Consumer Energy Report is now Energy Trends Insider -- Read More »

By Russ Finley on Aug 14, 2014 with 17 responses

Update on the Tesla Model S

Has anyone else noticed how much a Tesla Model S looks like a Jaguar XF (pictured below)? One of my neighbors drives a Tesla Model S. I was following him down the street a few weeks ago and heard his tires squeak three times in two blocks. Adequate acceleration to maneuver in traffic can enhance overall safety but too much acceleration potential can be dangerous, especially in the wrong hands. Not sure I’d want that temptation.


Tesla Model S Photo courtesy of Gareth James via Flickr


Jaguar XF Photo courtesy of Jimmy Smith via Flickr

Fast Chargers

Tesla is dead on with their promotion of fast charging stations. The ubiquitous 240 volt chargers are next to worthless simply because they take too long. A high voltage fast charger can provide a significant charge in a matter of minutes. I recently deliberately drove my Leaf beyond its range because we needed two cars to get supplies to a wedding. My plan was to stop at a charge station on the way home for a few hours to get enough charge to finish the trip. The rest of the family came home in our Prius.

I had obtained my code to use a given company’s charge station but it turned out that the station I chose was owned by a different company so I had to move to the next closest charge station, which was occupied by a Chevy Volt. So, I moved to the next closest station, also occupied by a Chevy Volt! There was a Volt at the fourth station as well but luckily, there were two chargers. However, they were owned by yet a third company. Luckily they were in a municipal parking lot so their use was free. By calling the number on the charger I was able to get the operator to unlock it for me. Don’t invest in any company providing 240 volt public charging stations.

Crash Safety

From the Tesla website: NHTSA Reaffirms Model S 5-Star Safety Rating In All Categories For Model Year 2014

That’s all well and good but a 2003 car safety study titled “An Analysis of Traffic Deaths by Vehicle Type and Model” concluded what insurance companies have known for a long time: “…sports cars, as driven, are extremely risky to their drivers…”

Personally, I never consider crash safety ratings when purchasing a car. Why? Even with new, more stringent standards in 2012, roughly 95 percent of all cars tested by the NHTSA received a four star rating or better (out of five). About 25 percent received a five star rating.  Although there are other organizations that do safety ratings, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) ratings are much less likely to contain bias. Five star ratings are inevitably used for marketing, but if you were to buy a new car that has a four star rating, the odds of being injured purely as a result of not having that fifth star are very low. All new cars today have safety features not dreamed of decades ago (three way restraints, airbags, anti-lock brakes, crush zones, safety glass and on and on).


In reality, when it comes to crashing into other cars, the overarching difference is mass; heavy cars crush lighter ones. If a three star truck hits a five star economy car, the occupants of the higher rated car are at greater risk of injury.  But that does not necessarily mean that heavier cars are safer. The vertical axis on the above chart ranks risk to the driver of the other car. The horizontal axis  debunks the myth that trucks and SUVs are necessarily safer than smaller cars. In a nutshell, driving a truck or SUV may not only put you at greater risk but the greater mass also puts other drivers at greater risk.

The Tesla is a  heavy car for its size, thanks to its batteries (roughly half-a-ton heavier than the Jaguar XF). On July 6th a Tesla (4,600 lbs) rear-ended a 2004 Corolla (2,500 lbs) at high speed, killing one adult and two children. However, largely thanks to the five star crash rating, the Tesla driver had minor injuries.

Obviously, a five star crash safety rating can only do so much. On July 5th a stolen Tesla crashed into a pole during a high-speed chase and broke in half. The batteries in the front part of the car caught on fire and the back half of the car ended up jammed in the doorway of a synagogue, I’m guessing, about 100 feet away from the front end of the car. The driver was thrown clear but is in critical condition. You can see video of the carnage here.

In response to the car fires earlier in the year, Tesla has reinforced the car’s underbelly. Although Elon Musk said that additional “…underbody shields are not needed for a high level of safety” (i.e., to reduce the risk of a Tesla being engulfed in a fiery inferno after hitting road debris) …he did it anyway. The NTSB investigation did not mandate a fix.

However, from the AP:

The U.S. government’s auto safety watchdog has closed an investigation into Tesla electric car battery fires after the company said it would install more shields beneath the cars.

