Surprise Wrenching Visitor! The Tesla Model S

Occasionally, something truly special happens at wrenching.  Last Tuesday night, a new wrencher who works for Tesla stopped by with a prototype Model S, and proceeded give a couple of test rides and let us crawl all over it.Tesla Model S Prototype @ Wrenching.  Photo courtesy of Telstar Logistics. I’ve gotten more interested in electric cars recently, so I was curious to see if it was any good.

From the outside the S is a decent looking car.  It has gynormous wheels – this model had 21″ rims.  I don’t really buy into the enormous wheel thing, but hey! Whatever floats your boat.  It looks like a modern luxury car.  It’s proportions are similar to a 5 or 7 series, but it has a slightly longer wheelbase.

Getting into the car you already get the idea you’re looking into the future.   It’s got futuristic gadgety door handles which will probably be expensive/difficult to replace when they go wrong. When you get in to the car, it’s still a car, but the floor is mostly flat because there’s no drivetrain underneath, which is nice.  The cabin is spacious, modern and inviting.  The 17″ flat panel multi-function touch screen in the center of the dash jumps out at you, as does the flat panel guage cluster.

Ergonomists may point out that touchscreens in cars are suboptimal because you have to look at them to know what button you are pushing.  I’ve spent some time using non-touch complex avionics controlled by buttons and knobs, and I’m not convinced this is any easier for a complex system, although cars are a different ballgame than aircraft; where you can safely bring your eyes into the cockpit for a few seconds without fear of beaning a cyclist.  I suppose we will learn fast weather this is a good idea or not.

When you’re ready to move, the S takes of effortlessly and silently.  The model we rode in is the less powerful one which produces around 300 Nm of torque; or about 220 foot pounds.  This is enough to propel the car to 60 in under 6 seconds.  There a little whooshy whiny noise when this is going on, apparently caused by the motor consuming around 900 mind-boggling amps of alternating current, but it’s not loud; perhaps just awesome.  The result is the same as doing the same in a gasoline powered car: grins all around.  The ride is smooth, the tires sticky and it takes corners certainly as well as my BMW 3 series, and possibly a little better.  Getting on the 101 was just as much fun as it is in my Subaru Turbo, and we were comfortably able to dart around traffic in adolescent fashion.  The pull of the motor is strong, and it feels good to keep pushing it at every opportunity.

The car we rode in had been charged in Palo Alto and then driven up to the city, and had picked up an additional person on the way to my house.  The computer said it had about 180 miles of charge left in it after the second ride of the evening.  I might expect only a further 140 or so, but even so, this is a solidly respectable range, and would be more than enough for the vast majority of my driving, especially given that it would be fully charged every morning.

One thing that did surprise me is that, like the humble Porsche 914, the S has 2 trunks; front and rear.  The lack of hazardous emissions means this is a perfect place to store the kids*; allowing for quiet transportation with minimal fighting.  In seriousness; there is an option for a rear-facing seat in the rear trunk, which would allow the transport of 7 people, which makes the S extremely practical.

All in all, I was extremely impressed with the car.  It’s clear that with a little improvement in battery tech, this is exactly the future; and it will be better in every way.  We’ll give up the noise, smell and unreliability of gas engines; but motors, power and driving still have character and evoke emotion.

(Hat tip to Telstar Logistics for pictures.)
(*No, I do not transport my children in the trunk, and you shouldn’t either.)

Why the BMW sits low on one side.

I always wondered why the BMW sits slightly lower on one side than on the other. I thought it might be years of sitting lop sided because of the fact that the handbrake only grips on one side. It’s caused the fender liner to get all torn up as well (I thought this was because of me driving over those annoying concrete things in parking spaces….

It turns out there is an explanation….

The spring has snapped. Damned Previous Owners!!

The truly annoying thing is that I’ve had both the BMW dealership and a tire/alignment shop examine the car to look for exactly this kind of thing, and neither of them found it. I’ll be ordering springs today :).

Alpine 500

My friend James and I ran the Alpine 500 this year (and past weekend) in his Fiat 124 Sport Coupe. It was a fantastic trip with the Fiat working hard pulling us up several 8-10kft passes in the Sierras. Lots of interesting vehicles, several Alfas, Fiats, couple of Healeys, 3 914s showed, although there were some problems, and a couple of Ferraris even.

The Fiat suffered a few times with getting a little too hot – at high altitude with steep hills, and then we lost a shock absorber retaining nut. Fortunately we were able to complete the rally and get home with no problems!

Pictures are all here, starting with the pre-registration event – first pic is our car.

NYTimes article on Hybrids

There’s an interesting article in the NY Times today about hybrid cars, including some talk about a diesel-hybrid sports car being developed at a university in San Diego. The prototype does 0-60 in 4.3 seconds and gets 40 to the gallon. Cool stuff. Being a diesel also means you could run it on Biodiesel or vegetable oil.

I did find the following quote really sad though:

To the extent that consumers worried about low fuel economy, it was as a matter of personal inconvenience: stopping to refuel every few days was a big hassle. Before Lexus began selling its 400h S.U.V. hybrid this spring, the company conducted a focus group to find out why would-be buyers wanted a hybrid. The reason: convenience. “The big deal was, I don’t have to stop that much to fuel up. That was a primary purchasing factor!” says Dave Hermance, executive engineer for environmental engineering at Toyota’s Technical Center. “It wasn’t so much the fact that ‘I’m going to save $600 a year in fuel savings.’ Then there was the ‘Oh, yeah, it makes me feel very, very good about the environment. When my kids come home from college, they don’t chew on me as hard, because I’m doing something environmentally correct.’ “

So the problem most Americans have with gas guzzling cars is they have to fill up all the time. If we are seriously that lazy as a country – is it any wonder that we have a declining industrial base and an obesity epidemic?

Are you wearing Diesel?

Nearly everyone I know thinks that diesel cars are lame. I have always appreciated them at least for the fact that they make suicide impractical (takes about 30 years to get cancer, whereas a gasoline engine will kill you within an hour from carbon monoxide poisoning). They also hit peak efficiency at about 60,000 miles and run for perhaps 200k to 300k.

Recently I learned (from the show 30 days) that they can also run on vegetable oil. I also (through some judicious use of google) learned that it is not terrifically difficult to make biodiesel from vegetable oil.

In addition – one can get biodiesel delivered to one’s house in 55 gallon drums, for about $3 a gallon. The last diesel price I noticed was $3.65 – a couple of weeks ago.

Sort of makes me wonder why more people aren’t snapping up those old Benzes and TDIs on craigslist, and relieving themselves of a dependence on foreign oil!