Queen's University

A four-wheel love affair

When Don Blythe, Artsci’90, MBA’93, wrote a cheque for a shiny new Tesla Model S electric car, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. He now has oinly one regret about his decision.

I put down a $40K deposit on a "Signature Series" Model S (one of the first 200 sold & delivered in Canada) after seeing the Beta prototype in June 2011. This was a fully-refundable deposit, and either party could back out (me, if I decided that I didn't like the final production model, and Tesla if they felt they weren't ready to build them). This was before Tesla had any retail presence in Canada, as they rented some space for a few days in Toronto to show off the prototype. I took delivery of the car on December 22, 2012, and so I’ve now had it for six months.

Don Blythe with his tesla carPeople often ask Don Blythe is he's a spokesman for Tesla. He's not, he just loves his Tesla Model S electric car. (Supplied photo)

I’m generally driving it every day now. During the winter, I was taking my other car – a Subaru – on days where the roads were snowy; partly because the Subaru is all-wheel-drive, and partly for the fear of someone else running into the shiny new car. But I have driven the Tesla in winter and snow. My commute to work is about 8 km each way, which is pretty short by Toronto standards.

The "Green Vehicle" licence plate on the car potentially allows me to drive in "carpool" lanes even if I’m the only one in the car (a perk of the green plate), though I don't typically drive any of the routes that have those lanes.

I also make regular visits to Kingston every few weeks. That’s about a 250 km trip each way. In winter, the battery is less efficient since it has to use some power to warm itself, and so I typically make it to Kingston with about 30-50 km remaining range indicated. On warm weather trips, I usually have about 100 km of range remaining. I’m looking forward to the installation of a Tesla Super Charging Station (sometime in 2014) between Toronto and Kingston – most likely somewhere in the Belleville/Trenton area – which will have the ability to add about 150-200 km of range with a 20-minute charge. And that is free (for life) for Tesla owners.

When I bought a Tesla, I was looking for a car that had a bit of luxury and decent fuel economy. The Audi A7 appealed to me, but unfortunately the North American market does not get the diesel engines available in Europe that have a good blend of power and fuel economy. Diesel engines appealed to me, but the choices are very limited.

"This car cost more than twice as much as I’ve ever spent on a new car, and it was my first foray into the 'luxury' market. But I felt that this was the first car I'd seen that justified such a premium."

When I started considering electric vehicles, I looked at the Volt, but rejected it as expensive for a car that looks like a very ordinary GM product, plus having both gasoline and electric powertrains meant you would have even more maintenance than a regular vehicle, eliminating one of the benefits (low maintenance) of electric-only cars.

All-electric vehicles have the advantage of very low maintenance requirements. However, the choices are still pretty limited. Most – such as the Nissan Leaf – would suffice for a commuter car (i.e. my regular workday driving) but could not do longer trips. I wanted a car that would make it from Toronto to Kingston, as I have lots of family members, and a cottage in the Kingston area. That pretty much left the Tesla as the only all-electric car capable of that distance.

This car cost more than twice as much as I’ve ever spent on a new car, and it was my first foray into the "luxury" market. But I felt that this was the first car I'd seen that justified such a premium. It appealed to my "techie" nature, and I’m often an early adopter of new technologies. The fact that the car looks drop dead gorgeous, reminiscent of the new Jaguars, the Audi A7, the Maserati Quattroporte, was what tipped me over the edge into paying that much for a car. It is also a car almost "without compromise." It has fantastic performance (four-second zero- to-100 kmph acceleration) while being super "fuel" efficient. The only compromise is that if I’m driving for more than two hours in any one direction, you need to have a plan as to how you're going to get back.

I installed a 240-volt 50-amp outlet (like an RV-type plug, or a dryer plug) at my home and a second one at my parent's house in Kingston. This allows me to recharge in about hours if the car is essentially "empty" (recharging at a rate of 40-50 km of range per hour it is plugged in). I’m going to install a Tesla High Powered Wall Charging Unit at my house. That will increase the power output and reduce this recharge time to about four to five hours. I live in an older neighbourhood in Toronto, and my house only has 100-amp service (typical for the neighbourhood). Toronto Hydro has an EV program, and they are going to be installing a parallel line to my house, with a separate meter, to be used exclusively for the Tesla charger.

I have had only a few minor issues with the car. Most of them have been minor issues and I've been able to solve them with a phone call or checking the Tesla website blogs for messages from other people who have experienced the same problems. For example, one of my retracting door handles was stuck in. The quick fix was to remove the fuse for a few seconds. Another problem was the car unlocking itself (and extending door handles) without being prompted; that turned out to be a software update that conflicted with certain cars with certain optional features, requiring a further software update.

I’ve only taken my car to the service depot once; currently this is a bit inconvenient as the service centre is located in a semi-industrial area north of the Toronto airport. Tesla has announced an upgrade to its service, being rolled out now, whereby they will provide "valet service", sending someone to pick up your car and leaving you a "loaner" Tesla while they’re servicing yours.

"I'd say the only downside of the car is it's not a great one to take if you're in a rush somewhere... because lots of people stop me in parking lots, or in my driveway, to ask if they can see it and find out more details."

The service work I had done was to fix the one door handle issue, and to install an optional spoiler that had not shipped with the car. I also mentioned that the car had developed a little bit of a "hum" at high speeds (a low-pitched drone, similar to tire noise, only noticeable at 110 km+). After testing several things, the service department made the decision to replace the "powertrain" (essentially the main electric drive motor), which eliminated the noise. They mentioned they would be sending it back to California for troubleshooting/testing. This was a minor annoyance, and Tesla replaced it at no cost to me and with no hesitation. They are really working hard to keep their customers happy.

I'd say the only downside of the car is it's not a great one to take if you're in a rush somewhere... because lots of people stop me in parking lots, or in my driveway, to ask if they can see it and find out more details.

I can see why the established car dealers in some states in the United States – in North Carolina, for example, are trying to block Tesla from being allowed to sell cars directly to the public (bypassing the whole "dealership" model). They’re scared that their entire business model will be an unnecessary "middle man". Trying to claim "consumer protection," when it’s pretty clear to me that they’re protecting nothing but themselves at the expense of consumers.

I speak so positively of my car that people sometimes ask me if I’m a Tesla representative. I’m not. My biggest regret is that I only bought the car and not the stock, too. Apparently owners of the first Tesla car (the Roadster) were invited to purchase 1,000 shares of Tesla stock in the Initial Public Offering if they wished to. Those that took up on the offer and held the shares to today, can now buy a Model S with the profits from those shares. 

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2013-08-13
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