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.

VW Bus Treffen Schwarzsee

Last saturday we went to the vw bus gathering at the Schwarzsee. There were more than 460 VW Busses present from all different types. I had the impression, to see less vehicles than last time, but comparing the pictures from 2009, I’m not so sure anymore. It’s amazing in how good a shape some of the vintage hippie mobiles still are.

By accident we discovered a DVD of “The Bus” movie on the bugbus booth. It was apparently crowd-funded by a kickstarter campain.

Of course I went for a short flight, to see the event from the top, while Mirella and the kids listened to a “Guggämusig”.

The drive there was a good opportunity to test the SPOT Connect that I got for my birthday. [map link] Contrary to my previous understanding, It doesn’t provide internet connectivity, but allows to send custom messages to pre-defined phone numbers and eMail addresses. As the simpler SPOT devices, it contains a transmit only unit for the GlobalStar satellite network. The very bad thing about it, is that it was hard to perform the required firmware upgrade. They provide the upgrade program only for Windows and Mac. But communication afterwards seems to be better, as lined out by this blog post.

Enough blabbing, pictures tell more than words:

The most beautiful car ever built

I usually don’t write about books I read, or even reviews. So, this is a rare occasion, but it’s also a type of book that I only rarely read. Usually I just give ratings on goodreads. This book is about the Jaguar XJ13.  Now, beauty is a matter of taste, so you’re free to disagree, but I for myself have never seen a more beautiful car than the Jaguar XJ13. It was designed by Malcolm Sayer who also designed the iconic E-Type, the successful racing C- and D-Types as well as (my) XJS.

The XJ13 was designed to win the 24 hours race in Le Mans, to carry on with the victories Jaguar had in the fifties. As Jaguar were too hesitant at the time of development and as a consequence of a change in the rules for the Le Mans race, the car never took part in an actual race. Nevertheless it held a lap record for the MIRA test track for 30 years. Only ever one was built and it had a horrible crash while filming for an advertisement. The car was later rebuilt to it’s full beauty. It now belongs to the Jaguar heritage trust, and not even an arab sheikh bidding seven million british pounds could buy it.

As I was never involved in the design or engineering process of neither a car nor an engine, it was totally exciting and interesting to learn how all these processes work. Or should I say worked fifty years ago? No point in listing all the details here, but the book has full coverage of the engine design and testing as well of the body design as well as the testing of the car itself on the test track as well as the race track.

The stuff is especially interesting, as the engine that was developed for XJ13 was Jaguar’s first V12, and a predecessor of the engine that powers my XJS.

At the end of the book there is a short discussion of the die cast models available. By chance I found out that the same model, I own is now on ebay for four times of what I payed ten years ago. Now, I’m still looking for a 1:18 model of the C-X75.

The most memorable quote from the book is when Malcolm Sayer describes how he designed the car to not being negatively influenced by the airflow. No lift, no pushing down and no effects from wind from the side. The wings at the tail of some other cars were unacceptable for him. He described them as a kludge to fix design mistakes. Noone at Jaguar understood how he calculated the shapes. Instead or or in addition to drawings he also calculated books full of numbers. From the descriptions given, it’s hard to tell if his proceedings would today be described as parametric surfaces. So, in a way he performed CAD without a computer.

Chiemsee Holiday

Like for most people around here, summer holidays for us usually means going south. And that is what we usually did in the past. This year, we wanted something new. The countries north of Switzerland were unexplored territory for us in regards of holiday destinations. We had ideas to go to the netherlands, Belgium or the Provence. The Nordic countries, we wanted to save for later, for a bigger trip when the boys grow older. After some brainstorming and discussing, we settled on the north sea cost of Germany. It would be a long drive, but manageable wit the current age of our boys. Then we found out that Levin is still allergic to fish. So we figured, that going to the sea might be not such a great idea. At least a lake we needed so that we could do some kayaking. Thus, the next best thing was the Bavarian sea: the Chiemsee.
We both didn’t know the area. The closest I was before, was Berchtesgaden, where I was competing in the 2005 German paragliding championship. Lots of people told us that it is a very nice area. So we looked forward to it.
The day we drove there was full of postponings. We left only in the middle of the afternoon, and so we didn’t make it in time to check into the camping. Consequently, we had to sleep the first night parking in the driveway, with all the luggage still in the camper.

Our first canoe excursion was not so pleasant, as Noah didn’t sleep enough, and so he complained all the time. The area was nice indeed with lots of activities for the kids. Definitely the highlight was the fairy tale theme park in Ruhpolding. It is a paradise for kids, full of ingenious playgrounds and stuff to explore. Neither the flyer nor the homepage can describe how good it is. If you’re in the area with children, you have to go there!

The Chiemsee is on the flat land but very close to the mountains. As it’s on the flat, the underground is all mud. I had heard of two nearby flying sites before: Hochfelln and Hochries. One day we wanted to go to the Hochries, but the easterly wind was not suited for flying there, and the one person chairlift was a no-go for Mirella anyway. So we went to Kössen just after the Austrian border. I was very positively surprised of the flying area. It was well protected from the prevailing wind, and had enough room for many paragliders on takeoff and in the air. It reminded me a lot of Gstaad. After about an hour flying in the gentle thermals above takeoff, I decided it’s time to look after my family. Then I found out that landing next to the cablecar was the trickiest part of the flight. There were lots of small thermals close to the landing area.

One day we took the boat across the lake to have a ride with an old steam train. The boys were totally excited by the ancient technology. Next, we visited the castle on the main island. It was built for the fairy tail king Ludwig the second, who also built castle Neuschwanenstein. The castle on the Chiemsee island is a copy of the french Versailles palace, and although not finished, full of excessive splendour.

On the way home, we stopped in Munich to visit the BMW world with our two car fanatics. From every model sold in the BMW group, there was a piece in the exhibition. The kids could sit into all but the Rolls Royce. We had a hard time to get them out again.