#10 – The Infinitely Upgradable Auto
I remain an even more die-hard Tesla fan (is that possible?) after going to the first service appointment for my car in almost 3yrs. The car itself actually told me it needed service - the 12V battery needed to be replaced, which is the reserve in addition to the main battery pack that keeps all the systems running. The Tesla service team took care of that as well as a couple of plastic lens covers amongst the rear lights that were letting in condensation. All at no charge.
Now, that is not unique. A close friend responded to my Instagram posting of my zero charge invoice with one of his own showing no charge for his Mercedes after a 6-month service appointment. Fair enough. And my BMW purchased new came with 3 years of oil change and service at no charge, so luxury vehicles generally come with that level of service. But after 2.5 years and just over 40,000 kms on it this first service appointment did not require anything else, not even the brakes. Let's take a minute on that point - a 5,000 lb car, and one in my case that is driven up and down plenty of steep hills as well as into the mountains for skiing, hiking and other wonderful things Tesla drivers get to do - and the brakes need no service. I’m pretty sure my buddy’s Mercedes would have needed brakes done. My small BMW definitely would have.
The emailed invoice I received with a zero charge is a testament to a different kind of car company. One that makes a new kind of car. Tesla makes the cars, sells them directly to their customers and endeavours to generate returns that way, not through service, leasing or howsoever the rest of the auto world makes their money. Thankfully, Tesla’s shareholders have been remarkably patient for those elusive profits in pursuit of the grander goal of delivering to the world an all-electric vehicle that not only looks fabulous but one that has plenty of range, can glide up to one of thousands of Super Chargers and within all of that delivers an Apple/iPhone-like experience to their customers.
I was recently without my beloved car for 30 days - not by choice mind you. I have a minor issue with the pace at which I proceed from point A to point B. That aside, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in this case the absence highlighted a number of things I have become somewhat used to. The automation is the most obvious – those slick door handles present themselves whenever I approach, my garage door opens as I near my house, and closes as I drive away. The calendar on my phone syncs with the car and upcoming appointments are displayed with the address (if I included that in the entry) that I can simply touch and it will navigate me there, accounting for traffic because the core nav system is Google Maps. Oooooh, I missed you.
But the battery was almost dead. I checked every day or so on the App that showed me the car’s location but more importantly the battery level displayed in range. I was down to 43km of range when I picked up the car, the lowest it has ever been, but plenty of juice to get me to the dealership where I could get the thing Super Charged and they would take care of this 12V battery replacement. While at the Tesla Store (did I just call it a dealership?) I saw a Model 3 on display. I had not seen one in the wild before, just in Youtube reviews. What a beautiful looking car. Loaded with great design features, the Model 3 embodies a product packed with those little things that bind you to it. A two-car garage for your phones, one for the driver and one for the passenger. A stunningly clean interior crafted like a high-end condominium.
In some respects it seems it has become Tesla vs. the Rest of the World when it comes to these cars - you can get only so much from a detailed review of a new car. Video. Commentary. Insight. Even comparisons to other vehicles you may already know. Individuals can get a great deal from a trusted source through their review but nothing compares to sitting, driving or owning a car when it comes to knowing all its little features. So the rave reviews of the Model 3 and the comparisons to the Chevy Bolt are useful and interesting but it is not until you are inside the car that you realize what Tesla has actually done with this “affordable” EV. Such clean lines inside, a landscape oriented screen set in the middle of the dash and virtually no other dials or buttons of any kind. One tidy little feature is a two-phone garage positioned just under the main screen so both the driver and passenger can put their devices and both have charge ports (one iPhone and one other if you like).
Digging around on the screen I notice a few differences in the layout of the software (the UI and UX). Not bad. I click everything like 6 year old after his first Redbull. And what's this? The equalizer for the sound system has a distinctive profile - five adjusters showing high bass, middle for the next one and the same level for the remaining three. I figured the millennial salesperson sitting next to me or one of their mates did that. Just setting it up the way they would in their own car - plenty of bass for sure. But back in my Model S later I check the equalizer (something tickling the back of my brain...). Mine is the same. Wait a minute - I didn't do that. Let's just understand what's happening here. Tesla has figured out that the sound system is audibly better with this equalizer setup, so they simply broadcast that to every Tesla ever made and "update" the sound system to improve it.
My next update was actually scheduled for that evening but this had already been done so it had been sent with a prior update. Wow - my Tesla, and every other one ever sold will continue to get updates and upgrades over the air as long as they are part of the software. Obviously hardware upgrades are different, but no other car company can or has ever been able to do that. The best example of this flexibility, or advanced engineering up-gradability (whatever we choose to call it) came during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Florida . Tesla broadcast an update to every one of its cars in the state that unlocked additional range in the car's battery so people could get where they were going without worrying about their car’s charge. How could they do that? As I understand it, cars produced by Tesla in a grouping all essentially have the same battery pack whose range is set with software. So a 70D and an 85D have essentially the same battery off the assembly line to keep it simple and reduce costs. One gets set up through the software with 70 kilowatts of range while the other has 85. Just a tweak to the software. Is this the future of automobiles? The Infinitely Up-gradable Auto?