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July 11, 2016

Tesla Model S: It Is Real and It Is Spectacular

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 3.00.01 PMLive Longer, Stay Younger: Tesla Model S

Do you want to live longer and stay younger? Drive a Tesla Model S. Not only has the car received Consumer Reports highest safety rating (improving your chances of surviving a crash), but simply driving the car will make you feel younger.

The Tesla Model S is pure genius. One quality of genius is the ability to make things simple. Anybody can make thinks more complicated. But, to make things simple takes some genius. The Model S is probably as simply designed as a car can be given today’s technology. Just two motors, four wheels, one big battery, and a 17-inch computer touch screen  operate the wonderfully designed vehicle. It is real and it is spectacular – like some other things.

My youngest son turned sixteen earlier this year and I decided it was time for a new car. For me, not him. Ha ha ha! So for his birthday I treated myself and bought the Tesla Model S. I can’t wait for his 18th birthday to see what I might buy myself next.

I passed on to my son my 2005 Acura TL that I bought new in 2005. I probably have spent $10,000 to $12,000 on that car the past three years keeping the car operational including a new transmission, catalytic converter, oil and fuel pumps, timing belt, and flushing of fluids, brakes, and several other repairs. Overall, I took good care of the car.

It had 176,000 miles when I handed it down to my son who promptly totaled it 3 months and 4 days after receiving it. No joke! Thankfully, he walked away from the accident without any injuries. He didn’t even if drive long enough to get to 180,000 falling short at 179,639. At least, if he got to 180,000 miles I might have felt the money spent on the car the last three years was worth it.

The beauty about a Tesla is that all those repairs I made on the Acura are completely unnecessary with a Tesla as it does not contain any of those parts. That is the by-product of genius.

I would rather go to the dentist than take my cars in for an oil change and repairs. It seems every time I would take my Acura and other car in for oil change it ended up being a $400 to $500 venture as they would always finds something else “wrong.” I don’t know enough about cars to know if I’m being up sold a repair that isn’t necessary, or not. That will be less likely with a Tesla. And, here’s why.

The only thing you replace on a Tesla are the wipers, wiper fluid, tires, brake fluid, and battery coolant. And, of course you do not need to pay for gasoline – ever – as it is completely powered by battery and “power” is a great word for it. The car can really accelerate – anywhere from 0 to 60 in 5.2 seconds to 2.8 seconds for Tesla’s P90D Ludicrous Mode.  In fact, if you just think of accelerating the car seems to almost to do it on its own. The acceleration is virtually instantaneous as there are no gears to run through.

In five-year cost of ownership comparisons the Tesla Model S compares favorably with cars priced $20,000 less than it because there are so few things to repair on a Tesla and you don’t have to buy gasoline.

The lithium-ion battery pack is a part of the frame that supports the car making the car bottom heavy aiding its handling around curves. The Model S handles rather sharp curves at relatively high speeds nicely. The battery warranty is 8 years or 125,000 miles and is the most expensive part of the car to replace ranging from $10,000 for 60 kWh battery to $12,000 for a 85 kWh battery.

Autopark and Summon

The 17-Inch Computer Touchscreen
The 17-Inch Computer Touchscreen

The Tesla has a variety of sensors that along with GPS enables the car to autosteer and autopark. The Autopark feature is handy for downtown parking. The car parallel parks with uncanny accuracy – usually 8-12 inches from the curb and equidistant from the car in front and behind it. For straight in parking the car for now can only reverse into a parking spot. It does not pull into a parking spot head first – but also does it with great precision.

It has a summon feature. For instance, if a car parks too close to yours making it difficult to open the driver’s door you can stand in the parking lot or driveway and summon the car to you. The car will reverse or move forward on its own up to 39 feet or until you stop it either with a key fob or the Tesla mobile app on your phone. With the app you can pre-heat or cool your car remotely to a desired temperature before you enter it. A valet mode can be activated with the mobile phone app, too. The car has limited power and range in valet mode just in case the valet wants to take it for a joy ride.

Tesla Autopilot

Probably the most advanced feature is the Autopilot which is still being beta tested. The car can drive itself on the highway and some regular roads, but that doesn’t mean the driver can take a nap. Autopilot is a $2,500 upgrade at the time of order or $3,000 if you opt for it later down the road.

The sensors read the lines on the highway to keep the car in the center of the lane. Anything that can make reading white or yellow lines difficult like reflections from wet roads, sun glare, or going under an overpass can hamper use of Autopilot as the sensors may lose sight of the lines. Also, in cases where white lines have been rubbed out or painted over because of changes in the lane position on the highway the car will sometimes get confused and drive between lines of what was the old lane.

