TTAC Long-Term Tesla Part 1: Why I Bought A Tesla Model S

Ed Zitron
by Ed Zitron
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ttac long term tesla part 1 why i bought a tesla model s

Ed Zitron is a friend of TTAC, but not much of a car guy. After giving up his old, gasoline powered car, Ed went and bought a Tesla Model S P85 – and we asked him to write about it over a period of 12 months, documenting his ownership experience and what it’s like to live with an electric car. This is the first installment.

I do not know much about cars. I got my license two years ago, after growing up in London, moving to Aberystwyth (Wales), moving to New York, and only then moving to New Jersey, where having a car is somehow more natural than having legs. I unhappily learned to drive, and just about got through my test on the first go, even though my parallel parking was – to quote the instructor – “bad.”

I also know very little about cars – you go fast with right pedal, you stop with left pedal. Don’t stand in front of another car that is moving, especially if it’s moving fast. Porsches are nice, so are Ferraris. GM stands for General Motors. More importantly, petrol (or as Americans call it “gas”) goes inside. It starts an explosion (I think?) and the car moves. When you are running low on gas, you go to a “gas station”, where you stick a thing in your car and it smells a lot, but then you can get on your way again.

I started my driving years with a Volvo S60. It was reliable, unsexy and introduced me to the concept of driving well enough. I then moved to San Francisco, minus the Volvo, and realised that taking the Caltrain to Mountain View every day was going to become rather tiresome, and that it was time to buy a car. So, I decided I wanted a Tesla Model S.

I wrote about games and gadgets for about seven years before moving to America and into the awful world of Public Relations, and I’ve always wanted the latest gadgets. To me, the Tesla is just an extension of this compulsion.

Waiting for my Tesla to arrive, I’ve been in Getaround and Zipcar rentals for most of my week. I’ve been in low-end and high-end Mercedes, BMWs (including their electric DriveNow rentals), Audis, a smart ForTwo and a Chevy Volt. Probably around fifteen different cars, all from good to great manufacturers. I even rented a 2013 Tesla Model S. I’ve seen a fair sample – though by no means an exhaustive one – of what the car industry has offered for the last two years. Yes, they all have wheels and drive in a straight line, and got me to the places I was going without catching fire, but the actual experience, compared to the Tesla, was inferior and anachronistic.

It’s not the actual driving that’s the problem – cars are, well, cars. Especially to a car-knowledge-defunct person like myself. However I’d consider myself the general purpose sample of most people – I’m guessing most do not know much more than I do. The problem is that most of these cars have navigation, bluetooth control of your phone’s music (and sound systems), and general car settings. You also have to control air conditioning, cruise control, and other car functions *while driving*.

This is what in tech they’d call the User Interface. And the ‘user interface’ of most cars sucks, because before the Model S there has been no solid proof that you can do it better. The comparison is easy to make – this is what happened to cellphones. Before the iPhone, your average cellphone was an awkward chocolate-bar shaped thing that you texted on by hitting in numbers. The iPhone arrived, and the industry collectively shat its pants – touchscreens were, before this point, a quasi-joke that only Microsoft would back. Ironic, right?

Similarly, though not to the same extent, many carriers didn’t want the iPhone around, and claimed it was too expensive, that there was no market for it, and so on. Carriers didn’t like supporting it at first. Millions of people wanted it. Then Android happened. Overnight it was apparent that a lot of people didn’t like buttons.

Tesla’s growth is not going to be so rapid: this is a car, one that’s anywhere from $60,000 to $120,000, and you can’t just walk up and buy one in the traditional manner.

When it comes to the purchasing process, it seems like Tesla treats the customer with a degree of kindness and thoughtfulness that is missing from the motor industry. Perhaps I have not spent enough time driving cars to understand why people accept this – perhaps there’s a low-grade tinnitus that stops you from noticing that your car – even your just-bought car – in comparison to every other interactive medium is about a decade behind.

Even though it’s unfair to compare a Model S to a Prius, or an S60, or a Cruze or anything really below a nice Audi or BMW, the average guy like me is seeing very clearly that you can build an interaction with a car that’s as pleasant as your phone. It means that they have to start putting more energy into R&D, and means that simply adding a screen or tweaking a touchscreen each year is not going to work.

