Tesla is a Luxury Car, not a Economy Car

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.

In Short

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.

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12 Comments

  1. I’m so jealous you got to ride in a Model 3. I don’t know anyone in New Orleans who has one, nor even a Model S. This is likely a factor of me being young and none in my cohort being able to afford these luxury vehicles at their current price points. Currently, I drive an 8-year old Toyota Camry and I hope in 4-5 years I will be in a place where I can afford a Model 3, or whatever it’s equivalent is at the time.

    I do tend to agree with your sentiment about not being a major cost-saving vehicle if you live in a state with high electric rates. In the south, you’d get a lot more bang for your buck due to much lower electric rates and no cold winters. But there are a lot fewer charging stations here, so it could really only be a car for around town. I’d be nervous to drive it far outside the city.

    Your review opened up my eyes to some features I hadn’t heard about the Model 3. I can imagine the weight of the car being primarily beneath you does add to the ease of handling, but I hadn’t heard of (nor seen) the non-existent traditional dashboard. That would take some getting used to I would have to imagine. I’ve driven a company-owned Nissan Leaf and a Chevy Volt. I prefer the latter because it’s more like a traditional car with a gas engine and it also has less range anxiety concerns. The Nissan Leaf feels like a toy. I really didn’t like it. When you accelerate, it makes the sound like a remote-controlled car. It was very off-putting.

    I’ve never driven a Tesla of any kind and hope to in the coming years. I’ve experimented with those two company-owned EVs but don’t find either to be truly an enjoyable experience. Maybe Tesla will break the mold?

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    1. In my area there is a lot of finance and tech money. It is NY after all. There are chargers, Tesla and otherwise, everywhere. This is why I am confident, A electric car will be one of our cars in the future, but I do not think it will be a Tesla. We don’t buy luxury cars, and Tesla is. Who knows though, in a few years, the math may change in that either the price of them may fall, their competitors may rise, and of course fuel prices (gasoline and electric) will change in directions I will not even try to predict. My hope is that the number go towards getting us a Tesla, and electric rates dropping.

      I would not like the Leaf either, with how you described it. I heard the Volt is being discontinued, so bummer all around! I guarantee you will like the Tesla, but again, you will not likely enjoy the price.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very nice and fair writeup on the tesla.

    When I was about to become an attending physician I “bought” a brand new Mercedes (04 c320) and kept it as my main driver for 11 yrs (and I believe 230k miles).

    I actually then truly bought the car I really wanted in ’15 and got the tesla model S90D (it was at the time the 2nd from the top (not performance version).

    It truly is an amazing vehicle and the best part is the over the air updates that keep adding better features to the car that make it even better than the day I got it. I have autopilot version 1 and it really is put to good use on my daily commute and especially does well on the occasional long distance road trips.

    One of the best things is that every morning I have a ‘full tank’ since I charge in my garage. I used to have to make 2 gas stops a week in my other car. Don’t have to fill the car outside in the cold either.

    It is a luxury item for sure but for me it is well worth the money. The acceleration is out of this world and brings giggles to passengers when I do floor it.

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    1. This message accidentally was put in my Spam folder, so sorry that it too me so long to approve it.

      Tesla is run like a software company, of which I work for and understand. The regular updates and the nuance in design is evident to anyone who is in or familiar with my line of work. My friend, who is also a coworker, pointed out the same thing you did when he showed it to me. I really WANT one of those cars for the reasons you mentioned and the fact that I no longer have the hassle of many of the maintenance things you do for ICE cars. Even the brakes will last longer on an electric due to the fact that you have the regenerative breaking system. The fun factor of all that acceleration, well, I think it would made my 70+ year old dad convince me to take it to the track for him to “test” out properly. The truth is, if we do get one, I will be taking it to a race track to “test” it out. That will be a fun day.

      I honestly expect more of the major automakers to copy a lot of what Tesla is doing as Samsung and the rest did Apple. It only makes sense.

      Like

  3. great article!
    I’ve been in a few Teslas and I’ve been really impressed. In Norway, it is the taxi of choice as road/bridge/tunnel tolls are free and there is a generous tax break if you have an electric car. Owning a petrol/diesel car in Norway is very expensive by the way.
    It is a luxury car and that is the best way for this new technology to take off. It’s a shame that the precious resources that are needed to produce the Tesla are finite but as an enabiling technology, it needs to be paid for by someone and that person needs to be rich.
    The idea of an smart car style electric car doesn’t pass the vanity test.

