Model S is controlled by software. Having a problem with the HD radio? Tesla can fix it through the car’s standard wireless internet connection. The car’s giant center console 17 inch touchscreen is essentially a sophisticated tablet computer. Like your smartphone, it can be updated by remote technicians using on-board diagnostics and downloading software updates and fixes. The Tesla Model S is essentially the first car that can be serviced online.

The brilliant, high-definition Tesla 17 inch touch screen is just amazing in person. Like a tablet computer, it's internet-connected and technical service can be rendered online. Updates are downloaded and installed overnight while you sleep!

The brilliant, high-definition Tesla 17 inch touch screen is just amazing in person. Like a tablet computer, it’s internet-connected and technical service can be rendered online. Updates are downloaded and installed overnight while you sleep!

Cost

Although the Tesla is expensive, it is very comparably priced with other ICE cars in its class (see chart above). Meanwhile every plug-in hybrid is at least $8,000 more than comparable cars in their class. Instead of making two compromised drivetrains, like with hybrid plug-ins, the Tesla just has a single, uncompromised one.

Performance

The lack of ICE components allows for a clean undercarriage and minimal air induction. This translates into a drag coefficient of .24 — currently the lowest on the road! Incredible for a car this size. A MINI Cooper, by comparison, is .35 despite being less than half the size! A Ferrari 458 Italia has a drag coefficient of .33. The fastest production car in the world, a Bugatti Veyron Supersport, has a drag coefficient of .41.

The Model S, like any proper sports sedan, is rear wheel drive. It’s three-phase, four pole AC induction motor is mounted directly between the rear wheels. It uses a single-speed fixed gear transmission.

EV components can be mounted much lower to the ground than ICE components, allowing a sports car like low center of gravity, and therefore sports car like handling, despite being a big, heavy (4,647 lb), full-sized sedan.  Motor Trend clocked the Model S 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds. The instant torque of a pure EV is compromised by the ICE engine weight and integration of a plug-in hybrid

Tesla Supercharger Stations

Tesla isn’t waiting for governments or third-parties to build a nationwide EV charging network. It has begun building its own Tesla Superchargers to allow Model S (and future Teslas) to drive all over California and even coast-to-coast. It’s even more exciting because use of the Superchargers is free forever to every Tesla Models S owner.  Non-Tesla owners can use the stations, but they must pay.

A rendering of a Tesla Supercharger station.

A rendering of a Tesla Supercharger station.

The 120 kw Supercharger can charge a Model S equipped with the on-board supercharger by 50% in 20 minutes.  According to Tesla, it’s 20x faster and delivers 16x more electricity than other public charging stations.

The Supercharge module is standard on both Model Ses with the 85 kWh battery pack and it’s a $2,000 option on the 60 kWh base models.

According to Tesla’s website, here is the current information on the status of its Supercharger network:

  • Today – 8 stations
  • Summer 2013 – 27 stations
  • Winter 2013 – Coast-to-coast travel
  • 2014 – 80% of the US and Canada
  • 2015 – 98% of the US and Canada

Many owners may still prefer the Tesla on long trips because the fuel is free, the ride is fun, and taking a 45 minute break every 200 hundred miles or so is something they would do anyway.

The Best Car in the World

It may sound like hyperbole, but the Models S has been met with near universal acclaim from the men and women who live and breathe ICE for a living.  It’s a stunning accomplishment given Tesla’s status as a startup company and that the Model S is its freshman entry into a very cutthroat worldwide automotive marketplace.  And as a California native, I can’t help but be proud that Tesla is a Silicon Valley-based company and the Model S is made in an old GM-Toyota joint venture factory in Freemont, CA.

Consumer Reports – never the go-to source for automotive enthusiasts – proclaimed the Model S to be the best car they have EVER tested. It scored an eye-popping rating of 99 out of 100.

If enthusiasts can agree with Consumer Reports about the Tesla Model S, it really must be the Best Car in the World and I want to drive the Best Car in the World. Who wouldn’t?


Somewhere in cyberspace, an anonymous scribe is preparing an entry for Fisker Automotive, Inc. in Wikipedia’s List_of_defunct_automobile_manufacturers_of_the_United_States.

