Saturday, August 29, 2015

Top-rated, relatively rare Tesla Model S attracts smiles, thumbs ups -- and envy

At the supermarket, above, or at a free Tesla Supercharger Station on the New Jersey Turnpike, below, the gorgeous, relatively rare Model S turns heads.


Oh, there goes another Mercedes (Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Cadillac etc. etc).

When you drive a Tesla Model S, other drivers really notice, and you don't see yourself coming and going.

In its third year of production, the luxury 4-door hatchback still is relatively rare.

I've gotten thumbs ups from a passing motorcyclist on the interstate, a pedestrian and others.

The reaction of other drivers is mixed.

Some are aggressive, like the moron in a Volvo wagon who tried to pass me on Thursday after both of us got on Route 80 west in Englewood, N.J.

My Model S 60 is a couple of seconds slower to 60 mph than the P85D that just broke the Consumer Reports ratings system, earning a perfect road test score of 100.

But the zero to 30 mph and 40 mph times are dazzling when I've been challenged to a stoplight grand prix start.

I've yet to lose one.

E-ZPass discounts

Tesla's Model S uses an external E-ZPass that is mounted over the bottom of the license plate, but you'll have to jump through hoops to get the "green" one that entitles you to off-peak discounts as the owner of a zero-emission vehicle.

The off-peak discounts are available on the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and at the Hudson River crossings.

First, you have to register your car, then send in a copy of your registration showing the make and model, and if you're lucky, in four to six weeks the so-called Green Pass will come in the mail.

My first attempt, using snail mail, failed. The second time, I faxed in my request and got the exterior E-ZPass, but it was black like the one on my Model S.

I called, and was told exterior passes come only in black, but that my pass is programmed to give me the green discounts.

The E-ZPasses we use to get off-peak discounts in my two Toyota Priuses are green, not white.

Our 2007 Prius with 64,000 miles on it is for sale. If you want to get 40 mpg to 50 mpg and help the environment, send an email to the address at the top of this blog.

LOADED: Navigation system, Bluetooth, six-disc CD player in dash.

Carpool discounts

All drivers are entitled to a carpool discount at the Hudson River crossings -- 24/7 -- but you have to call your E-ZPass provider and register for the discount.

Then, you have to stop in a staffed cash/E-ZPass lane so a toll taker can see you have three or more people in the car.

The regular off-peak E-ZPass toll at the Hudson River crossings is $9.75, the Green Pass off-peak toll is $6.25 and the carpool toll is $5.75.

The peak E-ZPass toll is $11.75, and the cash toll is $14.

The Model S on vacation at the Basin Harbor Club on Lake Champlain in Vermont, where we also recharged our own batteries.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Drivers lining up for gas in New Jersey block access to free Tesla Superchargers

FOUR SUPERCHARGES, NO WAITING: No other Tesla owners were charging their Model S hatchbacks on Sunday afternoon at the Joyce Kilmer Service Area of the New Jersey Turnpike, but drivers of conventional cars were waiting on long gas lines that blocked the entrance to the parking lot, below.

There were more than a half-dozen long lines of cars, SUVs and pickups at the pumps, above, and more arriving by the minute, below.


I was that "crazy guy in a red car" who was driving through the packed parking lot against traffic on Sunday to reach a free Tesla Supercharger.

Drivers of conventional cars gave me no choice as they backed up at New Jersey Turnpike gas pumps right onto the entrance ramps, blocking the right turn into the parking lot where the four Superchargers are lined up.

I had to drive my Model S clockwise around the gas station plaza, then against traffic past the entrance to the building with the food court and bathrooms.

I had visited the Joyce Kilmer Service Area in East Brunswick once before, but that was on a weekday, when it was far less crowded.

Inside the building on Sunday, the wait at Starbucks Coffee was brief, and I found a dozen empty urinals in the bathroom.

Cheap gas, lead feet

The continuing availability of cheap gas has only aggravated speeding and other aggressive driving on the turnpike, Garden State Parkway and other highways.

