Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
This is the story of the first year of our electric car. I had always wanted a truck, not because I need it anymore, since my time of house or yard hauling is essentially over, but just because I wanted one. Retirement is nothing if not giving over to "wants" when "needs" are not enough. Besides, the five-year old Jeep Grand Cherokee was continuing to be a pain, with recalls trickling in and the service appointments popping up throughout the year.
I saw news coverage of the new Tesla Cybertruck and was taken by both the imaginative approach Elon Musk was taking and by the fact that I could reserve one for just $100. I did so on Dec 8, 2019, little knowing that two years later, "my" Cybertruck was probably still two years away.
As 2020 went along, the Jeep continued to be a pain, and I got more and more interested in the Tesla world. The company introduced a new "small SUV", the Model Y, that seemed a good match for a Jeep replacement. I called the new Fresno Tesla Service Center and asked for a test drive and set an appointment for the morning of October 1.
Naturally, I invited Marianne to join me on the drive, assuring her that it was just a drive, nothing more. Never drive a Tesla if you do not want to buy one. We were sold in minutes, with the neck-wrenching acceleration convincing an initially-skeptical Marianne after a single push of the accelerator.
We deliberated for a day or two and then went to the Tesla website, picked options, paid $100, and finalized the order. Delivery was promised in five to seven weeks. The whole process was so much quicker, easier, and lower stress than "normal" car buying. It is one of several parts of Elon Musk's disruptive approach to the auto industry. I will never buy at a car dealership again.
We chose a Model Y for the roominess. We chose a silver color, although in hindsight we should have paid a bit more and gotten the red. Finally, we threw in "Full Self Driving". I am convinced we will need this within the next decade or so to keep our independent mobility, so we might as well get used to it. Initially, we placed the order for the regular two-motor, all wheel drive version, but a day or three later, we upgraded to the Performance package, reducing the 0-60 mph time from 5.5 to 3.5 seconds: Neck-wrenching and clearly faster than any car we have driven, including the 2002 Porsche Boxster of our Europe life.
This was not cheap, but comparable to the price of a new Porsche, something I had a feeling we were headed toward after this year's medical diagnosis. Car orders and cancer are linked in our family. We got almost $7,000 in rebates from California for our clean-air car. (Unfortunately, Tesla no longer qualified for the federal rebates.) Besides, I'm sure the Tesla is heavier and safer than another Boxster.
While we waited, we had a few jobs to do. First was to sell the Jeep. Step one in the modern way of used car selling nowadays, is to get a price from Carmax. The half-hour process yields a good-for-seven-days offer that was the floor for any other offers. I chose to use the Kelly Blue Book service where they contact local car dealers to see if anyone was interested enough to email an offer. Three dealers did, I went to one and they increased the offer when they saw how clean the car was. Good for us, good for them, and almost as painless as buying from Tesla.
We also needed to install a charger in our garage. Fortunately, when we had remodeled the garage a number of years ago, we had left in the 50 amp service that was originally part of the old garage. Our contractor Ben came out and installed the new box in just a few hours. Added to those costs were floor mats, the first of a series of accessories that got added to the Model Y over the next six months.
The other thing I needed to do was study about the new world of electric car ownership. Tesla has two or three dozen short videos about various aspects of the car and I went though all of them, but the bigger source of information was YouTube. There are dozen's of channels linked with all things Tesla and one can waste hours and hours learning how to order, inspect, drive, and accessorize the cars. (Not to mention the channels focused on investing in Tesla stock.)
Eventually, we learned that our Model Y would leave the Fremont factory, just a couple hundred miles away, on November 13 or 14 and we could pick it up on Tuesday, November 17. My YouTube training had made a big deal of doing a thorough inspection of a Model Y at delivery, because the Fremont factory had gotten a reputation of not finishing all the details perfectly. However, like most new buyers, we were so excited to pick up our new ride, that we accepted any small details we saw.
Facing our own car now, we had to learn quickly. First was the process of changing our iPhones into car keys, a bit complex at first, but now so second-nature that I can not imagine using real keys anymore. In the process, the car needed a name, and we used "Carla", a Sam and Ava suggestion, as I remember. We also needed to get accustomed to the stark simplicity of the Tesla controls. Almost everything is controlled by the big touch screen in the middle of the "dash board". On a Model Y, that dash really is much closer to the original wooden "boards" of 110 years ago, simple and as uncluttered as a 1910 Model T's.
One missing control is the "ignition". For Teslas, one just gets in, puts a foot on the brake, and shifts into "D" or "R". Simple. The next simplification is so-called one-pedal driving. To go, push down the accelerator. To stop, most of the time, a driver can just lift off the accelerator without shifting to the brake pedal. It is all surprisingly intuitive and going back into our internal-combustion engine Audi now is difficult!
Our first road trip was a two-hour drive over to Monte Sereno. At Casa da Fruta, we stopped at our first Supercharger to top up our tank, just because. Since then, we've learned that the Model Y has plenty of range for the trip without adding to the battery, but we were novices.
