By on February 26, 2013

If Elon Musk is still smarting about how much damage the New York Times has done to Tesla, the fledgling automaker can take comfort in the fact that the positive reviews are still pouring in.

For example, take a look at this glowing write-up on the Model S from Road & Track’s Jason Cammisa. Although the Tesla’s door handles receive a vigorous and thorough critical assessment, its other flaws are glossed over or simply omitted from consideration. After praising the Model S for  its remarkable driving dynamics, amazing powertrain and homegrown pedigree, Cammisa gets to the real meat of the EV issue – and promptly sidesteps it all.

Set aside the discussion as to whether EVs are actually feasible 
given our overtaxed power grid, and whether our electricity-generating power plants are any more environmentally friendly than a really efficient gasoline engine. Ignore, for a moment, that we don’t know how the Model S will age or how reliable it will be a decade on. Time will answer all of these, as well as the question of whether Tesla itself can stay solvent long enough to survive into maturity. We set them aside with the knowledge that the Tesla S means these discussions will finally be worth having. The Model S is the car that proves that the EV isn’t just viable, but truly desirable.

In my opinion, the above paragraph represents a pulled punch with respect to the real issues surrounding Tesla and EVs. It’s fine to evaluate the performance, aesthetics and build quality of the Model S as one would with any other car, especially in a road test. But 0-60 times and lateral g’s are a small part of the picture here. If EVs do not contribute to a net reduction in carbon emissions, why bother with a powertrain that offers significant compromises over an ICE equivalent? If Tesla cannot keep itself afloat, or if the car will turn into a 4000-lb paperweight in a decade, is buying a Model S a prudent decision? Despite leaving these critical questions unanswered, Cammisa somehow asserts that EVs are in fact “viable” and that these discussions are “…will finally be worth having”.

My question is, why aren’t we having them already, in influential publications like Road & Track? Despite what Cammisa says, we don’t have to wait for time to pass before we know the answers. A bit of intellectual labor can give us a picture of how things will play out. Furthermore a publication like R&T has both the budget and freedom from the daily grind of the blogosphere news cycle to delve into these matters.

Sure, there are a number of agenda-driven entities that propagate bad information and do little to enhance the discourse, but isn’t journalism all about sifting through bad information to find the truth? I’ve been down this road before; when the “scandal” regarding the Tesla Roadster and “bricked” batteries came out early in 2012, TTAC was among the first to call bullshit on the claims of the plaintiffs. The exercise illuminated why doing the “hard work” was so important. This is an era where hearsay can quickly become fact – a dangerous prospect given how much bad information is already floating around out there. The onus is on us as journalists to, well, do our jobs and find out the truth – whether it’s getting to the bottom of a malicious smear campaign against a fledgling startup, or determining the viability of pure EVs outside of the normal “car guy” parameters of going fast and looking cool.

 

 

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41 Comments on “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Tesla Model S...”


  • avatar
    Pan

    And, today’s lesson is :

    You shouldn’t put the “cart before the horse” or the car before the battery.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Electric cars are disposable, and should be treated as such. A $10,000 electric car makes perfect sense, $40k? $60k? Those batteries don’t last forever.

    Now, electric vehicles work in industry better, such as forklifts. But those batteries need swapped, a lot. Plus sometimes you have to pull the motors apart and clean them up, and then I’ve also seen control circuits burn up. BUT, those batteries are cheaper (as they don’t have the range), are made to be swapped out constantly, and a large industry can eat the cost far better on a piece of equipment that is making them money.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Actually, only the battery is “disposable”. Electric powertrains are superior to mechanical powertrains due to their simplicity, robustness, weight and efficiency. In fact, I would expect an electric powertrain (aside from the battery) to last quite a bit longer and require far less regular maintenance than its mechanical counterpart.

      So when the battery issue is overcome, that’ll be that.

      And frankly, I would rather have American-sourced ‘fuel’ for my vehicle regardless of its “eco-friendliness” than any dictator’s devil piss. 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers weren’t disgruntled WV coal miners or American nuclear technicians.

      • 0 avatar
        hreardon

        “So when the battery issue is overcome, that’ll be that.”

        This sounds much like fusion power: it’s just around the corner.

