When battery power is not enough

The business press has given a lot of attention lately to Elon Musk’s plans for the future financing of Tesla, however without really looking at the one factor that is critical for the bottom line, as for any car company: the trend in cars sold. And if the Hong Kong market, which boasted the highest number of Tesla cars per capita in 2016 is anything to go by, the trend is not good.

Regular readers of this blog may remember my video post from a business trip in Hong Kong in March 2017, that you can otherwise view here. Little did I know at the time that a month after that video was made, things would take a dramatic turn for the worse in terms of Tesla sales.  In the record month of March 2017, almost 3000 Teslas were registered in Hong Kong, before the bottom went out of the market in April with only 32 (!) cars being registered in the territory for the remainder of 2017, and with numbers continuing to drop so far in 2018.

BF-AS184_TESLAH_16U_20170709185104What Hong Kong residents knew back in March of last year, and I didn’t, was that the HK government was about to abolish the heavy subsidy on Teslas to the benefit of more ordinary, electric cars. Hong Kong is not the first market where removal of subsidies has had a dramatic effect on Tesla sales, Denmark is another. To make things worse, Hong Kong residents conscious of the environment should probably be happy about the drop, as research from Bernstein from 2016 has shown that electricity generation in Hong Kong is so dirty that a Tesla will throughout its lifetime be responsible for 1/5 more CO2 emissions than an equivalent petrol car.

The removal of the tax subsidy made Teslas massively more expensive in the local market, but not more so than a BMW, MB or Audi, all of which continue to sell significantly more cars than Tesla. As everyone who has driven a Tesla knows, it’s a fascinating car, but if you remove the engine, it is no match for the traditional luxury brands. This is what the statistics from Hong Kong prove, and it thus seems clear that the most critical factor for Elon Musk’s financing plans and Tesla’s future is government subsidies – or in other words, politics.

One day in Tesla-land

It’s been almost a year since I last visited Amsterdam and Holland, one of my favorite business destinations, and not much was different as I walked through the airport heading for the taxi line earlier this week. But then it became clear how quickly things can change. Whereas a year ago I can’t remember seeing a single Tesla, either as a taxi or in general, today it is practically the only taxi car you see. As was explained to me this is partly an airport phenomenon since the airport makes a thing of having clean taxis, but nevertheless the speed of change is impressive. Getting into the back seat of one for a 50 km journey to Utrecht gave me the opportunity to explore this further in discussion with a very talkative taxi driver, and obviously to talk about the Tesla in general with someone who had driven it on a daily basis for almost a year.

TeslaTesla parking

As was explained to me, a Tesla is a very good deal for Dutch taxi companies. Through various discounts they get the P85 (i.e. the larger engine but not the trimmed P85+ version) for roughly EUR 50.000, around half the official price. No taxes apply to electric taxi cars and “re-fueling” is of course free. The driver was also very happy with the car. He hadn’t experienced any problems and said the GPS / entertainment system with its giant screen is highly addictive, something I’ve experienced from personal experience. So in other words, my previous impressions were confirmed and it’s all thumbs up?

Unfortunately not completely. There is a downside which, little surprise, starts with the range. The driver tells me he does get out 360-380 kms on a full charge, very respectable and not far away from Tesla’s claim. However this is Holland, a country with strict speed limits and even stricter controls (they’ve actually come up with a new one which is very difficult to fault: they measure the time it takes you to travel between two points…), so speed rarely exceeds 100 km/h. When you start going faster, the range starts dropping fast, especially above 130 km/h.

Secondly, there is the issue of superchargers: there are currently four stations in Holland, less than in Germany but probably objectively sufficient given the size of the country. However, the subsidies that not only taxi drivers enjoy on electrical cars mean there is not only a lot of Teslas but of electric cars in general. Tesla graciously let owners of other electrical cars use the superchargers against a small fee (in all countries, not just in Holland) but they anyway remain very attractive for owners of other brands given the short charging time. And even if Teslas have priority at the stations, this quite often means that the superchargers are not free. A full charge takes 40 minutes (or 20 minutes for 80%), but obviously if there are two cars in front of you, the pit stop quickly extends to 2 hours – quite annoying on a longer trip. This problem is obviously one Tesla owners risk seeing in other countries as well, and it’s probably only a question of time before Tesla restricts the superstation usage to Tesla owners. Until then however, it is something anyone thinking about a Tesla should bear in mind.

