I thought I’d make a little log of my 2007 Prius to Tesla Model S 60 transition for the benefit of Prius owners considering a Tesla. I’ve owned two Priuses, 12 years in total. They were great cars. My Tesla has been built, and I’m waiting for delivery. Since I can’t drive the car, at least I can blog about it. This article is being updated as the process unfolds. When the car gets delivered, check out Prius to Tesla transition – Part 2.
2016 Tesla (stock photo)
Should I buy one?
As I wrote in my article Has the time of the electric car arrived?”, I had not been keeping up with the topic of electric cars. I thought all electric cars were either unaffordable, or they had insufficient range for anything but local commuting. When I learned otherwise, I had to decide whether to buy one or not. Only the Tesla electric cars met the two criteria: affordable and sufficient range, so the question was simplified to whether to dump my much-beloved Prius and buy a Tesla or not.
The economic proposition
Fuel savings over a Prius aren’t all that much because of how fuel efficient the Prius already is. I came up with $557 total savings over 5 years for where I live in South Carolina.
Prius cost: $2,798.60 (14,000 miles / 50 mpg * $1.999 per gallon * 5 years)
Tesla cost: $2,241.41 (14,000 miles * .318 kWh per mile * $.10293 per kWh electric rate * 90% home charging * 5 years / 92% charging efficiency)
With the Tesla I suspect that I will put more miles on my car than I did with the Prius, but those are likely to be road trip miles offset by the supercharger. Gas prices vary and could go up substantially. Electric rates vary less. The efficiency value of .318 kWh per mile is an estimate—your mileage may vary.
In addition to small fuel savings, the cost of insurance will double and routine maintenance, even though minimal, costs more for a pricier car. The other maintenance expense, tires, is double the price, or more. Out-of-pocket expenses to run the car go up.
Things to worry about
It’s big! The first bit of panic that hit me was the question: “will it fit in my garage?” My 2007 Prius is 175” long. The Tesla is 196”. My garage was modified by the previous owner to add a 24” deep workbench along the end wall, so the fit will be tight. The Tesla is also wider. Fortunately the Tesla has parking assist, including an on-screen display showing you how close you are (in inches) to the walls. The Model S gives a little help by automatically folding its outside rear-view mirrors in while parking. It also has an available Summon feature, where the car will park itself. I’ve decided that I need to back into the garage with the driver’s side door opening towards the center of the garage.
I learned that the term “range anxiety” was invented by a GM marketing executive. Those considering purchasing an electric car express concern over getting stuck somewhere with no place to charge, compared to a gas car with filling stations all over the country.
I actually ran out of gas three times in a Prius. In two of those situations, I was within a mile of a gas station and barely reached the fuel pump with a sliver of battery power left. The other time, I had to have roadside assistance.
On a good day, I could go around 600 miles on a tank of gas with the Prius, more than three times what I’ll get with the Tesla. But in both cases, planning is required. I can’t think of the number of times I have had low fuel anxiety in a Prius. With the Tesla, one plans in advance for a long trip, and of course plugging in every night at home insures no worries on local trips.
Tesla owners who have been interviewed say that anxiety is not an issue. One can just slow down and extend the range, and like the Prius, it can go a little more after the needle reaches 0. The low end 60 kWh model I’m buying has an EPA range of 208 miles. My Prius has an EPA mileage of 60 mpg, a number I never saw in practice. The actual range of a car depends on weather, terrain and driving style. Real Tesla drivers are getting closer to 180 miles on a charge for the 60. Range is a non-trivial problem, but the Tesla supercharging network had chargers spaced within 150 miles of each other along the major Interstate highway corridors. (The current 60 kWh Model S can also be upgraded to a 75 kWh model with greater range for $9,000.)
