Driving the Tesla

It is now almost three months and 7’000 kilometers. So I thought, I write a small review for my Tesla S85.

Silence

The immediate most notable difference when driving an electric car is the absence of the engine noise. People who drive big engine gasoline cars often assure how essential this is to their driving experience. I was curious how I would feel about that myself. The V12 has a distinctive sound, but in the Jaguar it is not amplified at all. Instead it is running very silently. I also had my “hey look, my ride can produce louder noises than yours” days when tuning mopeds. But that ended when puberty was over.
People coming from diesel engines don’t seem to miss the sound as much as the petrol heads. After all, most diesel cars still sound like tractors.
Turns out, it is incredibly peaceful to drive along in complete silence. I missed the engine noise not a single time. There are occasions where pedestrians or cyclists didn’t expect a car to be so close, but that is just something to be a bit more alert. And there is the occasional awkward situation when somebody clearly never saw an electric car before and stares at it in disbelieve.

Controls

The most notable difference when you enter the car is the absence of any controls other than what is around the steering wheel. Instead there is the gigantic touch screen in the center. It controls everything from the navigation system to the music to the suspension to the sun roof to the interior and exterior lights and almost everything else. After reading books about haptic user interface design, I expected this to have occasional disadvantages. There is obviously something to it, to have the switch for the sun roof located next to the sun roof and being able to operate it blindly. But I got used to managing everything with the touch screen quicker than I anticipated. And it has many advantages of its own. It gives much more control, and can be changed with over the air software updates. And it is generally easier to learn. Let’s not forget that the car does most of these things automatically anyway.
Another notable control that is absent is the gear selector lever. There is a handle to switch between “D”, “N”, “R” and “P” attached to the steering wheel column. But it doesn’t allow to restrict the (not present) transmission to lower gears. If you like to drive curvy mountain roads in a sporty manner, you may think you’d miss that. But think about it for a moment longer. The only two reasons you shift to a lower gear before a curve is to decelerate and have more torque available for acceleration. The Tesla not only decelerates when you lift your foot before the turn, it converts the kinetic energy back into electricity and stores it in the battery. And when you hit it again, the torque is immediately available without any special manipulation. In effect, the only reason for wanting a gear stick back is nostalgia.

Software

As cars get more and more computerized, and as I read stories of cars getting equipped with mainstream mobile operating systems, I started to worry. I never wanted a car running iOS, Android or god beware Windows. So I was relieved big time when I learned that the Tesla cars run on Linux and have a Qt interface. This is absolutely the best choice and I salute the engineers to it. Tesla is often described as a technology company, rather than a car company. That certainly shows in their technology decisions. As a software developer, I can attest them that they are all very sound. This trend continues with the later models, and how they react to problems with the older autopilot hardware. One further instance where I can applaud them is how they handled reports of a security vulnerability in their mobile app. They acknowledged it and were very quick to push an improved version. This is in stark contrast to other car manufacturers who try to neglect for as long as they possibly can.

Security

Tesla stated many times that security is their single most important concern. This was mainly about safety on the road. But also their security practices with regard to the computer systems seems to be sound. Except for one thing. To gain control through means of the remote app, only an eMail address and a password is required. This in turn allows you to open the doors, start the car and and drive it. Adding two factor authentication would be much preferred. And if you are at it, make is solid hardware based like FIDO U2FA.

Mechanics

Other car companies (especially from Germany) moan about lower quality, but so far I found nothing that would back that claim. They also badmouthed Jaguar for that, while I had many more problems with German cars than with English ones. They go to great lengths explaining how their gap dimensions are tighter, giving them better aerodynamics. But hey, go on priding yourselves with efficiency improvements from 35 to 36% while the electric drive train starts above 90%.
With petrol engine and gearbox transmissions out, there are far fewer parts that can break and that need maintenance. One common meme is that a Tesla has exactly six consumable parts: 4 tires and 2 windshield wipers. No oil, and a much smaller and easier coolant circulation also put an end to smeary puddles on the parking lot.