        The pure EV is today a fad and in the near future a niche product. The real winners will be those who combine a small ICE to eliminate range anxiety and the compromises inherent to the EV design.

        First company with a no-compromises plug in that gets 100mpg will have a massive leg up on the competition. That’s the magic number to really jumpstart interest in EVs.

  • avatar
    ash78

    “the fledgling automaker can take umbrage in the fact that the positive reviews are still pouring in.”

    I think you mean “find solace in”

    Take umbrage means to take offense, which sort of changes the meaning of that sentence a bit…

  • avatar

    As a person with a slight case of dyslexia, I’m not sure that license plate sends exactly the right message…

  • avatar
    raph

    It will be interesting to see how this car fairs in the coming years. Perhaps its the pessimist and cynic in me but the review screams “backdoor deal”.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    “Set aside the discussion as to whether EVs are actually feasible 
given our overtaxed power grid, and whether our electricity-generating power plants are any more environmentally friendly than a really efficient gasoline engine. Ignore, for a moment, that we don’t know how the Model S will age or how reliable it will be a decade on. Time will answer all of these, as well as the question of whether Tesla itself can stay solvent long enough to survive into maturity. We set them aside with the knowledge that the Tesla S means these discussions will finally be worth having. The Model S is the car that proves that the EV isn’t just viable, but truly desirable.”

    I wouldn’t call that a pulled punch. I’d call it a mixed bag of unpleasant insinuations.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    “My question is, why aren’t we having them already, in influential publications like Road & Track?”

    Because R&T is not about that, it is about panting after shiny fast things. It would seem the Model S qualifies.

    • 0 avatar

      This. The buff books are so used to reviewing unobtainium I doubt anyone expects any actual consumer information. I mean, do they do long-term loaners on Ferraris to let people know what running costs really are? Of course not (Ferrari wouldn’t let them). In fact, they do the opposite and give the worst possible consumer advice (real men drive old Alfas, why get a Porsche when you can have a Lotus, etc) as part of the whole “car guy” schtick.

      Problem is, they still kinda pretend that their writing offers practical value and they definitely aren’t shy about calling themselves “journalists” (and doing the “wobble” to “prove” it). Really, this guy should have written something like

      “There are lots of issues with EVs, but we leave that stuff to the grownups. Cars are cool.”

      Clarkson or Cronkite? Pick a lane.

  • avatar

    We get it. Battery technology hasn’t come far enough, EVs still kind of suck because of such. Elon Musk is arrogant, the cars aren’t perfect, and people should start worrying about the technology now because it represents the near future. WE GET IT. I’m starting to get tired of hearing about EVs in general right now.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Derek, if I’m reading you correctly, you’re saying that TTAC doesn’t have the resources (in time, money or expertise) to answer the important questions regarding the various technologies and their effects on the environment, the grid, etc. Wouldn’t that also suggest then that the search for the “truth” will largely not involve us here?

    • 0 avatar

      Not at all. The Roadster “bricked batteries” article and Alex’s examination of EV battiers are great examples of what TTAC can do. But it’s much easier to write that kind of story when that’s your sole assignment. Everyone at TTAC wears many different hats out of necessity.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I think it’s already been proven that an 80+ MPGe EV is cleaner than most ICE cars (30 MPG), even if they’re juiced via the dirtiest coal-fired electric plant. The “EVs are dirty” routine is getting old.

    At least R&T was honest about their purpose – to test the car.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      The way I look at it gslippy is if your charging your Leaf in the wee hours of the night your just using power that would have gone to waste anyways. So really your EV is adding zero pollution. Besides it takes 7 kilowatts of electricity just to refine a gallon of gas. How far can your Leaf go on that?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        You are the victim of ‘smart grid’ propaganda. Energy is not wasted at night. Production of energy through conventional sources is varied to meet demand. Production of energy from intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind are stored in times of low consumption. No energy is just wasted through non-use. It is a complete fabrication to push technologies that aren’t justifiable via the truth.

        • 0 avatar
          Herm

          baseload power generation is done at night with low cost power sources.. big ass plants that should not be throttled down. During the day progressively more expensive plants (rare more expensive fuels) are brought on-line to meet peak demands.