Realistically, there are some sacrifices (beyond the sticker price) at least for the base Model S. There are just some places you cannot go. Of course, a Prius isn’t designed for off road use either—there are places you can’t go in a Prius. (Note that the Model S with air suspension can be set for a ground clearance of .7” higher than my 2007 Prius.) Let’s say I want to go to Cherokee, North Carolina. If I go there and back I’ll probably have to charge the car once. The altitude change eats electricity (and gas). I either have to go out of the way to Asheville and charge there at a supercharger, or use a public charger at the Cherokee Visitors Center, a single charger that someone else could be using, and that would take a few hours to charge enough to get me home with a margin of safety. That brings up another charging problem, “ICEing.” ICE stands for “internal combustion engine” and the term refers to a non-electric car parking in an electric charging space, blocking the charger.
Tesla has what are called “destination chargers” which are intended to be used by travelers when they reach their destination. They are typically at hotels that only allow them to be used by guests. They may or may not be working, and they may or may not be ICED. In addition there are public chargers that also charge more slowly. There may be costs for their use, they may be ICED, they may be in legitimate use, they may not work, and they may require a special adapter cable not included with the car.
The wait for my Tesla should be somewhere around a month to a month and a half. But I had to wait that long for my first Prius too. They were scarce in 2004 and dealers were charging $2,000 or more over the sticker price. Again in 2007 when I got my 2nd Prius, the dealer didn’t have an available car on the lot. I had to wait on a boat from Japan.
The vehicle capacity of my Prius is 810 lbs. (including occupants) and the Tesla example in the owner’s manual says 954. I’ll get the exact number when my vehicle arrives. In any case both cars get better range with less cargo.
On the other side Tesla owners say they have a perpetual grin, and would never go back to an ICE car.
My decision process
I got my first car the summer before my senior year in high school, a 6-cylinder Chevrolet Bel Air. My one beef about that car was that it got poor fuel mileage. I thought I’d do better with a 1972 Chevrolet Vega, 4-cylinder, aluminum engine. I was lucky to get 20 mpg with that. My fixation on the cost of gasoline, as that cost continued to rise, and the specter of no gasoline at all (I remember the Arab oil embargo and empty gas stations in the early 70’s) probably led to my buying the 2004 Prius, the first model year of the “2nd generation” Prius. These 50-mpg beauties were a great fit for me. As I think about it, buying a high-mileage Motor Trend “Car of the Year” in 2004 is not all that different buying a high-mileage Motor Trend “Car of the Year” in 2016. Both were at the time the most expensive car I’d ever owned.
So why spend big bucks and not save big energy? Part of it is the practical matter that my Prius is 9 1/2 years old, probably the longest I’ve owned any one car. One starts to get the itch. I was about to start looking for a new Prius when I learned that the price of a Tesla was not nearly as much as I thought (a well-appointed Model S costs $66,000 before a $7,500 federal tax credit). I selected the Tesla for several reasons:
- Buying a Tesla promotes an electric automobile industry making it feasible for more people to drive electric cars, and thereby saving the planet. One gallon of gas puts 20 pounds of CO2 in the atmosphere.
- I like tech, and the Tesla has a lot of tech.
- I am hoping that the Tesla will be quieter. I’ve only had limited experience test driving the Tesla, but the Prius is really bad about transmitting road noise, even if you don’t hear the engine except when accelerating strongly.
- I’m 66 years old, and my reflexes aren’t going to get any better over the next 10 years. I want a car that will make it less likely that I will have an accident and help me survive if I do. I got the Tesla Autopilot feature that may prevent me from wandering out of my lane or hitting the car in front should I become drowsy or distracted. When that time comes when I would have had to stop driving, Tesla may have a fully-autonomous version that will extend my independence. The Tesla is the safest car on the road according to crash tests.
- It was fun back in 2004 when strangers would stop me in a store parking lot and ask about my car. I look forward to that again. People are already asking me questions about the car.
- This transition feels like an adventure, and I’m ready for an adventure.
The user interface
While one of the most impressive features of the Tesla is its huge 17” master control unit screen, what I find more impressive is the instrument panel in front of the driver that, along with thumb wheel controls on the steering wheel, duplicate all of the functionality necessary to navigate and drive the car. Not having to look to the right, as one does with the Prius, is a big improvement. Also the number of buttons on the steering wheel is dramatically decreased. The Tesla has only 4 buttons and two scroll wheels. After 9 1/2 years, I still haven’t memorized where all the Prius steering wheel buttons are.
