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Elon Musk demonstrating his leadership skills…

My last visit to the troubled world of Tesla was in September of 2018, with Tesla Tokin’ Troubles. 

That article documented Elon Musk’s bizarre behavior–drinking whiskey and smoking a joint on a podcast–which did not do much, to say the least, for his and Tesla’s credibility among potential investors and buyers.  A Tesla on ”autopilot” crashing into a parked police SUV didn’t do much to help either.

There are, by the way, few things funnier than the look on a citizen’s face when the horrible realization they have just run into a police car overtakes them.  That actually happened to me three times in my police career.  Priceless.

Tesla Model 3
credit: caranddriver

While there is some evidence that Tesla’s Model 3 production has increased, its desperation moves haven’t inspired confidence either, as I wrote back in September:

Translation: even previously excited greenies are deciding they don’t want to buy non-existent cars, or cars with an unknowable record of longevity, quality and reliability.  It would seem there are limits to even greenie sensibilities and social conscience.  Who knew?

The supposed point of the Model 3 was to build a Tesla for the masses, affordable and capable enough to entice normal Americans into shelling out quite a bit extra to have the car of the future today. That’s an ambitious project as only the top 7%–economically speaking–of the public buy electric vehicles.  It’s even worse than I thought, however, as Car And Driver explains:

Paradoxically, the Tesla Model 3 is both the electric automaker’s most down-to-earth vehicle to date and its most ambitious project yet. Billed at its unveiling in March 2016 as a $36,000 electric sedan that would bring Tesla’s cult of personality to a broad audience, it’s a key part of fearless leader Elon Musk’s goal to change the automotive landscape as we know it.

t’s important to note that the Model 3, as it now exists, is not the $36,000 electric sedan for everyone. Tesla’s latest estimate is that zero-option Model 3s won’t enter production until late this year. Each current Model 3 is equipped with two mandatory options. First, a Long Range battery pack for $9000 takes the estimated driving range from 220 miles to 310 miles. Second, a Premium Upgrades package for $5000 adds features such as heated power front seats, leatherette upholstery, a panoramic glass roof, and a premium audio system. We’re already at $50,000. Any color other than black costs $1000, and ticking the box for Enhanced Autopilot semi-automation features adds another $5000. The car you see here had all these options and stickered for $56,000. (Oh, and Model 3 drivers pay for juice at the company’s Supercharger network, unlike Model S and Model Xowners, who get at least some of their electrons for free.)

Even if the government continues to partially finance EVS with taxpayer money to the tune of $7500 dollars each, the price puts the Tesla far out of reach of all but the 7%.  Who will want to spend $10,00 to $15,000 more for a Tesla when they can have a well equipped conventional vehicle?

Oh, but with a 300-mile range, the Tesla is now competitive!  Not so much.  The marketed range of EVs is always substantially higher than the real world range, and even if 300 miles were true, there’s that several hour to a whole day wait to recharge–if one can find a recharging station, and the few Tesla Superchargers out there aren’t free.

As I’ve often pointed out in the past, cold weather sucks the life out of EV batteries–virtually any battery actually–and dramatically lowers range.  It’s also interesting to note Tesla recommends running 45 pounds of air pressure in its tires, which contributes mightily to a noisy and bumpy ride and hampers handling.  Dropping it to a more normal 35 PSI significantly decreases range.  There is no free lunch.  C&D again:

Tesla Modal 3
credit: caranddriver

That latter metric, although a crucial one for any EV, is prone to such a large degree of variability that it’s difficult to gauge exactly how disappointing the Model 3’s result is in our real-world 75-mph highway fuel-economy test. Our calculated range of 200 miles is far below the EPA’s overall estimates of 310 miles in combined driving and 293 miles in highway driving, but it was certainly affected by the 28-degree-Fahrenheit ambient temperature. Two similar tests of a Chevy Bolt, the Model 3’s closest EV competitor, revealed a difference in observed range of more than 25 percent between a 56-degree and a 36-degree run (190 miles versus 140 miles against an EPA-estimated highway range of 217 miles).

C&D’s closing comments aren’t encouraging:

On balance, Tesla may have been smart to design such a simplistic interior, as it’s presumably easier and cheaper to assemble on a large scale and also is distinct enough to avoid direct comparison to the more complex and special cabins found in some of the aforementioned German luxury cars. But while we did not observe any glaring fit-and-finish issues inside the Model 3, the exterior was a different story. Inconsistent panel gaps around the doors and myriad ill-fitting trim pieces were among the worst we’ve seen in recent memory.

Such a glaring misstep makes us wonder what Tesla could have made of the Model 3 without the ambition to produce so many cars so quickly. Although it shows promising flashes of cleverness in its execution, the Model 3 in its current form feels just shy of complete. What’s more, at $50,000 and up, it also falls short of its mission to provide affordable and accessible electric motoring to a wide spectrum of the population. As much as Tesla has achieved here in creating a nicely integrated, capable, and relatively fun entry-luxury EV, we’re still left waiting—along with all those hopeful would-be owners—for the Model 3 to change the world.

Tesla Model 3 Interior
credit: caranddriver

Notice how Car And Driver reasonably takes Tesla to task for being under quality and over priced, but also calls it a “nicely integrated, capable, and relatively fun entry-luxury EV,” all in the same sentence.  So it’s not really an entry level EV, but it sort of is. Nice.

