Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Thoughts after 5 Years using a pure electric car

I’ve written in the past about buying an electric car, and running it, and what I think, and today to the day is five years since I took delivery of it, so a good time to write down how its been to be driving pure electric all those years.

I drive a 2015 Tesla model S 85D. They don’t make that precise model any more, its kinda of mid way between the low end and high end dual-motor model S. That means its very high performance, but its not ridiculous high performance like you see in youtube videos. For those who care, its 0-60 is 3.8 seconds, and its 518 horsepower. Thats a lot of horses.

When I bought it, this was not only the most expensive car I had ever bought, it was TWICE the cost of the most expensive car I had ever bvought. It was the second time I’d bought a new car, going from a small hybrid lexus to a big pure-electric tesla. I absolutely loved it the minute I got it.

The first thing to mention is that its not exactly the same car as when I got it. I had a few people use my referral link to buy cars so I got given 2 kids-size teslas (one I gave away to charity, one is in my office) plus some ‘arachnid’ wheels, which I guess look a bit cooler. I mostly got em (for free) because it was a plot point in an episode of silicon valley.

As well as getting new wheels, very very recently I gave in and upgraded the screen and the media-computer in the car. TBH this is overpriced (£2k), but in my personal experience was worth it. The graphics chip in the original 2015 model S was just too crap given the insane size of the screen, and it also meant that the screen could be buggy, voice-response was spotty, it was prone to the odd bug (unconnected to the actual car, you can even reboot the media unit while driving…)

Early Teslas like mine have a tendency to flake out due to an old chip that needs replacing. Theoretically you can pester tesla to replace it under warranty, but that leaves you with the same GPU and screen, and I was happy to pay for an upgrade.

During the time I’ve owned the car, thats pretty much all its cost me. Its been serviced twice (in FIVE years), and both times nothing was wrong at all. They check brakes and so on, but with a pure electric car the brakes are used very rarely due to the regen braking. The car has been for an MOT test once, and passed perfectly. It *did* need the front door handles replacing in the first year, but that was under warranty.

TBH the biggest cost of owning the car has been accident-prone driving and having it cleaned. I got a bunch of scrapes and a small dent in the first year, which needed a specialist body shop because the body is aluminum. Then last year I spectacularly screwed up by reversing when the front of the car had settled (air suspension down) onto a kerb by a parking space, which practically pulled the whole front of the car off. Ooops. That was pricey. My fault… BTW insurance is still stupidly low, about £470 a year, even after I recently made a £2k accident claim for the bumper thing. (I’m 51 BTW which likely reduces my insurance cost, also rural UK has less auto-thefts).

shiny body, fancy wheels…

The only other issue I have had is that the glue that the number plate is stuck on with started to fail slightly after four years, so it slightly bent outwards (not really visibly), and this interfered with the calibration of a parking sensor. I ended up just screwing the number plate on myself instead of relying on glue (you cant really tell). The cleaning cost is due to it being aluminum and not really safe for automatic carwashes. I get someone to come to my house, to save me time. Its expensive but super worth it.

In terms of experience, the car still feels like new. If I’d never seen one, and it was delivered to my house tomorrow, I’d assume this was an amazing cutting edge high tech supercar released in 2020. Its still pretty much unbeatable. The new model S has more range, and you can pay more to get the 0-60 time even quicker, but honestly who cares. This one is dangerously fast as it is. The range in practice is about 240-250 miles, given British weather and roads, and TBH thats fine for me. I’ve never really found myself cursing its range. Supercharging is fast!

When we first got the car, the supercharger network was very limited. Since then they have added a bunch, especially on the M3 and M4 motorways, which I use now and then. Sadly the really new superchargers use a different standard, and although I *could* pay to have mine adapted to the new ones, I likely will not bother. In addition to the supercharger network getting better, they have also released a stupidly long list of software upgrades to the car. It has numerous silly and cool features I won’t bore you with it. All software updates are always free.

Elon Musk Promoting "Lifestyle" Not Climate Help, Says Singapore - Bloomberg

Luckily, as an early buyer, my supercharging is also free for life. This sounds amazing until you do the math. Filling up my car paying retail (5p/kwh) electricity costs me £12.75. That gives me about £0.05p a mile to run. Superchargers cost more, but you use them really rarely. I reckon that perk earns me about £100 a year tops. I also get free premium connectivity (free Spotify with voice control!) which is actually more valuable I think.

In terms of reliability, performance, and general driving experience, the car is as awesome as when I bought it. There are no discernible squeaks or creaks or bumps. It feels new. An app I have on my phone (tesla core) says my battery degradation after 5 years is 2.69%. Yup, 2.69% of battery capacity lost over five years… BTW I’ve done 38,000 miles so far.