2012 Fisker Karma. R.I.P. Fisker Automotive, Inc. 2007-2013.

2012 Fisker Karma. R.I.P. Fisker Automotive, Inc. 2007-2013.

Fortunately for investors in Fisker Automotive, this week the media’s attention is focused on much more serious events happening in Boston. Sure, Fisker’s filing for bankruptcy will make the news, just not for nearly the number of news cycles usually devoted to this kind of failure.  Bloviating “experts” will excoriate the Obama Administration for giving Fisker a $528.7 million Department of Energy “Advanced Technologies Vehicle Manufacturing” loan. Automotive executives will say that they knew Fisker had bad karma.  Blah, blah, blah….

The Fisker Karma's interior looks nice, except there were lots of complaints about sloppy workmanship, poor fit/finish and cramped quarters.

The Fisker Karma’s interior looks nice, except there were lots of complaints about sloppy workmanship, poor fit/finish and cramped quarters.

In Los Angeles, we have different tea leaves that pick winners and losers in the rarefied niche market of advanced technology hybrid and electric vehicles. Roaming our streets on a daily basis is a never-ending parade of beautiful, fast, exotic, expensive and classic cars – not to mention the countless hybrids. LA has a large enough market for low-volume high-tech, advanced drivetrain vehicles that low volume, expensive cars have a place here. If we like it here, the vehicle and/or its underlying technology stand a good chance of expanding and flourishing.

On any given day driving around Metro LA, you can see exotic cars like the Honda FCX Clarity, a Tesla Roadster or a Mercedes-Benz B-Class FCV (Fuel Cell Vehicle). The Chevy Volt is more popular than the Chevy Cruze.  The BMW ActiveE isn’t a stranger.  Last year, the Toyota Prius was the best-selling vehicle in California – no surprise to anyone as you can’t drive anywhere without being surrounded by them.

The Coda sedan. CODA Automotive's first and likely its last car.

The Coda sedan. CODA Automotive’s first and likely its last car.

When CODA Automotive opened up its first store in the fall of 2011, in the Century City Shopping Mall, I visited the store and tested the Coda – the company’s first offering, an all-electric sedan. That was November 2011 and I pronounced the Coda dead-on-arrival. The $45,750 (later reduced to $37,250) Coda was far to expensive, even with up to $10,000 in federal and state tax credits. It borrowed styling from a decades-old still-born Mitsubishi econobox and I found it primitive and uncomfortable. It was a battery and a drivetrain in search of a body. No one bought it.

By the time CODA Automotive abruptly ceased nearly all operations in December 2012, the LA Times reported that it had sales of no more than 78 vehicles based on a recall notice issued by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. I never saw one on the open road.

By contrast, the Nissan Leaf was less expensive, thoroughly modern, futuristic-looking and far better equipped. And the Leaf was backed by an extensive network of Nissan dealers. Last year, Nissan sold 9,819 Leafs. Last month (March 2013), Nissan sold 2,236 Leafs. Today, the Leaf is a common sighting in LA.

Justin Bieber's Fisker Karma in chrome. You know, a "stealth color" right? Photo: TMZ.com

Justin Bieber’s Fisker Karma in chrome. You know, a “stealth color” right? Photo: TMZ.com

With the arrival of Fisker Santa Monica in 2011, the stage was set for “volume” sales of the highly-anticipated Fisker Karma, an extended-range electric vehicle. Suddenly the Fisker Karma was all over the wealthier areas of Metro LA. Justin Bieber bought (or was given) one painted in bright chrome and was notoriously chased by the paparazzi. Leonardo DiCaprio had one. Wealthy Santa Monica entertainment executives with the need for a green veneer but a disdain for a common Toyota, were customers.

In 2012, the curvaceous  cramped, four-door, six figure, five thousand three hundred pound Karma became a common sight in LA. It was like the iPhone 5 of the wealthy eco-conscious car buyers. Flash with a bit less guilt.

But as with everything in the tech industry, things can change instantly and customers are fickle. The batteries caught fire. Consumer Reports bought a Karma and it bricked. Battery packs were recalled. Fisker stopped production of the Karma and lost thousands of cars in Super Storm Sandy. On October 16, 2012, A123 Systems, Inc., the supplier of the battery pack for the Karma, did the corporate version of bricking.

The Fisker Karma had a very fetching hind quarters belying its porky 5,300 curb weight.