The third and final point actually relates to the build quality. As readers of this blog know I’ve driven a Tesla twice, but when you are behind the wheel you have so much else to focus on that you don’t pay as much attention to the small things as you do when you sit in the back seat. The first thing you note is how short the seat is, and how limited the head space is. Calling a Tesla a 2+2 car is exaggerated but it is not really comfortable if you are over say 1.75m. It also feels like there is a lot of plastic around you which is not of a quality comparable to the German brands. Door panels, backside of seats and various pieces around your feet do not give a very good impression. Finally, and most disappointing of all, the noise level is high even on ultra-smooth Dutch motorways, obviously an even bigger disappointment considering this is an electrical car. The wind and road noise already around 100 km/h by far exceeds any other premium brand in the same price class.

My first passenger trip in a Tesla thus became a bit of a wake-up call. No doubt, the Tesla Model S is an impressive effort from a company no one knew five years ago, and it remains a real thrill to drive. Furthermore, depending on where you live, ownership costs are typically very attractive, making the total costs very competitive even with quite a high purchase price. If you rarely go on longer drives and have small children, go for it. If you regularly travel longer distances, you should at least be aware of the limitations in range and comfort.

Tesla D: 4WD and up to 700 (electric) horsepower!

Tesla has presented the new D model, a new version of the Model S with 4WD and up to 700 horsepower! The top version accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.4 (!) seconds. To put this into perspective, it is the same time as a Ferrari 458…

According to Tesla, two smaller electric motors can regenerate energy more efficiently than a single big motor, thus increasing the range of the 4WD models with about 15 km compared to their 2WD counterparts.

Tesla also introduced Autopilot features; software updates will enable semi-automatic driving on highways as well as autonomous parking. The car will actually be able to drive out of a parking space and to its owner autonomously.

The future is here today.

Tesla Model S P85D

Tesla Model S – still running at full power?

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Regular readers of this blog may remember my very positive report from January after having driven the Tesla Model S the first time (click here). 9 months have passed and I was today invited to a test event Tesla had organized in the Swiss alpine resort Arosa, giving me the opportunity to drive the car again and confirm impressions and obviously also get an update on Tesla’s progress.

September is normally still summer in Switzerland and having enjoyed temperatures around 20-25 degrees the last weeks, little did I think of some rain in the weather report. But climbing to Arosa at 1800 metres, at 5 degrees the rain was close to turning into snow, and the surrounding mountains were all white. Bringing 427 bhp and 600 Nm onto the ground in a rear wheel drive car running on 21-inch 265′ summer tyres under such circumstances and on alpine roads would be… interesting. Would the car’s low center of gravity compensate for the dreadful outside conditions, or in other words, compensate for the absence of four-wheel drive?

Firstly a few lines on the car itself. Nothing much has changed in nine months other than the order books running at full steam, not only in Switzerland. Tesla is well ahead of sales predictions all over Europe and have in this country sold 800 cars of which 500 have been delivered (delivery times are currently at around 4-5 months). As the car is still basically new no face lift is planned yet, but some improvements to the interior have been made. We are here talking about small things such as a partly-covered alcantara dashboard, improved material quality especially in the boot (one of my critical points from the first report) and some new functions and buttons. Overall, the car feels exactly as premium and solid as it did when I first saw it and is clearly on par with the Mercs, BMW’s and Audis of this world.

The test car was the top version of the Model S called P85 Performance +. Besides plenty of torque and bhp it also features an improved chassis, suspension and brakes and a sportier setting of the air suspension. Too stiff for alpine roads of bad quality? Taking the wheel the first impression is that of a very tight car that in spite of its size and weight is very precise and easy to handle. Weight repartition (48/52) feels well balanced, the suspension does a brilliant job and whilst the steering may not appeal to those wishing for a mechanical feel, the three adjustments (sport-normal-comfort) bring a real added value, with the sport setting being perfect for these roads and fast driving, whilst it would be too burdensome for the city, for which the comfort setting is ideal.

Challenging the car a bit it responds really well and again, it does not feel heavier than a traditional car (even though it is!). However, the fact that the torque is plentiful and available at each moment takes some getting used to, especially on mountain roads. Things are also slightly complicated by the fact that you cannot let yourself be guided by the engine noise. Attacking a corner slightly too aggressively I suddenly felt the rear break out a little surprisingly, but it is brought in very effectively and surprisingly smoothly by the (standard) ESP half a second later. Clearly not a car for drifting – unless you turn off the ESP, that is. Doing that and given enough space, you could probably do wonder with this car, especially when you learn to handle the power! My very competent Tesla co-driver mentioned Tesla is working on 4-wheel drive as an option but also said that for normal “ski weekend” use, the low center of gravity basically means 4-wheel drive is not required. And frankly, driving a 4WD myself, I do think it would ruin the car a bit and would personally not hesitate to buy the standard version.