Tesla Media Control Unit
My Prius started to age the day I got it. The Tesla evolves. Since it is largely a computer-controlled car, new capabilities can be added via software updates, and these are distributed over the Internet for free to the whole Tesla fleet. So for example, you could go to bed with no Autosteer feature, and wake up the next with it. For more money, I can turn my 60 kWh battery into a 75 kWh battery with just a software upgrade. Tesla touts it’s next software update, 8.0, as the biggest so far. It’s supposed to add new capability to the Autopilot. Who knows what else will be in there.
Range v. Mileage
Driving a Prius, one thinks about mileage. Your current and average mileage is prominently displayed on the screen. Getting good mileage has been a goal of mine as long as I have been driving. With an electric car, there is a similar concept, the amount of energy used per mile, expressed in Watt-hours per mile, but that’s not the thing one thinks about in Tesla. With the Tesla it’s all about range. Because the Model S is electric, I think more about electricity usage than I did with my Prius. I reduce my range if I carry more stuff, if the wind is blowing against me, if my headlights are on, if I go up and down hills, if I drive aggressively, if the air conditioner is on, and especially if the heater is on. With a gas car heating may be a byproduct of the engine, but comes from the battery in an electric car.
My Prius is a 2007 model year, so it probably doesn’t represent the level one gets in a Prius today. Technical features were a consideration in my selecting the Model S, and in many ways it is a technical marvel. Still the Prius did things that the Tesla doesn’t—yet. The Prius has a long list of voice controls, while the Tesla has very few. I don’t use voice control a lot on the Prius because it doesn’t understand me very well. It does recognize things like “raise temperature” and “zoom in” (on the map), which the Tesla doesn’t support. Most things I say to the Prius get me: “Showing Golf Course Icons.” I’ve never successfully voice navigated on the Prius (indeed, I didn’t know I had the feature until just recently). [Update: I tried and was able to use the incredibly clumsy voice navigation, but it was very difficult to use when driving because the voice recognition doesn’t work very well when there is road noise.] The Tesla will take something like “navigate to 123 main street in smith town new jersey” and start navigating, a huge improvement. With the Prius one had to pull off the road to change navigation. I’m really going to enjoy the predictive lines on the backup camera in addition to the much larger backup display. Of course, the main tech feature is Autopilot.
The AP feature is something I ordered and have test driven. It adds to the included radar, optical and ultrasonic sensors software that helps drive the car. First is Traffic-aware Cruise Control (TACC) that can maintain a safe following distance behind another car. It makes it easy to navigate stop-and-go traffic. This feature is available in other high-end cars. The second part to cruise control is Autosteer. This feature can detect lane markings (if the road is well marked) and steer the car down the middle of the lane. The third feature is Auto Lane Change. You check for safety, activate the turn signal, and the car changes lanes for you. Next is Auto Park. It will parallel or perpendicular park the car automatically. What I like is that it will back into the space. Finally there is Summon, akin to Auto Park, that will open your garage door, park itself in the garage and then close the door. Then it can be summoned to open the garage door, pull out and close the door. This operation has a maximum travel distance of 39 feet. All of these AP features require human monitoring in case something goes wrong, and it can. Future versions of Autopilot reportedly will allow the car to take an off ramp and enter another highway under navigation. Someday, the car may actually drive itself, probably not my car, but another Tesla model.
The Tesla Model S is a big car, and like the Prius it is a hatchback. The 60/40 rear seats fold down in both cars. The Tesla cargo is just a lot bigger, plus it has a 5 cu. ft. front trunk (frunk) to boot (pun intended). In the passenger cabin, the Prius shines with not one, but two glove boxes, center dashboard compartment, sunglass storage, center console, two cup holders, and two door pockets. The Tesla only has one glove box, two cup holders, seat map pouch on some trim options, and a center console. Where am I going to put my extra large straws for those yummy Sonic shakes? [Update: There is a space under the large 17” screen Tesla owners call the “cubby” that is analogous to the Prius center console compartment, except that has no door. I’ll need to get the car to assess how much space will be available in the center console.]
