Friday, December 26, 2014

Tesla Model S owners are taking a break at new juice bar on Route 17 in Paramus

The new Tesla Motors Showroom and Service Center, above and below, are at 530 Route 17 north in Paramus, the shopping capitol of the Northeast, near Paramus Park Mall. 

The Tesla gallery at New Jersey's biggest mall, Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, will remain open.


Got juice?

For owners of all-electric cars, the availability of juice or electricity is the key to their extended mobility.

Now, Tesla Motors has opened a new showroom and service center on Route 17 in Paramus, where eight Superchargers are available 24 hours a day to Model S and Roadster owners.

A 20-minute charge adds 170 miles to your range, and a full charge takes an hour. 

The cost? It's free. There's no charge to recharge. Get it?

But the opening of the 20,000-square-foot building this month is also big news for prospective Tesla owners, because new cars will be delivered there.

Until the Paramus service center opened, new owners had to travel to Springfield Township, southwest of Newark, to pick up their cars.

Superchargers at the new Paramus service center are available 24 hours a day, unlike the two Superchargers at Garden State Plaza.

Inside the Route 17 showroom.
The entrance to the gallery at Garden State Plaza.

Far from a 'stripper'

The most affordable Model S is the 60, a reference to the size of the battery in kilowatt-hours -- a measure of energy -- but it has the same 380-horsepower electric motor and is mechanically similar to the more expensive 85.

The Model S 60 has an EPA-certified range of 208 miles, longer than I can go without stopping to go to the bathroom or grab a cup of coffee to keep me awake.

The Model S 60 has a base price of $69,900, and is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit that you apply for when you file your next return.

I've seen blogs and other accounts that claim the tax credit "reduces" the price of the car by $7,500, but that is just media hype and has no basis in reality.

In addition, New Jersey residents who buy a Model S don't have to pay the 7% sales tax.

There is a two- to three-month wait, if you custom order a Model S, which is made in California.

Roadster gets new life

On Friday, the day I visited the new Tesla showroom, Tesla announced a prototype 3.0 Roadster package that company officials say will extend the two-seater's range to 400 miles.

That's a 40% to 50% range improvement over the original Tesla Roadster, which came out in 2008, according to the Tesla blog.

The package includes a battery cell with more energy, an aero kit to reduce drag; and new tires and improved wheel bearings to reduce rolling resistance.

No price tag was announced, but Tesla was quick to note the 3.0 package "applies what we've learned in Model S ... and no new Model S battery pack or major range upgrade is expected in the near term."

Tesla Motors Showroom-Service Center, 530 Route 17 north, Paramus; 201-225-2544. Showroom open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Sundays.

Friday, December 19, 2014

LOL: Auto blogger gives advice to genius behind Tesla Motors, SolarCity, SpaceX

Hybrid electric buses have been a common sight in Manhattan for years, but this is the first hybrid electric UPS truck I've seen, being driven up Third Avenue a couple of weeks ago.


Christopher DeMorro is a writer for Gas2, a blog that promises to bridge the gap "between gear heads and green heads."

I've been driving hybrids for more than 10 years and have no idea what a "green head" is.

In view of climate change and air pollution that kills many thousands of people every year, you also have to question the assertion of Gas2 that it reports on "green cars that don't suck."

How could any green car "suck," if it reduces the reliance on fossil fuels and helps clean the air?

But today, DeMorro has outdone himself with a post that advises Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk to take five steps to improve his all-electric cars:

Elon Musk should 'stop, just stop'

DeMorro faults Musk for undertaking too many projects, including an attempt "to bring solar grid storage to homes en masse via SolarCity."

SolarCity is one of many companies that install solar panels on homes. I'm not sure what DeMorro means by "solar grid storage."

More troubling is that an ad for a competing solar-panel installer appears just below the Gas2 post, "Five changes that could make Tesla better."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cadillac buys lunch, but offers auto writers no details on an all-electric Tesla fighter

In Manhattan today, German-born Uwe Ellinghaus, chief marketing officer for Cadillac, answered questions from automobile writers and publicists about the move of General Motors' luxury division to the City That Never Sleeps.

