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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Seeking a More Perfect Union

While visiting a local tourist attraction, I found myself-- as is still often the case-- approached by someone wanting to know about the Tesla.  "How long have you had it?" was the first question, following the usual script.  After I told him tongue-in-cheek that it was an "antique" he went straight for the standard rebounds, "How do you like it?" and "Have you had any problems?"
Having passed 2 1/2 years of ownership, I've certainly had a few of the latter (which I'll address once they're sorted) but I think it's our approach to the prior question that defines our place in the Tesla realm:  We like this car but we don't accommodate it.

Eh?  What does that mean?
It's as simple as it sounds.  Serena has to perform on her merits or she's going to be kicked out to pasture.  No special treatment.
To put that into some perspective, let me ramble a bit about two fellow owner friends of mine (you know who are!):

Owner 1:  He's had the car long enough to be well out of warranty and to have a laundry list of "early VIN" problems.  It doesn't matter to him though, as the car is the embodiment of a worldview that gives him the patience to gloss over the imperfections in the car itself.  Its virtues will always outweigh its foibles because of its place in history and tidal wave it started.  His Tesla is impeccably maintained and shows almost no age, but enough parts have been replaced that its model year is debatable.  I doubt he'll never replace it-- or if he does, it'll stay in the family and in the company of a newer Tesla.

Our take:  We plan to own our car until it drops... but if it fails to perform adequately or becomes prohibitively expensive to maintain, we'll jettison it for a more reliable and updated version or competitor.  Our loyalty is to our financial condition, not the company's.  We're supportive and (I think) very patient customers worthy of our "early adopter" position-- but we're not blinded by the light.  We expect satisfaction to all quibbles, eventually.
Owner 2:  Long an enthusiast of electric vehicles, the Tesla isn't his first.  His purchase is recent enough that he has everything but the new face and uses Autopilot extensively as he rushes to pile miles onto his car at a truly impressive rate.  He also exhibits a tremendous amount of patience when it comes to charging.  Minutes and hours tick by at slow charging stops as he actively chooses to stay electric on his trips rather than take (what would often be) a more expedient gas car.  Going out of his way is a small price to pay if it means using less gas.

Our take:  The goal is to be able to truthfully answer the inevitable questions about "how long does it take to charge?" with "I have NO IDEA." That's the car's business, not ours.  Certainly we're well versed in the technical details, but it isn't an all-consuming game of Oregon Trail with electrons replacing supplies.  We'll certainly try to take the car on every trip we can, but if we have to significantly alter our route or timetable the Tesla does stays home.  I will not arrive somewhere just to make excuses about how long it took or to beg a a spare outlet from my hosts if I can avoid it.

Bottom line, we don't much give a darn about what the car COULD do or what it represents.  We care about what it DOES do and how it does it.  To be a viable product (or company), Tesla must compete on its merits and not with apologies for its shortcomings.
The whole point of that big battery is to never worry about where to charge, but to have enough range to get somewhere I want to go anyway and charge there.  We made exactly ONE road trip off the Supercharger network and bent over backwards to accommodate the car.  Despite generous charging hosts and some pleasant sightseeing, it took an extra 2 hours to make a 6 hour trip and in hindsight, was arduous enough that we will not repeat it in the Tesla until the Superchargers catch up with our needs (years later than we were told at the time of purchase).  On the other hand, we've made many trips on the network and have found it to be reliable and easy.  The sophistication of long distance electric travel really does sell itself when the facilities are available.
We bought the car because we believe in the company's story of American innovation and because we believe it is better.  Not just for families and consumers worldwide, but for our nation.  You can find all those selling points in my earlier post about The Tesla Math.  If we happen to be changing public perception of EVs at every launch or glimpse of our license plate-- whether that was our intention or not-- all the better!  The technology is the future and we demonstrate its superiority whenever it is appropriate to do so.  I think our tire use speaks to that philosophy even if it skews our running cost calculations!  But the company must also continue to live up to those aspirations.  Though there have been many laurels thrown at the feet of the Model S, they must be ignored for there is much work to still be done.
For my fellow owners (with the possible exceptions of my buddies above), my encouragement to you is to push the car and the company to perform solely on its merits.  You should never compromise or equivocate when the questions come up and others probe you to find out where the chink in the armor is.  There should be no chink.  You shouldn't cringe at questions about your falcon wing doors or unwelcome sounds your car makes.  Service shouldn't be a "yeah but" conversation about loaners and valets.  Be understanding as the company grows, for sure-- but expect more.  Seek to inspire the best from overworked employees, urging without berating.
Either the car "does that" or it doesn't.  I happen to believe that it does 95% of the time-- but when it doesn't, I leave it in the garage and hope that it can next time.  Am I disappointed to drive our old Chrysler sometimes?  Absolutely.  As the Supercharger network finally starts to penetrate into the border regions of Pennsylvania and New York, I find more and more trips accommodated by it.
I want you out there proudly embarrassing super car owners without any caveats or ridiculousness about hyper-miling the world's best and fastest sedan EVER.  I don't want you to accept that a minivan is better at hauling children or that a SUV is better for camping-- says WHO?!  Go out and explore the capabilities.  Try everything.  If there is a chance of using the Tesla without compromising the "mission," USE IT.  What can we do to make that happen?  What can Tesla do to make that happen?

For the other 5% of times when the Tesla can't deliver, make note of it.  Talk to your local company representatives.  Tweet Elon.  Email the company.  Try and politely explain where you think improvements are needed.  I've found them to all be very open to suggestion and it is because of the quality of people Tesla hires that I've afforded them so much good will.

Zero tolerance... almost.

It's true, we don't think it's the perfect car or perfect company... yet.  But they have been ambitious about making our experiences good and that is perhaps the factor that has most inspired me to view every interaction positively, even when the car has disappointed.  Hopefully that continues, because we need Tesla to succeed...  and I love this car.


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 Please note: We are not specifically authorized, sponsored by, or otherwise directly associated with Tesla Motors and make no claims to be so.