          Still its preferable to have emission controls monitored 24 hours a day at a big plant than in 1 million gasoline cars with failing oxygen sensors, and dont forget the expense, opportunity for corruption and headaches of yearly emission inspections for all those cars.

          A few more years will bring us cars with batteries good for 20 years, and there go maintenance expenses for conventional cars.

  • avatar
    Scott_314

    Here we go again. Derek. “If the car will turn into a 4000-lb paperweight in a decade.” You mean like a Volkswagen?

    You’re creating controversy where it doesn’t belong and so is R&T.

    Overtaxed power grid? The nation’s decreasing electricity use is, quote, “posing a daunting challenge for the nation’s utilities.” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323689604578217831371436110.html

    Whether the use of coal power is actually cleaner? Quote “Plug-in hybrids will reduce greenhouse gases and other emissions, even if the source of electricity is mostly coal”. http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/transportation/blogs/12-myths-about-electric-vehicles-and-4-new-years-resolutions-too

    We do have the resources, it’s called 12 seconds of googling.

    Longevity is mostly addressed, unless you think that a 10-year battery warranty (GM Volt) is just completely unreasonable.

    EV detractors – now making shit up just to justify their biased opinion (I don’t own one and have no plans to buy one).

  • avatar
    E46M3_333

    People keep bragging about the U.S. made Model S. The largest part of the value add, the 7K LiIon cells that probably cost Tesla $20K to purchase, are made by Panasonic, most likely in one of their Japan factories.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    Tesla should make itself viable by making a Tesla S with a range extending petrol motor. If it doesn’t confidence may well drain away in it’s business model….

  • avatar

    The Model S outperforms traditional cars in performance and cost of operation, often by crushingly superior margins. For instance, the Model S gets about 88mpgE. That’s hugely more efficient than any of its performance car competition, whose economy is closer to 20mpg or even worse. You are talking about $6 for a 25 mile trip instead of $25. That’s awesome by any standard!

    It’s true that the battery will run down. At the same time, there are absolutely NO engine repair costs, and this means savings of thousands of dollars a year after the warranty expiration, when compared to Mercedes, BMW or any other performance automaker. I would expect, then, that including battery repairs, the Tesla costs no more to operate than its competition, and most likely significantly less.

    In short, there are compelling Tesla advantages even if you completely ignore the possibility of eco-sensitivity. I personally could care less about global warming, pollution, etc, and yet I still find the Tesla a fascinating car.

    Range is the only real sacrifice you must make to get all these benefits. For some people it will make no sense at all. But a lot of people don’t take super-long road trips, spend most of their time going to work and back, or travel moderate distances well within the car’s range. I am one of those people, and although I cannot afford a Tesla, I would certainly be interested in one if I could.

    Your article is pretty in about implying that Tesla doesn’t make sense. There are a lot of people for whom it does. Tesla needs 0.2% of the North American auto market to be profitable. Seems to me there is no reason not to think this is very doable for them now that cars are on the road, and the overwhelming majority of owners are happy.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      “Range is the only real sacrifice you must make to get all these benefits.”

      Without quibbling over the math in the benefits, it’s not “range,” it’s “range and refuelling time and opportunity” that are the big problems. When I stop for gas, I can add range to my Prius at the rate of about 180 miles/minute almost anywhere (there’s 3 fuelling stations within 1.5 miles of where I’m sitting, 4 within 1.5 miles of my home). One minute of refuelling time is 3 hours of drive time. Public L2 chargers are fairly common (chances are, you’re within 80 miles of one right now!) but that’s a 30 mile per hour refuelling rate. One hour of refuelling time for every half hour of drive time is a crippling limitation

      It will improve, surely, but as of today you’ve got to be pretty motivated to buy an EV as your primary car and pretty well-heeled for it to be your second.

      • 0 avatar
        GiddyHitch

        We are quickly getting past the early adopter phase, however, with more charging stations showing up at workplaces and public areas. Once you stop thinking about your EV the same way you do your ICE, and more like your phone or some other rechargeable, battery-driven device, it becomes a much less daunting ownership proposition. You just have to have a little foresight regarding longer trips and be diligent about plugging your EV in at night.