Ken Gross, above, and Peter Harholdt received the International Motor Press Association's Ken Purdy Award for excellence in automotive journalism for their book, "Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles."


When automobile writers, publicists and other members of the International Motor Press Association are offered a free lunch, look out.

In Manhattan this afternoon, the host for the monthly IMPA meeting was Cadillac, the General Motors luxury division that is trying to reinvent itself in a bid to woo away customers from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and other premium-car makers.

At one point, the 3 West Club ran out of food and servers had to set up another large, round table to seat the overflow.

IMPA members normally pay $45 for a bountiful buffet lunch.

Among desserts today, a cake was put out to recognize the work of editors and writers at The New York Times' Automobiles section.

Before the program began, Editor Jim Cobb of The New York Times' Automobiles section and Deputy Editor Norman Mayersohn received an ovation from IMPA members.

The Times is folding the 20-year-old Sunday section at the end of the year, ostensibly for economic reasons. 

GM can't compete

General Motors is not alone among the major automakers whose lunch has been eaten by upstart Tesla Motors.

The California-based automaker already has a cult following in the United States, Europe and Asia for its all-electric Model S, a luxurious four-door hatchback with a starting price of $69,900.

But the best competition GM has been able to come up with is Cadillac's ELR Coupe, a plug-in hybrid with a Chevy Volt-like power train that requires a gasoline-powered generator to recharge the battery on the fly.

The ELR starts at $75,000, and gets a pathetic 37 miles on electricity stored in the battery.

'Electric mobility'

In answer to questions after lunch, Chief Marketing Officer Uwe (say, "OO veh") Ellinghaus said Cadillac needs to have what he called "electric mobility" -- an all-electric luxury vehicle to compete with Tesla's Model S.

"We need to take electric vehicles seriously," he added.

But later, when I caught up with him in the lobby, Ellinghaus couldn't say when Cadillac would produce an all-electric luxury car. 

I offered, "In two years." He said he didn't think it would be that soon.

Monday, December 15, 2014

If you think a Tesla is 'expensive,' check out bloated MSRPs of luxury competitors

The MSRP of the all-electric Tesla Model S ranges from $69,900 to $104,500. Some competing luxury models from major automakers cost far more.


Consumer Reports gave the Tesla Model S its highest rating -- 99 out of 100 -- and a survey showed a higher percentage of owners say they would buy the all-electric luxury car again.

But writers and blogger never fail to point out a Tesla Model S is "expensive."

The MSRP of a Model S ranges from $69,900 for the 60, which has a range of 208 miles on a full charge, to $104,500 for the P85D, an all-wheel-drive performance model that may be the fastest production car in the world.

Is 208 miles enough? How many of you can drive that far without stopping to go to the bathroom?

Lexus and Mercedes

Compare that to the $120,440 Lexus is asking for its LS 600h L, a gas-electric hybrid with a long wheelbase and roomier back seat.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class luxury sedans range from $94,400 for a V-8 powered S550 to an astronomical $222,000 for the S65 AMG model.

The "handcrafted" twin-turbo V-12 gasoline engine in the S65 propels it from 0-60 in 4.2 seconds -- a full second slower than the Tesla Model S P85D.

With the purchase of a Tesla Model S, you also get a $7,500 federal green-car tax credit not available to buyers of conventional luxury models.

And the Tesla is a zero-emission vehicle, a good thing in view of climate change.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What is built like a Tesla Model S and looks like an updated Honda Element?

BMW's new i3 looks like an updated, more aerodynamic version of the boxy Honda Element, especially in the arrangement of the four doors. The front doors must be opened to reach the hidden handles of the back doors, which are hinged at the rear and sometimes referred to as "suicide doors."
The hidden handle of a rear door in the BMW i3.


BMW says its new iBrand is "fueled by innovation," but one of the two models seems to have borrowed a number of ideas from Tesla, Chevrolet and Honda.

The BMW i3 is a four-door hatchback built on a battery platform that looks a lot like the one used by Tesla's all-electric Model S.

