I have been meaning to write this one up for a while now, but life has kept me busy. It’s late as I am writing this, and I am making time to do this. I really want to share my full thoughts on this car.
First some caveats…
Before I get into the details of my opinions, observations, and research, I need to make a few items clear. For starters, I like electric cars. I love good old American muscle cars, and that love comes from the many auto mechanics in my family. By interest and education, I am an electrical engineer, although I have worked for many years now as a software engineer. That is a long story for another time. The point is, though, that I know more than a little about cars having learned much from dad and several uncles, and I know more than a little about electricity. More to the point, though, I want to point out that my winning the lottery scenario would be an electric car to drive for normal driving, and my fun car would be something with a V8 and a deep roar. There is a place for both types of vehicles in my heart.
I think it’s also important for me to point out that while I own a V6 powered SUV which I need for various reasons related to my home and hobbies, our other car, my wife’s car is a simple sedan. That car is now 6 years old, and will be hopefully replaced in 4 or more years with an electric car. That is what we both want, although I did have to sell her on that idea. It’s probably worth adding that my wife hates driving, and does commute in a lot of traffic to work every day. Neither is true for me, and that leads me to one of my points on Teslas.
First the Test Drive…
A few coworkers of mine own Tesla Model 3s. One of them also owns a Chevy Bolt and a regular gas powered SUV. In the NY metro area, one vehicle for most people really does need to be a SUV; or at least something good in the snow with large capacity. I suspect this is why the Big 3 are killing sedans, well that and the fact that they can’t make one as good as their competition.
I saw one my friend driving his Tesla Model 3 one morning, and I asked him if he would give me a ride in it. I’ve never been in an electric car before, let alone a Tesla. He offered to let me drive it, and to talk me through the features that day at lunch. To say the least, I was excited.
The car looks as sleek in person as it does in pictures. The first thing that I noticed was that it does not have tiny wheels. The normal size tires offer better traction and control at the cost of extra weight. Smaller tires like those found on a Smart Car are like half the size. Again my wife’s sedan, a late model gas powered mid-range, has the same size tires as the Tesla.
The Tesla appears to be about an inch lower to the ground than the other sedans I saw in the parking lot. This is an observation with mark 1 eye balls; I did not measure anything. Still, that is an innovation on many fuel efficient cars, and something learned on the race track. Did I mention that dad and my uncle used to drag race back in Brooklyn? Roosevelt Field wasn’t always a mall.
My friend, I’ll call him Dave, although that is not his real name, had to show me how to open the door. It’s all controlled via your phone, although there is a backup key if you lose your phone. The inside is sleek. Of course there is no traditional dash board, and an electric car doesn’t need one. The large 10 inch LCD is a far more efficient method of controlling the vehicle. What came to mind was lectures I had in my AF days about the design of the 777 and the F-22. The latter is designed to free the pilot from flying the plane to focus them on fighting the plane.
Electric cars do not have tachometers. Electric motors have maximum torque at all speeds, so there is no need for a mechanical transmission with multiple gears. These controls and displays are missing from the car. From the ground up, the Tesla is not a gas car with a electric system replacing the gasoline system, it’s a electric car. Dave said that was the primary difference between the Tesla and the Bolt. I had to agree. While jarring to some degree to not see any dials behind the steering wheel, everything I needed when I needed it was on that display. That’s how the F-22 works, and why it’s way better than anything else out there; even today. That same comment is one I have for the Tesla. Tesla is constantly improving that display with feedback from owners, and the refinement is obvious. Dave had his for a few months before I noticed him driving it in the parking lot, and told me he’d already seen a few updates to the interface software.
I drive a V6 SUV. When you hit the gas, it takes second or two for the vehicle to react as the engine, and then the transmission picks up speed. That is not true with the Tesla. Second, the accelerator is also a regenerative breaking system. I said that awkwardly intentionally. The fact is that you either are spending energy or recovering it when driving an electric car, so as you ease off on the accelerator, you do not coast as you do with a gas powered car. The car immediately starts slowing you down and converting that kinetic energy back into electricity that is put back into your battery. That took some getting used to as I navigated the parking lot. In truth, I never really got used to it in my 10 minute drive, although I know I would in a a few days; just like with the dials being moved to the 10 inch LCD in the center of the dashboard. Dave said it was only a few days for him, his wife, and son to adjust.
Once I got out of our large parking lot, then the fun things started to happen. With permission, I hit the accelerator, and let that rocket, oh I mean car, move. The Tesla threw us back in the seat almost instantly. There was no delay. I literally said that I think this car just gave my dad’s muscle car a wedgie and took its lunch money. I’m serious, it was so much fun. The instant acceleration was just a blast. My uncle used to have a decent drag racing car, and he and my dad would love something like this. There is a real thrill of being thrown back that hard and fast. Of course, without the accompanying rumble and smell of the exhaust, something was missing. Dave laughed when I mentioned that. The lack of sounds when I was driving normally was equally off putting. Part of that is the lack of an engine, and part of it was Tesla’s quality build. This was luxury car class sound proofing as the wind noise was minimal.
