In a word, children: No.
But we may have started on the trip.
In a recent blog post, I wrote that I had discovered an interest in solar power, electric automobiles, and Tesla Motor Company. I wrote that I had signed up for a test drive of the Model S, but that I had not yet returned the call of the Tesla employee in Palo Alto who responds to email inquiries (no, his name is not Elon).
Well, I did call that fellow in Palo Alto. He scheduled an appointment for me at the Tesla store in Marietta, Georgia. My wife and I drove over on a Thursday and found the store, tucked into a nondescript business complex not far from the 285 bypass, by following the turn-by-turn instructions generated by my iPhone maps app (one of the reasons the fancy navigation systems in almost all modern cars are mostly a waste of money, but that’s another blog post). Tesla gets credit, in my view, for not leasing a more ostentatious piece of real estate for this Atlanta-area store.
My wife and I both drove a P85 Model S, a red one with a black interior. We both enjoyed the drive. What’s not to enjoy? The rush of initial acceleration from the all-the-torque-is-available-instantly electric motor was stunning, and I’ve driven a few sports cars on race tracks. The huge iPad-like interface out-techs the most technologically-sophisticated competitors. The interior’s clean lines do make the potential buyer wonder whether Tesla’s designers may be channelling Steve Jobs. And if there is no center console in front and no map pockets and no rear-seat cupholders or fold-down armrest, and if the seats didn’t seem quite up to German comfort standards or Recaro-level bolstering, why quibble? The car is nevertheless wonderful. Isn’t it?
For a couple of days after the test drive, we were almost ready to call the customer specialist (Tesla doesn’t call them salesmen) back and place an order for a Model S P85+.
But then I decided to perform a few calculations.
Some reviewers note that Teslas are almost maintenance-free. Perhaps they are. It is demonstrably true that the Model S contains far fewer moving parts then ICE (internal compression engine) cars, and because of regenerative braking, Tesla expects brake pads to last 100,000 miles.
But Tesla does offer an annual inspection of the Model S. Failure to schedule this inspection does not void the warranty, but some Model S owners who post to the owners’ forum say that Tesla replaced some parts during the annual inspection of their cars at no cost. And Tesla’s website observes that “annual inspections ensure your car’s long-term health” and that “Tesla Service is important to keep your Tesla properly maintained.” So an owner would be foolish not to take advantage of the annual inspection. Right? Except — Tesla charges $600 for the inspection of this “almost maintenance-free” vehicle (or $1900 for four years if the owner pays up front; the four-year “unlimited” plan, which included “ranger” service (see below), costs $2,400). So, the Tesla Model S may be almost maintenance-free, but Tesla maintenance is hardly free. In contrast, no one claims that BMW automobiles are maintenance-free, but BMW covers all costs of maintenance and provides free roadside assistance during the four-year warranty.
Tesla also offers what it calls “ranger service” to its customers. If anything goes wrong with a Tesla Model S, Tesla promises to send a technician to the customer and repair the car or return it to the service center on a flatbed truck. Unless — unless the owner lives more than 50 miles from the nearest service center. In that case, Tesla charges the owner a minimum towing fee of $300, even if the repair which requires the towing — or flat-bedding — the Tesla Model S can’t actually be towed — is covered under the warranty. As it happens, I live more than — substantially more than — fifty miles from the nearest service center. Tesla claims that ninety per cent of United States residents live within one hundred miles of one of their service centers, but, looking at their map, I find that difficult to believe. In all events, I don’t, so the proximity of the service centers to others is irrelevant to me. Ranger service, a la carte, costs one dollar per mile, round trip, from the nearest service center, with a minimum charge of $100 per visit. My home is approximately three hundred miles, round trip, from the nearest Tesla service center. Three hundred miles, three hundred dollars, for a service BMW provides for nothing.
In order to take full advantage of the charging functions of the Tesla Model S, it is necessary to spend some money on the electrical infrastructure of your garage (If you don’t have a garage or at least some dedicated space for parking at your condo or apartment within reach of a 240-volt outlet, my own view is that you should not consider owning a pure electric car.). I knew this before and immediately after the test drive. What I hadn’t considered is just how much I’d be spending for new outlets.
The answer, according to my calculations: $11,600. This assumes installation of 240-volt chargers at both my principal residence and a weekend home, the cost of hiring electricians for both houses, and the cost of two of Tesla’s magic-wand-wall-charger devices (No, you can’t take it with you; it’s permanently mounted to the garage wall.). Amortized over ten years, which may be too long, as advances in charging and age will probably render this equipment obsolete in five years or less, this up-front cost completely negates any savings over an ICE car which averages, say, thirty miles per gallon. That is, assuming that we will drive 15,000 miles per year and pay present prices for premium gasoline for an ICE car and subtracting the cost of charging the battery using the calculator Tesla supplies on its website.
Thirty miles per gallon might be a tad optimistic, but the cost differential isn’t very close. We calculated the Tesla operating cost at $458 over the cost of operating a thirty miles-per-gallon automobile. The highway mileage figure on the window sticker for the BMW 528i is 34, and some owners report better. In any event, the BMW is the the real competition, for us, for the Tesla.
BMW covers all maintenance costs for the four-year warranty period, including free roadside assistance anywhere. The cost differential between the Tesla and the BMW would be substantially larger if we amortized the electrical infrastructure costs over four years, which may be a fairer way to look at the difference because of BMW’s four-year free maintenance and because of the possibility that the charging system will be obsolete in four years.
Viewed over the four-year period, the Tesla costs $2,198 per year more to operate than the BMW. This figure assumes no costs incurred for towing, or flat-bedding, the Tesla to the nearest service center. And of course, this calculation looks only at operating costs, not cost of acquisition, which favors the BMW 528i two to one. If we compared the Tesla acquisition cost to the cost of acquiring a BMW 7 series, the comparison still favors the BMW over the $122,000 Model S P85+, though not by as much.
So, no kids, we’re not there yet, at least not in this family. Maybe if Tesla management would focus on covering these hidden costs of ownership instead of spending the money to cover the underside of every Tesla battery in titanium, they might sell more cars. They might have even sold one to me.