Maintenance

Nothing is perfect. The one thing that worries me and many other Tesla owners is the maintenance cost after they run out of warranty. Yes there is less stuff that can break. And reports from what I read so far attest that the prices for spare parts were reasonable. Further, Elon promised that they don’t want to make too much money with repairs. But the repair manuals are very hard to get. And there are reports where they denied to deliver spare parts. So in essence we are very dependent on their goodwill. More so than I like. One thing I already found out is that the hourly rates are much higher than what the company charges, where I had my cars fixed so far. I’m looking forward for a haynes manual at least.

Environment

One thing that I didn’t expect to make such a big difference, is the good feeling from caring about the environment. Of course there are people who try to discredit all the benefits. The biggest part is CO2, but also apart from that, ICE cars emit lots of other toxic gases and dust. Even if coal was used to produce the electricity, the plants would have far better filters an no cheating software. If you look at the whole chain, there are no oil tankers, no exploding oil drilling platforms and no enormous pipelines required to power an electric car. The metric to look at the whole value chain is called “well to wheel“. The difference in overall efficiency is gigantic. Gasoline cars are at 12% while electric cars are somewhere between 32% and 70% depending on the source of the electricity.
There is still a lot of education to do.

Choose your bleeding edge

Are early adopters usually interested in only one new technology, or generally forward looking and open to innovation?
I encountered multiple startups that seem to assume the former. As a company you want to make your product available for a large number of potential users. But who are your potential users? Sometimes you have to choose one or more platforms where you make your product available. This decision is especially important for startups with limited resources. It might be a difficult choice. Either exclusively opt for an established platform with a large user base. Or add support for an emerging contender with fewer users. Now I would argue those fewer users are more likely to try your new product. This is because if you already use bleeding edge technology in one field, you are more likely to experiment with innovative new ideas in other areas as well. But this is only my humble opinion. Of course there are more potential users on the legacy platforms. But how many of them are there because they were told so, and would never venture into something new on their own?
Let me list a couple of examples I ran into:

  • Ubuntu phone is still a relatively new operating system for smart phones. Canonical canceled their efforts on it last week. I’ll keep using it because it is still the best option if you value your freedom. But there are a few things about it that I really don’t understand. For somebody to choose ubuntu phone, one has to be dissatisfied with the existing, well established alternatives. Probably you don’t like the paternalism on the iOS platform, and the privacy intrusions on Android. So why does UP ship with no real email app installed, but only a gmail web app? This is not giving them what they are used to, but trying to force them into the very thing they are trying to escape. Why would they ship with google as the only option to synchronize PIM data from the settings screen? And why would they still after 2 years only add OwnCloud to the GUI? Is it really so hard for Canonical to imagine that people store their contacts and appointments on a standard CalDAV store using their own Ubuntu server product? Don’t get me wrong on that. It is great to be open to competing platforms. But to penalize your own users is clearly not the solution.
  • Tesla make awesome cars. They are at the forefront of innovation for electric vehicles. And they are pushing the boundaries of autonomic driving for consumers. Yet they still only accept ancient forms of payments for their products and services. Out of all the stories of cars bought with Bitcoin, Tesla is mentioned most often by a big margin. Yet all those stories are with resellers and/or used cars. They also have no public plans to include a modern BTC wallet into the car software for paying electricity, parking or roads. Since the car runs on Linux and Qt, it should be relatively easy to integrate a light wallet like electrum. In addition, their remote control app is available only for Android and iOS.
  • There are many options to pay for the electricity when charging an electric car. None of them is convenient. One should assume that companies that are innovative enough to provide services to modern cars involving some form of value transfer should be open to the latest (eight year old) advances in payments technology. Yet I am not aware of a single charging station that is in production where I could pay with Bitcoin for the charge. Instead there is a company that develops a blockchain based solution that introduces even more friction rather than to remove it. They offer their proprietary app for (you guessed it) Android and iOS. You have to buy their tokens beforehand and you can only pay them with credit card or paypal.
  • Steemit is a social platform that rewards users for writing and curating. They want to differentiate themselves from the giant centralized networks. With their ties to blockchain, they seek to please a decentralized crowd. But you cannot sign up if you don’t have neither a facebook nor a twitter account. That’s like a horse is required to acquire a car.