Recently, a Tesla driver was killed while using Autopilot and that accident has garnered much media attention. He may have been watching a DVD player and not attentive when a tractor-trailer crossed a divided highway eventually traveling perpendicular to the Tesla when the vehicles collided. It was Tesla’s first fatality in a 130 million miles when Autopilot has been activated. This is still less than one fatality per 94 million miles among all vehicles driven in the US.

I doubt if the other vehicle had the technology and Autopilot like the Tesla that such an accident would have occurred and that is something that has been lost in the discussion of this accident. Autopilot does not fully protect you against human error of other drivers. I suspect the safety of Autopilot will be underestimated or under appreciated until there is a critical mass of such cars on the road. Driverless cars will be the future. It’s just a matter of how long it will take to get to a critical threshold.

Periodically, Tesla downloads software upgrades to each vehicle’s computer (usually at night) that improves the operation of the vehicle. There has been a huge improvement in the Autopilot feature from the first time I test drove the car 7-8 months ago and now. Initially, the car would more or less ping-pong between the lines for a few seconds until it got its bearing. Now, the car auto steers flawlessly around bends and curves.

The vehicle cannot be programmed – yet – to drive you door to door on its own, though. If you want to change lanes with Autopilot you have to put your turn signal on first and the car will change lanes when the sensors read that it is safe to do so. If another vehicle encroaches on your lane with the Auotpilot activated the Tesla will move away from that vehicle as far as it can on its own yet stay in its lane. But, if you want to exit the highway you have to do it the old fashion way.

On a recent long trip we took I used the Autopilot about a fourth of the time. One danger, I believe, is after a while of using the Autopilot you can forget you are in a car and can forget you still need to pay attention to the road.

I would not feel comfortable using Autopilot at this stage of development without having my hands near the wheel especially in heavy traffic. During this beta testing phase with Autopilot activated you are supposed to keep your hands on the wheel (which seems to negate the purpose of the Autopilot). The car will occasionally remind to place your hands on the wheel if it does not sense them on the wheel after a period of time.

For now Autopilot is nice when the traffic is light and you want to give your arms and legs a 5 to 10 minute break, or perhaps play the air drums or air guitar to some high voltage rock-n-roll (joking on the air drums and air guitar). At least that is how I have been using it – short breaks but hands near the wheel. And, you still need to keep your eyes on the road. I think I have gone as long as 30 minutes using Autopilot.

The big disadvantage I see to using Autopilot is that it takes the fun away from driving the car yourself.

Battery Charging and Regenerative Braking

Home charging of the car is easy though I spent $850 to have an electrician install a 240 volt outlet in my garage which enables the car to fully charge overnight at 29 miles per hour. During the week I typically drive 30 miles a day. So I can charge the car back to full capacity easily at home in an hour. I have a 70 kWh battery that has a 240 mile range per charge. The range is optimal at driving at 45 mph approaching 350 to 400 miles depending on battery size, but that is if you constantly maintain a 45 mph speed. The quoted 240 mile range is for highway driving at 60 mph.

Tesla Model S
Energy Consumption Graph

Tesla has a regenerative braking system that recharges the battery slightly as the car slows down. When you take the foot off the gas – oops – accelerator (since it does not use gas) the car automatically brakes on its own. Once you get used to it and learn to judge your stopping distance you can almost get the car to stop completely without actually applying the brakes.

The regenerative breaking system to has two settings that you can use. There’s a low setting and a standard setting depending on how much you want the car to decelerate on its own when you take the foot off the accelerator. The standard setting provides the maximum amount regenerative braking. I really like this feature of the car.

Charging the battery on the road certainly takes longer than filling up with a tank of gas and is somewhat of an inconvenience. The Superchargers that Tesla has installed near the freeways will charge up to 120 miles in 20 minutes but it may take another 40 to 50 minutes to charge to full capacity. So charging the battery completely at a Supercharging station can take 60 to 70 minutes. On our recent trip we ate at restaurants near the charging stations as the car charged.

For day-to-day commutes the charging requirement of a Tesla is no problem or inconvenience at all. In fact, it is more convenient than going to a gas station. Just plug the car in every evening when you come home and unplug it the next morning. It takes just a few seconds to do that – plug and unplug that is. So you save time making those trips to the gas station plus the time at the pump. In the four months I have had the car I have been to a gas station once and that was to use the restroom and get something to drink;

The Supercharging stations are free but apparently will not be for the lower priced Model 3 that Tesla is building for fall of 2017.