I made most of Sunday's round-trip to Willow Grove, Pa., in the middle lane with my cruise control set at 75 mph.

Other vehicles routinely passed on both sides, and I watched in amusement as drivers raced, tailgated and cut each other off or weaved in and out of traffic.

An enormously boxy Chevy Suburban raced past in the fast lane pursued by a Toyota Sequoia, another gas-guzzling SUV.

I didn't see a single state trooper on the New Jersey or Pennsylvania turnpikes.

More than three dozen drivers lined up at the Costco Wholesale gas station in Wayne, N.J., where a gallon of regular was going for $2.09.9 last week. I saw the same price for regular at stations on Essex Street in Lodi, N.J.

SAY 'FRUNK': We took advantage of the storage space in the 'frunk" (truck in front) and in the traditional trunk to move our son to his off-campus college housing in Pennsylvania on Sunday. One man said, "Where's the engine?" Another commented, "I love that."

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Remember the cash for clunkers law? Maybe it's time to crush the gas guzzlers

The current Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV has an MSRP of $115,400 and gets only 12 mpg in the city. Maybe it's time for the federal government to buy such vehicles and send them to the crusher as part of the effort to slow climate change.

This well-kept G500 was seen at 24 Hour Fitness in Paramus, N.J. The boxy G500 is cramped inside, but three locking differentials are useful for making every sale at Westfield Garden State Plaza, New Jersey's biggest mall, no matter how deep the snow.


The 2009 federal law referred to as the CARS Act gave owners of old vehicles a credit of $3,500 to $4,500 toward the purchase or lease of a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle.

In just a few short weeks, more than 677,000 new vehicles with an average EPA rating of 24.9 mpg were sold or leased, replacing vehicles with an average rating of 15.8 mpg.

In a 2009 report to Congress on the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act, the reduction in fuel consumption over the next 25 years was estimated to be 824 million gallons.

The federal gas-guzzler tax hasn't slowed the horsepower race among the major manufacturers, so maybe it's time for a second CARS Act.

Let's send all those gas guzzlers to the crusher, helping to clean our air and slow climate change.

Maybe this time, higher incentives can be given to owners who trade in their smelly gas guzzlers on a hybrid or electric car. 

This Mercedes-Benz claims to get 31 mpg on the highway, but the company Web site doesn't say whether the 4-cylinder turbo requires premium gas.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Another first from Elon Musk: Tesla Service Centers won't try to rip you off

The entrance to the Tesla Motors Service Center on Route 17 in Paramus, N.J. 


Tesla Motors is well-known for putting customers first -- from direct sales to free use for life of a nationwide network of fast electric chargers.

Dealers for traditional automakers -- whether Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota or Mercedes-Benz -- have made buying and servicing a car two of life's most unpleasant experiences.

Think of that last brake job the service writer insisted you absolutely had to have to keep your family safe from disaster (and to line his or her pocket with more commission).

Now, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is the first to take the focus off of service as a profit center:

Tesla "intentionally operates its service centers at break-even," Musk says.

"We don't believe in profiting off our product, if it is not working," he said in a message to Model S owners in rolling out Tesla's referral program.

This is what he had to say about service:

"Tesla received the highest customer feedback rating for service of any car brand in production: 
"A big reason for this is that Tesla intentionally operates its service centers at break-even. We don't believe in profiting off our product if it is not working. 
"Our service centers are located throughout North America and Canada, with Mexico coming soon: 
"If there isn't one near you, no problem: our Tesla ranger service will take care of you wherever you are."

What a relief

I took delivery of a Model S 60 in mid-April, and it's scheduled for service in 12,500 miles or one year.

What Tesla calls the "annual inspection" costs $600, but I bought four years of prepaid service for $1,900.

My only purchase so far has been wheel locks, which cost $60 and were installed free as a goodwill gesture.

Compare that to a $25 labor charge at the Toyota dealer in Hackensack, N.J., to install a $25 cabin air filter in a 2010 Prius -- a job the owner can perform in less than 5 minutes with the help of a YouTube video.