Turns out if you want to make use of innovative new technology on multiple orthogonal fronts, you can have a really hard time.
I really don’t get it why technology seems to advance in any given directory in isolation. It is like saying you can either have a color TV or stereo sound, but not both. Things converge eventually, because you can have AC in your car and not just at home. But why aren’t they bundled at an early stage?
The largest group of people does not necessarily contain the largest number of people to potentially experiment with new products. They might have left the old world already. Sure you want to have them all as customers at last, but the early adopters might help you to get there. And the early adopters have slightly different requirements than the eventual end users.

Charging electric vehicles with Bitcoin

In my last post I ranted about the current payment methods for charging E.V.s. The electricity for a full charge of an electric car costs something in the range of $2 to $20. But most of the time, we only need a partial charge. Credit cards impose enormous fees on low value transactions, and require expensive equipment. PayPal even adds on top of that. This is why some energy providers opted to use RFID membership cards. Unfortunately there are many of these. Most have excessive annual fees. They are mostly incompatible island solutions and they usually offer bad deals. So let me explain why Bitcoin offers the perfect solution here.

Machine to machine

Some car manufacturers are already looking into equipping their vehicles with digital wallets. And some power companies are looking already into blockchain payments. So the car could pay directly for the power. This can be done exactly and trustlessly with use of Bitcoin payment channels. The cars already communicate with the charging terminals, so payment would be just one more stream of information. Because Bitcoin accounts don’t need to be tied to a person, and you can create as many accounts as you like, it is no problem to have a separate account for the car. Or you can share an account between your car and other devices. Whatever fits your use case best. The same goes for the infrastructure provider. He can maintain a separate hierarchical deterministic wallet for every charging station. It would even be relatively easy to put a protocol in place where the charging station doesn’t even need an Internet connection by itself. Instead the car or the consumer could present a proof that was signed by the energy provider that a valid payment was made. The possibilities are endless.

Accessibility

Bitcoin wallets exists on almost every operating system. Most of them are open source. This is in stark contrast to proprietary apps that some charging providers advertise. If they have one for Android and one for iOS, I’m out of luck. It won’t run on my Ubuntu phone.

Transaction costs

When I started with Bitcoin in 2011, transaction costs were really neglectable. They were optional, and usually a fraction of a penny. For a long time they were at about two pennies, which is still minor. Only recently they started to raise to about 20 pennies for an average size medium priority transaction. This is still comparable to Maestro cards, and way below credit cards. But it is not so great at the moment for micro transactions. The reason for this is that the block size is capped and the limit was reached. Thus a fee market emerged, where you pay a higher fee to have your transaction included in a block sooner. The Bitcoin community is in deep crisis over this. It is not as bad as it sounds though. Because Bitcoin is an open, distributed system, there is no dictator or board of directors who decides the course behind closed doors. Instead the discussion is held publicly. Everybody who feels he has something to contribute, can take part. It can take longer to come to an agreement, but the chances of getting a good solution are maximized this way. Consensus is something sacred with a trustless distributed network such as Bitcoin. So trust me, the fees will decrease again one or another way. If we can even call it a problem when comparing with other options.

User agreements

Do you know somebody who likes user agreements? Do you know somebody who reads everything he signs? I don’t, eventhough I force myself to read more than I would like to. If a multi page agreement is required to sell something or to make use of a service, that is a clear indication that there is something wrong with the design of the product. If I see an overly lengthy agreement before I can use something, I get offended and run away. The occasions where it is difficult to find a better alternative are few and far between.

If I buy a hammer in a store, I don’t have to sign neither the seller nor the producer off a liability in case I break something with it. If I buy a power tool, I don’t have to sign a letter to make nobody reliable if I electrocute myself. Even the company delivering the electric power cannot be held responsible if I get an electric shock. And I don’t have to sign them off before they would deliver electricity to me. This is because there are rules and regulations and certifications. We know how these tools are supposed to work, and we make sure they do so.