The i3 is available as an all-electric car with a range of about 80 miles, but buyers can choose the extra-cost option of a 2-cylinder gasoline engine that charges the battery and doubles the range.

With the plug-in Volt, Chevrolet uses a gas-powered generator that performs the same function to extend the EPA-estimated range of 38 miles on the battery alone.

And the hidden handles of the rear "suicide doors" in the i8 mimic the arrangement in the boxy Element sport-utility vehicle, which Honda stopped making in 2011.

Where the i3 and companion i8 have innovated is in the extensive use of carbon fiber. 

In the i3, the passenger compartment is made primarily from molded carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, the German automaker says. 

The platform of the Tesla Model S.

BMW's plug-in sports car

The other model in the iBrand is the low-slung i8, a plug-in hybrid that sounds and drives like a sports car.

If a BMW is "The Ultimate Driving Machine," the i8's high sills, scissor doors and lack of passenger-assist handles make it "The Ultimate Pain in the Ass" to get into and out of.

The i3 has the same controls you'll find in a conventional BMW, above and below. The base model of the i3 doesn't have touchscreen navigation.

The 17-inch iPad-like touchscreen in the Tesla Model S eliminates many of the buttons and other controls found in a conventional car.

The Model S is a heavy four-door luxury hatchback. Some writers have described the BMW i3 as a luxury car, but the base "Mega World" model I drove for two days was somewhat spartan, with cloth-covered seats and recycled material used on the dashboard and other surfaces.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Besides Tesla owners, who else would definitely buy their current car again?

The highest percentage of drivers who would definitely buy their car again own the all-electric Tesla Model S, according to Consumer Reports annual Owner Satisfaction Survey.


Consumer Reports lists 22 hybrid or electric cars in its annual Owner Satisfaction Survey.

When asked, "Would you buy your car again," 98 percent of Tesla Model S owners delivered an emphatic "yes."

The next highest percentage are owners of the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid, and Honda Accord Hybrid, both at 85 percent.

They are followed by the Ford Fusion Energi, 84 percent; Toyota Prius, 82 percent; Lexus ES 300h Hybrid, 81 percent; and Toyota Avalon Hybrid, 80 percent.

Only 77 percent of Nissan Leaf owners would buy the all-electric car again, according to the Consumer Reports survey, published in the January 2015 issue.

The lowest percentage of drivers who would be repeat buyers own the Kia Optima Hybrid, at 56 percent.

The best three sedans are listed as the Tesla Model S (98), Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec (88) and a second diesel, the BMW 328d (86).

"Tesla Motors has built a rabid following since the car's 2012 launch, reflected in 98 percent of owners saying they would definitely purchase it again," the magazine reports.

"Not only is the Tesla roomy, comfortable and a lot of fun to drive, but it also has low operating costs -- returning the equivalent of 84 mpg."

Electric v. fuel cell

Some auto writers are so eager to knock the Model S off of its perch, they are comparing the four-door luxury hatchback to a plug-in hybrid sports car from BMW and the Toyota Mirai, a smaller fuel-cell sedan that won't be available in the U.S. until 2016.

Toyota will produce only 700 fuel-cell cars in the first year, so it is unlikely anyone who manages to buy one in the United States will pay anything close to the MSRP of $57,500.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Toll discounts for green cars and carpools are a little less attractive starting Sunday

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey toll discounts for drivers of the Tesla Model S and other green cars will be less generous, starting on Sunday.


I'm planning to drive my Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid across the George Washington Bridge and into midtown Manhattan on Sunday, the first day of a toll increase.

Under the Port Authority's restrictive toll-discount plans, I will be denied the reward given drivers of low- and zero-emissions cars, but will qualify for the even better "carpool" discount.

Go figure.

Owners of all-electric cars and gas-electric hybrids get a break only during off-peak hours -- and that's before 11 a.m. and after 9 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

On weekdays, off-peak hours are before 6 a.m., between 10:01 a.m. and 3:59 p.m., and after 9 p.m.

The carpool discount, on the other hand, is available 24/7, as long as you have a total of three people in the car.

Both plans require you to have an E-ZPass, register it ahead of time and for the carpool discount, you also have to stop in a cash lane so that a toll collector can verify the number of people in your car.