Model S and Roadster owners also get 20% off Tesla-branded merchandise, including hats and jackets. 


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Tesla's Elon Musk is trying the 'hard sell'; north of Philly, black hole for EV charging

THE PAUSE THAT REFRESHES: Today, on the way home from Willow Grove, Pa., we stopped to use one of four Tesla Superchargers in the Joyce Kilmer Service Area of the New Jersey Turnpike in East Brunswick. This free Supercharger Station opened on July 29.


When I opened the Tesla app to monitor the charging of my Model S today, I saw a tab, "From Elon."

CEO Elon Musk is reminding owners about a $1,000 gift certificate they can send to friends as a sweetener on the purchase of a premium all-electric four-door hatchback.

And in a separate email, Musk makes a persuasive argument for why the Model S is far superior to any other car on the road in terms of safety, performance, efficiency and what he calls "cool features." 

And Musk says that in a few weeks, via an over-the-air softwear update, Autosteer and Parallel Autopark functions will be enabled.

They will allow the Model S to "automatically control steering going down the freeway, dramatically reducing driver workload" and automatically "parallel park with precision."

(The full text of Musk's email appears later in this post.)

My friends are poor

Since the $1,000 discount was unveiled at the end of July, I've been racking my brains for the name of friends who could be potential Model S buyers.

Unfortunately, my friends are retired or current journalists who make relatively little money, and who don't seem to care one way or another whether they can help the environment.

That journalists who don't work for the top tier of magazines and newspapers are poorly paid isn't breaking news.

But writers for such blogs as Gas2 make even less, which may be a factor in why they resent Musk's success, look for reasons to knock the Model S and are constantly announcing the imminent arrival of a "Tesla fighter."

Black hole for EVs

Our son is preparing for his first year of college, so we spent a couple of days in East Norriton, Abington and Willow Grove, Pa., north of Philadelphia.

But the trip took a little planning and improvisation.

There is no EV charging available at either the Hyatt House Hotel in East Norriton, where we spent two nights, or on Penn State University's Abington campus.

With Superchargers concentrated along the I-95 corridor, we had to go to King of Prussia Mall, the biggest shopping center on the East Coast, and use slower Tesla Connectors that normally charge test cars for the Tesla store in the mall.

So, we decided to go to the mall for dinner and a movie on Thursday night, and charge the Model S for trips Friday and today to the campus and the apartment building where our son will be living.

After the movie, we spent a good deal of time walking around lost inside the featureless mall as we searched for the garage where the car was hooked up to the Tesla Connector.

Still, employees of the Tesla store couldn't have been nicer.

We called when we were about 10 minutes away, and one of them moved test cars around to make room for our Model S, then plugged in our car for the free charge.

We had our best meal at Kitchen Bar Restaurant Cafe, 1482 Old York Road, Abington, Pa. (1-215-576-9766). My entree of Ahi Tuna with Broccoli (hold the mashed potatoes) was $18.99. A Scampi Sauce served on a side was good, but would have been better if it wasn't thickened with corn starch.

This glass of delicious Cabernet Sauvignon was $6.25 at Kitchen Bar. My wife and son loved their appetizers of chicken wings ($9.99) and a spinach-artichoke dip served in a bread bowl ($8.99); as well as a Spanish Steak ($22.99) and an entree of Crab Cakes ($19.99).

At Kitchen Bar, the original stone building was incorporated into the expanded Art Deco-style restaurant.

About 4,000 students soon will be attending Penn State at Abington, a commuter campus near Philadelphia. There are parking lots for hundreds of cars, but no EV charging stations.

THEY CHARGE AT NIGHT: Tesla Connectors on the first level of the parking garage in King of Prussia Mall, the biggest on the East Coast, below.

This part of the mall looks exactly like many other parts of the mall.

The North Entrance to Nordstrom, above, is closest to the Tesla Connectors.