I guess the best question to ask someone in these circumstances, is would you make the same choice again, and will you keep it? To the first, The answer is actually….not sure. I Bought mine because the Tesla model 3 was not out in the UK at the time. I live down single-lane dirt track roads and the model S is WIDE and LONG for rural UK. But thats the ONLY reason that would make me choose the 3 over the S. I also really like the big dual-screen setup for the model S.

We do not yet have the Tesla model Y in the UK, but when we do, I may be very tempted to trade in my car for that. My model S has lost roughly half its value in 5 years, which means its still quite a chunky trade-in value if I wanted to swap to a new model Y. I’d do this in order to get the new autopilot hardware (something too involved to upgrade for mine), and dramatically longer range and charge time, and also the much smaller car. I would miss the dual screens though, and probably be a bit sad to lose free supercharging and connectivity. ho hum. Mine is also a ‘panda-nose’ early model, might even be considered vintage one day…

I do have to say that there is NO CAR on the market other than a tesla that would vaguely tempt me away from what I have. If I won a Porsche taycan in a lottery I’d sell it the next day, same with the Audi e-tron or anything else. The supercharger network + autopilot is a complete game changer, and only Tesla has those. I’d never even consider a non-electric car of any make or any value. Smelly, unreliable, expensive to maintain, awkward to fill-up, less safe and more expensive to run, plus they belch out fumes and contribute to climate change. No thanks.

Electric car tradeoffs.

Some recent reading of comments on the topic of electric cars has prompted me to summarize my views on where electric cars should be heading next. There is a big disconnect between the reality and the general opinion of people who do not already own an EV. I thought I’d like to shine some light on the discussion, so here goes.

There is nothing magical about the batteries in an electric car. Until about 8 years ago, they used to tend to be large ‘pouch’ batteries, but these days they are more likely to be just an assembly of small round batteries like you stick in a TV remote. The most common is the ‘18650’ batteries used by tesla:

Image result for tesla 18650 battery

It might sound nuts that this is what powers a car but its true. The difference between that and your laptop/TV remote battery is the ‘battery management system’ meaning some hardware and software that warms/cools/monitors and controls a LOT of these batteries once assembled in a big pack:

Related image

When it comes to the battery in an electric car, there are a lot of misconceptions, lies, FUD and confusion about how they work, how good they are, and whats important. This is partly because the battery tech has moved SO FAST, and partly because there are deliberate campaigns by anti-EV lobbyists (oil companies) to spread lies and fear. Lets clear some up!

Firstly, NO they are not dangerous. Stats show that a fossil fuel car is way more likely to catch fire or explode. EV batteries are heavily shielded. One famous case of a tesla battery fire was eventually found to be a result of someones handgun going off whilst pointed at the car floor(battery)…errr…don’t do that! (in ANY car!).

Secondly, no, the batteries do not just die after a few years. Battery degradation is REALLY low. My own car is 4.25 years old, has gone 34,000 miles and the battery degradation is 2.69%. Not only that, but a lot of evidence suggests that they degrade a lot (relatively) the first year, then that rate trickles off. I have no doubt my car battery will last another 50 years minimum (unlike my frail human form)

Thirdly…no, it doesn’t take four hours to charge an electric car at a car charging point. The speed here REALLY depends on the charger itself. My home charger is pretty slow, and will take maybe 10-11 hours from empty to full, but a tesla supercharger will charge insanely faster. The exact empty-full time will depend on temperature, but here is a rough guide:

What people forget is that your car charges at home WHILE YOU SLEEP. So 11 hours sounds a lot, but thats then 200-300 miles of range. I don’t travel 200 miles a day on a commute, so I don’t care. Note that not all cars, or chargers are the same. Some older charging networks have really slow speeds, and many cars cannot cope with 150kw. Your Mileage May Vary, but if you think there isn’t a car with 300 mile range that you can ‘fill up’ in 30 mins…well you are wrong :D

Oh and last thing before I talk about trade-offs… the price. I pay about 12p/unit for my electricity (apart from the power I get from my solar panels :D). because I live in COLD England, I average about 350wh/mile in my car, meaning that a mile is using about 4.2p of energy. Not bad

Note that Tesla supercharger prices vary, but are free for many S/X owners. The average rate is about 20-25p/unit. The new ionity chargers are charging 70p/unit so…buyer beware. Its STILL cheaper than petrol though :D

So now lets talk about battery trade-offs, namely the problems of Price, Range, Durability and charging speed.

When designing an EV and its battery these four things are always pulling against each other. Making a stupidly-long-range EV like this 2020 Tesla roadster is easy:

Image result for tesla roadster 2020

You just layer 2 model S 100kwh packs on top of each other (making the car heavier, and a bit cramped), and enjoy a crazy range of 620 miles. The only downside: OMG its expensive (think £250,000 minimum).