        I live in Tesla’s backyard, so this is easy for me to say – there are plenty of examples running around already (the buff books were obviously low on Tesla’s priority list) and the charging stations are starting to propagate. Not to mention the very mild weather we have here. EVs can not be all things to most people at this point, but I believe that they will be most things to most people once more of the infrastructure is in place.

        I am also a firm believer that it’s better to concentrate the power generation and associated pollution in a few sites rather than have it distributed at the vehicular level. And that’s even before we get into the geopolitical implications of a petroleum-based transportation infrastructure.

  • avatar

    As much as I love the Model S, it won’t be feasbale until their are more spots to charge it. More supercharger stations and more buildings with high amp chargers in their basements. Maybe even college campuses with pay-for-charge chargers at the parking lot – which will require a guard to ensure no one messes with the wires.

    Energy density of the batteries is what’s going to ultimately hold the Model S and Model X back. Until these concerns are fully addressed, the Model S is a toy for the wealthy.

    I would buy one if I hadn’t already gotten an XJ-L. I love this car’s design as much as the Audi A7′s – which it closely resembles.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Here’s why I would buy a Model S if I had the money for a $100,000 car: BMWs, Benzes, Lexii and the rest are excellent cars, but compared to the Model S, they are boring.

    Supercars, e.g. Ferraris, Lambos etc., are no more practical than the Model S in low speed driving, they are often much MORE expensive to buy, they are more expensive to run and keep tuned, their manufacturers may be no more financially stable or responsive than Tesla, and they offer no more real world (usable) performance. If I drove one, I’d feel like an asshat rather than a car owner working toward the advancement of the breed.

    In the real world, I have no shot at affording at $100,000 depreciating asset, but I followed the same criteria in choosing a $26,000 Ford C-Max over a lot of competent $26,000 sedans and sporty cars. I may or may not make back the hybrid premium in fuel savings,and the lithium batteries may or may not turn into a problem; but those are risks I can afford to take. My budget couldn’t stretch to the Energi plug-in model, but I’m hoping that there’s an after-market plug-in conversion kit available after my warranty runs out.

  • avatar
    DrunkenDonuts

    I dunno what it is about the EV — must find a better word than ‘hate’ — um, suspicion, doubt, uncertainty, etc. I know I’m not one of the B&B, rather just a Joe Schmo, but what is wrong with the Model S? Granted, despite all the controversy the NY Times article showed that the Model S might not be ready for road tripping capability, at least not yet. However, if you can afford a $100,000 car, you probably have another car or SUV in your driveway. I see the Model S as an extended range and larger Volt (minus the gas engine, obviously). Ok, so it only goes 180 miles in the extreme cold, and maybe up to 240 miles in warmer weather. I would think most people could drive around for a up to a week (maybe more depending on distance to work, etc) with that kind of range. You wouldn’t even necessarily have to worry about charging it at work. You wouldn’t have to worry about stopping off after work to get groceries, and then going to your kid’s baseball game. You wouldn’t have to worry about a lot of things. Vacation car? Nope, not yet. Daily driver? Sure.

    As technology progresses it usually becomes cheaper, and I’m sure within my lifetime EVs with range like the Model S will be available to more and more people. Work still needs to be done on extending range, battery capacity, and how fast we can charge these things, but challenges to battery technology are not an excuse to simply give up and not try it at all. Go to the moon? Nonsense, too far away!

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      Most of us aren’t saying anything is “wrong” with the Models S. We are noticing that it has limitations and it’s Musk’s own tweets that recently called these limitations to our attention.

      It’s also reasonable to discuss whether or not it’s sensible public policy to subsidize sales of the Model S, clearly a vehicle intended for the upper decile, when it’s clear that battery technology doesn’t yet make it a practical transporation solution for Joe Schmo.

      If the $7500 was usefully addressing the key limitation of BEV acceptance, battery energy density, then it probably would be useful to credit people for buying the Tesla.

