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Tesla Model 3: Quick Thoughts

Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock, you’re probably aware that Tesla Motors recently unveiled their “car for the masses” recently.  This is a big deal for many reasons, most of which I won’t bother to rehash here.  As a current Tesla vehicle owner, however, I wanted to provide my friends, family, and followers with my quick thoughts on this car, why it may be relevant to you, and hopefully answer the most common questions I’ve been getting.  Enjoy!

First, some background on my electric vehicle (EV) ownership experience.  For more than three years, since December 2012 to be exact, we have had some sort of plug-in vehicle at our home.  It started with a 2011 Nissan Leaf which we leased for a few years.  We then added our first Tesla Model S two years later, in December 2014.  The following Spring of 2015 we replaced the Nissan with a second Tesla, making our garage 100% electric.  At that time we also upgraded our original Tesla to a newer, dual-motor (read: all-wheel drive) model.  For the year that followed we put over 30,000 miles on our two Tesla vehicles, without using a drop of petrol.

We could have continued down that path of being 100% electric, and retrospectively I sort of wish we had; it was a great year!  But the Model S is a big car, and we decided that we wanted one of the two cars in our garage to be slightly smaller in size, so we traded down to an Audi.  There is another side story there regarding the swapping of cars, which involves a short stint with an Audi TTS.  Since that isn’t relevant to this article I’ll cut to the end, where we currently still have the 2015 Tesla Model S 85D and ultimately added a 2016 Audi A3 e-Tron plug-in hybrid.  As such we still have two cars that run on electricity, though the Audi is a hybrid that can also use gasoline when it runs out of electrons.

In total then we’ve owned five (5) different vehicles that have run off electricity in some fashion.  Four of them have been 100% electric only.  Driving range on a full charge has been EPA rated anywhere from as little as 73 miles for our Leaf, as many as 270 miles purely electric for my current Tesla, and all the way up to 380 miles in the Audi e-Tron (which is feasible by means of a 10.6 gallon tank of premium gasoline).  We’re excited to see how the Audi works for us, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t once again state that my preference would be to get back in a two-Tesla household, or at least 100% electric only.

But enough about that, let’s get down to Tesla Model 3 stuff!  Chances are good that when my Model 3 arrives we shall once again be 100% kool-aid drinking Tesla fan boys/girls!

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On March 31st (2016) I was one of the 180,000+ people who threw down my $1,000 deposit for a spot in line for the Tesla Model 3 (see photo above, email confirmation screen shot).  Even before that evening’s unveil, thousands of us were in line at stores around the world, placing orders for a car we had never even seen.

There are hundreds if not thousands of articles that cover the unveil, the first week of 325,000+ deposits, and other details about the car.  I’m not going to cover that– if you want to read more about the Model 3 in general, let me Google that for you!

Instead, I’ve arranged about a dozen or so top discussion points which I think are relevant, and should help answer the most common curiosities people seem to have about this car.  I’ve put them together below in a sort of Q&A fashion.  Many of these same curiosities can also be easily answered by visiting your local Tesla Store, checking out my favorite web forums (TMC), searching Google, or elsewhere. Enjoy!


“The Car For the Masses”

Many argue that the entry level price of $35,000 isn’t really affordable.  To that point I’d be quick to point out that this is actually quite spot-on for the average price of a new car sold today (reference link).  Still that doesn’t mean the price is right for everyone.  I’ll talk more about the cost to own the car in a second, and also what cars you should compare the Model 3 to when cross-shopping.  But the bottom line is this: if you’re not already looking to spend $35k or more for a car, then yes, the Model 3 might not be right for you.

Going the distance

When folks ask me about range (how far you can drive on a single charge) most are surprised to realize how easily the car could truly work for them.  In most conversations I’ve had it seems 9 out of 10 people could easily live with the 215 mile range (minimum) that Tesla plans for the Model 3.  But as you can expect, there will always be exceptions.

