Sunday, April 24, 2016

TESLA Model S: I've seen The future and it's already here!

Tesla Model S
Wandering around the El Paseo in Palm Desert with friends, this is the Rodeo Drive of the Coachella Valley, we recently stumbled onto the Tesla Showroom. Tesla, if you don't know, is an all electric vehicle made in the United States but sold all over the world. There is no engine of any sort, it runs on Lithium Ion batteries, and, its NOT cheap! Yet in Norway several years ago they were the best selling car a few months at a time and were thick as fleas in Hong Kong with right hand drive no less.

The showroom car was red which drew me like a moth to flame and in the process of admiring this
The Tesla frame and simple surrounding showroom
amazing vehicle, ogling the frame, sitting in it and realizing how comfortable it really was (often beauty does NOT equate into comfort) started talking to a salesman.

In many ways the Tesla Showroom reminds me of an Apple Store with a stark presence that does not in any way get in the way of admiring this car and the technology behind it. A vehicle chassis clearly shows the underpinning of the Tesla, one wall has frame colors and interior trim options. Another wall shows the available wheels and of course there's the necessary table to get "down to the nitty gritty" with an Apple  27" iMac at hand.

I have written before about the design of electric cars and in that interim nothing has changed. If anything many Hybrids and all electric cars are some of the ugliest vehicles on the planet. Not so with Tesla. Their Model X, a stunning SUV has similar design and restraint and until you are alongside it, doesn't look as big as it is. The new Model 3, a $35,000 variation of the Model S will be offered at around $35,000 and already has 400,000 reservations for its debut in late 2017. If anything it shows that people are ready for this new technology and are eagerly awaiting an excuse to get it. If you've seen the latest Prius, you will clearly understand what I mean about design. Lipstick on a pig.

Somehow I found myself agreeing to a test drive the following Friday even after stating there was no way I could afford a $100,000 car. "Its free," he said. And, well, why not? Little did I know that my truck of 13 years would be stolen the next day.

The Tesla Model S cockpit beckons
Arriving at my appointed time, actually a few minutes late as Siri had trouble locating the showroom, I met my sales consultant, a woman around my age. After a quick tour of the red showroom car, we headed to the parking lot where a variety of cars were located. The Model S comes in several configurations, mostly dealing with battery life, the 70, 70D with a range of around 250 miles, the 90D with a range of 300 miles and a sporty model that will get you from 0 - 60 mph in 2.6 seconds. Only the $2 million Bugatti Veyron will get you on the freeway any faster. A $100,000 for sports car performance sure beats upwards of a million dollars for the likes of Ferrari, Porsche or Maserati, no?

Key fob in hand, nearing the car door handles magically come out when you approach allowing you to enter the car. The air conditioning was already on and the huge touchscreen was lit and ready. There is also a smart phone app that allows you to get the car ready for you before you get to it. It will even open your garage door and meet you in the driveway.

Once in your seat you are presented a range of options on the huge touch screen. Choices include the type of driving you would like ... comfortable (read 1950's Cadillac boat), standard or Sport that I tried on winding hills above the valley and felt just like my old BMW 1600 as we whipped around the curves. Choices include the setting or mirrors, seat, even climate that you set so that it will always be the same way when you enter the car. The gear shift is a short stalk on the right side of the steering where that has R, D, N, P. You move it in the direction indicated and it shows up on the dashboard in front of you. Once you make your selections you are ready to drive the car.

The interior is large and spacious
I had a "Platinum" finish with a full length heavily tinted sunroof. When opened you notice a screen in front of the opening ... I guess to keep those pesky insects away. Already warm, we kept that closed and were very comfy in the cabin. It is roomy without being overwhelming, the seats are firm yet very supportive. Since it can only seat 5, my only complaint is the front center console; there really isn't any. There is a space on the floor but but nothing can be stored there. It seems almost out of place since there is no need for a transmission hump. There are cup holders and thats about it.

You glide over the road in an eerie silence. Road noise is held to a minimum. Accelerating you hear a distant electric hum but otherwise you could be in your living room watching a movie as the world cruises by. The surprise, no I think shock is a better word, is that the car can drive itself. REALLY! As I sat, arms crossed and watched the car's screen show the road and looking out the window we calmly drove up Hwy. 74 as if this was the most natural thing in the world. Google may we working on a self driving car but Tesla is already there. As we climbed the winding road up towards Idyllwild, I asked if the car can drive it by itself. Because the white lines are so close to the edge, I was assured it could but would give you a hair raising ride. I bet.