      But it likely doesn’t make a difference in improving battery energy density, as a whole host of other applications would benefit from improved density and lower cost (like laptops and iPads), so battery R&D is strongly encouraged, anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      Scott_314

      Yeah, I too am finding that the hate has passed the point of rationalism. It might be that the electric car creates a sub-text that something is wrong with our way of life. I could understand the resistance in that light. Towing a horse trailer, or going on a road trip, are almost the definition of America, and saying that something is wrong with it is downright insulting.

      We just need to be more rational. Stop regurgitating cynicism and angst. Electric vehicles are limited, to be sure. But they could easily play a big role in urban transport, not to mention stimulating the economy, reducing emissions, and reducing the billions of dollars we transfer to the Middle East. They would work for many of us, for the majority of our trips. It’s a fascinating opportunity. I was reading the blog of one Nissan Leaf owner, and he said his son started driving last year, and so far has never driven a gasoline powered car. That is pretty damn amazing.

      • 0 avatar
        mrcool1122

        I sometimes get this kind of reaction from people when they see me out and about; I’ve been told my car is “useless” and that I’m crippled or tethered. But when I ask them more about why they think that, it turns out their driving needs aren’t any different than mine, and my S has met all my needs. There seems to be this held orthodoxy that our cars need to give us X, Y, and Z, regardless of how valuable those criteria are. It may sounds hippy-dippy but you gotta free your mind. These things are already OUT THERE, WORKING, and that’s what matters.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        Resistance (ahem) to EV’s has its practical basis, but there’s plenty of political bias. Partly due to the tax credits, loans to battery/vehicle manufacturers (that sometimes go “belly up”), and the uneasy feeling that the Evil Government wants to take away our 500HP V8′s and replace them with the modern equivalent of the Lada, albeit a battery-powered version, to chain us to our locality.
        Instead, just the opposite will happen – as then increase in CAFE standards has shown, you CAN get 500HP Mustangs (and 300HP base versions), because the lion’s share of a manufacturers sales are fuel-efficient models, which are purchased because people want to spend money on things other than gasoline.

        I hope that the tax credits have the desired effect and encourage sales of EV’s, not only to give the manufacturers “real world” experience, but to have customers disperse, via word-of-mouth, the advantages (and disadvantages) of EV’s.

        I’m always encouraged to read about customer’s EV experiences – to think “That’s a limitation, but one that I could live with”.

        More EV’s will inevitably lead to more infrastructure, which will make them easier to own over time.

        Yes, 10 years seems like a low ceiling for an EV’s “useful life”, but truthfully, how many people buy a car with the *intent* of keeping it for 10 years?

        I think that it will be interesting in 10 years to see parents purchasing used Leafs for their kid’s 18th birthday, knowing full well that their sprogs will be limited to a 30-40 mile per charge usage (though there will be much more pain if the car runs “out of electrons” during their joyride).

        Of course, there will be AAA “dump charge” trucks everywhere that will gladly give you enough “juice” (for 50-100 bucks) to get you home… :-)

  • avatar
    redav

    “If EVs do not contribute to a net reduction in carbon emissions, why bother with a powertrain that offers significant compromises over an ICE equivalent?”
    Maybe for the significant advantages it offers over an ICE equivalent? Reviews always mention the abundant torque of the Model S. How about a motor’s reliability & cost of maintenance compared to an ICE? What about the advantages of packaging of the Model S? (While there is the “frunk,” I was actually thinking of a complete lack of hump.)

    • 0 avatar
      Scott_314

      Redav, thanks for replying. But you need to understand this is another false controversy.

      EV’s contribute less carbon emissions, ranging from a little less (where power is mostly coal sourced) to a lot less (where power comes from hydro, nuclear, and renewable).

      I’d encourage you to check your state’s electricity sources, probably not as bad as you think.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    There is a philosophical divide concerning whether you should choose your car because it can accomplish your most demanding driving situation, or if you should drive something else (probably smaller and less powerful) which handles the vast majority of your needs and rent/borrow for the remaining bit. I think the average pick-up truck owner would save money over all if he drove a sedan and hired a delivery truck whenever he needed something big moved. (I say HE because the owners are usually male.) Of course, it’s not just about money, it’s about something more personal. In the United States, our relatively cheap gasoline lets us indulge and drive big vehicles with relatively little penalty. If all of the external costs of burning the fuel were factored into the price of the fuel, we might make different decisions.


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