To avoid the stigma associated with the word “recall” Tesla does not call this retrofit a recall (although, for the record, it is by definition a recall). This is reminiscent of when extra “non-mandatory” reinforcement was voluntarily added to the Chevy Volt after some caught fire as a result of side impact. GM called it a “customer satisfaction improvement.”

The Tesla engineers looked under their car to see where they could bolt more hardware on under the already existing quarter inch thick “ballistic grade” aluminum plate. They cobbled together a titanium plate along with a couple of  aluminum extrusions. The Tesla website has three short videos of the car running over junk (which you can bet represent the best examples out of the 152 tests they ran).

They also did a software tweak that limits how much the suspension will lower the car at highway speeds. Lowering the car at high speeds does two things: it drops the CG for better handling and less ground clearance can also improve range by reducing drag. Tesla was quick to point out that the extra weight of the fix did not meaningfully affect range but made no mention of the aerodynamic impact of higher ground clearance.

Electric cars (including Tesla) have so far proven to be far less susceptible to catching on fire than conventional cars. On the other hand, not all electric cars will necessarily be equally less susceptible. Although there are far more Leafs on the road than Teslas (due to the lower price tag) I am unaware of any of them catching on fire. The simple fact that Tesla uses quarter inch thick “ballistic grade” aluminum plate to protect its battery pack is all the evidence you need to know that Tesla was concerned about what could happen when a car hit the wrong piece of road debris.

 Drive Train Issues

 From Green Car Reports:

On Tesla’s own website forum, dozens of owners weighed in with their tales of drive unit woes. “Every car in my area has had at least one DU replaced,” noted one. “I’m on my fifth drive train at 12,000 miles,” reported another. One poor fellow was on his sixth–as far as we know, the record for drive-unit futility.

 The Gigafactory

 Tesla will eventually run out of customers who can buy $80K cars. To keep selling them, they have to get the price down. The only way for Tesla to do that is to get the battery costs down. Because their car is designed around their choice of battery cell, they are stuck with the battery they have so the only way to get prices down is with greatly expanded mass production of the battery. Aside from other concerns, the problem as I see it, is that they are going to commit themselves to mass production of a soon-to-be obsolete battery.


Unlike the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, and Ford Focus Electric, which all use a larger, flat, prismatic shaped battery, the Panasonic batteries used by Tesla have been around for a long time (I wrote an article about them long before there was a Tesla). Their cylindrical shape wastes a great deal of space and their small size necessitates the use of thousands of them in a car which can lead to thousands of potential problems. Buying off-the-shelf Panasonic batteries was the best Tesla could do at the time of its development.

In Conclusion

All companies eventually fail, or get bought up. That does not mean a company was not successful. Tesla is a success. However, it is also a monopoly of sorts. It is the only electric car in its price and performance range. They can and do charge whatever it takes to cover costs. How long will Tesla survive when a car with the same performance arrives with a much lower price tag, as would be the case with a car that has cheaper, more modern batteries?

  1. By Zer0Sum on August 14, 2014 at 11:16 am

    There is no reason Tesla have to stay with the cylindrical batteries. They have plenty of space to work with in the bottom of the chassis. They could even turn the whole exterior into a battery with a combination of nanotech and spray on components. That would remove a huge amount of weight and further extend range. Carbon electrodes, cathodes and anodes are here. It won’t be long before Tesla is using them to leap from ahead again.

  2. By EV docmaker on August 14, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    Actually TESLA is no where near running out of people who can pay $100K for a car in the USA. Even if 50% of the millionaires in the USA placed an order for a MODEL S today they would need to increase their production by a massive percentage. Truth is most rich people are still gas guzzlers just as most Hollywood and music stars with big houses in California and Florida do NOT have a single solar panel on their roof or anywhere on their property. The rich are in general the dumbest and most selfish people in society. In most cases there is zero linkage between how much money and how much intelligence a person has. Millions of people dream of being able to afford solar and a TESLA while a good few hundreds of thousands of American rich who can afford both very easily have no thought to.

    • By Russ Finley on August 16, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      Actually TESLA is no where near running out of people who can pay $100K for a car in the USA.

      …well, good point. Maybe I should have said something like “Tesla
      will eventually run out of customers who can willing to buy $80K cars.
      There are reasons they are trying to get the price down. Nissan just priced a 100 mile battery pack at $5.5K. That suggests that a 200 mile battery may cost $11K, which is a third the cost of the equivalent Tesla pack.

