How Tesla Model S alters car ownership: a buyer's one-year notes
Green Car Reportsfeedback@highgearmedia.com
(John Voelcker)Sep 27, 2017
In late July, we published an article describing one electric-car driver's experience in adding solar panels to his home to help with charging his family's five electric cars.
That reader, who'd like to be known just as Shiva, has now owned a 2016 Tesla Model S for a year.
He recently outlined for us how that experience has gone, and how it's changed his perception of what it's like to own and operate a car. What follows are his words, lightly edited by Green Car Reports for clarity and style.
DON'T MISS: One electric car owner's experiences in adding solar panels: why, what, and how
Now that it’s been a year since I got my Tesla Model S in August 2016, I've thought about my ownership experience—both good and bad—and how Tesla has changed, and managed to improve, that experience.
I had followed Tesla for a while and did my research by reading about owners' experiences on the Tesla Motors Club online forum.
I knew about some fit-and-finish issues with Teslas, including misaligned chrome trim or body panels. These are mostly cosmetic, and the average person might not notice such details, but I do.
When my delivery day came in August 2016, I took my time in going over the Model S I had custom-ordered. I was ecstatic to get the car, but I knew that couldn’t get in the way of reporting any issues.
Because I wanted to tint and protect the paint on my Model S, I had my detailer meet me at the Fremont factory for the delivery to identify any issues. He has detailed a thousand or more Teslas, as he is located in the San Francisco Bay Area where they're thick on the ground.
We both noticed the chrome trim around my driver’s window was misaligned and didn't continue around the rear window in a smooth line.
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Also, my hood was not aligned properly, as there was more of a gap on the driver’s side than on the passenger’s side.
Lastly, the silicon seal on my panoramic sunroof was sticking out, so I was concerned in the future that it might cause an issue.
I noted all of these issues in my delivery paperwork. My delivery experience specialist was very understanding and did not rush me through anything. He wrote done all of the issues and took pictures of everything I pointed out to him. He also answered any questions I had about the car.
Because the Fremont service center is usually busy, I was told at delivery it would take a few business days for someone from the team to get back to me.
That call finally came, but the earliest appointment they could give me was in October—two months later. Of course, if it were an urgent issue, I would have been given priority to bring in my car.
As soon as I started to drive the car, I noticed a rattling noise from the front trunk. It became apparent when my car slowed to around 10 mph using regenerative braking, especially if the audio or music were off in the car.
CHECK OUT: Tesla expands Supercharger fast-charging sites into cities for Model 3 owners
I raised this issue during the October service appointment, when Tesla fixed all of the fit-and-finish issues I mentioned. But, despite replacing the steering rack on my car, the rattling noise remained.
The service technician said that since it wasn't a safety issue, there was no reason for me I shouldn't take my car back and continue to drive it.
During the week-long service appointment, Tesla gave me a loaner vehicle at no charge.
I knew that since Teslas are enormously popular in Silicon Valley, I would be unlikely to get an actual Tesla as my loaner. Instead, I was given a Kia Cadenza sedan.
Since this is a gasoline car and Tesla only makes electric vehicles, the company doesn’t want owners to pay for gas. So I kept my receipts, and Tesla reimbursed me for the cost of the gasoline I bought.
Less than a month after I got my car in September 2016, Tesla pushed a major overhaul and update of the Autopilot active-safety system in my car.
This was the “8.0 software" brought on by the heavily scrutinized crash in Florida that killed a Tesla Model S driver while his car was operated in Autopilot mode.
Following the update, the system gives drivers three chances to put their hands back on the wheel if it detects they're not attending to the steering.
First, a message to hold the steering wheel appears. Then, the touchscreen display starts to flash. If a driver ignores that, all audio is turned off and the car beeps for attention.
After that final warning, Autopilot disengages and brings the car to a stop. The driver isn't allowed to engage Autopilot again unless the car is put in park before starting to drive again.
Autopilot also limits speed to 90 mph. Driving the car myself, if I go over that speed, Autopilot also disengages for that drive. Again, I would have to bring the car to a stop, put it in park, and start the drive again to reengage Autopilot.
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The system is smarter now, because it can sense how fast the car is going relative to the posted speed limit and/or the flow of traffic. If I’m going over the speed limit or faster than the traffic on other adjacent lanes, my car asks me to put my hands on the steering wheel more frequently.
If the road has many bends or curves, it also asks for my hands on the steering wheel as well as it drives through the bends.
I welcome all of these changes, as it makes the system safer for everyone and helps to minimize the risks of incidents or abuse. I had limited experience with autopilot before the 8.0 update, so I don’t miss the older system with fewer restrictions.
As any electric-car owner knows, one of their best features is not going to a gas station but just plugging in our cars at home. This literally takes 5 seconds.
I noticed almost immediately how busy the San Francisco Bay Area Supercharger sites could get.
Though I do most of my charging at home, I tried a few times to charge my car at local Superchargers in Fremont, Mountain View, Dublin, and San Mateo. I wanted to test and see how quickly cars charge, as well as talking to other owners and my local sales staff.
On two separate occasions last fall, I noticed owners leaving their cars unattended and returning after a full charge, rather than the 80-percent charge that's usually done within 30 or 40 minutes.
I even saw a Model S owner drop off his car late on a weekday evening and depart in another car that picked him up. They returned once his car was done fully charging.
It didn’t make sense to me that owners abuse the free Supercharging, even if our cars came with unlimited fast charging for “free.” Drivers from outside the area visiting on a trip who needed to stop and charge would run into issues and have to wait for those Superchargers.
