One of the big questions facing any prospective new car buyer is, “Who’s going to look after this car throughout its life?” Well, ok, that might not be a big question if you’re buying a regular BMW, Ford or Nissan, etc. – it’s the dealer network. but, it does become a little more significant if you’re buying a more niche vehicle like an electric car from BMW, Ford or Nissan? Ok, still the dealers but, maybe specialist dealers. But, what if you’re buying a niche electric car from a hitherto unknown silicon valley startup? And, what if that car is going to be the single most expensive car you’ve ever, and may ever, buy? Who is going to look after it in five years after the company that made it has disappeared? Was I nuts?
Most people thought I was nuts, even putting down a $5,000 deposit raised incredulous eyebrows. I have to say, I don’t begrudge anyones opinion that I was nuts – Let’s face it, I was.
When I ordered the car, I didn’t have the means to pay for it in full and it was my expectation that I would, at some point, reluctantly, call for the deposit to be returned. What I wanted to do was tell the world that there were people out there prepared to put something, if only a deposit, on the line to support an amazing idea. I think that they call it KickStarter today.
As time progressed, my confidence in the company, Tesla Motors, slowly grew – they were making all the right moves and many analysts were shifting their opinion from “Utter nonsense’ to just “Nonsense” but, the inflection point came for me when the whole of the owners in waiting were called to a meeting at Tesla HQ – I joined by phone. At that meeting, Elon Musk, the newly anointed CEO, having just taken the reigns from Martin Eberhard, took the mic and with conviction and just a hint of nerves, announced that the Roadster was not going to happen at $107,000, it just wasn’t! He went on to say that the price would rise, the features would fall and that everyones deposit was waiting for them if they wanted it back.
At that meeting, I suspect that Tesla lost a couple of deposits but, if they did, I don’t know whose they were. It takes determination and conviction in the mission to take risks like Elon took. Only the foolish, the arrogant or the very confident can pull that off. Needless to say, I respected that and, it’s why I have a five year old Tesla Roadster to write about.
So, how did it pan out? How has Tesla Motors changed? Here are my experiences with the car and the company.
Ah, happy days, the big un-boxing to beat all un-boxings, for me anyway. August 2009 heralded the day my 2010 Tesla Roadster arrived. I’m not going to say it was awesome… waste of good words. What it was, was the first precarious step down a path that, as it happened was one-way.
The first year of ownership highlighted just how professional a company Tesla is. No, it wasn’t corporate professional with legions of support staff and layers of management to ensure that every thing was taken care of, but rather, boutique professional where a small team of people get to know you as you get to know them – I’m still friends with my tech, Raph’ Garcia even though he ascended the ranks through Tesla. When I did experience problems, he was there day or night to dig in and figure it out. The worst issue that I had was a little bit of Sciatica in the battery pack in month five. A trapped wire caused some errors to show up.
The first year of ownership also coincided with the installation of the first public charger in New York City – I had to build my own Public-to-Tesla Roadster adapter:
Year two saw the start of the upgrades. As a daily driver, the Roadster required some updates to both keep me happy and to improve on the, let’s face it, basic interior. Extra sound insulation and updated seats went in at the New York Tesla Gallery.
Year three, much like year two, all still going well. More upgrades: fancy wheels, more sound insulation – all carried out by Tesla’s service staff in New York.
Year four was just driving but, changes in my job and a growing concern that my Roadster wouldn’t last for ever had me moving my commute to a regular car… which, by that I mean a BMW ActiveE.
Year five was less miles again and I continued to commute in a knock-about car – a 2013 Ford Focus Electric – okay, I sound like a spoilt brat. The thing is, the Roadster has become that “Polished to a reflective shine, weekend car” that comes out when it’s not raining and/or someone needs to have their idea of what an electric cars is… Reset at 0.7G.
Year five also heralded the arrival of the “Roadster Sport Suspension upgrade” – New Jersey roads are not kind and pummeled the basic stock shocks to death, but hey, make lemonade right?
Where do we stand after five years and 40,000 miles?
- Brake pads: None.
- Oil: None.
- Exhaust components: None.
- Emission system parts: None.
- Major component replacements: None
- Minor component replacement: 3 Trouble with the TPMS, replacement of the the tiny 12V backup battery – now a Li-ion one (cue nerdy “Ooow”) and, shock absorbers pummeled to death by the New Jersey potholed roads.
- Self-inflicted component replacements: 3… I snapped off the indicator stalk getting in one day, I broke the interior lamp trying to upgrade it to LED and the drivers door mirror wouldn’t co-exist in the same physical space as a passing SUV.
- Tires: 8… Traffic lights, 0-60 in 3.9, say nothing.
- AC fluid: 4 recharges – It’s a Tesla Roadster thing, they recharge it every year, not sure why.
- New Jersey Inspection stickers: -1
I’m particularly proud of that last one. In New Jersey, all cars are inspected every year after their fifth birthday. Much like many countries and states, NJ inspects cars but, with today’s electronic systems for bulb failure, tire pressures and more, it has become little more than an emissions test. So little that 100% electric vehicles like the Roadster no longer require the test. As a result I was able to pull off the sticker when it expired. There’s a certain feeling of mischief in flagrantly parading a car around that’s deliberately missing part of its government branding.
So, did I miss anything? Ah, yes, the range! Well, this is where the story turns from good to great. Two things kill battery capacity, cycle life and calendar years. Our New Jersey temperature extremes from -20℃ / -4℉ to +40℃ / 104℉ don’t help either however, after about 215 battery charge cycles and five calendar years my range on the, fairly accurate, display has changed from:
- Regular charge peak, in summer: 195 down to 185 miles
- Full charge: 242 down to 231 miles
I’ve lost about 5% of my available range. That’s it.
Others have lost more, some suspect problems with their batteries, some suspect more rigorous use and/or less than perfect storage. To be fair, my car has spent most of its life in a garage, on power and at room temperature. It’s spent little time out in the bitter cold or in the scorching sunlight away from its power feed, it’s been able to warm or cool itself at will. I’ve resisted the urge to charge it right up to its limit and have only discharged it to a few percent a couple of times. It’s lived the battery equivalent of the high life. But, that’s not something that’s too hard to do.
But, what about Tesla Motors themselves? Well, they’ve grown up. My maintenance in the first few years was done by Raph’ who would stop by and fix things up in my driveway. By year four, Tesla built a service center near me that I have to take the car to. It’s closer to me than the Ford dealership, about the same as BMW so, same there. The people there are pleasant and helpful – same as BMW then, the place is spotless… no comparison there then.
Tesla Motors has reached a level of maturity it seems – they’re no worse than any regular dealer in my opinion, only better in many ways – the product is better so, that’s a leg up for them that they leverage at every opportunity – they’re even talking about power-train upgrades being developed for my car!
So, did I dodge a bullet or make a shrewd choice? I researched the technology and the company a little but, there was a great deal of blind faith. It worked out well and paid off for me but, my heart felt condolences go out to those that bet on Fisker and Aptera – I understand and admire your passion.
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