      For me, paying that much for a Jaguar look-alike (or a Jaguar for that matter) would feel arrogant, shallow, pretentious. It’s bad enough paying $30K for a Leaf. When it comes to high-status cars, the Tesla is actually pretty cheap for what it can do.

      In most cases there is zero linkage between how much money and how much intelligence a person has.

      True. Research has suggested that bneyond a certain IQ there is no difference in a person’s ability to compete in our market economic system. Your social position is largely a result of luck and the family you were born into. Read Gladwell’s book “Outliers.”

      Buying a TESLA it is only one payment to TESLA and BIG BANK.

      You are also paying big coal or big nuclear.

      • By Forrest on August 16, 2014 at 5:13 pm

        Nissan may be pricing the battery below manufacture cost per marketing value. Japanese hybrid autos initially priced their new technology likewise, losing thousands per car. They did so to persuade public of value and enhance their company image. U.S. auto companies knew Japan was losing money and they new the premium cost of hybrid vehicle was a loser when calculating cost vs benefit. However, as we know the public did fall for hybrid technology and the reliability of the complex technology never became an issue. Going forward auto companies will maximize value of technology and will utilize cost efficient or low cost (better bang for buck) mini hybrid technology.

        Current cost vs benefit of battery car not very convincing. Hopefully this will change in future. My personal cost analysis for time value of money for Focus vs Leaf, follows. MSRP difference average $11,500 premium for Leaf. Cost of 240v battery charger installed $2k. Cost of electric charge 1/3 of fuel cost. Cost of battery $5,500 per 5-8 years depending on scrap value. Nissan will replace battery for $100/mo, but I would guess $60 a better figure if assuming cost of replacement battery should continue to drop.

        So, I use 1% per month value for achieving desired cost savings-


        $110 / month time value of money for price premium
        $-100 / month fuel savings, I average $150/month
        $20 / month time value of charger cost
        $60 / month battery cost
        $90 / month loss at 12% API
        $25 / month loss at 6% API

        Note: This would assume the Leaf could replace the Focus, it can not as the Leaf has 75 mile range with an extremely long fuel up. The Focus has a 400 mile range with no effective refill delay. Also, running out of gas is a far simpler problem as compared to running out of electricity. No one would risk running out of electricity, so effective range is much less. So, the Leaf could only be placed within 2rd car short range service. The zone in which vehicle cost is extremely sensitive as the low annual mileage and lack of need for trip reliability puts consumers in position to easily avoid spending much on the vehicle. This the place for clunker cars.
        Also, the CO2 pollution savings of the battery car not very impressive when going up against a 40mpg Focus, especially the flex fuel E85 Focus achieving 30 mpg. Upon cellulosic ethanol refill the focus rules.

        • By Forrest on August 17, 2014 at 4:48 am

          My second car is 1/2t truck with fair gas mileage, with utility far above the leaf per trailer towing and hauling cargo ability. The truck can pay for itself per use. The above true cost of Leaf ownership per my limited use of 2rd car status would shoot cost figures upward per low mileage use, high insurance cost, and high tax cost. Note the federal and state tax incentives are extreme and unsustainable as the lack of paying road tax on the Leaf. Because of the limited use of BEV, the sweet spot usage for this vehicle that does magnify the value….urban areas with extreme need for low local auto emissions. Ride share and uber arrangements may become popular with simplicity of BEV, as compared to commercial taxi cabs which have to high an overhead to attempt low trip mileage long fuel delay vehicle. High vehicle cost of the BEV and recharge parking probably a big obstacle to achieve cheaper rides. As I understand the future auto technology within the coming 10-17 yr, this will all change. Auto experts claim the self automated car will impact metro transportation greatly. No parking required as robotic cars shuttle passengers per optimized paths and accurate recharge schedules. Car ownership not needed per convenience and low cost of personal mass transit. Robot cars very patient, safe, and inexpensive. Accidents will become very rare and cars will be much lighter with less metal components, some will be single passenger capacity. The BEV probably will own that market.

      • By PA32R on August 17, 2014 at 1:05 pm

        “Read Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers.’”
        Please don’t advise anyone to make any significant decision based on the formulaic simplicity of a Gladwell treatment of, well, anything at all.

        As to the contention regarding intelligence and social position, certainly luck and family into which you were born play a large role, but so do work ethic, a variety of components of intelligence (or, more accurately, capability to understand and react appropriately to circumstances), energy level, learning from frustrated goals, etc.

