Where Goeth Tesla and its Model X?

Earlier today I read an OpEd on Autoblog, Let’s Face It: Tesla’s Model X was a Mistake. While I don’t subscribe to this clickbait, it caused me to think more about Tesla, the Model 3 and their future.

The article asserted the Model X was a mistake, because the project became bloated insanity?—?they basically threw in every feature they could think of. Tesla probably sees this as a technological achievement and a landmark of carmaking. Certainly, themodelx Model X is impressive. Those Falcon doors are fun to watch (after the initial novelty wears off, does one start to agonize over their speed, or lack thereof). In fact, all the doors can open as if you have an invisible valet. It’s all very cool for a production automobile.

Back to the article: I think Tesla must continue upscale. I left this comment on Autoblog and sharing here:

The Model S has crept up from its $50k-ish pricing to over $100k depending on equipment. I read the average selling price is $85k. To me, this is indicative of a strategy to gain more profit to offset the costs and lack of scale. The Model 3 cannot scale to the numbers everyone expects?—?Tesla doesn’t have the infrastructure. Car showrooms are not Apple Stores?—?the complexity of distribution and support is too great.

Model X is the right strategy, albeit an overly complex one (I’m very concerned about their reliability). Continuing to go upscale is Tesla’s only hope. There simply isn’t enough margin to play in the $45k arena, especially considering their lack of scale.

I predict Model 3 will cost a lot more than anticipated?—?I’m guess around $65k base price. They’ll justify the cost by comparing it to a loaded up BMW 3-series with Tesla’s tech advantage.

With the Volkswagen Group showing prototypes of 300-mile range EVs and publicly speaking of nearly 200-mile range Golfs (around $35k), I’d be very concerned to be Tesla. At 2% of the US market, EVs account for a pittance and aren’t profitable. If the market grows into a real market, Audi will introduce a modern crossover with 300-mile range, for under $100k that is supported by a large dealer network. At that point, I would probably not want to be holding Tesla stock.

Not all is lost, Tesla can remain a strong, profitable niche player, just like an Aston Martin and be profitable. They can continue to move the technology forward and innovate. Plus, there’s battery packs and power systems they can market?—?so there’s a lot of upside in the whole company. As a car company, though, they need to reign in the hyperbole a bit and enjoy being the unique player they’ve become.

This also posted on Medium

BMW i3 Driving Impressions #BMWi3

BMW i LogoI recently drove the BMW i3 at a test drive event at Seattle BMW. Besides rolling out sandwiches and drinks, the people of BMW brought a fleet of euro-spec i3s to take on a little drive. And by little, I mean quite short!

If you don’t know, BMW have started from the ground up to make the i3 something quite different. It looks different, it’s built differently and it has different values than any other car I’ve seen. By values, I mean that BMW set out with goals very unique to the world of automotive design. They sought sustainability, and recyclability, from raw materials to end-of-life, with a car that’s mostly recyclable. There is no gas-powered engine (although a range-extender BMW Motorcycle engine is an available option to act as a generator), so no fluids to spoil the environment. The car is made out of very different materials: carbon fiber reinforced plastic (made in Moses Lake, WA), with 25% of those plastics recycled; renewable natural fibers and eucalyptus wood make up the dashboard; and textile upholstery features 100% recycled polyester. Even the aforeBMW i3mentioned plant in Moses Lake runs on 100% hydroelectric power. Pretty cool eco-tech.

Driving this car is really impressive. Quiet, very quick and with decent handling–it’s what you would expect from a BMW. The carbon-fiber reinforced plastic shell is also quite stiff, although I did hear some interior creaking in the vehicle I drove. I’m guessing the creaking is due to this car being a very early production model that’s probably seen some hard, test-driving miles. It is fun to drive. It’s really quick (did I mention this), due to an all-electric drivetrain that has 100% torque all the time. Some reports I’ve read say it’s faster to 35MPH than a BMW M3! Yet what’s different is the brake-regenation system. In my test, I was able to come to a complete stop without hitting the brake pedal. Once you adjust to this, the feature becomes quite useful and enjoyable to use. BMW claim the brake lights illuminate when you slow suddenly. I think it’s easy on your foot in traffic and also probably saves on brake pad wear. The whole time I drove the i3, I hardly touched the brakes.