It’s an attitude built on a fat, old industry with great swathes of red tape and corporate groupthink. Cars are meant to be like THIS because our FOCUS GROUP says so. Decisions are made from the perspective of an executive (who would never drive said mass market car in a million years good lord no), thinking that they are in touch with the typical consumer. Branding experts win the battle against engineering and usability, and car commercials have become little more than televised SEO (look at all the meaningless statistics and figures they throw at you – even gearheads know that a lot of it, like horsepower-per-liter, is BS) and Deepak Chopra-rejected platitudes – they are a black hole for information with a pricetag at the end, because they are anxious at having to admit that, in their eyes their product is just another car.

The Tesla upends this because it provides differentiated product. Yes, it goes fast and all that, but the interface is different, the car is different, it looks different, it feels different, you save money on gas, they have service techs that will drive to you, you have a network of superchargers, and so on. It’s no longer a case of “THIS YEAR…THE CAR THAT YOU DRIVE COULD BE A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHER.” This is a new kind of car.

That’s scary. How do you compete with that? Apart from making a product as good as it, or better. But that costs money and effort, and doing so admits that Tesla might be doing something right. Which will piss off your dealers, and regulators, and gas fans, and…shit. Isn’t adding an updated version of MyEnTouchLink just so much easier?

This isn’t to say that the Model S is perfect, or that the supercharger network doesn’t have problems, or that the beautiful electric car future is here Let’s face it – it’s very, very far away, and only the most deluded fanboys would think otherwise. But I’m not a fanboy. I’m just a regular guy who decided to roll the dice on a new kind of car. And I’m very happy. Let’s see if I stay that way over the next 12 months.

Next-up: what it’s like to buy direct from a factory store, using the Supercharger and getting used to driving an EV

Ed Zitron
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  • Dsmart Dsmart on May 03, 2014

