I am one of the MANY MANY games programmers who have somehow ended up driving a Tesla model S. I have had it just over a year and feel strangely motivated to talk honestly about my experience owning it and using it. Here is my exciting take on ‘owning an electric car for a year’. Grab some popcorn.
Some background: This is the second ‘from new’ car I have ever bought. The previous one was a lexus hybrid. I had long lusted after a prius, until I sat in one, then drove one, and thought ‘yuck’, and ended up with the lexus instead. As a hybrid owner, I got used to the fact that there was an ‘on’ button rather than a key you turn, and that the car was an automatic (technically a continuously variable transmission), so no gear changes or gear stick. I loved my hybrid car.
When I had enough money saved up, I took the plunge and had a test drive in a Tesla model S, and pretty much ordered one the next day. Mine is an 85D with air-suspension and autopilot. In practice that means its just fucking fast, rather than *insanely* fast, and it does some self-driving tricks, and its comfortable.
How I got it:
I had to wait about 6 months for my car, because this is Tesla-mania time,. and there was a waiting list, plus I needed to get a home charger installed. this cost a pittance, and there was a small subsidy available anyway, I ended up paying about £100 I think. The charger is basically a box on the side of the house near where I park, with a black cable that I often (not every day) leave connected to the car. It takes most of a night to charge from empty, but as its often plugged in, its only ’empty’ if I’ve driven to London and back (about 180 miles). I tend to only plug mine in when its half empty or less.
How I use it:
I work from home (programmer, self-employed), so I don’t commute, so the car is for shopping trips, the odd pub lunch and so on. I have family in London (hence long trips), and I live in rural England, so we have to drive almost everywhere. The local area is narrow roads, people on horses, hardly any traffic, the odd dead badger. mobile phone signal sucks, road markings are rare. More on this later… So far I haven’t left the country in my Model S but may well do this year. Its almost always charged from home, with an occasional stop at a Tesla supercharger. Charging from these is free for me, so I tend to only use them. I have ‘cards’ for using some other charging networks but very rarely use them. I also have an exemption (£10/year to register) for the London congestion charge. This is nice, but hardly a dealbreaker for me, as I use it maybe 3 times a year.
My initial impressions were ‘holy fuck this thing is fast’ and ‘oh my god it drives itself’ combined with ‘jesus this thing is wide’ and also ‘i cant believe i can drive this speed, this far, in an electric car’. I was also amazed at how much luggage space there is. We once had 4 of us go away for a week with a ridiculous amount of luggage, food and other nonsense (suitcases, a drone in a box, multiple hampers of food etc), and we still had spare room. its nuts. Obviously over time, you calm down and just get used to it. I haven’t opened the ‘frunk’ for months, and then, only to show someone whats in there (nothing).
I’ve done about 10,000 miles in mine, with an average watt-hour per mile of 353wh/m. That means, with domestic electricity at 12p/unit I pay roughly £0.04 per mile in fuel. Car insurance is also surprisingly low, it was lower than my lexus (which cost half as much) I suspect the insane survivability of crashes in the Tesla accounts for that. This all sounds like economic paradise (plus servicing is far less complex and urgent) until you factor in the one big problem with the Tesla model S.
its fucking wide.
I hate wide cars, because I suck at parking, and driving in general. I now have big annoying obvious scratches on both sides, and the bill for fixing them is likely £2k+. In other words, over a year I’ve probably spent £426 on ‘fuel’ about £350 on insurance, and about £2k on getting dents fixed. Bah. Basically the Tesla is as wide as a land rover, so if you are used to big cars, its not a big deal, but if you prefer small cars like me…it *is* a factor. Its actually the *only* real negative I have about the car. Basically when I go to a multi-storey car park, it feels like this:
Other Minor negatives:
Teslas service is…’not bad’. by any normal cars standards its good, but by lexus standards, its pretty poor. You have to compare apples with apples, and the model S is not a cheap car, so you expect a certain level of awesomeness on the service side. They don’t have that yet. My car has gone to a service center twice, once for a charging port door issue (they replaced the whole thing and its been fine ever since), and once to get a fix for a car handle motor failure. (The handle stopped sliding back in once the car was moving). I get the impression their service is improving, and early issues were basically due to being a bit swamped by rapid expansion. The only other issue is that some of the cool tech stuff requires a mobile signal, and I live somewhere with an awful mobile coverage, meaning occasionally a podcast cuts out, or voice recognition fails.
Not purely an electric car thing, but having a mobile app that a)locates your car in a car park and b)lets you pre-heat/chill the car is just SO awesome. Having a car with its own free spotify account with voice recognition is hilariously cool. Having a car that can drive itself on motorways is both weird, terrifying AND cool. Being able to ‘summon’ the car out of a tight space is cool…but pointless. Controlling everything from a touchscreen is weird at first, but very cool once you get used to it.
The *BIG* issues.
Range anxiety is not a thing. Not with a Tesla. it just isn’t a thing. Superchargers are not everywhere, but they don’t have to be, I can drive to London and back without re-fuelling. I now actually feel sorry for non-electric drivers with all this bullshit of having to stop and ‘fill-up’ on their voyage at a petrol station. My house is my petrol station, its always open, and I don’t have to fumble around with wallets and pin numbers. If I lived in a flat, or a terraced house with no driveway, charging would be a major issue, but luckily I’m not in that position. Charging an electric car is trivial for anyone who has off-road parking. Don’t give the charging or the range a second thought if you buy an electric car, its a total non-issue.
The Tesla model S is catastrophically expensive to buy. Its not the solution for everyone. The Model 3 is going to be about £35k, so a LOT cheaper, yet still pricey. I strongly suspect that the 3 will effectively be a very slightly hobbled ‘S’. In other words…if you can wait, and don’t have to have a model S…then its probably worth waiting for a 3. I think the model 3 is going to be revolutionary, not in tech, but in terms of acceptance. Right now the only people buying long range electric cars are those who would otherwise buy an Aston Martin or a Jaguar. The minute it becomes an option for the BMW crowd you are going to see a lot of people picking them up.
TL:DR: Electric cars are fucking amazing. Mine is too wide.