For example, some people work out of their car, driving many miles each day.  Charging their car at a supercharger might not be logistically possible, even with as fast as that can be.  For those folks the current EV experience simply might not work.  Another example are my in-laws, who are 85-miles from my home.  Round-trip driving to them is 170 miles, which can cut it close on the range of the car.  If I had to make that trip daily, it could limit how feasible a Tesla works. In my case, there is a Supercharger along the route- but more on charging later.

Another thing to be aware of when looking at the range is to understand EPA rating, versus real mileage.  Just like your gasoline vehicle, the EPA looks at perfect conditions. But if weather or temperatures are taken into account, elevation, or that lead foot of yours, things can drop off quickly.  As a general rule of thumb my experience with Tesla has been that in the warmer seasons I’ll get 85% of my EPA rated range, and in the winter time 65% realization.  My 270-mile rated 85D, fore example, can easily do 230+ miles in the summer, but 180-miles is more realistic when the temps get to 15-F and below.

Still, most folks only average about 40-miles in daily work commute needs.  Even during the coldest winter months, at 65% of that 215 Tesla is claiming, you’d have 100 or more miles to handle your evening errands.  For those longer trips, you can supercharge!  (again I’ll cover long distance travel in more depth later down this post)

Monthly Payments

Shortly after the unveil of the Model 3 the CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, tweeted out that he expects the average price of the car to be $42,000 (reference link) with modest options.  That means a base price plus around $7,000 worth of add-ons/extras. This might be a Midsize Sedan, but at this price point it is definitely meant to compete in the Luxury segment, so keep that in mind.

Using your favorite auto loan calculator (here is mine), you can figure out what your monthly payment will be for a loan.  In my case I’d probably put down $2,000 cash as a minimum (put down more, if you can!), go with a 72 month term, and have to deal with 8% sales tax in my part of Ohio.  Going based on today’s rates I used 2.99% APR which is reasonable to expect using current new auto loan rates.

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In my case that makes for a $658 monthly payment.  This is certainly not cheap, but again if you are comparing apples to apples, any other $42,000 car would have the same cost monthly.  And we haven’t even begun to talk about other costs of ownership, which I’ll talk about in another section.

Leasing is something that is unknown, but we can speculate based on current comparisons.  For me I’ve always found the Audi A7 to be one of the best Tesla Model S comparisons, both on price, as well as the styling and dimensions.  Audi offers their A7, as well as a more powerful S7, and finally an awesome yet crazy RS7.  Similarly, Tesla offers variations that match nicely tit-for-tat in both features, and price-point, such as the 70D, 90D, P90D, and of course, the Ludicrous Option. For now let’s look at base price entry level cars, focusing on the Audi A7 which starts at $68,300 for their all wheel drive version, and the Model S 70D which is a touch more at $75,000.

If you compare a Prestige trim Audi A7 with no added options, the Audi USA web site says the car would lease for $805 per month for a 36-month 12,000 mile lease.  Down payment is defaulting to $7,095 (eek!).  Tesla wants an equally high out-of-pocket amount, $6,545 in their case.  And for the Model S your payment is $850 per month for the same duration and mileage.  In both cases different annual mileage options exist, but Tesla does not offer alternate term lengths.  BUT — where this becomes more apples-to-apples is when you add a few options to the A7 to get the sticker price to be the same $75k.  At that point the monthly payment jumps to the same $850 per month, but kicks the down payment up to just over $7,500.  All-in-all, the car payments are basically IDENTICAL!

So what does this mean here?  Well, Audi just recently released their 2017 Audi A4, which interestingly enough includes a full digital display (they call it the Virtual Cockpit), which reminds me a lot of the Tesla display.  And their new A4 is rumored to be similarly sized to the Model 3 (more on that later, when I talk more about comparative vehicles).  Seems this is perhaps a good way to “guesstimate” Model 3 costs, eh?

This new A4 starts at $37,300 but I’ll go Premium Plus at $41,100 and add a few options, to get to that $42k price that Mister Musk tweeted.  Again my goal here is to take a $42k Audi A4 and assume that the lease payment there should be similar to a comparable priced Model 3 — but take all of this with a grain of salt!  Anyhow, with a sticker price of $41,950 it tells me the payment on the Audi A4 is $512 per month, but they want a still hefty $4,195 down, plus first mont, security deposit, and so forth.

