For the past week, I’ve been driving the Tesla Model S. This time the P85D variant, more from Bowen on that soon. For now, I wanted to look at why this vehicle is more than just another car – what makes it that little bit more special, what makes it fit into your life better?
Gosh I love cars, have done all my life – something I’ve genetically inherited from my Father. My First car was a Seat Ibiza CLX, brand new, shiny. I washed it every week, loved driving, loved road trips, loved that car.
As we get older, the need for and uses for a car change. A little luxury was required when I wanted to splash out – so I got a BMW 3 series. Then came family, and the practicalities of a Holden Commodore Sportswagon serves us well.
From what I see, there are two types of Tesla buyer. The super environmentalist, looking to do more than just their bit for the planet. They’ll spend more than would normally be considered justifiable for a car to be part of this movement.
The other is the person looking for something different. The person who was buying Audis when BMWs were all the rage. Now, there are Audis, Mercedes and BMWs on every corner. Tesla is a super unique vehicle that turns heads and gets people talking.
Within those groups there are those that also know, and those who soon discover that this is something else. This is more than just being green. This is more than just an alternative. This is a revolution in motoring.
While the Tesla factory may only be capable of producing 100,000 cars per year, a blip in the global vehicle production radar, what they make can change your perception of how a car can be part of your life.
Let’s start with the App.
Now, an app for a car is not a new thing, though it is very much for the exclusive electric or hybrid set. We tested one with the BMW i3. And there are others. Tesla’s app is in fact the least “wow” thing they make. There are five core areas in the app:
- Home – showing range / battery status
- Controls – allowing you to Vent the roof, lock or unlock, honk the horn and flash the lights.
- Charge – Shows you the current range and battery status, but also allows you to set a charge limit so you’re not always charging to 100%.
- Climate – Which allows you to remotely turn on your climate control and begin cooling the vehicle before you even get near it.
- Location – see where the car is on a map, and get directions to it.
Tesla owners don’t suffer from “range anxiety”. They have hundreds of kilometers of range. And they charge every day at home. What Tesla owners do have is a constant sense of how much battery is left. How many times have you gotten in your car and only then realised it was on or below empty? This information is not only front and centre in the Tesla, it’s available in your app.
Plus, with a charger on the wall at home, you’re never empty or close to it unless you’re on a planned trip.
And when it comes to planned trips, the car won’t let you run low. I’ve been in search of a petrol station before on a long trip – gone are the days of petrol stations in every town small or large. These days they are few and far between.
In your Tesla, punch in the address of your destination – in my case Mum’s Pub at Walcha Road, and because it’s too far away for the current battery range – I’m instead given directions to the nearest SuperCharger. That’s exactly how it will work when the Supercharger network is dotted across the east coast. You may in fact be sent to somewhere other than your destination, because when it comes to battery – the car knows best.
Imagine you had that same relationship with your own petrol powered car. It just doesn’t happen with petrol power – and there’s no reason why not. Any car can be “connected” and can share its data.
Keeping it Cool
It’s a hot day out, and while I can turn my home air conditioning on thanks to an App, the car is still hot when we get in after being parked for an hour or so. Not so with a Tesla. It becomes a normal part of the day to open your Tesla app, check the in-car temp and get things cooling if necessary.
When you get to the car, it’s comfortable and ready to drive.
Your Personal Assistant
For $150,000 or much much more, you’d want a bit of help with your life wouldn’t you? Well, while plenty of cars have tried and claimed to have “smartphone integration”, no-one does it better than Tesla in my view.
I walked up to the car this morning at 6.30am, the door handles presented themselves to me, I got in, and the first thing I saw on the 17 inch touch-screen was “my day ahead”. A quick view of my calendar appointments for the day.
The car knew it was the start of the day, it knew this was my first time in the car today, and it presented me with a screen for that specific moment.
Got a meeting in the diary with an address in the appointment? Got lunch in the city? When you get in the car, open the calendar, and press on the appointment. It will immediately open the mapping application (Google Maps) and search for directions and plan a route. So simple. Seriously simple, but also, brilliant. It’s probably the one most significant thing I saw in the Tesla that felt like a “why the hell isn’t everyone doing this” moment.
The extra detail
Sure, I know the wall is close, and the beeps are getting louder – but how close? Standard reversing sensors haven’t changed at all. In a Tesla you get a measurement. My Son Jackson and I tested this out. I backed up to the garage. 74cm the Tesla told me was the distance. Got out the measuring tape. 74cm. Wow. So simple. And you know what, it’s good for the driver. Great to know firstly just how close you are, but also it gives you a new level of confidence in the sensors around you.
At the time of driving the Model S P85D it was equipped with driver assistance aides such as Forward Collison Warning, Speed Limit Warning, Blind Spot Warning and Lane Departure Warning.
None of these are revolutionary. And frankly, they aren’t best in class. Volvo for me are the market leader in this segment, even the Toyota Kluger I drove a week back had better Lane Departure Warnings.
In March Tesla boss Elon Musk announced Auto-Pilot. Now, that sounds amazing. And in fact it’s going to be rolled out this week. We’ll wait and see just how much it auto-pilots the car. And how non-motoring Tesla enthusiasts wow over features that may already be out there, such as Lane Guidance (Infiniti among many others will steer you through a bend if you don’t pay attention) and just how these features are used in normal driving. Hopefully – for Elon’s sake, what Tesla releases this week blows the competition away.
Improving the App
That’s not to say everything is perfect. As with any major bit of software, there are things it could do that it just doesn’t.
Notifications – I’d like to think the car could “talk” to me. Send me a blip when the battery is low, send me a blip when the in-car temp is high? Send me a blip when it wonders if I am driving to my next meeting, because traffic – it ain’t looking good. Just ideas, all app based, not vehicle I’d think.
Map navigation & destination setting – I was disappointed that I couldn’t use the App to type in a destination then get in the car and navigate. My workaround to this was putting a calendar note in my diary – but waiting for that to sync is a problem if you’re heading somewhere in the next ten or so minutes.
What about all the other cars?
There’s nothing here that should be limited to Tesla cars. Every car could have this. Holden could have put this in the new Commodore – but in reality the price might scare some.
Software development would be the biggest barrier to cost, as would some small hardware integration. However, let’s imagine for a moment the car of the future. And lets use the trusty Commodore (which won’t exist as we know it soon anyway).
Add MTM communication. This Machine to Machine communication enables the car with its own SIM card and computer. Using this, the car can communicate directly with the cloud and vice versa.
Build better in-car apps. Because my Smartphone is connected to my Commodore app, my calendar is shared into the cloud. When I get in the car (and it knows it’s me because of the Key I’m using), my calendar is on the screen. Click to navigate. Done.
Allow me to set a destination on my phone and “send” to the car. Navigation – done.
Have my fuel status synced to the cloud regularly. My Commodore app can then help me, alert me to allow time to get petrol. Done.
Hey, even let me set the temp on the air conditioner. Sure, the Commodore doesn’t have limitless battery power at its disposal, but limit the pre-cooling to a 10 minute burst, that won’t kill the battery will it?
Bottom line, your car doesn’t have to be this uber amazing Tesla – the car that broke free from the mold from which cars have been designed and built for decades. Your car just needs to be built by a company that is thinking of the users, building software and hardware to suit the users. Now, other than Tesla, who’s doing that across all their cars?