The company Tesla is doing really well and importantly, keeping its promises. The supercharging stations are being deployed across Europe according to plan and will until the end of this year allow you to travel from Zurich to Norway using only superchargers (which are by the way free during the car’s lifetime). Tesla’s SUV Model X pictured below will probably be available towards the end of 2015, and plans are then to introduce a small car as a competitor to BMW’s i3 by 2017. It does indeed seem Tesla is here to stay, and the Model S has lost nothing of its attractiveness as an exciting, fun and competitively-priced alternative to traditional (German) competitors!

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Tesla Model X prototype, available from 2015

Spain to Scotland and back in a week – Days 3 and 4

Part 2 of Spain to Scotland electric vehicle trip with Tesla Model S – (reblogged)

Drive & Dream

It was nearly 6pm when we left Portsmouth. Three hours later than planned, but we had a full battery and only 250kms to go.

How did we choose our next stop when we’ve never driven an EV in the UK before?

The way we plan trips is partly based on where we want to go and partly on the overnight charge options available. Overnight charging is key because the car is stopped anyway.

In the UK there are a growing number of motorway services with 22kW charge points (Ecotricity have set up many) but sleeping in a UK motorway service stop is not high on my list of things to do.

One day hotels.com will have a filter option for hotels with charge points but the only resource I know of now is the excellent zerocarbonworld.org site. They have helped many UK hotels install 7kW outlets, which is the bare…

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The first two days – Madrid to the South of England

Very interesting article describing a trip from Madrid to Scotland in an electric Tesla Model S! To be continued…

Drive & Dream

So, the whole point of Drive & Dream is to make electric car touring as easy and pleasant as possible, in order that people can overcome their worries and start buying electrics by the million.

This means that we are always doing something for the first time, because after that it’s easy.

On this trip we were to try the first long (24h) ferry crossing with on board recharging. All the rest, I thought, was just routine. Ah, how innocent. 🙂

If you recall, back in September we did the first Tilburg to Southern Europe trip. Then, it was a challenge just to locate and book a hotel or lunch stop with a reasonable (7kW+) charge point. We drove down through Belgium and France to home in a weekend and on the way confirmed places like the Parador in Lerma as great places to stop.

So on this trip day…

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Test drive of the Tesla Model S – the true meaning of torque!

After visiting the Tesla store in Zurich earlier this fall, I wrote quite an enthusiastic review based on first impressions of Tesla’s family sedan, the Model S (found here). Finding time for a test drive took longer than expected, but earlier this week it became reality – and boy what a life-changer it was!

Given I described the first impression of the car quite extensively in my first review I’ll pass on the details but what strikes you every time you step into the Model S is how spacious it is. The absence of an engine in the front has left space for quite a sizeable, second luggage compartment of 150 litres, easily fitting two larger bags, which together with the hatchback solution in the rear means around 900(!) litres of luggage space with five seats (and over 1600 litres if you fold the back seats). This means the Tesla is a true family car option, as long as your children are not oversized (the limited headroom on the back seats means people over 180 cms will hit the roof).

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With the Tesla salesman (a converted banker, mind you…) next to me, I took possession of a pearl white Model S with black interior, to me the best colour combination. It had the stronger of the two offered engines (85 KwH, 414 bhp, range around 400 kms) with the so called performance package, meaning a better handling chassis and a torque of 600 Nm, rather than 440 Nm in the standard 85 KwH version. It also featured the panoramic roof that opens larger than the sun roof of any other current production car.

Driving a Tesla in the city is quite undramatic. Obviously there is no engine noise but to be fair, I don’t hear the engine in my MB either, and the Tesla is still exposed to surrounding noise. Fascinating at first, but easy to get used to, is the strong engine breaking sensation developing as you take your foot off the pedal. This is the engine regenerating electrical power and once you learn to manage it (which takes roughly 5 minutes), it means you can actually drive the car without breaking in 9 cases out of 10. It also means that driving down an alpine road for example, when regeneration will be particularly high, your range will develop positively. What also strikes you immediately is obviously the 17 inch info screen that occupies the center of the car and from which basically everything is handled. This system always has an internet connection, over Wifi or 3G, financed by Tesla all through Europe. That’s right, no roaming charges if you take the car on a trip abroad!