The Fisker Karma had a very fetching hind quarters belying its porky 5,300 curb weight.

Even if 2012 had been clear sailing for Fisker, its fate was sealed when the pure electric $100,000 Tesla Model S debuted last July. With the 85 kWh flat-floor battery pack, an EPA certified range of 265 miles, a much larger interior and gobs of cargo capacity, that stunning 17 inch infotainment/control display and sports car handling, suddenly the $100,000 Karma’s 32 mile EV range and “extended range” of up to 300 miles didn’t seem so impressive.

The 2013 Tesla Model S won Car of the Year awards from both Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine.

The 2013 Tesla Model S won Car of the Year awards from both Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine.

Then, near the end of 2012, the Model S snagged two very important COTY awards from Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine. The LA-based orders started to pile up for the Model S.

Almost all controls inside the Tesla Model S are accessed on the brilliant 17 inch full-color, fully-internet enabled center touch screen.

Almost all controls inside the Tesla Model S are accessed on the brilliant 17 inch full-color, fully-internet enabled center touch screen.

You might see the tail end of the Tesla Model S more often than the front because this car is seriously fast and can easily blow past the most powerful German sedans.

You might see the tail end of the Tesla Model S more often than the front because this car is seriously fast and can easily blow past the most powerful German sedans.

A black hole has been sucking the Karma off the streets of LA and like the Big Bang, the Model S has exploded on the city, everywhere I go. A shady, apartment lined street in West Hollywood.  Abbot Kinney in Venice. BOA Steak House. The Palm Springs Art Museum. Ralph’s parking lot. Sunset Plaza. USC. The 405. The 10.

A new 2013 Tesla Model S enjoys Doris Day parking at BOA Steakhouse in West Hollywood.

A new 2013 Tesla Model S enjoys Doris Day parking at BOA Steakhouse in West Hollywood.

Another new Tesla Model S is able to find a coveted street parking space on Abbot Kinney in Venice.

Another new Tesla Model S is able to find a coveted street parking space on Abbot Kinney in Venice.

Range anxiety? Not with that big battery pack and the $1,200 optional Tesla Twin Charger that can double the charging speed at home or the office. And if you’re on the road, locate one of Tesla’s Supercharger Stations that can recharge the 85 kWh battery – more than 250 miles of range – in one hour. Pretty awesome.

We are witnessing very rare automotive history here in Los Angeles with the life and death of Fisker and the Karma and the rise of the Tesla Model S.  I’ve never seen a car become so hot so fast and then nearly disappear to be replaced by another even hotter car — not even when the Hummer disappeared with the fuel spikes in 2008 to be replaced by the Prius.

I kind of feel bad for the Karma.  She got dumped for a virgin electric with a bigger battery, a dazzling infotainment interface (17 inches!) and sports sedan handling good enough for the exclusive six-figure German mash pit. However, I don’t see too many Karmas being sold into indentured servitude on the resale market. Only a few thousand were ever produced and sold, and none really saw hard time, so while you won’t see many on the road, most will find their way into private collections and museums.

As the bankruptcy vultures prepare to dismantle Fisker, we can be sure that Hernik Fisker, while a talented designer, is not destined to be the Henry Ford of ER/EVs, despite sharing his initials. Fisker Automotive will take its place in the sprawling automotive graveyard among such former luminaries as Packard, Duesenberg, Tucker, Studebaker, Pontiac and Plymouth. The automotive business is complex and cut-throat and few start-ups survive.  R.I.P. Fisker Automotive.

April 25, 2013, Editor’s note: On April 1, 2013, Tesla announced that it had delivered “more than 4,730 Model S Cars” for the first quarter of 2013. For the same period, the competition sold:

  • Audi A8 – 1,462
  • Audi A7 – 2,083
  • BMW 7-Series – 2,338
  • BMW 6-Series (including the Gran Coupe) – 2,071
  • Lexus LS – 2,860
  • Mercedes-Benz S-Class – 3,077
  • Mercedes- Benz CLS – 1,695

So when you look at the $100,000+ luxury class, the Tesla Model S seems to be ahead of the class. These statistics support my observations that the Model S has transcended the EV range anxiety and it’s overall excellence is attracting its share of the luxury market.  This is an amazing accomplishment for the first mass-produced car from a start-up manufacturer.