If I adjust your down payment  to a more realistic $2,000 down (which after first month, and security deposit, and so on, comes to a grand total you’d need of $3,268 cash due at signing), the payment squeezes up slightly to $573.  Based on these figures I’d expect a nicely equipped Tesla Model 3 will cost you then roughly $600 per month to lease, just like a comparable car at this price point.  Aspects like residual, options, and lease rates (and of course your credit score) might alter this, but this should be a good rough estimation for now.

For many folks $600 per month is out of their budget, and that is understood and appreciated.  Keep in mind, however, there are other savings you’ll experience owning an EV, which I’ll talk about in a moment.  And at the moment there is a $7,500 federal tax credit, but that doesn’t last forever (reference link).

If you’re in the market for a car at this price point, my suggestion is to actually ignore BOTH the tax credit, and the other cost of ownership savings.  I truly believe that the Tesla Model 3 will have no problem besting the competition on merits alone, even without these ancillary savings.   And in the case of the tax credit, it is just icing on the cake to a car that is otherwise going to be priced perfectly along side of its true competitors.

Comparing to Other Cars

Speaking of competitors, let’s keep this section short.  Why?  Because the cars on the market today will be different in a year or two.  Here are a few cars I think you’ll probably want to cross-reference.

For gasoline cars that have a similar price point and feature set, appealing to the midsize sedan luxury market, the three main competitors I’d suggest:  Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.  There are plenty of others we could add, too, such as the Cadillac ATS, Jaguar XE, Acura TLX, and MANY more!  But the Audi, BMW, and MB are my top picks for cars that will go head-to-head with the Tesla Model 3, offer all wheel drive options, and should have similar sportiness and performance too.

When it comes to cross-shopping other electric cars, or hybrid vehicles, things get a bit more confusing.  Right now the Chevrolet Bolt is the only vehicle announced or known to offer a 200+ mile range that will be similarly priced and 100% electric.  The Bolt isn’t due out for a few months (end of 2016), so many of the details there are still not known.  Still, the Chevy is going to be the most head-to-head with the Model 3, even though some analysts have said they expect the Bolt to be similar in technology but not luxury.  Available today are other 100% electric cars, but none of them go more than about 115 miles, or roughly half of the Model 3, giving the Model 3 and the Bolt plenty of room to battle one-on-one.

From there you can start to examine cars that add some sort of gasoline engine, be it as a hybrid or range-extender.  But once you add in gasoline to the nature of the car (such as the Audi A3 e-Tron we just bought) the waters get a bit more muddy.  This is because long term ownership will now add the cost of that second energy source (electricity PLUS gasoline), and also added maintenance of two propulsion systems.

Again, the cars on the market when the Model 3 is readily available will certainly change.  So for now, tread lightly.  But whatever you do, don’t try to compare the forthcoming Tesla to a Prius, they just aren’t priced the same, nor do they perform the same.  (The Lexus CT200h F-Sport might be more in-line, but even then we’re talking hybrid to 100% EV, so again, take all of that into account).

Bottom line: the Model 3 might be Tesla’s entry level car, but it isn’t by any means the cheapest car on the market.  Be sure to compare it accordingly.

Other Costs of Ownership

Annual maintenance costs are the primary reason you’ll need to take any Tesla to your nearest service center.  Costs per visit are $400 to $900 for the Model S, which is very typical of any car at this price point, and if anything, falls on the low side.  There are many great articles about these costs (check out this very recent one), but comparing these charges to the unknowns of the Model 3 would be unfair.  Overall, however, EV ownership tends to be lower than gasoline motor vehicles, and I’d expect the Model 3 to follow suit there.  Expect it to be no worse, anyhow… and hopefully less per mile than your gas counterparts.