I took over the "sport" steering and have never driven a vehicle that handled this way. It was both solid and heavy taking 30 mph curves at 50 mph with no lean or hesitation. Even climbing a goose of the pedal had it eagerly adding power, and this was the long distance model. It knows where you are as all controls are clearly shown on the dashboard ... percent of battery left, the temperature outside, your speed and how you are managing your battery. I didn't experience it but I'm told when you reach a certain threshold the car will inform you of the need for a battery charge, will show you where the next available station is and the estimated time to get there.

One feature I really liked was that when you take your foot off the accelerator the vehicle starts to break, really. By the time you get to where you need to stop, a light touch on the brake is all that is needed to completely stop. Milage on the highway is around 300 miles but in the city closer to 350 miles in town as your breaking helps recharge the battery! I wish all cars could do that. It also stops your car if you get too close.

There all kinds of things on the screen to choose from. Music, various controls, syncing your phone. Many of these options can be voice controlled. Getting a call? The car answers for you so you never need to fumble for the phone or take your hands off the wheel.
Not only do you get one trunk, you get two.
Perfect for shopping! Grocery bags can stand up!

The test drive lasted well over an hour and including things like letting the car parallel park itself. It really can and does a damn good job of it too. You just sit back, the rear view mirrors tilt down and it just happens. It can do the same thing in a parking structure too. "It" looks for a parking space and once finding one backs into it. OMG, Tesla where have you been all my life?

The cost of "gas" for all this luxury? The estimate is your electric bill will increase about $20-40 a month depending on your rate. Heavens, at times it cost me $100 to fill the tank of my truck. At home, getting a charge on 240 volts, you get about a mile a minute. The fast charge stations on the road can get the job done in about 15 minutes. You need to stop now and then anyway so I don't find that onerous. They are getting new stations built every day and already you can cross the country without too much bother.

It is recommended you bring the car in for servicing once a year for a tune-up. I was told that one customer had 250,000 miles on his car (that's a lot of charging!!!) and his battery had only lost about 1 ½% charging ability. They are warranted for 8 years though some test cars have gone 12 years with no problems. Currently the cost to replace the batteries is around $4,000 but that cost may come down when Tesla's giant new battery factory in Nevada comes on line.

Environmental concerns will force us to make changes in our lifestyles. The sooner companies realize this and embrace rather than fight new technologies the better life will be for everyone. Obviously GM has listened as they will be offering their 2017 Bolt at the end of 2016 and it too will have a range of about 200 miles beating Tesla's Model 3 to market by at least a year. While is it is not as handsome as any of the Tesla's, it shows what can be done and even more, that if you want a place in the market you had better help with the winds of change or be left in the cold. History if rife with tales of those who didn't heed change. Look at Kodak!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out earlier posts! Comments are always welcome.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Reporting A Stolen Vehicle: Why Americans Are So Stressed

2003 GMC Extended Cab Pickup Truck
On Monday, April 18, 2016, I discovered my GMC truck of 13 years was stolen. I am 70 years old. I was once robbed in my late 20's when my over the garage apartment in the back of a long driveway somehow invited a thief to take all my electronics ... TV, stereo system, electric typewriter. Luckily I had my cameras with me. You never forget the stock and feeling of violation.

When I realized my truck was missing, I searched the gated community I live in and realized that it was not in front of my rental condo or in the designated carport parking space. The last time I used it was the day before, not an unusual event as I have spent the past few months getting my life organized again. There would be a burst of shopping and then days of unpacking and organizing. I called the Palm Springs police and a few hours later an officer arrived to take my report.

The irony in all of this was that I had been thinking about getting a new and yes, smaller vehicle, but felt that I didn't have the necessary funds and what I had was good enough. It was paid for.

Tuesday morning, after organizing my thoughts, I felt that I had two basic things to do first:
1. Report the theft to my insurance company
2. Get a rental car

Easy speezy, right? Wrong. Since I live close to the airport, I discovered in my dog walking that there is an Enterprise Rental Office a short 10 or so minutes away from me. Dog in hand, for our morning walk, I went to Enterprise to get a car as I had doctors appointments and a commitment to help out at an art gallery. Imagine my surprise when I was told they didn't have any cars. "Late morning or early afternoon. We will call you," I was told. A car rental place with no cars? Now to be fair, the Coachella Valley was having the Coachella Music Festival that brought in upwards of 100,000 people for two 3-day weekends but this was Tuesday and first wave had gone.