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  4. I am going to make you laugh. The world knows how to take excess electricity, combine it with CO2 and a few other things in sea water, and you get gasoline.

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/04/08/dont-get-too-excited-but-the-us-navy-can-now-make-gasoline-from-seawater/#8ed620c5b1ef

    If you are following the research with hot fusion, I think one of the 10 major projects will finally work. The last major physics issue has been solved.

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181009175515.htm

    It’s now an engineering problem. I have read a lot of papers and pubs from those who are doing it, and those who critique what those major teams are doing (including ITER). My belief is that one of them will get a net positive machine that can be made commercially in the next 10 years.

    The best way to have the best impact would be to have fusion reactors supplying the gas to make net 0 gasoline. There is a good chance that would have the biggest impact the quickest.

    Either that, or I think some folks will figure out how to make sodium batteries (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium-ion_battery) commercially cost effective. It does seem that we will not have enough lithium for our ideal use case. Still, I suspect there are plenty of minerals in asteroids that we have yet to mine.

    If you haven’t noticed, I am completely convinced that with about 7.5 billion people that the amount of brain power there and the financial incentives tied to it, will solve the problem.

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  5. Interesting read. I’ve driven the Model S, but the Model 3 hasn’t really arrived yet, here in my country (Denmark). I would like the Model Y (Upcoming SUV based on the Model 3)! I don’t think I’ll get one in the near future though – as you say, owning luxury cars doesn’t go well with the FIRE dream 😛

    Your sentiment about not wanting to pay for the joy of driving got me thinking.
    I spend roughly 1 hour in my car per day (currently a european hatchback). Taking the kid to day care, going to work, picking up the kid from day care and driving home amounts to about 1 hour per day for me, on average. Now, I’ve driven expensive luxury cars in my earlier days, but I too came to the conclusion that it didn’t make sense, to pay extra for the “joy of driving”. However, I still do dream about that Tesla. I’ll gladly pay more than $100/day to go on a nice vacation, so I wonder how much I’d actually be paying for the 1-hour of joy per day, if I actually bough a Tesla…
    So I did the math (just now). If I buy a Tesla and keep it for 8 years, and drive it 1-hour per day (only on weekdays), I’d be paying just shy of $25/day while having the joy of driving…(Provided that I could sell the car for 1/3 of its original price after those 8 years, and that I bought it in cash and didnt take out a loan to buy it).

    $25/day…Of course, I would need to compare that with what I actually pay today in order to decide, whether this is expensive or not…I turns out, I pay $26/day today, for driving a Peugeot 308 hatchback (it’s a lease)…I didn’t believe these numbers at first, so I re-calculated them 3 times. $26/day to drive a freaking hatchback!

    MIND. BLOWN.

    *www.tesla.com/da/dk* *BUY*

    Like

    1. The battery is rated for 10 years, so after that you have to replace it. There isn’t a lot of data yet for old battery cars, so I would not rely on that 1/3 resale value, yet. That is why I am hesitating a few more years myself.

      Cars must be crazy expensive over there. I drive a midsize Honda SUV [30,000]. Amortizatizing the full cost over 8 years with no resale is just $10USD a day for me. The model 3, including the $3750 tax credit is still about $17 a day. Still we are talking about a $50,000USD cost for the model 3 with the options I want.

      There are a lot of race tracks in the US. I plan on renting one for a few hours of fun driving, and more traditional sports cars.

      $100 per day would be like $36000 per year. What’s way too much for me to spend. Glad its not a problem for you.

      Like

      1. You’re right, 1/3 might be a little too optimistic 😉
        Yes, our cars are Crazy expensive in Denmark.

        The $100/day was to go on vacation – I was simply trying to compare a Nice ride with a Nice vacation, to put it in perspective :p we have 6 weeks vacation/ year, so that would be $4200/year, but that’s just for the hotel…we probably spend around $8-9000/year on vacations, which I dont Think is alot. We used to spend $15-$20,000 before we had kids :p those were the (luxury) days!

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      2. Oh ok, for a moment there I thought my next trip was going to cost an arm and a leg. Pre the kiddo, we had more interesting variations as well. For now, while he is young its beaches and national parks here in the US for us. In a few years when he can enjoy the history, we will head over your way again.

        Even in NYC, though renting a SUV is well under 100 a day. Most of the US is much less than that.

        Like

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