Tesla's 'hard sell'

The first-ever $1,000 discount for cars bought online before Oct. 31, and Musk's email extolling the virtues of the Model S are the closest Tesla has come to the "hard sell" used by traditional manufacturers.

If you're ready to buy, you can use the following link to get a thousand off your very own Model S:

$1,000 discount on world's best car

And here is the text of Musk's email to owners:

"The first thing to mention is that you can buy a Tesla online, just like ordering a computer or a book. No need to go to a store. Moreover, if you lease it, the Model S comes with a happiness guarantee. If you don’t like the car for any reason, you can just give it back. 

"A survey of Tesla customers by Consumer Reports found that 98% expected that their next car purchase would also be a Tesla, much higher than for any other car. I feel the same way about my Tesla, which is why I'm recommending one for you. 

"Here is some background from Tesla about why you might want to buy a Model S: 

"Starting at $575/month after gas savings, the Model S is still a relatively expensive car, but here is what makes it worth the price: 

Maximum Safety 

"The single most important thing to know about the Model S is that it is literally the safest car on the road bar none. It didn't just receive five stars in every category and subcategory of safety (including for pedestrians), which about 1% of other cars do—the Model S recorded the lowest probability of injury of any car ever tested by the U.S. government across all passenger vehicles, including minivans and SUVs. 

"In addition, every Model S comes standard with automatic emergency braking, as well as blind-spot and forward- and side-collision warning systems to prevent accidents in the first place. 

"Speed and cool features are nice, but nothing is more important than the safety of you, your family and your friends. For more info, check out this blog: 


"Since the Model S doesn't need a big combustion engine, radiators, exhausts or catalytic converters, it has tremendous cargo capacity. With both a trunk in the front and a trunk in the rear, it has more storage space than any other sedan and more than most SUVs. 

"There is so much space in the back that you can have an optional fold-flat, rear-facing third seat, allowing you to carry five adults, two children and luggage in the front trunk. Tesla installs a high strength steel bumper to enable the car to take highway-speed impacts in the rear without permanent injury to the third row. 

"You can also carry several sets of skis, bikes and other equipment using the built-in attachments for the roof rack. 

"Other features that improve utility are a dynamic air suspension that remembers where it needs to raise itself, based on when you last pressed it. With this, you can raise the car above the snow and get through anything SUVs can handle. Tesla's biggest per capita sales are above the Arctic Circle in Norway. 


"Tesla received the highest customer feedback rating for service of any car brand in production: 

"A big reason for this is that Tesla intentionally operates its service centers at break-even. We don't believe in profiting off our product if it is not working. 

"Our service centers are located throughout North America and Canada, with Mexico coming soon: 

"If there isn't one near you, no problem: our Tesla ranger service will take care of you wherever you are. 


"Even the basic Model S has great acceleration and handling. This goes all the way up to the P90D version, which does a record-breaking 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds and a 10.9-second quarter mile, far beyond the capabilities of any other four-door car and faster than a Porsche 911 Turbo. The P90D in ludicrous mode can accelerate at 1.1 g's, which is faster than falling. 

"What makes our handling superior to gasoline cars is that the center of gravity (cg) is extremely low, because the battery pack is in the floor pan, centered between the axles. This also means that a key engineering measure of handling, the polar moment of inertia, is almost perfect. No other production car in the world has a more ideal placement of mass for optimal handling. The Model S has Newton on its side. 

"With Tesla's dual motor all-wheel drive, the traction and handling in every kind of weather are a step change better than gasoline all-wheel drive. Instead of having a simple mechanical shaft connecting front and rear, a Tesla actually has a motor in the front and a motor in the rear, so it can dynamically shift torque front to rear at the millisecond level, effectively providing digital traction control an order of magnitude more precise than mechanical linkages. 

"Like an airliner, it also enables motor redundancy. If one motor encounters a fault, you can simply drive with the other one, rather than being stuck on the side of the road. 

Cool features 

"The Model S has an easy-to-use 17-inch touchscreen computer that is always improving itself and the rest of the car via free over-the-air updates. 