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With this in mind, the remaining driving experience in the city is completely undramatic. The car handles well, together with the suspension clearly on the sporty side, quite reminiscent of a 5-series BMW. Seats are comfortable (although they could do with some more lateral support) and the cabin, lacking a transmission tunnel, is very roomy.

And then at some point you come onto the motorway, and this is when all you thought you knew of motoring (or indeed electrical cars!) changes – forever. The nature of an electrical car means that torque is constant irrespective of the speed, and power delivery is instant, as there is no transmission, turbo or other to delay it. So when you floor it at 60, 80 or 100 km/h, you immediately have 600 Nm of torque hitting you in the blink of an eye. This means the Tesla does 0-100 km/h in around 4.5 seconds but even more impressive, it does 80-120 km/h in less than three seconds, roughly on par with a Panamera Turbo, but beating an Aston Martin Rapide (that money-wise will both set you back considerably more). The feeling when it does so is quite simply unlike anything you have ever experienced. It is also very, very addictive, and something every motor enthusiast should try out.

On smaller roads the impression of a well-handling, rather sporty car is confirmed. Given the 600 kgs of battery power sit in the floor, the center of gravity is low, and weight repartition at 48/52 is excellent. Sure, it doesn’t behave like a 911, but again this is a large, family sedan. It may feel slightly heavy (after all it weighs 2.1 tonnes…) but there is no roll to talk about, steering is precise and the (air) suspension is well-behaved.

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Not a recommended way of driving considering the range…

No negative points? Sure, there are a few. As mentioned the seats could be more supportive, the fact that a high-tech car like the Tesla lacks modern functions such as a lane assist or an intelligent cruise control is disappointing, and some parts of the interior, especially in the boot, lack premium feel. But when you floor that pedal, you will forgot all of the above very quickly…

Since my first visit at Tesla, the company has cut delivery times to 4-5 months, and the Model S has become the most sold car in Norway, a country with high car taxes but strong subsidies on alternative fuel cars. And looking at the financial side even if you live outside of Norway is quite interesting (at least in Switzerland but surely in other countries as well): buying a properly equipped 85 KwH Model S sets you back around 105.000-120.000 CHF, i.e. roughly the same as a large German sedan with similar equipment (but without an engine that in any way can match the experience). But after that, it’s only good news. Comparing costs to my current MB E350, this is what it looks like: no road tax for electrical cars in Zurich (+700 CHF), service included for the first four years (around +1000 CHF on 20.000 kms/year), cheaper insurance (+700 CHF) and “fuel” costs on 20.000 kms of around 600 CHF rather than around 3700 CHF (+3100 CHF) in my case means a net saving of around 5500 CHF – per year. From that perspective, the price is more than fair. There is also a 4 year warranty on the car and 8 years on the batteries, and a resell level that will probably by far exceed conventional cars.

Tesla is also becoming a serious pain in the butt for larger (German) carmakers. How can a company with no car manufacturing tradition and a couple of thousand employees come up with a car that in some aspects is lightyears ahead of competition? How can they sell it at 100.000 CHF, when a small BMW i3 with some basic equipment but less than half the range (not to talk about the power or the size) costs more than 50.000 CHF? How can Tesla offer an infotainment solution that is constantly online over 3G all over Europe? The Germans had better find an answer to these questions sooner rather than later.

Likewise, it is high time for Europe’s politicians to wake up. This is a car that at zero emissions could seriously change Europe’s automotive landscape, especially if Tesla as promised comes out with a cheaper model in the coming years, Still, in most cases, it is Tesla that needs to finance the power charging stations built over Europe out of their own pocket. Where are the initiatives in this direction from the various types of green parties that like to talk the talk, but rarely walk the walk?

While these questions are answered, go and test drive a Tesla. You won’t regret it…

Tesla Model S – the future Thrill of Driving?

