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My Tesla Analysis – A/B testing

June 3, 2016

My initial Tesla test drive experience was decidedly mixed.  I *loved* the autopilot but the ride was rough and loud.  It was enough to make me stop plans of buying the car. 

But the initial auto-pilot experience emotionally engaged me and made me want to learn more.

It made me curious to see what the quietest Model S I could find was like.  I did a lot of research and A/B tested different options:

  1. Motors:  Single vs Dual:  The single motor in the rear was noticeably quieter than having the second motor right by the driver.
  2. Tires:  19’s vs 21’s.  19″ tires really changed the ride quality and noise levels.
  3. Suspension:  The “upgrade smart suspension” vs the cheaper coiled suspension – the original coiled suspension was a much softer, more Lexus-like ride.
  4. Sunroof:  Unfortunately, I couldn’t test any Tesla’s to test drive that didn’t have sunroofs.  Research indicated no sunroof reduced wind noise a lot.

Overall, a single motor Model S with coiled suspension and 19’s was the quietest Tesla available – a pretty quiet, decent ride – vastly improved over the P85D with 21’s and smart suspension I originally test drove.

Was it tolerable enough when you add autopilot in to make it worth buying?  I couldn’t decide.

I did pro/cons on a variety of areas:

Sound deadening – just wait.  Eventually Tesla would get sound deadening figured out – people were already risking taking apart their Teslas and doing it themselves.  My best guess was a year, maybe year and a half.  At that stage owning a quiet, performance beast would be possible.  On the other, it would necessitate buying a brand new car to get this new sound deadening – which would be very expensive – and be a long time in the waiting.  The “quietest” version was already reasonably comfortable enough, much cheaper, and available now.

Other upcoming auto options.  Auto-makers from Toyota to GM to Mercedes to Audi to BMW are in a race to create self driving cars – maybe in a year or two or three something would come out that’s gas-powered – which avoided unknowns around owning an all-electric car.  But how good would they be?  I couldn’t shake the feeling that when it came to auto-driving technology, Tesla was a tech company first and foremost, who’d designed their cars to download improved operating system updates like a cell phone.  Other car makers just seemed so far behind the curve and even if they came out with something it felt like Tesla would keep updating, quickly, automatically, and for free, with something better.  For now, and for the foreseeable future, Tesla seemed like the clear auto-pilot leader.

Apple car.  Apple is clearly working on an anything-but-secret car named Project Titan, but all reports indicate it’s 4-ish years away from something a consumer can buy.  But worth knowing/analyzing and considering when making a big purchase.

Battery degradation.  Reports indicated that over 50,000 miles the car only depleted on average 6% of it’s capacity and the degradation slows down the more miles that are driven (see link)… that was a surprisingly good compared to my initial concerns.

Battery range: 85 vs 90D.  The P85D I test drove performed far below expected range.  User reviews of those who bought/tested a new car with dual motors compared to their old car with a single mtoor seemed suggest that somehow Tesla has figured out how the game the EPA ratings since the same battery with dual motors seemed to noticeably underperform a single motor when it came to range.  I believe a lower capacity 85 with a single motor would likely have a similar range to highest available 90 battery with dual motors (which is a require the dual motor option) and be much cheaper in real world performance (which is what I care about).

Autopilot 2.0:  This was probably my biggest variable (above battery degradation).  Tesla is working on an upgraded autopilot that will drive on city streets.  When released, this upgrade will be hardware related and require substantially more sensors around the car to facilitate the transition from a relatively simple highway autopilot to a much more complex, inner-city auto-pilot.  The hardware will not be retro-fitable.  If you’ve seen pictures of Google’s self-driving cars covered in sensors, that will give you an idea of the scope of difference.  Realizing this bought me an awareness: anything I bought would soon be outdated like an outdated early model iPhone cell phone.  To someone who is used to driving cars into the ground, buying a new Tesla and then a year or so later doing it again bothered me.  A lot.

3-Year Leasing:  Autopilot 2.0 analysis, combined with how many miles I drive (25-30k/year), basically killed any desire to do a 3 year, 12k miles/year lease.  3 years from now the technology will likely be much different – and I’ll want to upgrade before then.

Upgrading:  The more analysis / research I did, the more it felt like when the first few versions of the iPhone came out.  The hardware changes were so significant in the beginning that upgrading each cycle really did make a huge difference.  I knew I wouldn’t own the initial iPhone 1, or 2, or 3 or 3G for for 3+ years.  Even though all these iPhones did software upgrades (like the Tesla), the hardware improvements were enough to really make me want the newest version (I also have a passion for tech).

Model 3:  It’s supposed to ship at the end of 2017.  Tesla has never hit a deadline.  My best guess was 2 years from when they started taking pre-orders and even then, after doing detailed analysis on quality issues coming out of Telsa, I wouldn’t want a car in the first batch of 50,000.  Meh.

New perspective:  So it looked like my first Tesla wasn’t going to be my end-all car after all – which is initially what I thought when I started shopping for a Tesla – because of the ride/sound issues but really because of Auto-Pilot 2.0.  The self-driving technology is changing so rapidly I would probably own the car for 1-2 years and then flip it out when AP 2.0 came out.  Given that it would be an “in-between” car, the less money I wasted, the better.

Conclusion.  I decided that IF I were to get a Tesla, what made the most sense for me was a used Tesla Model S 85 with a single motor, 19″ tires, coiled suspension, no sunroof – and auto-pilot.  My ideal car at the moment was (fortunately) a used Tesla with very few upgrades!

* * *

I was still decidedly undecided, until recently, on another 4 hour drive over the pass, I hit an emotional wall.  I was done.  I wanted to buy my time back.  Autopilot could buy back 8 hours a week.  The thoughts then shifted from researching / analysis of the car, to researching how to buy it.  My next post is about the spreadsheet I built to determine the market value of the specific niche Tesla I wanted and then how to go about getting the best deal on it.

** UPDATE **  Elon Musk says AP 2.0 announcement coming at end of 2016.


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