A friend of mine owns a Tesla Model S – is he a nerd or a visionary?
A friend of mine owns a Tesla Model S. He has studied physics, and I think, he is a bit of a techie-nerd. He tells me his stories about driving from Zurich to Chiasso (about 200km), hooking up his Tesla to a hotel plug, and then the hotel went black. No way to recharge the Tesla there, and he eventually found a camping site for that. He seems to love that thrill. I am not convinced…
As I read more and more about e-cars, I start to change my mind: My friend may be an early adopter of e-mobility that might well become a future trend.
Traditional car providers such as BMW, Nissan, VW, Mercedes, VW, Renault and even Chinese companies (such as BYD) develop their own e-cars. They would not do so, if they saw no business in it. The Tesla Model S, has recently been rated to be the second most sold luxury car after Mercedes in the US (Newsticker). The “world top 20 half year 2015” edition of ev-sales.blogspot.ch shows Nissan Leaf as the leader worldwide (25068 cars sold in Jan-Jun 2015), while in June 2015 Tesla leads the ranking with almost 5000 cars sold worldwide. Around 200’000 e-cars sold worldwide in Jan-Jun 2015 is of course still a small share of the overall car market.
Norwegia subsidizes e-cars giving them privileges such as the right to drive in the bus lane. As a consequence, the number of e-cars ramped up more than in other European countries, in towns, and also in remote northern areas (wikipedia and EV Norway). There must be potential, if waked up by the government. Other European countries are lagging, with Switzerland a bit more ahead: In Switzerland, growth rates of e-car sales are 44%, in particular Toyota and Tesla cars are well adopted (NZZ 29.07.2015: “Das E-Auto wird in Deutschland zum Fiasko”).
I am surely not a nerd. I just like to drive my “normal” combustion car that is reliable and also a bit of fun to drive. Are e-cars now becoming reliable and fun to drive, too, even for me? Let me summarize some of my impressions just from the viewpoint of a “normal” potential consumer.
Yes, I find that e-cars are cute to drive around, but the range is still a problem
At an event organized by one of our local electricity providers, I have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with e-cars.
- The Renault Twizy reminds me of the Deux Chevaux back in my university days. Minimalistic. The Twizy may be an attractive advertisement platform for companies or handy for the Pizza service. Not for me, I prefer my “normal” bike for short distances (not yet considering “e”-bikes that recently have become somewhat hype).
- The BMW i3 is utterly elegant with a GPS showing the charging stations on the map. But why are there so many knobs to manage the car? Why is that not integrated in the electronic cockpit?
- The Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe are more sober, but handy to drive.
- The e-Golf feels like a VW Golf, very robust. VW might have had their current clients in mind, when designing their e-car. and they will surely recognize the experience.
All these cars have one problem: The e-charge is empty after 100 to 200 kms (depending on conditions, see Wikipedia entry and 10 Electric Vehicles with the best range in 2015), and recharging takes time. My combustion car can do 700km . Opportunities to load the e-car are still patchy (interesting concept: park & charge with map LEMnet).
Some time ago, I traveled in a KIA from Basel to a village near Baden, about 100kms. We start with a reserve for 160kms, reload the car at a normal 220V plug in Baden, find out that after five hours, it has only reloaded to give us 120km. We just about make it back home with 25km left to drive, with the car warning us about “low battery”. Fortunately the navigator shows the loading infrastructure available and hence longer journeys can be tackled with the KIA, but not without hazzle. That evening we took the cable from my garage to recharge the KIA.
Though the e-cars are comfortable and so much less noisy to drive, I would not replace my combustion car with any of them right now. I hear that BMW gives out combustion cars to BMW i3 owners, when they plan their vacation in Southern Europe.
Tesla Model S… THIS car IS different…
Some Tesla Model S drivers are attending the hands-on experience event. They take guests out to sit in their car and feel, what it is like. One of them invites me to a ride. Proudly (Tesla owners are fans of their cars) he shows me his cockpit screen. “Well”, I say “this is different, this is innovative… it reminds me of the battle between traditonal telephone companies and Microsoft around desktop collaboration in enterprises… the telephone solutions were “clumsy telephones” and the Microsoft solution was easier for us, because it worked like all the other software we did our jobs with.”
Tesla, I sense, is similar. It is a different paradigm. It is a car designed as “e” and with a modern “tablet feel”. The computer panel in the Tesla controls most of the functions that other e-cars still have a knob for. It is connected with the Internet and the navigation is based on Google maps. The interface has become “e”, not only the “fuel” of the car.
The driver notices my enthusiasm. “Do you want to drive?” I drive uphill on the test run. After a while we stop and try out the navigation system. “London”, we enter as a target point, and after some thinking, the board computer spits out the route that minimizes the “fuel” and shows the Tesla loading stops (“super chargers” that are free). Other than in traditional e-cars, the Tesla cockpit also takes over the task of optimizing the route, and it is all based on Google maps that we are familiar with anyway. Then, the range of the Tesla is higher to start with – 10 Electric Vehicles with the best range in 2015 says 270 miles or about 350km.
When traveling in our KIA to Baden, we met my friend, the “techie-nerd”, who owns a Tesla. He mentions that since his experience with the hotel going black when trying to recharge his Tesla, the supercharger infrastructure has improved a lot. Frowning he looks at the front trunk of the KIA:”What is this? It looks like usual combustion car, why does the electric “engine” use up all this space – look at my front trunk”. He opens it, and it is empty – well – not really – his set of Tesla plugs are carefully stowed away in an edge of the empty trunk. “Yes, they have designed the Tesla from scratch”, my friend says.
I am impressed. The Tesla Model S is different… though the entry level is still high: Around 100’000 CHF. However, the total cost of ownership may come closer to traditional cars, as charging “fuel” is free. But it is still more expensive compared to e.g. the KIA that goes for about 27’000 CHF.
… but not yet for me… maybe in a few years…
Though the Tesla Model S is a tempting option to replace my combustion car, I still do not intend to acquire one right now considering the high entry level prize and the size of the model S (not really for small people like me). Maybe, my eyes permitting, I would reconsider buying a Tesla, when the smaller Tesla model 3 comes out and scaling lowers its entry level price.
But I am fascinated and want to learn more about the driving force behind Tesla, Elon Musk. He seems to be a visionary and challenging leader, like Steve Jobs was… I buy his biography.