Model S exterior

Tesla a while ago opened a showroom in downtown Zurich, where until now they have sold the Tesla Roadster that has now gone out of production. Judging by how many you see on the streets, they did it with some success. Since a couple of weeks, it has now been replaced by the Model S, Tesla’s new flagship. Well, actually new is to be taken with a pinch of salt, the Model S was first presented in 2009, but for various reasons didn’t go into production until 2012 (so far it has only been sold in the US). Yesterday I had the opportunity to have a closer look at it and, although beeing a sceptic to the future of electrical cars, I’ll admit it was very, very impressive.

the Model S is a very successful design. It has been developed by Tesla and is produced in Tesla’s factory in California, but has a strong resemblance to the Jag S-type (maybe the S in the name that does it…), but with a leaner, sportier touch. Furthermore Tesla use Mercedes parts for things such as gearstick, windowlifters etc., logical since MB is a partial owner of the company. Next to the design, one of the first things you notice is the absence of a visible engine, meaning you have plenty of storage space both under the front-hood (approx 150 litres) and in the back (up to 1640 litres), as the Model S is in fact a hatchback that can even be ordered as a 7-seater (two luggage seats turned the wrong way for children). The electrical engine sits, along with the battery, under the car, helping it to both an almost ideal weight distribution, and also to a low center of gravity. The battery itself weighs a whopping 600 kgs, putting the total car at 2.1 tons, and this is obviously still the big drawback with the concept of electrical cars.

Tesla claim a range of 480 km for the larger, 85 kWh engine, at an average speed of 88 km/h (the smaller 60 kWh engine manages 370 km), so far unrivalled among electrical cars. Obviously this is under ideal conditions, the question is how much that range is reduced doing 150-160 km/h on a German Autobahn. Unfortunately, the answer is probably “a lot”. Charging can be done both from a normal plug and from the kind of high-voltage stations you start to see in citys, notably London. A full charge from a normal plug takes about 30 hours but only 4-5 with a high-voltage plug.

Model S interior

The interior of the Model S if beautifully crafted with no small-series feel, and has to be considered very avantgarde. The first thing that strikes you is the GIANT 17-inch touchscreen in the middle, covering a multitude of functions and making standard cars look as from another age. The interior is also very spacious, helped by the absence of any transmission tunnel. At first sight, a very nice effort with a modern and luxurious feel. Remains to be seen if this is all confirmed after a few miles, and I very much looking forward to communicate some driving impressions from a test drive soon.

In Switzerland, the bigger engine car with decent equipment will cost around 100-110′ CHF, so around 80-90′ EUR. IF driving it is as good as I’m led to believe, and IF the range is anywhere close to what is claimed, that is a fair price, especially if you consider that driving costs are estimated at around 15-20 CHF for a full load, which would mean around 4-5 CHF per 100 km, if the range is stands the test. Not bad for a big family hatchback!

Whether electrical cars in general, and Tesla in particular are the future remains to be confirmed. It will probably take a battery revolution to make it a viable concept for the greater public, something that still looks a bit away. Tesla on the other hand is a one-product company currently valued at over USD 5bn, or 816 times projected 2013 earnings, making it the most highly valued car manufacturer in the world. Quoted on Nasdaq, in 2012 the company still loot money, and its future (in general and as an independent identity, as it is in spite of its valuation considered as a clear takeover target) is not fully clear, knowing that a change in ownership might very quickly change the profile of the company and its products. The current waiting list in Switzerland for the Model S is around two years. I’m not fully sure I would be confident enough to leave a deposit payment for that long…

Genève: Tesla visar elbilen Model S

Teslas elbil är väldigt intressant. Den är byggt som en femsitsig bil, med tre tydliga urgröpningar bak, dessutom går den att extrautrusta med två bakåtvända barnstolar i bagageutrymmet som gör bilen sjusitsig! Utan extrastolar rymmer bagageutrymmet bak 900(!) liter. Dessutom finns ytterligare ett utrymme fram som rymmer 230 liter.

En annan sak som stack ut är att bilen, precis som Fisker Karma, har en enorm touch-screen på mittkonsolen från vilken man styr alla olika system.

Med det största batteripaketet har bilen en räckvidd på el på 480 kilometer, i alla fall på pappret; vi får se hur det blir i verkligheten. Jämför vi med Fisker Karma, som jag nyligen provkörde (återkommer snart med provkörningsrapport), är Teslan mycket mer praktisk om än inte lika lyxig. Den stora skillnaden är dock att Karman har en förbränningsmotor som kan ladda batteriet, vilket gör att räckvidden kan förlängas genom att fylla på med bensin. Å andra sidan har Karman en räckvidd på bara 80 km på ren el (480 km totalt).

Sammanfattningsvis tycker jag att Tesla Model S visar på en intressant utvecklingsväg när det gäller elbilar. Genom att ta bort förbränningsmotorn helt, på gott och ont, har de lyckats med en mycket effektiv paketering av drivlinan som gör att det blir stort utrymme kvar till passagerare och bagage.