I drove us up towards a residential area which has curvy hilly roads near our office. You can’t go fast there, and the turns are like, well, like every road in Ireland. My wife and I went there to visit her family and do some touring. Every road in that country is bent, and it was a blast driving manual with opposite hands on the opposite side of the road. Seriously, touring Ireland was the most fun I have had driving.
I WANT TO DRIVE A TESLA IN IRELAND. That would take it to a whole other level of fun. What I noticed on the curvy hilly residential roads was how well this thing cornered. With the battery being under the car and where most of weight of the vehicle is, the center of gravity was of course low. This made the ride solid and smooth, while making turns more fun. You don’t get that sway like you do in a SUV. The Tesla felt like it was glued to the road.
On the way back, I noticed the full sensing system, and that was a dream. The system displays the cars around you with icons that represent, to a basic degree, what the vehicle is; so sedans look like a sedan, and SUVs look like a generic SUV. This system helps with your situation awareness when changing lanes, but was not a distraction. I did have to turn my head to see it, and I would feel more comfortable driving in traffic with those added sensors. I think they will be standard equipment from a safety standpoint on all cars in the future. Of course this is all needed for their autopilot, but I did not test that system. Dave said its great when driving in traffic on the highway, which is a common event in NY. I suspect drivers in LA would love this as well, along with anyone else dealing with highway traffic.
The fact is that I felt more like I was in a Mercedes than in a car. Teslas are priced accordingly. The sad news is that if you don’t get your Tesla in the next few days, then you will not get your Tesla with the Federal $7500 tax credit. That’s according to their website. The IRS confirms that.
What I don’t like
There are a few things about electric cars that I don’t like and Tesla in particular that I don’t like. Primarily it’s around what I consider to be deceptive advertising. When you use their site to pick out a vehicle, after choosing your options, they show you the price. They show you price and the price after estimated savings. You have to click on the details to see that the estimated savings includes the Federal Tax credit, the State Tax credit (if available) and the part that annoyed me, the 6 year gas savings estimate.
I did the math on the gas savings, and they calculated it based on you driving 15,000 miles or more a year, and you are paying the nearly the highest electric rates in the country. Most people do not pay the highest rates in the country, and most people do not drive that far. Regardless if you do, that should not have been put there that way. It’s deceptive. Dave told me that he loses like 25% of the battery on cold days like we have here in the NY area for 4-5 months a year. That loss is for heating the cabin and the battery itself. That would kill your savings and your MPGe.
The 6 year number seems to have some support in terms of how long people keep new cars in the USA, but mileage, fuel efficiency, and fuel costs vary greatly. Even though they skewed the numbers heavily in Tesla’s advantage, the savings are fairly minimal. If fuel efficiency is your thing, then I think you are better off with a economy gas powered car or a hybrid. The former get 38 MPG or a little better, and the latter are pushing into the 50s. Either one can be purchased from any of the majors for less than half the price of the Tesla. Even the Chevy Bolt cost way less, albeit for less of a vehicle, but they don’t include ANY of those “estimated savings” on their site. So when Tesla shows you a $43,000 prices and Chevy shows you $36,000, you still get the Federal, State, and fuel savings for the Chevy deducted from that price. In all fairness, the Model 3 is a luxury car. It’s a low end Mercedes type vehicle. The Bolt is a Chevy; again my friend owns both, and agreed with that sentiment. He makes his son drive the Bolt.
You will not save money buying a Tesla Model 3. You will get an excellent driving experience. You should be displacing some carbon emissions if that’s your thing, but not nearly as much as you might think. US electric production is still 30% coal, and 63% fossil fuel in general. Nuclear and renewables including mostly hydro make up the rest. Still, if that is a concern of yours, than every little bit helps.
If you buy a Tesla you are buying a expertly made and designed vehicle, but you are not buying a cost effective vehicle. If we had to buy a new car today, sadly, we would buy the Bolt over the Tesla, in spite of the Tesla’s superior design. Cost matters to us, and well likely anyone who is reading this.
My gas calculations
Gas Car Fuel Costs = (6 years) * (15k Miles per year) / (30 Miles per gallon) * ($3 per gallon) = $9000
Tesla Electric Costs =
(6 years) * (15k Miles per year) * (27 kWh / 100 miles) * ($0.27 per kWh electricity) = $6561.
Now on the EPA’s site, they say the average MPG for a 2018 vehicle is 27 MPG. But that includes cars like my SUV as opposed to my wife’s sedan, where as you might be comparing it to a vehicle with better or worse MPG. You also might pay less, or more for electricity. I used the rates that Tesla charges to use it’s super chargers in my area. If you spend $1500 or so then you can charge up at home for likely a bit less, but then the difference must be greater than the $1500 for the home charger.
No, these things are not cost effective, but they are a lot of fun to drive and look at. I think they are better for the environment in terms of total impact when you consider the life-cycle of the vehicle and all the materials contained within it, but I have not investigated that more than to a cursory degree. For me, cost and convenience is king. The joy of driving is something I won’t pay for which is why I don’t drive a luxury or muscle car.
What do you think?
I’d love to hear your opinions.