Owners of green cars also need to obtain a special green E-ZPass to get their special discount (Green Pass).

During off-peak hours, the driver of a Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid, right, pays less to cross the George Washington Bridge than the driver of a late-model Lexus.

What you save

On Sunday, the off-peak toll discount for green cars is going up to $6.25 from $5.50. 

Other drivers will pay an off-peak toll of $9.75, up from $9. The peak toll will go up on Sunday to $11.75 from $11.

The 24/7 carpool discount is going up on Sunday to $5.75, from $5.

This is the fourth annual and next-to-last scheduled toll hike on Port Authority crossings. 

See: Tolls effective Dec. 7, 2014, at 3 a.m.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Surely, this will drive the critics crazy: Owners call Tesla Model S most satisfying

Under the hood of the Tesla Model S: Storage space.


There has been a lot of big news in the world of green cars lately -- from Toyota's decision to turn its back on all-electric passenger vehicles to Tesla owners picking their Model S as most satisfying.

Toyota recently unveiled the 2016 Mirai fuel-cell sedan, but a report today says only 700 units of the hydrogen-fueled car will roll off the Japanese assembly line in its first year of production.

See: Only 700 fuel-cell Toyotas in first year

Few of the reports I've seen have questioned why Toyota -- the world's leading seller of gas-electric hybrid vehicles -- didn't make the seemingly natural transition to all-electric cars. 

Meanwhile, California-based Tesla Motors expects to sell 50,000 premium electric cars in 2015, just over half of those in North America, officials said in November.

Sales of Tesla's Model S began in mid-2012, and the four-door hatchbacks carry no model-year designation.

Behind the wheel of a Model S, above and below.

Buy your car again?

In an owner-satisfaction survey, Consumer Reports asked subscribers "whether they would get the same car all over again."

They were asked to weigh attributes such as styling, comfort, features, cargo space, fuel economy, maintenance and repair costs, overall value and driving dynamics," according to the January 2015 issue.

The survey found 98 percent of Model S owners "saying they would definitely purchase it again." 

That's more than for any other vehicle in the survey.

"Not only is the Tesla roomy, comfortable, and a lot of fun to drive, but it also has low operating costs -- returning the equivalent of 84 mpg...."

Next most satisfying were four sports cars, the Chevrolet Corvette and three Porsches -- Cayman, Boxster and 911.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why did Times writer compare BMW's hybrid sports car to the roomy Tesla?

The roomy Tesla Model S, above, would seem to have little in common with the low-slung BMW i8, below, except that both have four wheels. The Tesla is an all-electric luxury car with ample room for four, and the i8 is a plug-in hybrid sports car for two that is difficult to get into and out of.


Although hybrid and all-electric cars have been sold in the United States for 15 years, many automobile writers still don't feel all warm and fuzzy about them.

Can you blame them?

For years, writers for car magazines and newspapers have been obsessing over tire-burning acceleration, 0-60 times and how fast the model they are evaluating can lap a racetrack.

Impact on the environment? Who knew and who cared?

Many in the automotive media have been skeptical of green cars -- from the Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid of a decade ago to the revolutionary all-electric Tesla Model S of today.

Times praises BMW i8

In October, The New York Times ran two stories evaluating the BMW i8, a new plug-in gas-electric hybrid that sounds and drives like a sports car.

With an MSRP of $137,500 -- nearly twice that of the Tesla Model S 60 four-door hatchback -- the i8 is high on excitement, low on practicality and is basically a green car that will keep you chained to the gasoline pump.

The low two-seater has scissor doors and a high sill, making it difficult to get into and a nightmare to exit, especially because it doesn't have a passenger-assist handle.

Not designed for women

No woman in a skirt could get out of the car and keep her dignity. In many ways, the i8 is a car designed by men exclusively for men.

Lawrence Ulrich, who reviewed the i8 for The Times' Automobiles section, mentioned the nightmarish ergonomics in passing, but didn't dwell on the car's many contradictions.

He noted the i8 is as "fast as a Corvette Stingray," and "opening the ... 'swan wing' doors brought gawkers running."