A friend offered to take me to AAA, the insurer of my truck, so I could report this loss. Insurance folder in hand and the case report given to me by the policeman, I arrived just after the office opened. I waited and waited. Every person arriving after me was called but I sat. The lone survivor. Finally, someone came for me and hardly seated reported what had happened and was immediately told that they didn't take reports for stolen property there. He handed me a card with a phone number on it and I was told that I had to call them and report the loss. I was stunned. Why have an office that can apparently SELL the insurance but does not REPORT the loss of your insured items? Noting that they also had programs for special AAA member vehicle pricing I again was given a card with a number and told to get the VIN number and they would get me a price. Why have an office, seriously, if I have to do all the work? I was not a happy camper.

Back home I called the number AAA had given me and a nice lady took my information then informed me another person would handle my claim asking yet again for all the information she just took. She would call me back. This now was the second person I talked to about the claim in less than an hour and was nowhere close to getting that claim filed.

I called Enterprise again and was told that there were no cars and that I would get one the next day. I had an appointment for that afternoon and other than showing up had no way to contact them. I immediately went online to Expedia, clicked on rental cars, put in the PSP, the Palm Springs airport ID and had a car rented in about 10 minutes. I printed out the confirmation and headed over there by foot. Its about a 10-15 minute walk and the weather was nice. On the way I got a call from AAA. She introduced herself and asked me if I had time to make a report. Being halfway to the airport I said I hoped she could hear me between jets taking off and cars passing by. So again, for the third time I gave my report. I was told they wouldn't file my claim for 2-3 weeks to give the police time to find the vehicle (though everyone said it was already in Mexico) and that any coverage for a rental wouldn't start for two days. I had made the car reservation for one week only and wondered about what I should do. Between jets taking off, I got my report filed then was told I would get an email that had the forms I needed to yet again file my report. (It was five pages of closely spaced questions regarding the truck that needed yet another visit to AAA to be signed and logged in I guess. The Palm Spring office gives new meaning to slow. I waited over an hour to get photos taken for my new passport. They were so flustered they gave them to me free.)

Next was Dollar Rent-A-Car at the airport. When I got to the rental reservation area it was jammed. Every company was there, including Enterprise, and each had a long line of renters. Dollar didn't seem to be any worse but an hour later, when all the other lines were gone it was still "old home week" at Dollar. Watching molasses pour from a bottle would be more exciting. Even with reservations the clerks looked at the monitors with what looked like the first time. I know that look. The natives were getting restless but that didn't seem to phase the clerks. Finally, and it was an hour, I got to the desk and was told they didn't have the size car I had signed up for. They would give me an upgrade. Fine. I just needed a car and by then was feeling pretty stressed.

Up since 4 am, unable to sleep, I had started looking into vehicles that I thought I might want. I was tired and by now hungry and just wanted the car and something to eat. Given no choice, I was given the keys to the rental and told where to find it. After walking about the same distance back to my condo I found the car. A red car, a color I like but a Hyundai Elantra that I didn't. First off it wouldn't start. No matter what I did the ignition wouldn't engage. Finally giving up I found an employee and told him the car wouldn't start. He took the keys and tried it and it didn't start for him either. Suddenly he grabbed the steering wheel and giving it a big jerk seemed to free it from a locked position. The car started. Lesson: make sure the car is exactly where you want it before turning the ignition off. He was a lot bigger than me and far stronger.

Today, five days later I have not heard from the police, I have filled out the report to the best of my ability but have to still file the report with AAA. I have looked at and driven a few vehicles. I also made another reservation for a rental for two weeks this time in the hopes that AAA will settle the claim, give me a check for the value of the truck so I can make a purchase and not pay the onerous fees rental car companies charge. To say an Elantra is a mid-size, a step up from compact, is splitting hairs. They must measure these things by the millimeter and charge accordingly. At a bit over $200 a week and years rental would be well over $10,000 almost half the price of one of the cars I saw. well except for the gorgeous Tesla at about $100,000.

Am I stressed? Yes. Today, Saturday April 23, I get a call from my AAA agent around 8:30 with a response from a call made over 12 hours ago. Again, I am reminded that I need to  take this document in to have my signature witnessed and the form filed. Since I need to walk and it is relatively close I walked over, paperwork in hand. They don't open Saturdays until 10, 10-2 in fact.

Our lives are literally not in our hands anymore. We are subject as clients, shoppers and consumers to the whims of those we must deal with. It is for their convenience, not ours. I laughed the other day when I saw the new grocery store in town, the German Aldi, didn't open until 9 am. I hope to be finished by 9 not just starting. I couldn't believe it. Our lives are like the Russian dolls that when you open one, there's another and another. What used to be a simple task of talking to one person is now the agony of many all of whom are trying to put their work on you.

After dealing all week with rental companies, car dealer salesmen and insurance people I am packing up my dog and going on a small trip to the mountains. I need to get that breath of fresh air.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out some of my earlier blogs. ALL talk about how are lives are designed for us.