Your annual visit mimics that of your current oil change service interval (which on comparable high end luxury sedans is every 10,000 miles or 12 months, whichever comes first).  Beyond that, you still have wear items like tires, brake pads, wiper blades, and so forth.  In the case of the Tesla (or any EV), regenerative braking helps reduce brake pad usage, allowing many folks to go thousands more miles on their pads.  I’m aware of folks with 60,000+ models on their Model S who have no indications of yet needing new brake pads.

On the flip side, heavy use of regenerative braking will wear down tires.  It is not yet known how this translate to a smaller, presumably lighter car, like the Model 3.  In the case of our Nissan Leaf, with some nice low-rolling-resistance tires, 20,000 to 30,000 miles would be a good estimated tire life.  In the case of the Model S, which is far heavier, and more performance oriented, 15,000 miles of tire life isn’t uncommon.   The trade off here, again, are brake pads versus tires.

Still, that is really all you have to budget for with an EV.  You’ll never have to worry about spark plugs, oil changes, oil filters, oxygen sensors, emissions checks, and so many other items that revolve around an internal combustion engine.  These are real savings, ones that Tesla Motors web site will show you frequently.  Though I think these can really help seal the deal for many owners, I still expect that the Model 3 will perform in such a fashion that these costs will prove a bonus, not a necessity, to justify its purchase.  Yep, I’m just that much of a fan boy!

Charging – Local & Long Distance

Charging at home is something most all EV owners do.  Typically you plug in every night, and you wake up to a fully charged vehicle.  I’ll tell you what- having to not visit a gas station in the dark & cold of winter has been such a nicety.  Once you make the swap, you’ll never want to go back!

Smaller, supplemental batteries, like the one in our hybrid Audi A3 e-tron, can be fully charged in about 8 to 10 hours on a standard 110-volt outlet.  But that battery only takes the car roughly 16 miles on pure electric range.  When you look at cars with a larger electric battery, cars like the Tesla Model S, X or 3, the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Bolt, or even the Chevy Volt, you’ll need to add a 220/240-volt outlet to your garage.  This cuts charge time down considerably, and the cost to add this power is very small.

Typical costs vary across the USA, but $200-400 is a good range of what to expect to pay an electrician to get your garage ready for your electric car.  Most vehicles will come with a charge cable that plugs into the 220/240 outlet, using the same kind of connector you have behind your electric dryer or range/cook-top.  Tesla uses Nema 14-50 as their standard plug, known to many as an “RV” plug/outlet.

Add one of these for just a few hundred dollars, you’ll be ready to charge.  Charging the Model 3 from 0% to a full 100% will probably take 6-8 hours using that type of outlet, but again we just don’t know yet.  My suggestion is to add this outlet to your garage now if you’ve pre-ordered a Model 3, but stop there.  Don’t buy any other hardware until we know more about what/how the Model 3 might need, and how it might potentially vary in charging from the Model S or X.

Down the road, if you want to make your life slightly easier, you can add a Tesla High Powered Wall Connector (HPWC).  These are known by most EV owners as Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE), which is simply a fancy term for the device you hang on your wall that you plug your car into for charging.  Many folks are happy to just add an outlet, and use the cable that came with their vehicle.  But if you want a more attractive solution, high powered wall hardware is the way to go.

Supercharging is another key aspect of Tesla ownership.  There have been a slew of great articles that aggregate all the rumors, but one thing clearly said at the unveil was that the car will allow for supercharging.  This network of stations around the planet currently allows Model S and X owners to fully charge their car in just over an hour.  In my experience you don’t even need that long, but having FREE access to these is amazing.

The best example I’ve given people would be our trips to Chicago, from the Cleveland OH area.  Normally we would stop for 20-30 minutes with our 8-year old twice on this 350+ mile journey in a conventional car.  We would do 100 or so extra miles in the Chicagoland area, and over 800+ miles spend $90 in gasoline for the entire trip.  This is based on premium fuel and my prior cars performed similarly to my Tesla, such that they only saw ~25 MPG fuel consumption.

Comparatively, we’ve taken this trip a few times in the Tesla, and found we only have to stop twice even though there are four superchargers along the way. Meaning you can skip every other charger, if you want.  One trip on the way back from Chicago we stopped only at the Mishawaka charger, and the Maumee charger, each for about 45 minutes.  This added an hour to our trip more than what a conventional car might have cost, but the entire trip was “cost free” fuel.  To put it another way, Tesla saved me $90 for that hour.