The test drive
I went to Charlotte, North Carolina, to a showroom where I test drove a Model S. Due to protectionist legislation in North Carolina and many other states, they are not allowed to actually sell me a car there, but I can look and touch. (Actually, I drove one Model S with coil suspension and my wife drove another with Smart Air Suspension. The SAS was smoother.)
In acceleration, every model Tesla leaves the Prius behind. The slowest Tesla (mine) goes 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds, compared to 9.4 for a Prius. Both cars are quick off the start due to an electric motor, but the Tesla keeps strongly accelerating throughout its speed range. Some Tesla models go 0-60 in just 2.5 seconds, which is so fast that I have a hard time imagining it. A time of 5.5 seconds isn’t hard to imagine—my old Ford Taurus wagon ran about that fast.
Frankly, I was not overwhelmed by the test drive. There were just too many things in the way of enjoying the drive: unfamiliar vehicle, adjusting mirrors (seat, steering wheel), traffic and trust issues with the Autopilot. I did get the impression that the car accelerates rapidly and that it was quiet (except for road noise). The car is also rather low and difficult to get into on the first try, I think probably due to where the previous driver had the steering wheel and seat positioned.
One of the things that one notices immediately upon driving a Tesla is the strong regenerative braking. All you have to do is let off the accelerator pedal and the car slows abruptly. A Prius has mild regenerative braking when you let off the pedal and will coast a good while. The Tesla has a setting for mild regenerative braking that mimics a traditional car. The Prius imitates a pure internal combustion engine car by inching forward (under battery power) with no foot on the pedals. The Tesla lets you turn creep off. Tesla owners say that strong regeneration combined with no creep lets you drive with one pedal. What they don’t mention is that when you actually want to stop the car and have the brake hold it firmly, you still need to use the brake pedal.
The Prius is a front-wheel-drive car, and my Tesla is a rear-wheel-drive car (there is an all-wheel-drive option that I didn’t order). I can’t even be sure what my last RWD car was (the Taurus was FWD and the Ford Escort and Dodge Lancer before it). So that’s a significant change. The Tesla is a very heavy car. Mine (the lightest current model) weighs 4407 lbs., about 1,000 lbs. heavier than my old Ford Taurus wagon and 612 lbs. more than the Prius. The low center of gravity (battery at the bottom) makes it handle better than other cars with that much weight.
I had no complaints about the test drive, and it cemented my decision to buy a Model S.
I mentioned that the car is finished but in transit. The wait for a Model S varies. I ordered mine on August 6 and paid a $2,500 deposit. There is a one-week period in which you can change the order, or cancel it. On August 13, the order was confirmed and I started to wait. Production started August 29 and it was finished August 31. It was roughly two and a half weeks from first order to finished production. The wait isn’t over because Tesla is projecting that it will take it longer to ship from the factory in Fremont, California, to the showroom in Charlotte, North Carolina, than it took to order and manufacture it: somewhere September 24 – October 8.
While many Tesla purchasers ride an emotional roller coaster wondering if they made the right choice, I have not. My only indecision was about my selection of options, in particular getting all wheel drive–I didn’t. (If I had it to do over, I don’t know what I’d do.)
Also in the mean time I took the Prius in for an overdue maintenance visit. I ended up spending $880, which included a new set of tires. At 142,000 it’s in very good shape and the battery is just fine. I feel more confortable driving the Prius now that it has had a thorough safety inspection.
Sept. 5, 2016 – Labor Day
Still waiting for Elon Musk to post the long awaited blog entry describing the features of the 8.0 firmware to be released in a “few weeks.” Musk has missed two self-imposed deadlines. This release is touted as the biggest one yet, and will almost certainly include improvements to the Autopilot system. It is a wonder that the Model S continues to evolve over time, rather leaving you stuck with what you bought as the world passes you by. This must help the resale value of the car.
I was hoping that by now the original 14-day delivery window would have narrowed, and hopefully moved sooner. It hasn’t. I understand that shipments come from the Fremont, California, factory by rail to Birmingham, Alabama, for truck shipment to the southeastern cities.