During our stay, we relaxed at the Rahimi Resort. The family was up at Truckee and we were charged with dog sitting. Not bad duty. One of the days, we went for a drive and came across Tesla Headquarters! No tours were offered, but we were allowed one picture out front. We're real Tesla fans.
In the first week of December, the car received its first over-the-air-update. Tesla updates car controls and features from time to time via home wifi, a great innovation compared with having to spend time to visit the dealer. And it's free, forever. This time, nothing remarkable arrived, but rumor had it that the next update would arrive around Christmas and would include (almost-) autonomous driving on city streets. (In fact, the beta version of that software arrived a year later.)
In December, we tried the installed versions of Traffic Aware Cruise Control (TACC) and (highway) Autopilot, but not with complete comfort and success. Driving automation is difficult and training us drivers to be comfortable will take some time. Every time the ADAS (Automated Driver Assistance System) did something unexpected, our training was set back a week or more.
January saw our first service appointment. A "Tesla Ranger" showed up in our driveway to fix a mirror that would not adjust adequately. Bad news, worse news, good news. He failed. Two weeks later, the service center guys tried and also failed. At this point, YouTube and Facebook came to the rescue. The problem was known, at least to the folks back in Fremont. There was a fix identified and with that fix number, our local guys could do the job.
The next month, we did our first biggish trip, up to Mendocino. On the road, we tried the automatic driving again, and, again gave up after very few miles. We need even more training. As for charging, this was an interesting trip. Mendocino itself is pretty remote and there were no nearby Supercharger stations (at that time). I planned and calculated and figured out we would be OK, or at least OK-enough. We managed a little local, slow-speed charging at a California State Park and that was enough to bridge between inland Superchargers before and after our coastal parts.
In March, I joined the Tesla Owners of Silicon Valley (TOSV) at a "meetup" at the Firebaugh Supercharger station, perhaps the largest in the world. The 62 charging stations were overwhelmed with the 130+ Teslas gathered there. It was clear that owning a Tesla was different from owning a Honda, at least in the energy of a diverse group like TOSV.
Not all our Tesla expenses show on the car itself. Once, when the trunk had a particularly heavy load, I heard a scrape as I drove out our driveway. That is a bad noise to hear on a car with a very expensive battery all along the bottom. Upon further investigation, it became clear that the crest of the driveway needed some trimming. Low and zippy cars are expensive.
Now it was time to get Carla prepared for a real road trip, our Big Western Road Trip (BWRT) throughout several western National Parks. I had a protective film applied to all but the back of the car to protect the paint from bugs and road trash. Then I ordered high-strength18-inch wheels and more-rugged "all weather" tires to replace the 21-inch wheels and high-speed tires the car came with. Looking back, I'd say the film was over-kill, but the wheels and tires were a real worry remover.
On our Big Western Road Trip, we covered over 7.000 miles in two months and learned to be comfortable with our electric car. Carla was completely reliable. Just once, near Zion National Park, I had a case of range anxiety when Superchargers were far away and other chargers seemed not possible. It turned out that the Model Y had plenty of range for whatever we needed to do.
Much of the time, we charged overnight at hotels. That made the whole experience just like at home. A few times, we connected to low-power (120VAC) connections overnight and more, something that demonstrated that, given patience, electric power is everywhere. Otherwise, Tesla Superchargers were always available on the interstates. Twice, going a bit off course to use Superchargers, led us to interesting spots, worthy of an extra stay. (Green River Utah and Pendleton, Oregon, specifically).
We were back home by the end of June, and since then, Carla, our Tesla Model Y Performance, has been our daily driver. The Audi hardly ever leaves the garage.
People ask about the cost of driving a Tesla, so I have tried to get a sense of our first year. First, if in depreciation one includes sales taxes and license fees for the first year, in addition to traditional decrease from purchase price to potential sales price, I'd say Carla has cost us under $10,000 "depreciation". Most of that was actually taxes and fees. I probably spent an equal amount on "accessories" (protective film, extra tires & wheels, floor mats, and miscellaneous.)
Service costs have been non-existent, except for damage I caused running over a curb. There will never be any oil changes or exhaust/pollution control equipment replacements and even brakes get far less wear due to regenerative braking. The car is heavy, so tires will wear out faster. A half-dozen over-the-air updates have fixed or improved the car's controls. For free.
For fuel, it's harder to determine. On the road, we use Tesla Superchargers mostly and those charges are whatever they are. Generally, the per-killowatt-hour cost is about what our home costs are (around $0.30 per kilowatt-hour), but some Tesla stations have significantly lower off-peak rates. The lowest cost option is always "free", such as at California State Parks. Overall, it's easy to say we pay substantially less than we paid for the Jeep's diesel fuel, but I would not venture a guess as to how much less.
After an electric-car year, it seems like Ground Hog Day: Cancer is back. Covid is back. Heart pacing problems are back. Now we have to have faith that travel will be back too, Tesla road trips and beyond.
John and Marianne.
ps: I am looking at a replacement for the much-delayed Cybertruck, but that's another story.