Saturday, April 9, 2016

My Future as an EV Owner

Having put down the $1K deposit for my Tesla Model 3, I'm already beginning to think through the kinds of lifestyle decisions I will have to make -- good and bad -- as a daily EV driver. It's actually a lot of fun -- kind of like thinking about what it would be like to be married, have kids, be famous, win the lottery.

Every time I go to the gas station to gas up my Honda, I think to myself, "One day, I will drive my this station and think, 'I remember when I had to go there every week.'" I admit, it makes the wait during my tank fill-up a lot more pleasant. One day I won't have to breathe in car fumes, wait in line while another driver fights with the auto-payment machine, or dish out a mini-fortune just to drive my car to work one more week. I'll simply coast on by with my Tesla in regen-mode and smile. And eventually, I'll forget to even acknowledge that gas station's existence.

And I'll also throw in here that there will be no more trips to the mechanic shops only to get ripped off on thousands of dollars of car maintenance. If you're a woman, you will especially understand the feeling. Which also brings to mind the time I save my brother from toting him around with me to get my car serviced just to make sure I don't get exploited. I mean, cmon! It's a Honda Civic! If you're going to save on car maintenance with a gas car, that's pretty much the best you can get. (Rant over -- for now.)

I'm already seeing glimpses of it -- EV-haters who say that those who praise EVs are naive and uninformed. And as the EV population grows, they will just get more and more vocal. They say that EV owners don't bother asking the hard questions like "What happens to the environment when the battery is dead" or "Don't you know that it's worse on the environment to just create EVs?" In reality, those who choose or even seriously consider switching to an EV have asked far more difficult questions than that. There's a difference between a hater and an enquirer. Haters generally have already drawn their conclusion before a discussion, and tend to be more interested in listening to themselves sound big rather than be humble and listen. (I deleted a reference to a current Republican delegate here. It was too obvious to waste space on it.) An inquirer will engage in a meaningful discussion. For future reference, it's important to know the difference and not get sucked into a breath-wasting argument.

If you ask me outright if I think electric cars is the solution to our emissions problem, I'll be honest. I'm not 100% sure it is. The study of science isn't exact. Yes, it's possible to get a great of 100% on your math exam (try 100% on an English or Philosophy exam! It never happens.). But even Math at its highest form works in inferences, not absolutes. The truth is, science, like all scholarly study, is measured in probabilities. We do our best to predict as many contingencies ahead of time and address them before we put it into a working protocol. And considering the vast limits of the human mind, debates over possible outcomes can go on forever. People are just too unpredictable to capture all the possibilities ahead of time. The key thing to realize is that there comes a time when you have to take the leap and put your idea into motion knowing that you will always have to tweak things on the fly. The key is to find out when that right moment is. I am not buying an EV because I know it's going to save the environment. I'm doing it because it is far more likely solution than sticking with the status quo in oil and gas. 

I'm already planning my annual vacation in my Tesla to exotic places all over Canada and the US now that I'll be able to afford it! I'm not rich. In fact, having been in student loan debt until my mid-40s has kept me a poor student long after I graduated. So saving up and paying off my Tesla car payments meant sacrificing vacations and other luxuries. I am willing to do it.

But now I realize -- vacation trips with a Tesla means no more transportation costs. It's road trip time! And it's not like the kind of road trips I'm accustomed to. My last road trip to Los Angeles costed me over $700 CAD in my car costs (including servicing my car before and after the trip). I ate crappy gas station food for meals. I slept at a rest stop in the freezing December cold and had to wake up every hour just to run my engine so I could get some heat. And when I arrived at my destination, I needed at least one good night's sleep to clear my head from all the psychological stress of long-distance driving before I could even start planning anything in the city. 

I'm imagining with a Tesla (Tesla-owners you can confirm or deny as needed) that the Supercharger network means no travel costs. I can sit in a restaurant and have a proper meal without having to make extra stops to do so. I can sleep in the quiet confines of my temperature-controlled car cabin pretty much anywhere I want. And autopilot means the car will reduce a lot of the stress of driving. THAT sounds like a vacation to me!

Right now, I probably take for granted that no matter where I go in my car, I can be assured that there will be gas stations relatively near when my tank is low. I don't have to plan ahead of time how many kms I have to drive to get to my destination and then make sure I will make it there. I just leave. And if my tank is low, gas stations are ubiquitous enough that I will find one within blocks of where I am.

Charging stations are different. I'm not opposed to learning a new network system of "car fuel." But I do imagine that it will be slightly more complicated than what I'm used to. I will have to take into consideration making sure a public charging station has the right type of charge port for my car, if a charging station is complimentary for the public or will I have to pay, figuring out the amp output to tell me how long I'll have to wait there before I can get going again, and even deciding when I leave if I should bring my converter plugs with me for the day. And unlike a gas gauge that really barely moves when you watch it, you can watch the number of the "estimated remaining range" tick down as you drive and wonder how long you can go before you're really in trouble.

This, I take it, is known as "range anxiety." And considering that I'm a naturally anxious person already, perhaps this will be something I'll have to get used to. And after a while, I supposed it will become second nature to know how many kms it takes between destinations and where my favorite charging stations are when I may need them.

I admit, when I watch YouTube videos of Tesla owners talk about all the ins and outs of driving their Model S, I get green with envy. I mean, sure, I would love a Model S if I could afford one. But I am more envious of their membership in a Tesla community where owners contribute to the ongoing development at Tesla. Their feedback is vitally important to Tesla and steers (ironic) their priorities towards what customers need developed next. I suspect that there will be some adjustments when Model 3 owners begin to have that voice. A middle-class car owner will have a slightly different perspective than someone who is able to afford a $100K-priced car. I think the average Model 3 owner will think more in terms of pure affordability and will identify very clearly what they can and cannot live without based on a limited family budget. Tesla can get a clear picture of what are essential tweaks that need to be built into the price, and what should be deemed as paid upgrades.

I do want to highlight however, that when I look at the upgrades on the Model S, it doesn't even close to resemble what you expect from the traditional car dealer. When I went to buy my Honda, the base price felt like I was just getting a car shell. Pretty much anything that would make the car bearable to drive on a regular basis had to be paid for. But when I look at the base Model S, the car is stocked with such amazing features that it's like buying a turn-key car. Every optional upgrade is definitely a luxury, not a forced requirement. In this respect, Tesla is way ahead on my satisfaction meter.

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