Ulrich can't help comparing the i8 -- favorably -- to Tesla's Model S in terms of acceleration, agility and range, noting the all-electric car can't "keep pace on a track or on twisty roads" with Porsches, Corvettes or BMW's own M3 and M4.

Of course, few cars of any kind can.

In an age of climate change, this speed-freak approach to automotive journalism, where every car is judged largely by its performance, seems juvenile.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

BMW i3: Silent, one-pedal operation with a security blanket hidden in the trunk

The 2014 BMW i3 is available as an all-electric vehicle or as a plug-in hybrid. The grille and hood badge are familiar, above, but the carbon-fiber passenger compartment over an all-aluminum platform and battery set it apart from the German automaker's other cars.

The production car, new this year, looks much like the concept that was shown in 2011. The rear doors on the four-door hatchback can be opened and closed only when the front doors are open, below.

The silver latch for the rear passenger-side door. This was the same system used in the Honda Element, a boxy SUV that went out of production in 2011. In fact, when you see an Element on the road, the styling will remind you of the sleeker BMW i3.


You don't have to drive the new BMW i3 very far before you discover several remarkable features in this all-electric car, which is also available as a plug-in hybrid.

The one I like best is the possibility of one-pedal operation: 

When you lift off of the gas pedal completely, the car slows to a stop, generating energy that recharges the battery.

And, yes, the brake lights do come on, even though you might never touch the brake pedal. 

Another great feature is the silence -- a complete absence of mechanical noise and transmission shifts.

On a smooth road, the car, rated at 170 horsepower, accelerates quickly and quietly, and you might find yourself inadvertently driving over the speed limit. 

The BMW i3 in my garage, next to my wife's 2007 Toyota Prius. The i3 is shorter than my 2010 Prius, a gas-electric hybrid, but a few inches higher with a higher seating position, and I kept on hitting my shoes on the sill as I got in.

Two days with the i3

I've been trying without success to borrow an i3 from BMW's U.S. headquarters in Woodcliff Lake.

But Park Avenue BMW in Maywood offered me an extended test drive of the i3 with the optional "Range Extender" -- a 2-cylinder engine that uses premium fuel and recharges the battery, if you exceed the all-electric range of 81 miles.

With that option, you go from all-electric operation to an electric-gas hybrid.

BMW says the Range Extender adds up to 69 miles on 1.9 gallons of gasoline, and boosts the MSRP of the base model to $45,200 from $41,350.

I was told this security blanket is hidden below the floor of the rear hatch area, but it never kicked in while I had the car.

I put on only 55.4 purely electric miles in two days, doing the usual errands of a retiree, including food shopping in Paterson; meeting a friend for lunch at a Route 17 diner and taking him for a spin, and driving my wife and son to and from the dentist in Fair Lawn.

The bottom line

After 14 years of driving Toyota Prius hybrids, I plan to make the natural transition to an affordable zero-emissions, all-electric car.

The i3 can certainly be considered "affordable," but its limited range takes it out of the running, and the Range Extender defeats the whole purpose of wanting to kick the gasoline habit. 

We usually drive up to Montreal in late June for the International Jazz Festival, a round-trip of more than 700 miles.

In a BMW i3 without the Range Extender, that trip would take a lot of planning.

A full charge takes 3.5 hours at a special charging station or at one installed in your home.

I got another 33 miles of range by plugging the i3 into my 110-volt garage socket overnight.

You could joke the 2014 BMW i3 was born electric, but proved anemic and got an operation to graft on the optional Range Extender. The charging port is on the rear passenger side fender, above, and the gas cap in on the front passenger-side fender, below.

BMW i3 v. Toyota Prius

On Thursday, I drove my 2010 Prius to Park Avenue BMW's service department in South Hackensack, parked my Toyota and got the key to an i3 that turned out to be covered with lettering -- a rolling advertisement for the car and dealer.

Client Advisor Craig Cayetano gave me a quick tutorial and I was off. 

I had read about the strong regenerative-energy system and feared it would take a lot of getting used to, but it was a snap to operate and I loved how the car slowed and came to a stop when I lifted my foot off of the gas pedal.