        Sorry for the threadjacking, but Gladwell?? Seriously??

        • By Russ Finley on August 20, 2014 at 11:04 pm

          Please don’t advise anyone to make any significant decision based on the formulaic simplicity of a Gladwell treatment of, well, anything at all.

          Strawman arguments don’t work in a comment field. Nobody advised anybody to make any decision based on the formulaic simplicity of a Gladwell treatment.

          The book simply cited well-known research about IQ and how it equates to economic success in first world economies.

          A child born to a street person in Bangledesh has no hope of attaining our standard of living regardless of work ethic, capability to understand and react appropriately to circumstances …

          Gladwell is one of my favorite authors, although, as with the internet, you have to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff when reading any book.

          • By Robert Rapier on August 20, 2014 at 11:10 pm

            “A child born to a street person in Bangledesh has no hope of attaining our standard of living regardless of work ethic, capability to understand and react appropriately to circumstances.”

            I made nearly that same observation when I was in India. We were traveling past a slum, and I said “If the next Einstein is born there, do they have a chance of getting out?” The answer: “The world will never know they existed.”

            • By Forrest on August 21, 2014 at 7:39 am

              A couple weeks ago listened to Mission head of “Extreme Response” talk of this. More people suffering slavery than anytime in history. He talked of their work in Bangladesh for dump people. They live off the dump. Children as young as 8 yrs abandoned or orphaned to fend for themselves. They utilize a sack for gleaning junk to sell to recycle business then use the sack to sleep in. Shop keepers strike up agreements with the kids to supply free drugs if they don’t steal from them. He described the hardship of explaining Bible as these people have no such high level thought process i.e. when asked what is your favorite color they were blown away per the idea of having such a thought. It takes months and years to gain their trust as they have experienced nothing but societal exploitation and carelessness i.e. “why are you giving me this free rice?” My daughter travels a great deal with missions within countries of the poor. The stories of street kid life, prostitution, drugs, disease, slavery, and depression are biblical proportions. But, having said that it is incredible the human spirit to adjust and adapt. These survivors just need a glimmer of hope, a chance, a menial job or street business. Religion the genesis to change the heart and usher in the beginnings of radical transformation per personal effort flowing to country wide. This the secret force of our nation, which propelled greatness. Taking the Bible out of historic place within classroom was a big mistake.

    • By TCON on August 18, 2014 at 12:02 am

      Lot’s of gas wasted here on this post. First paragraph on your hypothesis is all unsubstantiated opinion; yours. Unfortunately I think your personal analysis that most rich people are not smart is likely WAY off base. You gat any proof of this?

      • By Forrest on August 18, 2014 at 7:31 am

        Agree with needing proof of such a spurious accusation. While even a fool can win LOTTO, lawsuit, and black mail sugar daddy it would still take intelligence to keep the money. I laugh at statistics of college graduates making more money as compared to high school drop outs when the information is presented upon conclusions that stats prove the education system the magic. It’s not, it’s just the filter to weed out the lazy and stupid upon hiring practices. Once gaining the entry job position, intelligence, hard work, and capability will promote the employee, not the education degree. Some of the richest people I know never went to college and they have high abilities. Smart kids only need to talk to experts or have a book to read to attain wisdom. We tend to rate intelligence per cross word puzzles and Jeopardy trivia. College profs are some of the dumbest people on planet. Same with many a Journalists or authors. Much time wasted reading and listening to people who have no talent other than self promotion or marketing of their wares. We all have met incredible people whom get things done and accomplish amazing results. They usually are very intelligent and wealthy. Also, conversely to PC cultural beliefs they are usually of high moral character and of religious belief. Much data on corporations and personal success that aligns per Christian principles. People spout Hollywood character as proof on how to become rich i.e. “Wall Street” movie as common reality. Why is it that we have EPA regs and fines to clean up pollution per common citizens need for healthy environment, yet we have no pollution control for even more damaging entertainment and politics that destroys citizens ability to think critical or make country more successful. These easy to pick up prejudices will destroy people’s future and send them upon a life of bitterness and victim hood.