This problem is not exclusive to Tesla or electric vehicles, though: Whenever something is “free,” some people will find a way to abuse it, as I've seen driving our other electric cars.
When a Bay Area Tesla owner complained to company CEO Elon Musk on Twitter about congestion at local Superchargers, and owners leaving their cars unattended after a full charge, Musk announced that something would be done.
Last fall, Tesla announced an official change in policy: Once any Tesla is done charging, an owner has 5 minutes to move the car away from the Supercharger station to free up space.
Otherwise, parking fees start to accrue. The idling fee is $0.40/minute. If you move your car 6 minutes after it finishes, that’s $2.40 in penalties—but one minute earlier, within the 5-minute grace period, the fees are waived.
End of unlimited free charging
Tesla also announced in late 2016 that the “unlimited, free Supercharging” program would end. Owners who ordered after January 15, 2017, would not get unlimited Supercharging, but an annual allotment of 400 kilowatt-hours to use for long-distance trips.
Above that allowance, owners would pay for Supercharging based on their state’s rates and policies. In California, the rate is $0.20 per kwh, while in Virginia, it’s $0.13 per kwh.
This is still lower than rates at third-party fast-charging networks, including Blink, EVgo, and Chargepoint, as Tesla says its policy is not to profit from providing charging to owners.
In May 2017, Tesla further altered its policy. Unlimited Supercharging is now part of the owner referral program, at least through the end of 2017.
If someone uses my referral code to buy a new Model S or Model X by December 31, that owner gets unlimited Supercharging as long as they own that car.
The Model 3 is excluded from this program; Tesla has made it clear owners of its lower-priced car will have to pay for Supercharging.
Better service experience
I had no issues or complaints concerning Tesla’s infotainment system when I collected my new Model S last August.
Then, my Bluetooth unexpectedly stopped working in June 2017: My car simply wouldn't pair to my phone anymore.
I tried the usual steps: telling the phone to forget the connection, restarting my car, even rebooting the car’s infotainment system. Nothing worked.
When I called Tesla Service to make an appointment, I found out Tesla had opened a new service center in Santa Clara—luckily very close to my work. To my surprise, the new service center said I could come in that day.
When I brought in my car, the technician tried to diagnose the problem swiftly to get me in and out as soon as possible. Since he couldn’t do it quickly, he said they’d take my car for the day and give me a loaner.
I got a call the next day saying my car was ready. Tesla replaced the entire infotainment unit in the front trunk,—and my Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have worked flawlessly ever since.
I was surprised Tesla had to do this less than a year after delivering a brand-new and expensive car, but it got everything to work.
Tesla is known for its over-the-air software updates that change an owner's experience with the cars, specifically when it comes to the user interface.
I've found those changes to be substantial during my year of ownership. Along with the change to Autopilot, the 8.0 update delivered a major change to the interface and infotainment functions in September 2016.
To me, it made the system more intuitive and improved the voice recognition to make items easier to find.
In early 2017, a further update allowed owners to live status updates at any Tesla Supercharger station. Each red bar was a station in use at a particular location. The update also added information on amenities at the site, including Wi-Fi, bathrooms, and restaurants.
The Tesla navigation system routes me through Supercharge sites if I enter a destination beyond the car's range. It tells me when and where to stop, and how long to charge, taking elevation into account.
I found during a recent trip that the estimated state of charge was extremely accurate when I arrived at the next Supercharger.
This makes it easy to plan a road trip in advance, removing much of the guess work. As far as I know, no other electric vehicle provides such functionality and capability to its owners by showing live charging information.
With the Model 3 on the horizon and close to half a million paid reservations, it will be interesting to see how Tesla keeps up with demand for charging as its number of cars on the road doubles or triples in a short period.
Tesla is trying to reduce the need for owners to bring their cars into its service centers, which I've now done a few times.
As well as over-the-air updates, the company is working on remote diagnostics and more use of its “Mobile Ranger” service, so technicians can come to service an owner's car at work, at a business, or at home.
What other carmaker would send technicians to work on a car wherever the owner happens to have it? None that I'm aware of, even among luxury brands.
Tesla also plans to release a future update that lets owners schedule service appointments right from their cars’ touchscreens.
An aspect of Tesla ownership I have really enjoyed is the frequent owner events Tesla throws in the Bay Area. They happen as often as every month or a couple of times a quarter, especially if new updates or new Tesla products have been released.
They're a great opportunity to ask Tesla staff questions about ownership, see the newest Tesla models, chat with other owners, and offer feedback on areas in which Tesla can improve.
For example, Tesla announced earlier this year, its plans to double the number of Supercharging locations in the U.S.
Shortly after, at an owner's event, that because a hot topic of discussion. We were invited to give feedback on where we’d like to see more Superchargers and which new places we'd want to be able to visit in your cars—something Tesla encourages us to do.
At other events, we discussed Tesla’s new energy products, from home storage batteries to the solar tiles from the former SolarCity unit.
Summary: what Tesla has changed
As an owner, I feel Tesla and Musk take buyers’ feedback into account to help improve all owners' experience, in a way I've never experienced at any other car company.
Despite a few hiccups in my first year, my experiences with my Model S and Tesla as a carmaker are still overwhelmingly positive.
I’m glad I still purchased my Model S, even though I still have a Model 3 reservation I made before buying the larger car.
In the end, I have to agree with the received wisdom among owners: With Tesla, it’s not a matter of if it will happen, but when.