I took a 136 mile trip up to western North Carolina. I visited Landrum (South Carolina), Lake Adger, Lake Lure, Flat Rock and Hendersonville. It was a scenic drive. I could have made the same trip easily in the Model S (no charging stops), and using the cruise control I could have paid a little more attention to the scenery instead of watching the stop-and-go traffic. I was on the lookout for a Tesla, but found none.
September 10, 2016
One of the things that excites me about the Tesla is the Autopilot feature: the combination of traffic-aware cruise control (TACC), Auto steer (lane keeping), Autopark. automatic headlights, automatic lane change and Summon. Tesla owners rave about how much these features remove the tedium and stress of driving. But what is more exciting is the fact that these features are evolving and increasing in capability, and that my car will soon do better than what it would today.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been promising for a few days now that he will make a blog post on the Tesla web site to explain the new Autopilot capabilities in the 8.0 firmware update. Tesla owners have a term, “Tesla Time,” that means that any specific Tesla deadline is unlikely to be met. Musk tweeted yesterday that he would be working on the Autopilot blog post today. Press rumors say that a new feature will allow the car travel from one highway to another, exiting and merging.
Tesla is also talking about adding new sensing hardware to the Tesla to enable even better automatic driving, dubbed by the press as Autopilot 2.0. Whether these features can be retrofitted into my car is an open question, a question I hope Musk will address today. (OK, it’s tomorrow.)
Last night I put in a reservation for a Tesla Model 3. The model 3 is a lower-cost electric vehicle with essentially the same range as my Model S. I did this to get in line (there are over 400,000 people already in line) so that when the vehicle becomes available in 2018, I’ll be able to get one. I really want a smaller car. When my turn comes up I will either trade in the Model S or trade in my wife’s Toyota Camry—her choice. We could also get a full refund if a better option appears. Letting Tesla hold the $1,000 helps them finance the Model S. After I placed my reservation, I got an email from Tesla telling me that as a Model S owner, I get a preferential slot in the Model 3 line as a thank you. You’re welcome.
Autopilot update from Tesla (Sept. 11)
Wow! Elon Musk announced a firmware update for the Tesla Model S and Model X that should be available in 1-2 weeks, perhaps in time for the delivery of my car. This update significantly improves the Autopilot capability and makes the car safer. Those interested can follow the link preceding. What I find mind blowing is that all the Tesla cars on the road will contribute to a database of objects, road curves and lane widths. It will note when a driver does something it would have not predicted. All of this makes your car smarter every time you and the other 160,000 Tesla drivers drive the roads. (See also press transcript part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6 and part 7.)
I got an email from my Tesla Delivery Experience Specialist saying that my car would be read for pickup around the end of next week or the start of the following week.
Meanwhile, GM finally announced the combined EPA range figure for its all-electric Chevy Bolt today. The Bolt looks like a pretty nice car, with a base model price of $37,500 before tax incentives. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. I could drive my Model S from coast to coast; I wouldn’t try that with a Bolt because of the complications of finding a place to charge it and the time it takes to charge (at best twice as long as it takes at a Tesla supercharger).
September 14 – Last Gas
I now have a pick-up date for the car, September 26 in the afternoon. Today I bought what is likely the last gasoline for a car I own. Here’s the receipt:
September 17 – Sighting
I actually saw a Model S a couple of miles from my house this evening. It was black. This is the first Tesla I have seen outside a show room. Compared to my Prius, which has virtually no chrome on it, the black Tesla seemed to have rather too much. I don’t think the chrome will be a problem on my white car.
- AP – Autopilot Convenience Feature
- BEV – Battery Electric Vehicle
- CD – Coefficient of drag: how aerodynamic the car is
- CHAdeMO – An electric charging standard
- DES – Delivery Experience Specialist (sometimes DS)
- ICE – Internal Combustion Engine
- ICED – When a charging station is blocked by an ICE car
- MS – Tesla Model S
- MX – Tesla Model X
- M ≡ – Tesla Model 3
- PHV – Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle
- SAS – Smart Air Suspension feature
- SC – Supercharger (sometimes service center)
- SvC – Service Center
- TACC – Traffic-aware cruise control
- TMS – Tesla Motors Club (see Resources, below)