The interior is nicely done. The fiber-based materials feel really good–almost natural. The exposed fibers that make the main dash components are cool to look at and soft to touch. It’s all sort of industrial, yet cool–sort of like exposed concrete floors in a building. The people who came up with the interior colors and combinations thereof should be commended. I don’t like beige interiors, but the i3 with the beige interior is quite nice–more of a earthy tan. The base-models cloth interior was actually my favorite. Simple, clean and light grey. The leather version feels rich and the seats are super comfortable and supportive on all models. If the leather was available in grey with the dark grey exterior, I’d probably choose that model.

BMW i3 InteriorThe instruments are another unique feature on the i3. The small rectangular screen sits behind the steering wheel where most cars have gauges. It features the speedometer, power-use meter and quick information (like radio station, cruise information, etc). The center console features an elegantly mounted larger display, that ties into BMW’s iDrive system. The car I drove had the full navigation package and parking assist. Along with the radio and other customization features, these all use the center display. The parking assist and camera are amongst the best I’ve used, providing you an accurate graphical arc of where you are headed, based on steering angle. I parked perfectly straight about 2-inches from the parking line, using the backup camera. When I got out of the car, I was right where I thought–not something I always experience with backup cameras.

I didn’t get enough time to run the iDrive through all of it’s paces, but I’d say it’s one of the top 3 virtual control systems on any car. BMW have had the most experience here and prefer their system over others I’ve tried. The navigation system ties into the car’s trip computer to let you know how far you can get on your current charge. The instrument cluster will also tell you the current posted speed limit. All very nice touches.

Speaking of range, BMW first claimed this car had ~100 mile range. The EPA has rated it 80. Representatives from the demo team said to me that it had 80 to 100 mile range. Being an experienced electric-car driver, I asked how the range diminishes in the cold or hot climates, with the heater or A/C on, respectively. Their response was around 20 miles are so loss if you had the heater on the whole time. This is one of the biggest problems with electric cars–the heaters seem to be huge power-suckers. I thnk there’s some opportunity for innovation with the heating systems–perhaps a heat-pump?

All in all, I like the i3. I’m still on the fence about its exterior styling, but the more I see it the more it’s grown on me (the greenhouse heading downward at the rear window still bothers me). The price has come in a bit higher than I expected. With most electric-car manufacturers lowering their sticker prices, BMW have come in at $42,275 (including destination charges) for the Mega World trim, which is the base model. I think they meant Mega Priced! I expected this car to come in under $40k. The range-extended model comes in nearly $4k higher. Add some options and you’re hovering $50,000!

To me, this is a lot of money for a car smaller than a Volkswagen Golf. A well-equipped Chevrolet Volt comes in at $4k less and has a range-extended motor! BMW are offering a lease special on a “well equipped” i3 for $499/month at 36-months. This sounds pretty good, until you realize there’s a nearly $4,000 down payment (apparently making up for the price delta between the i3 and the Volt’s sticker prices). Wih less down, a Volt can be currently leased for $249/month. This equates to aggressive lease deals by GM, where BMW is not providing that (yet).

Pricing is a hard reality of all the good, eco-friendly sustainability the BMW i3 provides. My guess is BMW will come up with more aggressive lease options in the future, as they are known for their excellent leases. One cool thing factoid: when you own an i3 and need to go further than its range will provide, BMW will provide you with a loaner car at no charge. I didn’t think to ask what restrictions apply. For instance, could I drive the loaner to Disneyland and back? Do they deduct the miles from my lease? It is a unique and handy option, however.