So why do I have to sign pages of incomprehensible legaleeze before opening a bank account or applying for a credit card? Why do I have to sign a user agreement when I want an RFID from one of the power providers for E.V.s? Why do I have to sign off my privacy rights before using an online service? Because the product is poorly designed!

I don’t have to sign anything to open a Bitcoin account. Not even if I want to create a million Bitcoin accounts. I can just do it. Bitcoin is asset based. So whoever or whatever is in control of the private key can spend the funds. Clear and simple.

Clear and simple

Charging an electric vehicle should be at least as simple as fueling a gasoline car. You can usually pay in cash or debit card. I heard that there are charging stations that you can pay in cash. So far I found only one. During a short flight yesterday I charged the car at the Swiss Holiday Park. This was actually the first time I payed for a charge. It was a good service at a reasonable fee.
Only Bitcoin could make the experience even better.

Update Jan 2018:

Meanwhile I have had a charger in the garage at home for half a year. Charging like this is awesome!
All my reservations against the RFID cards at the public charging stations were just confirmed by a talk at the 34c3:

Ladeinfrastruktur für Elektroautos: Ausbau statt Sicherheit

Update Jan 2019

It seems some things are moving into the right direction, albeit at a slow pace:
A Security Model for Electric Vehicle and Charging Pile Management Based on Blockchain Ecosystem
Building a Private Bitcoin-based Payment Network among Electric Vehicles and Charging Stations
Japanisches Unternehmen testet Bitcoin-Zahlungen im Lightning Network

Charging electric vehicles

First experience

In a month of driving the Tesla, I collected some experiences but I feel I’m still a newbie. Charging is obviously very different from fueling a car. I gathered some information before buying the car, but it turned out I still had some misconceptions. The first thing I realized on the day after picking up the car. In retrospect I’m not sure why I was so fully convinced that there was a supercharger at the service center in Cham. It was somehow part of the decision to buy the car. So I drove to work, and the car displayed a warning that the battery would run low, and I should look for a charging opportunity. But it only suggested some hotels with destination charging in the area of Zug. Unimpressed, I drove to the Tesla Service center in Cham, and started looking around for the supercharger. A friendly employee informed me that they didn’t have any of these here. But I could charge it at their 22kW plug. While it was charging, we registered the ownership change, and I could look around in the shop. Another employee showed me lemnet.org, a website that displays charging stations on a map.

Near the work place

With this site I found three charging stations within walking distance of my work place. All three were listed as free and without restrictions. The closest one has two parking spots that are very visibly marked for electric vehicles. But after I plugged in the car for the second time, somebody informed me that they are intended only for customers. Ok, nothing wrong with that, but then it should be corrected in all the websites. I sent an email to the company that I would be willing to pay, if I could charge there regularly. So far I didn’t receive a reply. The next one is at a dealer for German cars, where my brother bought his eGolf. It would even allow for faster charging, if I had an adapter. Sometimes it is occupied. The third option is in a shopping mall. They have at least 4 spots, and so far I always found an empty one. Power is free, but I have to pay for the parking. And sometimes it only delivers 11kW. So for these three options it usually takes half a day for fully charging up. It is walking distance, but to drive the car to the other side of the railway tracks during the lunch break is almost 5km.

At home

Obviously the best option to charge an E.V. is during the night at home. Electricity is cheaper during the night, and the car is idle anyway. My brother was responsible for the electrical installations at the building we currently live. He told me that it would be no problem to install a charging possibility in the subterranean parking. A cable rail already runs from the distributor and electricity counters to exactly our parking spot. So I thought I would obviously get the permission to have a plug installed. To my big astonishment, I received the refusal only after I bought the car. When I asked for the reason, I only received a vague excuse.