The regenerative system is progressive -- release pressure on the gas pedal a little and the car slows a little, such as when you enter a curve.

The i3 is stiffly sprung and corners on proverbial rails, despite narrow tires.

The narrow 19-inch tires have low rolling resistance.

In front of you is the screen displaying your range in miles. The screen said 50 miles on electric, 44 miles on gasoline.

A second screen is devoted to navigation, media, radio and so forth. The base model I borrowed does not come with a touch-screen navigation system or a back-up camera, two optional features I have in my 2010 Prius.

The shift lever for the one-speed transmission is visible through the adjustable steering wheel, but you have to reach around the wheel to use the start-stop button, shift the car into gear and put the transmission into park. The parking brake is located on the console below.

This infernal dial is nowhere near as intuitive as the controls in a Toyota Prius or any other Japanese car. There are other controls on the steering wheel, such as cruise control and a button for answering a Bluetooth-connected mobile phone.

Three driving modes

There are three driving modes -- Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro+, but you have to select one each time you start the car, in contrast to the Prius.

The most economical in the i3 is Eco Pro+, but that shuts off the climate system and limits the top speed to 56 mph -- not an option with outside temperatures in the 30s and 40s.

The interior of the base model (Mega World) is spartan, and employs recycled material. 

The seats aren't electrically adjustable, but they can be heated.

A nice touch is that when you unlock the car, the exterior door handles are illuminated.

The BMW i3 is fast and quiet.

The roomy rear seats.

Rubber straps under the hatch and security cover helped secure 3-liter glass bottles of extra-virgin olive oil -- for my kitchen, not the car. The Range Extender, a 2-cylinder gasoline engine that is the electric car's security blanket, is hidden out of view.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A complete absence of 'range anxiety' during four days with the Tesla Model S

On the Tesla Model S, the charging port is cleverly hidden behind the lens of the driver-side tail light.


The Huffington Post carries one of the most positive reports I've seen on the range of the all-electric Tesla Model S.

Click on the link below:

Forget the worry about recharging

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Did Tesla's Elon Musk pull strings to get The Times to fold Automobiles section?

The all-electric Tesla Model S is a large, heavy and luxurious four-door hatchback, as seen in this image from a company gallery in Westfield Garden State Plaza, a shopping center in Paramus.


When automobile writers get together for lunch once a month in Manhattan, you never know what you might hear.

I arrived on the ninth floor of the 3 West Club just before 12:30 on Tuesday to find the room full of members and guests of the International Motor Press Association.

I saw Norman Mayersohn, deputy Automobiles editor at The New York Times, speaking to an older man I didn't know, and the latter wished Mayersohn all the best.

When I asked what happened, I was told The Times is folding its 20-year-old Automobiles section, ostensibly for economic reasons.

The older man claimed Elon Musk, CEO of California-based Tesla, reacted angrily when the Automobiles section published favorable articles in October about BMW's new iBrand, a plug-in hybrid sports car and an all-electric sedan.

Musk went to the higher ups and had something to do with The Times decision to fold the Sunday section, the man said.

The Times' evaluation of the i8 compared the cramped sports car favorably to the Tesla Model S, a luxurious four-door hatchback, and completely ignored the BMW's shockingly impractical ergonomics.

Musk blasted Times

In 2013, Musk claimed Times reporter John Broder falsified information about the performance and range of the all-electric Model S.

On Feb. 13, 2013, in a follow-up entry in the Tesla Blog, Musk wrote:

"Yesterday, The New York Times reversed its opinion on the review of our Model S and no longer believes that it was an accurate account of what happened. After investigating the facts surrounding the test drive, the Public Editor agreed that John Broder had 'problems with precision and judgment,' 'took casual and imprecise notes' and made 'few conclusions that are unassailable.'”

Mayersohn, who didn't hear the other man's comments about Musk, said later the section is expected to fold at the end of the year.

During lunch, he noted The Times is the only newspaper that pays for the so-called press cars it evaluates and forbids staffers from going on junkets that are paid for by the manufacturers of cars, tires and other products.