The Tesla Model S is the benchmark car for electric vehicles. I set a goal when it was announced in 2012 to get one and took delivery in late May 2019.
The cost was more than I’d ever considered spending on a car before, so I comparison shopped. The biggest issue was availability. Nissan and Hyundai dealers had no idea when I asked about the Leaf and Kona EV.
Jaguar were happy to show me the I-Pace, which is a great car. I understand why people love them but the headrests were too firm. This is a rookie mistake for an EV. With instant acceleration, heads tend to bump against headrests more than in fossil cars. I booked a test drive with Tesla and took the Model S for a spin. I had high expectations and the Model S delivered. The overall driving experience was futuristic and the user interface was in a completely different league to the Jag.
Having considered the purchase for years and compared options, it was time to buy. The “dealer experience” was very different. Purchase is via the website, even if you are in the showroom. The price is set, there is no haggling. Tesla make the right hand drive vehicles in batches and I have heard they will sometimes try to clear vehicles from inventory and offer potential buyers an incentive to take a stock vehicle but I wanted a specific configuration. So my order went to the factory in California and my car was made in the next batch for Australia.
I ordered in March 2019 and waited 3 months for delivery. The Tesla Model 3 while not yet released, was very close to being available. A few people have asked me why I didn’t wait. I want the Model S. It has features I want the Model 3 still doesn’t have.
The Model 3 reset the base price for a Tesla to around $75k, which is about half the price of a Model S. If you’re shopping for a Hyundai Kona EV at $65k, you’d consider that price differential very closely. The Kona is a great car, but the Tesla Supercharger network, and over-the-air (OTA) updates for the car are well worth the price difference if you can stretch your budget.
I bought the Model S to be a work horse. I travel significant distances to work with my clients, so the reduction in fuel cost and no scheduled maintenance are cost efficient (over time). I also need to understand new technology and be able to explain it to others, so it was inevitable I’d get an EV at the leading edge of the curve.
My previous car looked like it had the measles from all the paint touch-ups I had done to cover stone chips. So I decided to cover the car in paint protection film (PPF). When I took delivery at the end of May, I drove it straight to the detailer for PPF. The price of the car makes the investment in PPF worth it, and having driven the car for six months I would definitely do it again. There is no paint damage on the car at all. In a couple of places I can see a rock has hit hard enough to permanently damage the PPF, but not damage the paint underneath.
The delivery experience at Tesla was straight forward and took about 30 minutes to complete the process and receive basic instruction on how the car worked. After connecting the phone app, I signed up for Teslafi. This connects to the Tesla API’s and extracts information about journeys, charging, software and status. Using Teslafi I can map every trip I have ever taken in my car.
Getting used to the car was an experience in itself. The user interface was futuristic for a car, but somehow familiar, like using a phone. The interior is minimalist with only a few physical buttons. Most controls are handled through the screen. The biggest adjustment was the power of the drivetrain. This is a true American muscle car. I opted not to get the performance model, but this car has more power than anything I have driven before. For those who care, it is rated 0-100kph in 4.4s. All I know is, if you ask for more, it delivers, at any speed, instantly, with amazing force. It’s almost too much power. Almost.
Charging and range
A big concern was whether I’d get the expected range and how charging would work. When I bought the car, Tesla supplied a wall charger which can recharge the battery overnight. It runs off a standard 32A household circuit and needs to be installed professionally. The charger works fine on single phase power, but can use 3 phase power and recharge the car even faster.
I bought the “long range” battery to get 500km of range. It delivers on that with minor variations, just like a fossil car, depending on how you drive and environmental factors (aircon, big hills, etc). As a daily drive vehicle, it has been revolutionary. For all the concern about the time it takes to charge compared with petrol, I have wasted less time refilling this car. It charges while I sleep and when I leave in the morning I have a “full tank”. Every day.
Road trips to Canberra and Bathurst dispelled any fear about driving out of range of my home charger. Tesla are building Superchargers around the country and the NRMA is building a charging network in NSW. I have charged at Bathurst, Berry, Goulburn, St Leonards, Tuggerah and Majura (Canberra). Using a Supercharger is simpler than refuelling with petrol. The Supercharger identifies your car, starts the charge, tells your phone app when you are finished and takes payment via your credit card which is stored in your Tesla account. Plug it in and it works.
Refilling from a Supercharger is faster than I expected. You rarely arrive with a completely empty battery, so it doesn’t take an hour to fill it back up. At Bathurst (250km) I plugged the car in, went into a café next to the Supercharger, ordered food and sat down. By the time my food arrived, my phone was buzzing me to go move the car from the Supercharger. I have zero concerns taking this car on a road trip.
It gets better
Another interesting thing about buying a Tesla is how it can improve after you buy it. This has happened in two ways for me. The first was buying Autopilot after I had taken delivery of the car, the second was how free software updates add functionality .
I like driving. When I purchased the car Autopilot was an option. The car comes equipped with 8 cameras and radar but I didn’t see the point of buying an option I would rarely use. It would increase the price, adding to the Luxury Car Tax. So I gave it a miss. What I didn’t know was that the default cruise control is basic. I’d gotten used to automatic cruise control in my old car and liked it, so after purchase I decided I wanted Autopilot.