We don’t yet know exactly what the battery technology will be in the Model 3, hence charge times and such are currently just speculation.  But if they turn out to be anything like the Model S/X currently, most potential owners should find the setup easy to adapt to without any real sacrifice.  Better yet, Tesla plans to DOUBLE the number of superchargers by the end of 2017, before the Model 3 is released!  If you are hesitant to get an EV because of charging woes, Tesla is working hard to make that a non-issue.

Lastly, even at today’s current low gas prices, electricity tends to be cheaper than gasoline for automotive travel.  Typical owners find that they are paying $0.03 to $0.04 per mile to drive their Tesla, versus the $0.06 to $0.08 at the low end for gas cars.  This means that if you’ve been spending $200 per month on gas, you’ll instead spend about $100 more on your monthly electric bill.  In my car the Model S gave me a net savings of $150 per month, but this fluctuates as gas and electric prices change.  Added to the savings in maintenance, again these are real costs you can benefit from as an owner.

Interior & Exterior Design

Design and styling can be quite subjective, but I didn’t want to omit this section entirely.  Still there are certainly those of you who will love the Model 3, and some who will hate it.  Franz von Holzhausen has been head of design at Tesla for over six years, and has created a design language unique to the brand.  I personally love it.

Still, the lack of a nose cone or front grille is odd.  But electric cars don’t need front radiators in the conventional sense; no engine to cool.  What makes the Model X and Model 3 unique then in their underpinnings has also allowed the design to shift from what we’re used to.  Different isn’t always better, but in my case, I think it works.  Frankly, I think it works better on the smaller size Model 3, whereas the “snout” on the Model X doesn’t really agree with me.

Beyond that, the major exterior design notes of the Model 3 that I’ll bring up here are the roof, and the trunk.  According again to Elon Musk ad his tweet rampage, you’ll have options for a metal (painted) roof, a glass (fixed) roof, and a panoramic glass (sunroof).  Based on the design the current trunk is a conventional style and size, though Musk has indicated they will review to try to maximize the opening.  Still, the car is not a hatchback or fastback opening, compared to the S/X models.

Interior wise the car features a large 15 inch screen positions landscape instead of portrait like the S/X.  There is no speedometer, and the vents are supposed to be some sort of cool, futuristic thing.  Those lucky enough to attend the unveil have been told the interior is a work in progress, and Musk has supported this in his online dialogue.  It is vey spartan, and for some that will make it feel not quite as tactile and enjoyable as competitors in the market.

In both ways (exterior and interior), Tesla is not trying to follow the norm.  Their goal remains to be not just disruptive, but to challenge the concepts that have been around for generations.  I’d suspect that the exterior will be easier for most people to adapt to, versus the interior.  Hey, at least they added a real center console with cup holders, that should keep Americans happy!  Again, love it or hate it, the prototypes we’ve seen thus far indicate some real departures from the cars we’re used to, for better or worse.

Dealer Experience

Tesla sells direct to the public.  There is no dealership to mark up cars, or try to sell you extended warranties.  That isn’t to say Tesla doesn’t offer some features, such as prepaid service and the likes.  And with the release of the Model 3, who knows how this might all change.  But at the moment, buying a Model S or X is actually more like buying from the Apple store than the car dealership.

If you’ve ever visited a car chain such as CarMax, you’re familiar with fixed pricing.  There is no negotiating for the best deal; everyone gets the same great price.  Of course those buying the Model S/X aren’t as worried about small price details, perhaps, based on the high cost of entry and the required affluence to acquire one.  Still, if this same business model continues, as Tesla is fighting hard to make sure it does, car buying going forward will be a much easier, and more enjoyable experience.