At the other end of the spectrum check out this super cheap electric car, the twizy (Starts at £6,690).

Image result for twizy

It has an amazing range of…err…56 miles. Not so good. The trade-off there is absolutely to make the cheapest EV possible, but range (as well as performance and interior capacity is totally sacrificed.

At the less extreme end, here is the Nissan leaf, starting at £26,345. It has a range of 168 miles but is limited to slow 50kw chargers. Its also a bit slow for an EV (max speed 90, 0-62mph 7.9secs).

Image result for nissan leaf acenta

Essentially all these cars are trying to balance out the priorities of fast charging, long range, price and battery lifetime. Pouring tons of energy into a small battery very fast will affect its lifetime. Having a much bigger battery boosts range *and* allows fast charging, but hugely increases cost. What to do!

My personal opinion? Well I drive a 2015 model S 85D, with an 85kwh battery pack. It can take me comfortably 240 miles, or further if I’m careful and don’t drive like a maniac, or if its super warm and sunny (batteries, like petrol cars prefer warm weather). I would guess 95% of my charging is done at home while I sleep, with me only using a supercharger for long trips ( a quick top up with coffee when I visit london, for example). It seems that most EV drivers you talk to are doing the overwhelming majority of their charging at home or while at work, just like me.

So…

The current best-in-class rate of public charging is about 150kwh. Thats VERY fast., any faster would *actually be annoying*, because the current speed lets me grab a coffee and a bun, and a call of nature before returning to the car. I only need to do this on super-long trips anyway and I WANT a break. Even with autopilot, driving is kinda dull. I want to stop and have a hot beverage.

The speed of filling an EV vs petrol/diesel cars is a HUGE red-herring because unlike most petrol/diesel drivers…we EV drivers hardly EVER need to do this. Its a rare thing for long trips only. If it takes us 15-20 mins, we grab a coffee. You don’t have to sit there holding a pump like those old fashioned petrol cars :D

Image result for supercharger tesla

So for me… NO, speed of charge is now fine. I wouldnt trade anything else to get my EV to charge faster, which leaves range, lifetime, and price.

As I said above, the current battery degradation of my 2015 battery is minimal, and Tesla are now saying they are heading towards a million-mile lifetime battery. In short… this problem is SOLVED. We don’t need batteries that depreciate less, we already have that, AND the charging time thing sorted.

So… that leaves a simple two-axis trade-off between price and range. This is something easily solved by the free market.

Every car in tesla’s lineup comes with a standard and long range variant. You can get a cheap(ish) car with good range, or a pricey car with excellent range. Which you pick is basically a factor of whether you drive a lot of long distances or not, and how much money you have. Its important to note that you should NOT compare your petrol-car range to your EV range. Every time you leave the house you have a ‘full tank’ in an EV. This is a game changer, this is huge!

TBH most of the time (including right now) I don’t even bother plugging my car in at home. Its just parked. I always plug in if I know I’m doing a road-trip the next day, or if its getting low on charge, but its certainly not daily. The range on my car is *more* than sufficient for my needs, even though I live in a rural location and its a 15 mile journey just to go to a shop.

Image result for old gas station

I think eventually people will get over this old-fashioned and silly ‘Until an electric car has 400+ miles range I won’t buy’ trope. Thats thinking like a petrol car. You NEED 400 mile range because refueling is a trip out of your way to some specified location. Thats annoying, and inconvenient, and…old fashioned. EVs make every single house a fuel station.*

So to conclude…I’m thinking the correct trade-off is PRICE. People designing EVs need to focus on price above everything else. EVs are STILL too expensive for many people, and a BIG chunk of the cost is the battery. The industry is already making great progress in this area. The huge scale up between 2012-2020 in terms of EV battery production have sent battery costs down lower and lower, and this should continue to be a point of focus.

So for anyone analyzing the EV market…look at who is making CHEAPER batteries, not the biggest or the ones with the fastest charge rates.

And for anyone looking into getting an EV, ignore battery lifetime and charge rate (these are solved!) and don’t get hung up too much on range either). I follow this market super-closely and would say by a HUGE margin, if you can possibly afford it, the Tesla model 3 is the BEST combination of all these factors.

Image result for tesla model 3

If you cant afford that, I’d suggest maybe the Nissan Leaf, but that is a big shift down in terms of spec.

If you can’t afford either hang in there…but do NOT buy an expensive hybrid car. Hybrid is the worst of both worlds. Keep your current car struggling along another year or two and watch decent EVs come down in price even more.

*i know this is currently only for houses with offstreet parking, but roadside lampost charging will come soon enough.