    As a new Tesla Model S P85 (totally tricked out with dual chargers and all the bits to the tune of $120K+), I agree with Ed's review of the vehicle's premise as well as his commentary about the Tesla customer service. As a 50+ year old engineer and software developer, needless to say I've had my share of cars and technology. I've had cars ranging from the low end (e.g. Geo Storm!), the mid-range (various BMWs, Jaguars, Audis etc) to the high end (Porsche, Aston Martin DB9 etc). Buying a car has always been a harrowing experience and fraught with all the bullshit, unprofessional conduct by some sales people as well as the general tomfoolery that comes with the territory. From the minute that I custom built my Tesla to the point of delivery, right down to my going to the dealership for my first (while waiting for my home charger to be installed) charge, the experience has been bar none the best I've ever had with a car dealership. And that's saying something. Heck, the first time I went for a charge, even with my dual chargers @ 80v, I hung around there for 4+ hrs getting work done in their showroom using free wi-fi, coffee etc. I honestly did not know so much time had passed. It was only after checking on the car's charge using the iOS app that it dawned on me that I had spent over four hours at a car dealership (!) without getting the shakes or worse, anxiety attacks. I didn't even realize that I had skipped lunch. While I was there, listening to the sales and engineering people chatter to each other, customers (who came in for a test drive, maintenance etc) appeared as if they were all reading from a script. It is the most uncanny thing. This despite the fact that the entire dealership (down here in Dania Beach, South Florida) has an eclectic mix of personalities, ethnicity etc. In fact, I was so impressed that the last time I was there (Dania Beach location), I brought them a thank you card and bought lunch for the entire dealership. They're just that good. When was the last time you did that for anyone that wasn't a member of your immediate circle of friends, family or colleagues? As for the car, there is no point in my extolling the virtues of same when you can get all the information from the many Tesla owners. It's all subjective really and opinions will vary. As with all new tech, there will be growing pains. Most of the complaints that I've seen about Tesla cars are so laughable, that if you want perfection with anything related to technology, you should be driving a bike. Some examples and my peeves. Lithium battery danger? Right. So, explain to me again how driving around with a tank full of one of the most flammable fluids on Earth is any safer? Maintenance issues? OK, I take it that the reason why all cars come with two types of warranty, spanning different periods is there just because, well, they like you. No, it's there because, by their very nature, stuff.will.break. Software issues? That's the hilarious one. Those complaining have either never owned a computer or never had to reset their mobile phones. I've had one screen freeze and that was after a software update. Resetting it was trivial and took less than a few seconds. Heck, every other month or so, my Samsung Smart TV (!) updates itself. MY FREAKING TV!! Let that sink in. My guess is that in the not too distant future, my refrigerator, washer, dryer, dishwasher and toaster will all get in on the act. If it's software driven, it's going to break. It's not a matter or if, but when. I dunno about you, but the first time I got into my car (which auto unlocked btw) and saw a notice on the glorious screen that there was a software update available and that I could either do it then or reschedule it, I giggled like a little girl. It.was.weird. Needless to say, as a software developer, the first thing I did was read the entire changelog. Every single line. Then I tweeted about it. Charge gauge issues? Well, there have been several updates addressing that. However, since I tend to drive my car right down to it having 25 miles or less (I have it set to "ranged" calculation) before I do a charge (set to 90% and only doing a 100% charge once a month), I have never had a problem with this. In fact, the last time I charged, it was down to about 10 miles and my car just purred along just fine. Speaking of which, that's pretty much the equivalent of driving your gas car around with the Yellow gas gauge illuminated. You risk running out if you trust that the gauge is correct. Performance gripes? Why? Anyone buying an EV is not buying it for its performance, let alone its engine prowess. And if you're going to spend $100K+ plus on an EV, let alone a Tesla, your reasoning is far more valid and more evolved than the average person who would gawk at buying a $40K vehicle. The car is quick and responsive. Asking for 0 to 60 is not a question of "when", but rather a confirmation of "OK" from the car. I imagine saying to Tess (as I fondly refer to my car who I imagine powers my nav) "I'd like to hit 80 now please" and getting back "As you wish". I've owned a DB9, so this is hardly lost on me. Charging problems? Give me a break. All it takes is one look at Tesla's map network of standard and superchargers, not to mention the myriad of EV chargers around the nation, to know that those gripes are largely unfounded and without merit. And even if you don't install a charger in your home, you can charge at any EV station or for free at any Tesla dealership. Plus - again - if you're buying an EV, you have different reasons for doing so and my guess is that going cross country is not top of that list of reasons. It's just nice to do it if you want to; especially if you're sitting inside a $100K plus vehicle. Safety? I don't feel any less safe in my Tesla than I would in any other (I own three cars btw) car. The dangers are all the same regardless of the car. What you need to be focused on are your chances of surviving a catastrophic event. And so far, nothing I have seen has any indication that my chances in a Tesla are any less than being in some other car. In fact, my guess is that my gas guzzler has a greater chance of explosion (depending on impact parameters) than the Lithium batteries in my Tesla. Style? Well let's put it this way, the Tesla turns heads. Period, end of story. The allure is that wherever you pull up with a Tesla, it gets people thinking, talking and wondering. You will be hard pressed to illicit the same emotions from most people in a society that is used to seeing the likes of exotic Ferraris, Lambos, AMs etc because, well, most people with more than two dimes in the bank, tend to have one of those (status symbol and all that). There aren't that many Teslas around. Features? That would take more time than I have; but let me leave this gem here: My car has its own 3G wireless network. Enough said. Looking forward to the rest of Ed's review. - DS

  • Ugliest1 Ugliest1 on May 13, 2014

    Ed: I actually read the comments on Part 1 before reading your story. Not sure why. But after reading Part 1 I just want to say all those commenters who took your words or phrases and essentially shat all over your writing - well, they're the ones full of crap, or, perhaps they're just emotionally out-of-sorts and the drivel got away from them. Or perhaps this type of story is just not the usual type on this site (this is the first TTAC article I have read; I signed up to TTAC purely to give you support). Anyway, your story flowed, it's well written, entertaining, and you expressed your points well in interesting-to-read ways (that's harder to do than one might think). I'm looking forward to the rest of your articles. And that's my final word on the matter.

  • Lou_BC Full sized sort of autonomous RC's. Cute.
  • Art_Vandelay Autonomous capabilities are being deployed (or planned anyway) in multiple combat vehicles. Should be fun from my perspective
  • Drew8MR Interior is trivial now you can get repro everything in various levels of quality. Getting the top sorted will be a couple grand, but I'd drive it as it. I drove a $1500 67 GTO convertible for 20 years, not every old car needs to be like new.
  • John Not everyone pays that much for power. Mine is 10 cents per kw…..
  • TheEndlessEnigma I didn't need another reason to stay away from NYC, and yet I was handed another reason.