"The car learns your habits and will automatically set the cabin temperature to your preference when it thinks you are about to use the car. If you enable the calendar function, the car will show you your appointments on a big, easy-to-read screen, and you can just tap an address to navigate there. No more fumbling with a tiny phone. 

"Navigation includes real-time traffic data from the car's cell connection, and it will dynamically adjust your route as traffic conditions change. In the morning and evening, it will alert you and offer an alternate route if your normal route is congested. 

"You can also ask the car to play any song or favorite band at any time just by holding down the voice button. It also has lots of comedy sketches available, ranging from Monty Python to Jim Gaffigan. 

"Coming in a few weeks via an over-the-air update are the highway autosteer and parallel autopark functions. When asked, the car will automatically control steering going down the freeway, dramatically reducing driver workload. It will also automatically parallel park with precision. 

"In a few months, you will be able to press a button on your Tesla phone app and the car will open your garage and put itself to bed. You will also be able to summon it from your garage if it isn't plugged in. It needs the Tesla Snakebot for that! 

What about charging? 

"The Model S has a charger built-in, so most owners just plug into a wall socket at their home or office. It can use anything from a standard 110V outlet at 1.5 kW all the way to the Wall Connector at 20 kW. Most customers just install a simple 240 V dryer socket in their garage, which all electricians can do, and it works perfectly. 

"For long distance, you get to use the free Tesla long-distance Supercharger network, located near restaurants and amenities. Typically the time spent on recharging is about 25 to 30 minutes after three hours of driving, which is about right. If you start a trip at 9am, by noon most people want to stop to use the restroom, have lunch or coffee and be on their way. By the time you come back your car is ready to go. 

"The Supercharger network covers the lower 48 continental states in the U.S. and parts of southern Canada, soon to include Mexico. As mentioned above, the Tesla Superchargers really are free to use for life. You could go on a road trip (rear seats fold flat into a great bed), pack some food and leave your wallet at home. Map: 

Expert opinions 

"The Model S has won almost every award offered for a vehicle, including Motor Trend Car of the Year, Automobile Car of the Year and Consumer Reports’ best car in the world (two years running). 

"Moreover, Consumer Reports gave Model S the highest rating of any car in its long history: 99/100. The reason CR is the most trusted source for buyers is that they don't take advertising, they buy a car secretly and at random (so they know it is a normal car) and they test it rigorously for months before reaching a rating. There is no more objective source. 

Environmental Impact 

"Building a Model S produces roughly the same CO2 as a gasoline car of similar weight, however it is far more CO2-efficient in driving, which is what really matters over the lifetime of the car. 

"The EPA rates the efficiency of Model S as equivalent to 90 mpg—making it twice as energy-efficient as a compact hybrid even when factoring in power plant emissions. The current Model S number will steadily improve over time as older power plants are phased out in favor of clean, renewable energy. 

"However, if you install even a small solar panel on your house or garage, you will actually produce more electricity during the week than you consume with your car, making your automotive carbon footprint unequivocally zero or better. And, in the unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse, you will still be able to charge and drive your car!!"

At Bonefish Grill, an upscale full-service chain restaurant in King of Prussia Mall, we liked the appetizers and side dishes better than the entrees, which were served on small plates and seemed skimpy. My appetizer of Fresh Ceviche, including scallops, shrimp, fish, pineapple and cilantro, was terrific ($8.90). The ceviche was served with seasoned crisps, below.

Asian-inspired Bang Bang Shrimp, the restaurant's signature appetizer, is tossed in a creamy, spicy sauce. They were delicious, but far from spicy ($11.30). A glass of Cabernet Sauvignon was $3.50 during happy hour, so I had two.

After dinner at Bonefish Grill, we hiked to an IMAX theater about a quarter of a mile away, below. Admission for three to "Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation" was $57.

In searching for where our Tesla Model S was parked, we made the mistake of entering the enormous mall after 10 p.m., as it was shutting down, and encountering one service corridor after another that looked exactly like this one.