Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Test Drive Tesla Roadster and Dealership

Today I test-drove the Tesla Roadster for the first time out of the Palo Alto dealership. Filled with emotion and so many things to report…I will try to keep my thoughts in order and brief, but don’t worry there are pictures in case anyone gets lost.

The Dealership is in an old Chevy dealer space, which is some of the highest price dealer real estate this side of Beverly Hills. In fact, John “Big Dog” Anderson, owner of the Largest Chevrolet franchise in the Western 14 states previously owned this about 8 years ago and got out because of the high cost here and better opportunities elsewhere. Big and Concrete is the milieu. Tesla has added a nice paint job, but it needs to be much more green and sustainable given the cars that are there so it falls short in this department.

It is chic inside, but the layout does not reveal the best part of the whole campus and that is the final assembly. Final Assembly for North America is in the back (old Mr. Goodwrench) garage where the “rollers” come in from Lotus (the folks who build the cars) and then the battery and motor are emplaced in each.

Customers and visitors are allowed to see the service shop and drink cappuccino while they wait for service, but this appears to be no different than any other dealership. Incidentally, all Tesla’s must be serviced at Tesla dealership (except brakes and tires) so if you are not within 100 miles of one, you are responsible to get it there. Out of luck, it appears, if you are not in LA or SF on this point. Or even New York and Chicago in the future.

Tons of Tesla Roadsters everywhere. That was cool to see but also made it feel a little cheap. A good deal more discretion would be useful for a $110K (base price car) and an easy $125-40K car priced with the options as desired by most. They call it a "Ferrari at a Porsche price". I would call it a slightly larger cousin of Lotus Elise at a Porsche Price.

No one helped me for a full 35 minutes (but there were plenty of salesmen around). This I attribute to growing pains, but they need to take a close look at operations.

The Model S mock-up was there in all its glory. It is very very nice. They are saying late 2011 for the actual introduction. I spent little time on it since it is basically just a model. I must say that I see designs just as good if not better on in every competition and so it occurred to me that Tesla has spent a lot of dough on styling (and on Franz von Holzhausen), but I am not sure that they have broken the mold at all.

My salesman used to run an Apple Store. That says a lot…a lot of good things. He is not paid on commission and that felt nice as a customer.

No employee discount are available so the employees are basically boxed out. THIS IS A HUGE MISTAKE.

I asked to test drive…he obliged easily, which I like in a car company. Free and clear, he took my license and handed me the keys. That is the way to do it, and I totally congratulate them on making that the standard.

I took the car on a 40 minute drive in the countryside. It is simply the drivetrain of the future. Quiet, strong acceleration, very few parts, clean, NO GAS COST – These things I loved and you must drive one really to feel them.

BUT (and it is a big but), the price is huge (and almost entirely based on stubborn battery cost). Additionally the car is cramped and heavy around the corners despite massive use of carbon fiber.

(Space between my hip and the passengers....cozy)

(Pretty wide sill contributes to the cramped feel, but I like wide sills)

(Hood hinge structure is all carbon fiber)

I would forgive all of this (after I modified the suspension), but still would not be able to afford one without mortgaging my first-born. Oh, and then there is that range thing. 200+ miles they say, but that is simply not true the way that anyone would want to drive. Also (and hold your breath) a full recharge on a 110 outlet is 35 hrs. Granted that may not always be necessary, but overnight on a 110 outlet you only get about 40 miles out of a charge. Better hope that your commute and errands are less than 40 miles, but then I also would ask, why commute in a 0-60 3.9 sec sports car? This charge issue can be addressed by retrofitting 220 at varying amperages, but it is a very real consideration.

The interior is simple (which I like), but in the end for $110K+ that will likely have to improve as it is missing on some key details (such as adjustable steering wheel and adjustable side mirrors from in the cabin).

Without the side view mirrors, rear side corner visibility is almost impossible.

Regenerative Brakes and electronic traction control is spectacular feeling, but then again so are the brakes and traction control on so many cars.

The bottom line is that electric is coming. Tesla has bravely shown the way. Their business model, cars, and execution each leave many openings for strong competitors, but the message is clear, we are on the cusp of a change. I believe that cusp is about 5 years wide because of the stubborn high price of electricity storage (i.e. batteries), but it is in site.

I am amazed by what the company has achieved, and I can never say a bad word about that kind of vision. Bravo 100xs over.

I voice all of my unvarnished criticism along with the good here so that we can all learn. I challenge Tesla to up their game, and would welcome the competition, but I fear that once a direction and methodology have been established that it is hard to reinvent the ethos of a Company. We will see.

Go drive a Tesla to see the future of drivetrains. The experience is so worth it. Make sure to come to a Local Motors micro-factory next year to see the future of car companies. When the battery cost is right you will certainly see an electric car rolling out of a micro-factory - then you can have the best of both worlds.

Thank you to my salesman, he was great!