There are plans to introduce many more Tesla stores/service centers in the coming year, likely to help handle the influx of vehicles on the road when the Model 3 is released.  Right now the Model S/X are premium luxury cars, and carry a sense of VIP ownership.  Still, my experiences have been great, but not unlike that of the Apple Store, or any other high end boutique.  I suspect there will be a dip in this experience when the Model 3 comes out, not because Tesla wants there to be, but because volume will simply demand it.  Loaner cars won’t probably be as readily available, and the service experience will likely become more like a conventional dealership.

We don’t know precisely what to expect in this regard, but we can at least say this: if the dealer experience continues to be on-par with the current one, everyone should be quite please.  It mimics the wonderful service I’ve gotten at my local Audi/BMW service centers in the past, and I truly hope it will continue to match that, given the direct competition.

Electric Cars are DIRTY!

Actually, no they aren’t.  But I hear this a LOT!  Short and sweet, you simply need to read up to realize this isn’t the case.  The most recent article about this I’ve read can be found right HERE.

Here in my region of Ohio, more than 80% of my power comes from coal.  So yes, my car might be zero emissions, but my electricity isn’t.  Still, the CO2 per mile using said electric power is still cleaner/less than driving an internal combustion engine.  Furthermore, as the grid becomes cleaner, which it is, that number will only improve.

Down the road I’d love to add a solar array to my house, but at current costs it just doesn’t make sense.  In other parts of the country (i.e. California) there are programs, lease options, discounts, and tax credits, that make solar affordable.  As the rest of the country plays catch up I’ll be one of the first in line to add this clean option to my home, and in turn, make my vehicle potentially 100% emissions free from renewable energy.

But in the end the real point to this section is naivety.  One person spreads the misinformation about cleanliness, and it snowballs into a lack of knowledge.  Read the link above, or Google for more data.  Like it or not, electric cars are the wave of the future, and all cars will be hybrids of some sort before long.

Electric Vehicles aren’t FUN to drive

When I hear this I instantly know the person who wrote this hasn’t driven a MODERN electric car.  Their experience with electric cars is either non existent, or some old car from years ago.  Worse yet, they are comparing it to the golf kart they drove once.

You need look no further than Brooks Weisblat if you don’t believe me.  He has been the focus of many articles, my favorite perhaps being THIS ONE.  He runs DragTimes, a site that collets speed data from all cars produced.  He is a gear head, and a friend of a friend.  And if there is one thing I know, he LOVES all cars.

But the “car guys” aren’t limited to just Brooks, or myself.  I regularly bump into other Tesla owners, only to find many of them still have exotics, sport cars, and other cool rides parked in their garage at home.  But the one thing that always makes me smile is this: we all prefer to drive our Tesla.  Sure, sometimes I miss the roar of a big motor revving out to infinity, or the gurgle of that exhaust as it pops off-load.  But more often than not I love how silent yet fast my Tesla accelerates. And I can feel going stomping the “go” pedal, knowing I’m doing so while still leaving the world a better place for my daughter.

Thanks to a low center of gravity, and a 49/51 weight balance, the Model S is a blast to drive!  It isn’t a small vehicle, but I’ve still had it out at the road course and enjoyed it much.  (See my blog post HERE)  Instant torque is just amazing, and around town or freeway driving the Tesla never disappoints.  Don’t believe me?  Go test drive a Model S today — you’ll be plunking down that $1,000 Model 3 deposit immediately after, or buying a Model S if you can on the spot!


 

What else?

What other questions do you folks have?  What did I not answer clearly?  I’ll be updating this blog post or adding new ones as more data comes out.  Also read the comments below, as hopefully there will be some conversation there from you, my friends/family/followers.

Thanks for reading.  If you’re a Tesla fan, Model 3 desirer, or even a nay-sayer of the whole thing, sound-off below.  I’d love to hear from you!


 

PS: If you want to learn more about Elon Musk, Tesla, SpaceX, or why all of this matters on a much larger level, there is a great four part series written on the matters.  It is a long read, but worth the time if you want to better delve into the purpose behind all of these companies, and the man at the helm.  Check it out HERE.

 

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Ari Jay Comet

Sharing my life experiences. Interacting with technology. Digital self-expression. Binary is black, white, and many shades of grey.

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