  3. By Forrest on August 15, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Success of the company will be shouldered by Elon Musk ability to point the company in the right direction, motivate work force, attract talent, increase sales, and attract investment dollars. I wish him well and know how crucial to company success the top dog abilities are. I think he will have a tougher time as compared to Steve Jobs, as the auto industry is mature business and more hard knuckle industrial competition. The company should stay within zone of least competition and cultivate current marketable image. Serious sports car with high teck advanced power train a good sector for low volume sales. Build an attractive vehicle with eco benefit. They should focus like a laser on one model with such image. Production of a high quality vehicle is of paramount importance. These quality issues will kill the companies future quickly. The company should maintain status of innovator and leadership making it the intelligent choice of BEV car enthusiast. Hopefully, they can decrease cost and increase value, but retain premium image. The choice of battery? Most auto purchases only skin deep and dependent upon image. Battery pack probably unlike the GM days when Cadillac owners sued when finding a Chevy engine installed. Actually, I would think the BEV would “degenerate” to similar construction as over the road tractor construction i.e. Eaton axles, Cummins engines, Dana transmissions. The battery is critical element and upon a continuous development cycle. It hard to believe an small auto company would go it alone, whereas the large companies willingly share cost upon common suppler. R&D costs and ensuing benefits of next generation battery could obsolete the Tesla car company. To much risk!

    • By TCON on August 17, 2014 at 11:58 pm

      Good points but IF Tesla pulls off the final piece with battery technology then they will own the entire auto industry. Your analysis concentrates on auto industry and I think you miss the target; Tesla is in the battery business now; not the car business.

      • By Michael B on May 6, 2015 at 7:40 pm

        The writing was on the wall, but what happened a few days ago confirms it. Now, the Power is on the Wall, LOL.

    • By Forrest on August 20, 2014 at 7:29 am

      Oak Ridge National Lab researcher Zhenhong Lin had interesting analysis per optimum zone for BEV. We tend to think BEV should compete and replace standard auto. That won’t happen as the battery is to expensive for such long range needs. This condition is expected to continue for long period of time. Also, the extended refuel delay is just prohibitive for long trips. The best value to consumer per expensive battery; under 100 miles. This is acceptable range for most daily needs and results in high utilization. Also, this puts the vehicle within 2rd car status that is price sensitive and more utilitarian. The BEV can own this sector if refocusing to meet needs of short trip utility transportation. Manufacturers need to minimize cost of small battery pack, decrease vehicle cost, and work to increase recharging infrastructure. This may be logic of Tesla to build batteries as the decrease in battery cost more important than achieving long mileage. Also, having expensive super capacity batteries not as valuable within short range market as the battery is smaller and naturally lighter.

      • By Forrest on August 20, 2014 at 9:44 am

        When positioning the BEV within market place as not a replacement car, but a more practical, easy to use, and lower cost, short trip vehicle the car attributes begin to shine. Since operators not held hostage per hours and hours of trip mileage, the vehicle can be more spartan within comfort of seating, ride, and spaciousness. Storage capacity may not be as big a concern or towing. Aerodynamics may not be of big concern as well as paint finish and expensive wheels. It may be utilized such as soccer mom transport. The vehicle should not copy present day auto design, but have a more definitive practical distinctive look that foretells sensibilities of purchase. The practical car should be able to have instantaneous heating and cooling per short trip needs. Probably fitted with remote pre-trip capability for one button push upon smart phone while still hooked to house AC power. Car power should be available for remote generator status i.e. power tools. Car should have capability for support of home power backup or normal storage. This may become popular with roof top solar and off grid power solutions. Charge up at work and come home :) . Interesting if such change in car use would flip 2rd BEV car to primary use car and save 1st ICE car for long trips and lower use if BEV unavailable? How would this flip change long trip transportation if usage of public transportation could eliminate the expensive ICE car? I would expect auto rentals to flip more to BEV per cost, reliability, low maintenance, and ability to self report and programed to operate upon soft start operation mode. This market is short trip service and acts to link mass transit solutions. The BEV is unique and should not marketed as replacement to common car. Typical full service car dealerships would not be as important as tested by Tesla sales organization. The car may easily customized per company or 3rd party services, especially if car manufacturer support the industry.

  4. By Russ Finley on August 16, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Tesla’s internet patrol team must have read this article. TESLA sent me a press release:

    Today, Tesla announced that the Model S drive unit warranty has been increased to match that of the battery pack. That means the 85 kWh Model S now has an 8 year, infinite mile warranty on both the battery pack and drive unit. Moreover, the warranty extension will apply retroactively to all 85 kWh Model S vehicles ever produced.

Register or log in now to save your comments and get priority moderation!