And in the not-ready-for-prime-time autopilot–and insurance–saga, we turn to Arstechnica:

Does Tesla’s Autopilot software have something against emergency services? That’s a flippant question, but there’s something underneath it. On Tuesday, a Model S electric vehicle—with Autopilot engaged, according to the driver—crashed into a police car in Laguna Beach, California. The police car was unoccupied at the time, but the Tesla driver sustained minor injuries. Last month, another Model S, also under Autopilot, slammed into the back of a stationary fire truck in South Jordan, Utah, resulting in a broken ankle for the Tesla driver. And in January, a third Autopiloted Model S plowed into the back of another fire engine, this time in Culver City, California. [skip]

It has been a rough couple of weeks for Autopilot. The suite of advanced driver assistance systems, which includes adaptive cruise control and lane keeping, has also been blamed for destroying a Model 3 in Greece last week. In that case, the facts are even murkier—the car was on an unsupported road trip at the time, and Tesla had warned the owner before he set off.

Ooops.  To be fair, all new technologies have their teething problems, but there are reasons why trying to turn one of the most complex tasks in the world–driving–over to a computer is not such a great idea.

Last week also saw Tesla settle a class-action lawsuit filed last year by owners claiming the company misrepresented the capabilities of Enhanced Autopilot, a $5,000 option on the EVs.

This doesn’t help either:

But there’s also reason to be skeptical of the company’s claims. For instance, Tesla repeatedly cites a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration statistic that the introduction of Autosteer to Autopilot reduced crashes by 40 percent. But last month, the NHTSA told us that it was a ‘cursory comparison’ and that the agency ‘did not assess the effectiveness of this technology.

What’s the word for that…”false advertising?”  Yes, I believe that’s it.  Which leads to this:

The Model S is now the most expensive car to insure

Regardless of whether or not Autopilot is involved, the insurance industry—a dispassionate industry if ever there was one—has looked at the Model S and found it wanting. According to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, analyzed by 24/7 Wall Street, the US’ best-selling EV is also the nation’s most expensive car to insure. The average annual insurance premium for a Model S sedan is now $1,789.48, with an average collision insurance claim of $1,310. Insurance for the next-most expensive car on the list—Mercedes-Benz’s flagship S-Class sedan—will set you back $1,540.63, with an average collision claim of just $803.40.

Last year, AAA raised rates on both Model S and Model X EVs, citing abnormally high claim frequencies and high costs of insurance claims compared to other luxury vehicles. Tesla was not pleased, and it disputed AAA’s claims, stating that its cars were not being compared appropriately. To combat the problem of sky-high insurance rates, Tesla has partnered with Liberty Mutual to underwrite insurance plans specifically for its EVs, and according to Electrek, Tesla recently hired a former Liberty Mutual executive to run the InsureMyTesla program here in the US. A Tesla spokesperson told us, ‘Tesla guarantees that there will always be an insurance provider that will charge less for a Model S or X than any other car with a similar driver, price and vehicle category,’ adding that the Model 3 is now also part of the program.

As I pointed out back in 2012, EVs, due to their complexity and low production numbers, are generally far more expensive to repair than conventional vehicles.  One also wonders if the “insureMyTesla” program can make any money at all?  The mere fact of its existence suggests it’s another desperate attempt by Tesla to sell its cars at any price.  If such a program were practical and profitable, wouldn’t insurance companies be willing to insure Teslas at similarly low rates? Isn’t that the point of competition? I don’t think Geico is going to be promising lower rates on this one.

And as I’ve always said, if one wants to buy an EV at any price, and if it meets their needs, good for them.  To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, it does pick my pocket through taxpayer subsidies, but it doesn’t break my leg. The point remains that without government subsidies, such vehicles tend to be unaffordable, and the very qualities that manufacturers trumpet as features, tend to be bugs for most Americans.  With gas prices dipping below two dollars a gallon for the first time in years, the rationale for EVs is less compelling than ever.

Even GM is seeing the light.  They’re ceasing production of the Chevy Volt.  This is a development I’ve predicted for a long time.  With the end of the Obama Administration, with rapid improvements in oil production and reduction in government regulations under President Trump, and a corresponding reduction in gas prices, the Volt, kept alive by government interference in the free market, couldn’t survive.  It has never made a dime of profit for GM, rather it’s lost mountains of money, and during its run, GM has cancelled production of several vehicles that sold far more units than the Volt.  Reality eventually caught up with that particular car of the future. Chevy is also ending production of the Cruze, its conventionally powered car of the future, and Ford is ending production of virtually all of its sedans in favor of SUVs and pickups.

The Chevy Bolt is still in production–for the time being–and I’ll end with the conclusion of my most recent article on that tiny car:

We are getting closer to a future where EVs are a true replacement for internal combustion, though. With slightly more range and more fast-charging stations, it wouldn’t be hard to cover long distances in a Bolt EV. We’re just not quite there yet.’

Well, yes, if one can get by with a tiny car, and lives in a predominantly warm part of the country with sufficient level 2 or 3 chargers conveniently located wherever one wished to drive, assuming one has the necessary time to wait as the vehicle charges, and one is willing to pay more for a tiny EV when much more spacious and versatile conventional vehicles are available for less, and…you get the picture, gentle readers.

EVs can get greater mileage one of four primary ways: less weight, better aerodynamics, greater battery efficiency and greater mechanical efficiency. For the time being, the Bolt is about as light and aerodynamic as an EV is going to get. Its battery is as efficient as contemporary science can make it, and any mechanical improvements are going to be incremental at best. Absent amazing and unforeseeable leaps in technology, EVs are going to be in the “sort of” category for a long time.

Oh yes, remove the federal subsidy of $7500 dollars, which we’re all paying for every EV, and the EV market would dry up overnight, but hey, it’s other people’s money. That’s always easy to spend.

Spending several times what I currently pay for insurance for two conventional vehicles on a single Tesla?  That’s not so easy to spend, particularly since it’s my money.