Near from home

Public charging options are not so great where I live. There is one across the street, but with a really bad deal. More on that later. The next would be at the lake front with a Restaurant. That might be an emergency option to have dinner there, when the car needs an urgent refill. Then there are the shopping malls in the neighboring towns which offer free power and even free parking wile they are open. But the amount of power is limited so that charging takes longer than even the longest shopping marathon. There are good charging stations in a 10km radius, but I have to combine this with another activity.

At the work place

In the meantime I asked my employer, if I could install a plug at the parking in the office. Of course I would pay for the installation and the power. He has to check with the owner of the building. So an answer is still pending. So much to day to day charging.

Supercharger

For longer trips, there are obviously the Tesla superchargers. They are simply great! They are even greater after you explore other options. The navigation software plans supercharger stops into the trip, and calculates the remaining battery power at the destination. No only that, but it even displays how many stalls are occupied before you arrive at a supercharger. You get there, plug in, and wait for it to charge up. Of course it takes longer than fueling gasoline or diesel. But compared to all other E.V. charging options available today, it is more than twice as fast. Once you charged enough, you simply pull the cord, and drive on. I never had an issue with a supercharger. They simply work great. Most of the time for longer trips, superchargers are all you need. You might have to drive minor deviations, but that’s usually fine.

Other public charging infrastructure

Nonetheless, I wanted to try other charging stations. I’m still hesitant to buy the CHADEMO adapter for fast DC charging. But whether it is DC fast or AC slower charging, is only one distinction. The more important one turned out to be whether it’s free or not. In general I am not opposed to paying for a service I consume at all. Quite the opposite. I believe that if I pay for a good service, then it will be there also in the future, and maybe even improve further. But so far I never payed for charging. And the reason is simply that I could not. I have no exact data, but my impression is that about half of the public charging stations are free at the moment. Of course this won’t stay that way forever. It is more like a promotion, and the sponsors range from cities to energy providers to shopping malls. Half of the remaining stations support payment with NFC enabled credit cards with a hefty additional fee because of the credit card. Since I don’t have a credit card, I couldn’t make use of that option. What is left is a jungle of RFID cards and physical keys and whatnot. There are countless offerings where you pay an annual fee of usually around $100. This will give you access to a number of charging stations whose number and distribution wary greatly. For some offerings this flat rate is all you pay. For others you have to pre-pay, and still others will send you an invoice. The prices are sometimes per kWh, sometimes per hour and sometimes a combination. Most of the time it is not transparent what you would pay. With one operator you can send a text message that would charge your mobile a one time fee of $8 for one hour of charging. You could call this extortion of people with empty batteries. To make a long story short, paying for charging electric vehicles is pure horror. I don’t plan on making use of the offerings I encountered so far. Instead I wait and hope and suggest that it will soon be possible to pay with Bitcoin. This would be a match made in heaven.

Frequency of charging

The first thing people usually fear with E.V.’s is what would happen when the battery runs flat. Granted, that is not such a nice thought. And I’m not intending on finding out. The cars navigation system does a great job at helping to avoid such a situation. A friend of my brother reported to being able to drive for quite a distance after the indication for the remaining distance went to zero. This is probably not very healthy for the battery. During regular operation you usually don’t charge above 90%. This has two reasons. On one hand charging gets slower the closer to full you get. And on the other hand, it is also better for the health of the battery not to fully charge it too often. So 100% charge is in preparation for longer trips. But I also don’t feel too confident to go below 15% in regular operation. The reason is that should something unexpected come up, I want to be able to drive to e.g. the hospital and back and then still be able to reach a charging station. For all of these reasons I charge the car usually three times a week.

Proprietary standards

Even if the plug of the Tesla is a standard Type 2, it makes use of proprietary extensions. No other cars can make use of the superchargers, even if the plugs would fit mechanically. I am usually strongly opposed to such practices. If it was on a larger scale it would be monopolistic. I believe that open standards and interoperability are very important. So why do I support a company that develops their secret sauce? Tesla is still a startup compared to the incumbent car companies. Even if they have great successes by any metric, it is not granted yet that they will succeed long term. I certainly hope they do! Tesla has an advantage with knowledge in electric vehicles, with batteries and charging infrastructure. The traditional car manufacturers have an advantage in mass production and supply chain management. Both are catching up to each other. Now it is important that the intersection will happen at the right spot. I hope Tesla will open up their charging infrastructure to other cars in the future, even if that could imply that I will have to wait in line some day. But it would be too early now. Tesla needs every advantage they have at the moment to succeed. The Model3 will be their grading test. Elon Musk displayed a healthy attitude in the past by sharing the patents, and with his remarks after Dieselgate. So I’m confident he will do the right thing.