With other cars, if you don’t tick the option box when you buy, usually you’re out of luck. With Tesla, it was a software upgrade. I logged into my Tesla account, requested Autopilot be added to my car and voila, next morning my car had upgraded with Autopilot. Most of the time, I still use automatic cruise control without autosteer, but the fact I could upgrade the car and unlock functionality after purchase was impressive.
Tesla issues regular software updates for free. New features since purchase include:
- Dashcam. The front camera records video while you are driving the car which can be saved if there are incidents
- SentryCam. 360 degree security recording while parked. Any activity near the car gets recorded.
- Dog Mode. Ability to keep the air conditioning running when you temporarily leave the car if you leave a furry friend in the vehicle.
- Netflix and YouTube. Ability to watch video on the car’s big screen when you are parked. Useful if charging or waiting for someone.
- Enhancements to wiper performance and rain detection
- Improved battery and motor performance
- Enhanced voice control and improved natural language processing
The big question many people have is how the battery will hold up over time. Reports of battery degradation and reduced range on early electric vehicles, particularly the Nissan Leaf, give cause for concern. An EV that loses significant battery capacity and range also loses significant functionality.
Nissan made cost-saving decisions on battery management that have impacted the performance and life of their batteries under certain conditions. It was a decision that has damaged their brand, especially once reports from customers started circulating about replacement costs.
The good news is that Tesla are industry leading for battery management. After six months, more than 24,000km and over 200 charging cycles, my car has lost 0.34% capacity. That’s less than 2km of range lost in six months from 506km starting range. I charge to 90% capacity daily. It’s recommended not to charge to 100% daily, only when you are going on a trip. Based on reports, this seems normal. At this rate of degradation, it’s possible the useful life of the battery could outlast the useful life of the car. You can’t say that for many engines and gearboxes in fossil cars…
There is no scheduled maintenance for a Tesla. No visits to the dealer where a thousand dollars disappears every four to six months (on my mileage) for an oil change and safety check. Service is only required when something needs to be looked at and the car will probably tell you that.
I’ve had two issues that required service. One was a sticky turn signal and the other was a 12 volt battery warning. Service is booked through the app. For both appointments I was subsequently offered mobile service at my home instead of coming to the service centre.
I had the sticky turn signal fixed at home. The technician who did it was excellent and had the whole thing done in under an hour, completely replacing the part. I opted to get the 12 volt battery replaced at the service centre because I also wanted a wheel rotation. It’s funny that the car still uses a 12 volt battery, but some components are powered by that and not the main battery.
Overall Tesla are good to deal with but… they are clearly growing at an exponential rate. Customer Service is good overall, but they obviously don’t have their systems nailed down like a well established company. Getting accessories is a good example. I got a sunshade about 3 months after I ordered it. I’m still waiting for a CCS adaptor so I can use the NRMA charging stations 4 months after I ordered it. They have no idea where it is or when I’ll get it.
When it comes to issues that cannot be solved on the spot, it feels like Tesla lose the plot and it’s up to the customer to follow through. Fortunately for them, the product is so good, and seems reliable enough, that this isn’t a critical problem… for now.
The Tesla Model S is an amazing car, the best I’ve owned. For the price it would want to be. I have zero buyers remorse on this car. I want to drive it every day. I regularly take the scenic route home. I never did that in my old car. The commute was a chore, now it is not.
Since I bought this car, I want to take driving holidays. The cost of driving long distances is so low by comparison it’s almost negligible. 500km road trip? Sure, that’s $20. The purchase price of the car is sunk cost. I’ve already paid it. The cost of enjoying the car is very low compared to a fossil car.
Range anxiety is not an issue.
The sound system in the car is amazing. It is better than the sound system I have in my home. Tesla aren’t revealing much about it but there are rumours they hired Bang & Olufsun engineers to design their sound systems. I believe it.
Speaking of music, Spotify is available in the car. You can use a free basic Tesla account, or hook up your own Spotify premium account. You can always connect your phone via Bluetooth, but it’s handy to have Spotify (and TuneIn radio) available via the vehicle controls.
Finally, the car is a head turner, which I should have expected because I notice Teslas. That should diminish as more hit the road, but for now I find myself the designated driver of choice for my kids and their friends when lifts are needed.
Here’s the data according to Teslafi:
- Odometer: 24,146km
- Electricity used: 4,319 Kwh
- Cost of electricity: $826.5
- Efficiency: 180wh/km
- Charged: 211 times
- Driven: 971 times
- Software: 15 updates (average 15 days between update)
Tesla Referral Program
If you are considering buying a Tesla and this post has been helpful, please consider using mine
Tesla Referral Program code
Tesla doesn’t do advertising or marketing, but does have a referral program. Word of mouth and experiencing the car has been their main way of selling the vehicles. Right now, the referral benefit is some free Supercharging credit of 1,500km (about 1,000 miles) for the buyer and the owner who’s referral code was used.
Whether you use my code or someone else’s, be aware that you need to use the referral link when you go to the Tesla website to buy the car. If you go direct to their website and buy the car, they don’t add it afterwards.