I’m quite sold on the i3. The ride and handling beats the Volt by every measure. The packaging is cool and the eco-friendly features feel good. That said, the price is a major barrier between me and an i3. Even if I could afford a $500 (plus tax) payment, I am not sure that’s where I’d spend the money. For nearly the same down and monthly payment, I could have a BMW 535d, which is an amazing, car that gets 38MPG. I could pay a lot less and get a 3-series or get a new Volkswagen Golf TDI (coming July 2015), which has a fantastic diesel.

Still, once you’ve had an electric car, it’s really hard to go back to fuel.

The New Addition…

For the first time in all of my years of car ownership, I bought my first General Motors product.  The Chevrolet Volt has captured me with its great lease deal, promise of amazing mileage and über technology.  The cost to operate this sucker for my commute cycle should be minimal.

Chevrolet Volt (2012)

Since having it just a few days, I realize that many people are unaware of what powers the Volt and how it all works (as I’ve already been asked many questions from passersby).  The car is neither a Hybrid nor solely an Electric, yet what drives the front wheels is an electric motor.  Confused?  It’s actually quite brilliant: the Volt is a plug-in electric vehicle, with a backup gasoline engine. When you run out of power (around 40 miles in my short experience), the gasoline engine powers up acting as a generator–sort of like an emergency power generator that you’d have for your home or office.  The engine comes on as necessary to recharge the Volt’s batteries, but only after you’ve depleted the original electrical charge.

What’s great about the drive system, versus other electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf or Tesla, is the lack of “range anxiety.”  Without a backup generator I could totally see how range anxiety could creep in.  With full electric vehicles, once you’re out of juice, you’re out of luck!  It’s not like the the tow-truck can come pour electricity in your tank.  I don’t see how people can live with those cars, unless they have a very confined driving area.

The other thing that’s great about the Volt is charging it.  At 120v (standard household outlet), it takes about 10 hours to fully charge a dead battery.  As I understand it, other plug-in electrics take much longer to charge.

This car is a technological tour-de-force and perfect for any gadget geek.  From the iPhone app that allows you to remotely check your stats and control the car, to the greeting tone and graphic that appears on the screen when you step into the car, there’s just a remarkable amount of tech.

I’m going to profile my Volt experience here over the next few weeks, backtracking to my first experiences driving and charging the car.

Porsche Contest: Help me win!

Recently, I entered a contest with Porsche by writing an essay about what Porsche means to me. For this gear-head, the prize is an absolute dream: a 3-day trip to Porsche Driving School in Birmingham, Alabama! Certainly, this is something I’ve always wanted to do, but could not justify the expense. If I can win this trip, it would be incredible.
So what do you have to do? Simply go to this URL: https://porsche.promo.eprize.com/passion/ and follow the steps to enter the voting area. The process is somewhat lengthy, because they want an email address, your name and physical address, but I’ll make it up to you! I’m listed as Paul, Kirkland, WA. Read it and send me some feedback, I’d love to see that. Most importantly, though, is vote for me!! Hurry, because all voting entries must be in by October 31st prior to midnight.

Thank you so much for helping me with this and assisting me in fulfilling a car-guy’s dream.

UPDATE: you can vote daily by simply entering your email address and selecting who to vote for–no rigamarole like the first time.  Thanks again!

Cash for Clunkers: Missing Pieces

When the Cash-for-Clunkers program was announced, I admittedly was all for it.  Here’s a way to stimulate the lagging auto industry, while removing some gas-guzzling pigs off the road.  Even the government impressed me with its apparent efficiency at launching such a large-scale program. To mobilize so swiftly, developing the rules and systems to give away $1-billion tax-payer dollars, without widespread fraud, was actually impressive.

Think about all the old Caprices, Cadillacs, Azteks, SUVs and other marvels of crappy engineering getting off the road forever. If I can avoid driving in traffic with fewer of these unsafe-at-any-speed behemoths, then many of my car-guy wishes have surely been granted.  All the soulless crap built mostly by US automakers can be exchanged for up to four-thousand, five-hundred dollars of cold, hard cash and finally taken off of our streets forever. Godspeed.