Buying a Tesla with Bitcoin

The first car that I bought at age twenty was dirt cheap, and didn’t last for more than two years. Then followed some Rover cars that were better, but also didn’t last very long. I was always the last one to own a car before it was no longer economic to fix it. After a while I wanted something better, and bought a Jaguar. Later I wanted a camper and bought a Volkswagen. I have had these two cars for 15 and 12 years. In the meantime they are 33 and 28 years old. The Jag was never an everyday car, and I didn’t use it when there was snow or salt on the roads anyway. Neither is the camper a typical everyday car. But as we didn’t want a third vehicle it would have to serve for weekend needs. I went to work by public transport. Over the last years our beloved Buessli started to fail us, and we used it to sleep inside less and less. Part of the reason for having two cars was redundancy. But lately when the camper had engine problems during winter, we ended up without a working vehicle. We had to go skiing with public transport. After a while we became annoyed.
Thus we started talking about selling it and getting a regular car. My wive also wanted me to sell the Jag. But I was opposing strongly. Meanwhile my brother bought an electric car and rejoiced about it. In my head an idea started forming that I would be ready to sell the Jaguar, but only to get a Tesla. If only they were cheaper. We didn’t want to wait for the Model 3. I would like the Model X very much, but the price was just too much. I would also like the Jaguar I-Pace, but it comes too late and again the price. So we started to look around for cheaper electric cars in general. One important condition is that the range lasts to the Wallis to visit the family of my wive. That’s where most electric cars on the market failed. Peugeot announced one for this year, but nothing was around for a test drive. And it would be a very small car, not really suited for a family to go on holidays.
Replacing our two special cars wouldn’t be easy anyway. The Jag is a sports car with a V12 engine that runs almost as smooth as an electric. The VW Camper has lots of room and beds and a kitchen. And then the new one should be electric.
A used Tesla S seemed to be the only option. It has enough range, enough space, enough power and is very nice to drive. But again the price … Fortunately the price of Bitcoin kept rising over the past years, and my investments appreciated enough to make this a possibility. And I wanted to buy my next car with Bitcoin anyway. I had a “Bought with Bitcoin” sticker ready for quite some time. Still few people have enough experience with the magic internet money to sell a car for it. Tesla would not sell cars directly for Bitcoin yet. There are a couple of stories of people who bought Tesla cars, but it was only through retailers. The closest being Auto Outlet in Finland. They would happily sell one to me, but the prices seemed to be even higher than in Switzerland. Reading up about car imports wasn’t encouraging to say the least.
So I asked a couple of people who wanted to sell their cars in Switzerland if they would do it for Bitcoin. Most replied “no” straight away. I didn’t want to talk anybody into something he doesn’t understand. So I kept asking. One gentleman agreed if we would make the transfer at a broker. But then he sold the car before I could even test drive it. Yes demand is high, and they usually sell quickly. So when another gentleman replied with a price in Bitcoin, I knew I would have to act fast. The test ride was very nice, and the same evening I convinced my wive, just in time.
Yesterday we went to collect it. The boys keep asking me why it is not as fast as the Jag. I had to tell them a couple of times already that in the 15 years I have had it, I never drove it faster than the Tesla top speed. And the Tesla accelerates faster, which is more fun anyway. It is about 1 second faster to go from 0 to 100. Still far from the model with ludicrous mode, but more than enough for all practical purposes.
The car is truly totally different from any car I drove in the past. It’s a blast, and hard to describe with words alone. People generally love their Tesla cars, but this guy has a very good way of expressing it.

TeslaBitcoin