On October 3rd our long awaited Tesla arrived. The kids were waiting at the end of the driveway, dancing like blonde pixies as the delivery truck rolled up. P and I raced up behind them with cameras at the ready and I took video footage of it being silently offloaded. The truck driver had to get back to Sydney so we didn’t hold him up. The only thing he told us about it was that the hazard lights are operated up near the rear-view mirror. He probably knew, by then, that people who were buying these cars were slightly obsessive and had probably watched more Youtube videos about them than he could possibly get ahead of.
THE LEARNING CURVE
My first reaction (every time I see it) is that it’s a pretty car. It is sleek of line and has the kind of bonnet I like with rolling humps for the headlights and a smooth ramp-like nose. Its glass roof means the inside feels light and airy (despite the black upholstery) and I immediately noticed that there is heaps of leg-room in the back, even for my long spindles.
The first things to get used to, were having the indicators on the left and the regenerative braking. Driving the Tesla, you rarely need to touch the brake. As you ease off the accelerator the regen braking kicks in (feeding the energy from the friction on the brake pads back into the battery) and speeding and slowing are more about adjustment on one pedal rather than swapping between two. The only time you use the brake is if something takes you by surprise and you need to stop quickly.
Since the Tesla arrived, we have been on three long trips with it. Two of them didn’t require any charging – each about 400 kilometres in distance – one with a steep incline of several kilometres on the way home. Each trip, we learn a little something more about its capabilities. Its range prediction is incredibly accurate (even taking terrain into account). The voice recognition for the Sat Nav is amazing. You get a free Spotify account with the car (which has launched us into the musical 21st Century and the whole family has loved choosing music). And the auto-steer is freakishly good.
Auto-steer is standard with the car and is not full self-driving. It does not obey the Sat Nav and it does not change lanes for you or overtake. But it makes for very relaxing highway driving. The car keeps very neatly and smoothly within its lane and stays at a safe distance behind any cars in front. Sitting in the back, I noticed that the line around sharper corners was not as smooth as a human driver could make it but other than that, you honestly couldn’t tell the difference.
On a trip to Sydney, my husband thought the wider lanes of the Freeway were confusing the auto-steer as the car was wobbling around a bit. However, when P took over the steering, he realized that there was a strong side-wind and that he couldn’t make the car any steadier than the auto-steer had.
Enroute to Sydney, we stopped for lunch in a town where we knew there was free charging provided by the NRMA. The NRMA chargers are not super fast but, hell, who says no to free fuel, right? So we left the car filling up while we wandered off to find some food, go to the toilet, give the kids a break, etc. Sure it’s slower than tipping fuel into your tank but (even at a Tesla Super Charger where you get charged 40c per kilowatt hour) it’s a little over a quarter of the price of unleaded petrol. And, it’s important to remember that unless you’re on a trip, you don’t need to fill up at a commercial venue at all. You can charge your car at home. So while we might allow 30-50 minutes extra (depending on the type of charger) to get us over 500km, in an average week we don’t use any time at all to fill up the car. It happens while we are comfortably at home being a family. And we certainly don’t go away once a month so I think, if it’s time people are worried about, you probably still win out with an electric car.
At the moment, I concede, you do have to plan better. The charging network is not yet developed enough that driving around Sydney and then trying to get back home was straight-forward. But it was the around-Sydney that added the complication. There are lot of chargers dotted about but many of them are “destination chargers” (ie; very slow) and Sydney is big enough and busy enough that you really want the charger to be “on the way”. Our time in Sydney was very limited and we had commitments in three different venues widely spread around the city.
However, I have no doubts that the network will improve. As I said to a friend, there was a time when there weren’t enough mobile towers. In fact, the nearest town to my parents’ place only got a mobile tower about 18 months ago. My parents still don’t get coverage at home but now it’s only a 20 minute drive to coverage instead of an hour. Many new technologies have needed infrastructure to go with them and such changes will never be instant. Petrol stations are as common as hair salons now but once upon a time, it must’ve been more complicated.
When my brother and I drove the Tanami Track back in 2002, we knew there were only two places to buy fuel. Those two places were very expensive because they had to ship fuel in and they had a captive market. Out there, in the desert, setting up solar arrays to provide charging will be no issue at all. It’s onsite, and after the initial capital outlay, it’s very cheap to run.
With your Tesla account comes an app on your phone. You can use your phone as a key. You can set the car to cool down or warm up before you get in it. You can honk the horn from a distance (not sure why but it is fun). You can enable sentry mode (so the self driving cameras are used for security footage which is recorded on a USB key inside the car). You can check how much charge the car has and/or how rapidly it is charging. You can check the location of the car which is even pinpointed on a map. Yesterday evening, P texted me to say he was leaving work. I decided to look on the map and see if I could watch him drive home. Sure enough, the little arrow moved in real time and the app even told me how fast he was traveling. My son watched him all the way home and danced outside to meet him at the appropriate moment. It was funny and cute but would also be quite useful if your car got stolen.
Let’s just say “HOLY SHIT!” I haven’t ever been in an especially fast petrol car. P used to have a Subaru WRX and that was the fastest car I have experienced. With the speed came the noise and the need to change gears. The Tesla is so different. It is silent and absolutely smooth. The traction is perfect. You zip away from the lights and you feel your chest get pressed back against the seat and your tonsils try to escape through the back of your neck. Personally, I find it alarming. But if speed is important to you, let me just say, the Teslas have it in spades.
We haven’t had to get the Tesla serviced yet, obviously. However it should be noted that electric cars have far fewer moving parts than fossil cars. Mechanically, there is far less that can go wrong.
The Tesla is a very technical machine. While I find it a little scary that so much of it is computer-powered and I know even less about computers than I do about mechanics, I have realised that Tesla has been very smart. Because their cars are online, they can do updates in the blink of an eye. When we first got the car, you couldn’t set the charging to finish at a particular time. Since then, they have updated the software and now you can. We decided we wanted to buy the Full Self Driving package. It didn’t require going into a service centre. It was just done online.
DEALING WITH TESLA
One of the reasons we wanted to get a Tesla rather than an electric Hyundai or Jaguar, was that we haven’t had great experiences taking our electric LEAF to Nissan or our plug-in-hybrid to Mitsubishi. The dealers are not knowledgeable about electric cars and usually only one or two staff get any training. Often they can’t answer our questions and will keep the car for a day only to achieve nothing. We hope that since Tesla deal only with electric cars, their staff will be better informed.
So far, I have to say, our experience with Tesla hasn’t been overwhelmingly positive. But they are trying hard to improve. I think that, until the Model 3 came to Australia, Teslas were such a luxury car that few Australians owned them and the company could afford to keep a fairly skeletal staff. However, with the sudden influx of thousands of vehicles, they are struggling to keep up with the deliveries and the purchasing of accessories (like sun shades or car seat covers or Full Self Driving). I guess they will train up more staff and the response times will improve. When you can get hold of a staff member they are always very friendly and helpful and enthusiastic.
I guess we are still in the honeymoon period with our car but we love it. We love what it represents, we love how it looks, we love driving it, we love the atmosphere inside the car and we love the geeky little extras like “fart mode”. I don’t see the infrastructure problem as long lasting or even that serious. And I do have faith that Tesla’s service will improve as the company settles into its stride in Australia.