The cost of charging at home is much less expensive than buying gasoline. It costs me about $2 to power the vehicle 100 miles based on the cost of electricity where I live.

Computer Touchscreen

From the computer touchscreen you essentially control all settings of the vehicle. You have internet access and nearly anything you can do on the internet from a laptop or tablet you can do from the touchscreen – except access videos. You are still operating a vehicle and eyes should be on the road – not watching ESPN highlights. There are several apps for music (my car came with Slacker Radio), navigation, internet search, phone calls, calendar, rear view camera, and energy consumption.

A graph is available to see how much energy you are consuming and projecting your mileage range. The graph is orange when consuming energy and will shoot upwards during acceleration. During deceleration the graph heads downward and if the the regenerative braking system is able to send energy back to the battery the graph turns green. See above Energy Consumption Graph photograph. See there was a practical reason we were all taught how to read graphs in school.

Tesla: Not Perfect but Almost

The Model S has some minor flaws. There may be an over reliance of using the computer touchscreen to operate the vehicle. It would be nice to have the typical switch on driver’s door armrest to lock and unlock the doors rather than having to use the touchscreen which takes two steps to unlock the doors from the inside.

Tesla
The FRUNK

The standard cup holders in the front are not well positioned nor are they deep enough. They are placed where the driver’s right and front passenger’s left elbows naturally rest. I suspect Tesla placed them where it did because of the need to access the 17-inch touchscreen. My Tesla has no cup holders for the rear seats that came standard.

Since purchasing my car Tesla has come out with an after market integrated center console that does provide additional space for cup holders in front and rear along with additional storage for items like wallet, sunglasses and phone. Or, you can just get an optional rear seat console that has cupholders and center armrests.

I believe the integrated center console is now standard for the all new Model S which has also had the front end redesigned.

The receiving end for the seat belts in the front can be difficult to access, though I seemed to have gotten used to it. On our recent long trip my family complained that the back seats are not so comfortable – but I’m not sitting back there.

Also, there is no spare tire despite plenty of trunk space. In fact, the Model S has two trunks. Since there is no engine what sits under the front hood is additional trunk space. In Tesla lingo it is known as the frunk for front trunk.

In addition, I believe there should be Supercharging stations every 100 to 120 miles so that it only takes 20 minutes of charging between stations and that will probably happen as Tesla sells more cars. Either, that or a larger battery capacity if technology allows for that so that you can go a longer distance on a partial charge.

Safety of a Tesla

The Model S has received Consumer Reports highest safety rating scoring ever (scored a 103 on a 0-100 scale causing Consumer Reports to adjust its scale). In April in Columbus where I live a Tesla driver was hit in a head on collision by another vehicle going the wrong way on the highway. That driver of the other vehicle was killed immediately. The Tesla driver walked away with minor injuries and was at the Tesla dealership the following week ordering a new Tesla (personal communication with Tesla dealership). There are other similar accidents where Tesla drivers walked away from major accidents with minor injuries.

The Driving Experience

Tesla Model SMy Model S is fun to drive. Talk about the ultimate driving experience – sorry BMW, you lose. The ride is incredibly smooth and quiet. Sometimes you cannot tell that the car is on. It handles unbelievably, and the acceleration is remarkable. And, it’s a great looking car. Like a beautiful woman it is a head turner. I have come out of stores and restaurants with men and women mulling around the vehicle gawking at it. Typically, I allow them to sit in it if they want or show them the summon feature or anything else they might want to see.

Tesla Model S: incredible, unbelievable, remarkable, beautiful.

I have now driven the car 4,500 miles and my only regret is not having enough money model to buy the Model S P90D. But, some day in the not too distant future………my son’s 18th birthday, maybe? Hmmm!

After my son totaled the Acura TL we looked at a 2008 Acura at a Lexus dealership. Two of the salesmen were anxious to see a Tesla and I spent 15 minutes showing them various features of the car. In fact, I spent more time showing them my Tesla and they did showing us the Acura. They were both knowledgeable about the car already, but were stunned to learn all that it can do. They loved the Model S. I was even going to allow them to drive it if they would give me my price on the Acura, but they did not budge off their price. Their loss.

After seeing the features of the Model S one of the Lexus salesmen said, “this is definitely the future.”

And, he is right. Tesla technology is the future. It is pure genius. It is real and it is spectacular.

Live long, stay young. Drive a Tesla!

 

 

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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