In my practical car-guy line of thinking, the architecture of such a plan made sense to me: a) auto manufacturers and dealers sell more cars, b) junkers get off the road (even future junkers), c) the junk yards get a boost and d) the auto recycling (aka used parts) business is stimulated.

Insert sound of shrieking, braking tires here.

According to the cars.gov site–the official site of the program–cars are not recycled, they’re  destroyed or “shredded.”  Shredded! In my utopian world, where the government keeps talking CO2 emissions and “G0-Green,” the CARS bill would include a provision for recycling cars.  I mean, recycling is green right?  It’s regenerating.  It’s making the most of our resources.  Right?

Apparently that’s not really in the interest of the People.  The Obama Administration feels that ridding these guzzling beasts from our streets in whole or part is the only way to go.  Dismantling the cars and selling off their parts is not even a consideration.  Shredding, crushing and otherwise wasting them is how the program works and this is absolutely ludicrous.  What’s more, the engine of the vehicle is immediately destroyed by the dealer, with some sort of liquid-glass concoction poured into the places where oil previously lubricated.  Once loved, well-maintained vehicles–which may be running perfectly–are ceremoniously destroyed by auto dealer workers all because their resale value wasn’t equal to $3,500 or $4,500.  Check out this perfectly good Volvo sedan–it’s sickening and sad to watch.  Other videos like this can be found all over YouTube, including one particularly sad episode featuring a BMW 735i’s wonderful 6-cylinder turned into a pile of rubble.  Very sad, indeed.

Back when I was developing this program in my mind, I imagined the government certifying dismantlers to take these cars from dealers.  Perhaps some permanent badge would be  attached to the vehicles with a tracking system insuring the cars make it to the dismantlers. Government agents in black jackets and sunglasses inspecting dealers and dismantlers books to negate fraud.  Everyone and everything tracked by a Google-developed, government database that people can track via the Web.  Dismantlers would enjoy an influx of parts for cars they wouldn’t see for a few more years and the economy would surge upward.  People with good running  versions of those cars would enjoy a healthy used parts supply and dismantlers would work with recyclers to sell recyclable parts for scrap. Why isn’t this the case?  Why are we simply taking some apparently decent cars and trashing them?  Why don’t we dismantle them, recycle the parts or send the cars out of the country?  What happens to a compacted cube of a car or a shredded hulk of metal, leather, plastic and other materials?

Cash-for-Clunkers is simply wasteful and wrong.

I can’t get behind this at any level.  The car guy in me bleeds inside.  The waste-not-want-not practical side of me is sickened by the waste.  Many modern cars are recyclable. The Volkswagen group, for instance, has advertised for many years that over 85% of a Volkswagen or Audi automobile is recyclable. A Volkswagen’s plastic bits are stamped with a number designating their plastic-type for recycling.  They even have a factory-run recycling program in Europe to ensure destroyed cars are properly recycled and not simply thrown away. Why aren’t we mobilizing our auto recycling industry to work on this solution? I suppose they have no lobby representation.

By the early success of the program, it’s apparent the American public is very fond of Cash for Clunkers.  Money talks, right?  But this is one of those programs that has short-term gain, with long-term liability.  It’s wasteful, it’s wrong and I can’t get behind it. If you think so too, write your congressman and others in the Government.  Before we spend another $2-billion on this program, shouldn’t it be revised into a more comprehensive program?  It’s your money–make the call.

Sign Me Up: Tesla

Currently can’t fork out $125k for one of these bad boys, and there’s a year or so wait for one anyway. Still, maybe a used one in a few years will be a good buy at around $100k!

The car pictures is serial #0001.

Very cool car. Photo courtesy of Jason Calacanis.


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Originally uploaded by jasoncalacanis