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21st of August 2018

Automotive



Beyond Elon Musk's Drama, Tesla's Cars Are Thrilling Drivers

If you're reading a story about Tesla, you're likely ingesting the level of drama you'd normally expect from a RuPaul drag race. That's what happens when you combine a high-profile electric car maker, a Harvey Dent-ish stock price, and a CEO with a taste for incendiary tweets. But as Tesla finally ramps up production of the Model 3 and continues to roll out Model S sedans and Model X SUVs, more and more of its cars are ending up in the hands of customers. Customers who are putting hundreds of thousands of miles on their odometers, stretching their batteries to capacity, and jabbing at the touch screens and slamming the doors over and over and over.

And that means that the rest of us are getting a clearer picture of how these vehicles stand up in the real world, and how they fare when you wipe away the hype that comes with the Tesla logo on the front. And for Elon Musk's automaker, some recent (if anecdotal) results look pretty good. Here's a quick rundown.

Going the Distance

Earlier this month, German car rental company Nextmove set a new range record in a Model 3, covering 622 miles on a single charge—more than twice the promised figure. OK, so they did it on a track, averaging just 22 mph, and with the car's Autopilot system working the steering and pedals. (They sat a dummy in the car for the 28-hour slog.) But the entirely unrealistic feat of endurance underlines the fact that the Model 3 is an impressively efficient machine that clocked around four miles per kWh of battery in WIRED’s test. Hypermiling might not mean much in the real world, but as more EVs hit the market, buyers will start paying more attention to efficiency. So it's a good look for Tesla.

Building It Right

Happy customers don't do you much good if you can't make money putting them in cars. Tesla's chances of doing that looked grim in April, when industry analyst Munro & Associates declared the Model 3 so costly to build, it said Tesla couldn't sell them for a profit (it also reported terrible build quality). This week, though, the firm reversed its findings. After completing its tear-down of the vehicle, it found Tesla could make about 30 percent profit on each vehicle, better than any other electric car. “I have to eat crow,” Sandy Munro told Autoline Network.

Munro called the results of Tesla's efforts to simplify the car's electronics bay “a symphony of engineering” that reduces cost and makes the car simpler to build. He also points to the rear-view mirror. On the Model 3, he estimates the cost as $29. On BMW's electric i3, it’s $93, because there are some electronics onboard for sensors, or garage door opening buttons—which are controlled on center screen in the Model 3). For a Chevrolet Bolt, it’s $164, because there’s a backup camera display in the mirror. “That kind of stuff shows up quite often in the Tesla, they did a really good systems integration,” Munro said.

It’s the second teardown firm to indicated Tesla can make real money off the Model 3. German engineers concluded the car cost about $28,000 to build (unsurprisingly, Elon Musk took to Twitter to call it "the best analysis of the Model 3 to date"). The cheapest version on sale now is $49,000, but Tesla still promises a $35,000 version, with a smaller battery, will be available in six to nine months.

Staying Alive

Potential electric car buyers are often worried about how the machines will hold up over time. EVs haven't been around long enough, in large enough numbers, to convince them one way or another. And while they come with simpler drivetrains that reduce maintenance costs over internal combustion engines, they also carry enormous battery packs that can make the uninitiated nervous. But some evidence from taxi service Tesloop should help assuage concerns.

The company, which offers rides between cities in southern California and Nevada, published a blog post this week saying its Model S 90D had passed 400,000 miles and transported thousands of passengers. That certainly makes it one of the world's best-traveled Teslas, and Tesloop says the seats and interior have held up well.

It did have to replace the battery pack, twice. Once at 194,000 miles, when a "chemistry issue" caused it to display the incorrect range, and again at 324,000 miles, for an unspecified fault spotted by a service center. All replacements were done for free, under warranty. And another one of its cars covered 300,000 miles on its original battery and saw degradation (or loss of range) of about 10 percent—not too bad over that many miles. Tesloop says its calculations show the Model S costs it $0.05 per mile in maintenance, but a similar gas car like a Lincoln Town Car or Mercedes GLS, would have cost up to $0.25 per mile.

Tesla still faces an uphill battle to become a profitable company, which Elon Musk says is a priority for the rest of 2018. But in the midst of a rough year, Tesla can relax knowing that at least some of its customers dig their cars. Until the next crisis comes along, anyway.

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