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Life With 2013 Tesla Model S: Some Bikes Don’t Fit

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

I’ve now had my 2013 Tesla Model S for six weeks since it was delivered in late February, and I’m getting used to living with it.

I’ve recharged at the Supercharger network, measured its vampire current usage at night, tested the impact of speed on range, and even experienced my first software update.

According to Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA], one of the original clean-sheet-of-paper design criteria for the Model S was that the rear cargo area–with seats folded down–should be able to accommodate a bicycle without removing the front wheel.

As an avid cyclist, this was one of many factors in my purchase of the car.

But it doesn’t apply to my bicycles, it turns out.

At 6’2″, I’m a tall guy, and both my road bike and my mountain bike have large frames and high seat posts. 

With a bit of carefully choreographed manipulation and the passenger’s seat pushed all the way forward, each bike just barely fits into the back of my Chevrolet Volt.

But to my surprise, the rear hatch opening of the much larger Model S is actually a smidgin narrower than the Volt’s. That smidgin makes the difference.

Unless I want to push the bike forcefully against the Model S’s soft interior material–and risk ripping it–the bikes simply won’t fit in the back without removing the front wheels.

The road bike has a quick-release front wheel that pops off in a second or two, so it’s no big deal to remove it.  But my mountain bike’s front wheel is maddeningly designed to be virtually impossible to remove by hand, apparently for liability reasons.

So no mountain-bike excursions in the Model S.

Maybe that’s not so bad after all. Do I really want to be loading a greasy, muddy mountain bike into the back of my pristine Tesla? Not really.

At least not until the new-pet-car syndrome wears off.

If it ever does.

David Noland is a Tesla Model S owner and freelance writer who lives north of New York City.


By David Noland

Tesla Model S Vs Chevy Volt: Owner Compares Electric Cars

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

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I’ve been leasing a 2011 Chevrolet Volt for almost two years now. And about three months ago, I took delivery of a 2013 Tesla Model S, the 60-kWh version.

So I’ve gotten an extended first-hand look at arguably the two most technically advanced production cars in the U.S.–and the two best-selling plug-ins so far in 2013.

Although not precisely comparable–the Tesla is pure electric, while the Volt has a range-extending gas engine to back up its battery–driving the two cars back-to-back on a daily basis has highlighted the pluses and minuses of each.

So how do they stack up against each other? And which do I prefer?

The Tesla, But…..

The bottom line, of course, is which car I choose to drive when I walk out to my driveway each morning. 

By this measure, the Tesla  almost always wins.  It’s hard to resist the sleek, powerful, head-turning Model S, which Consumer Reports recently raved about–saying it “performs better than any car we’ve ever tested.”

The Volt has been mostly relegated to duty as my 17-year-old daughter’s student-driver car, as well as an occasional long-distance back-up for trips beyond the Tesla’s range. (My wife, a fanatical stick-shift devotee,  stubbornly clings to her 2008 Mini Cooper.)

But that doesn’t mean the Volt isn’t a great car.  At half the price, it’s damn near as good as the Model S in a lot of ways–and superior in a few. 

In fact, driving the Tesla has only confirmed my long-standing appreciation for the Volt.

So how do they compare?  Let’s count the ways.


No surprise here: The Tesla outperforms the Volt.

The Model S has more than double the electric horsepower of the Volt (302 to 149). Its 0-to-60-mph time of  5.9 seconds blows away the Volt’s 9.0-second number.  Top speed is 120 mph, compared to the Volt’s 100 mph.

When I take friends for rides, the Tesla’s seamless, silent, ear-flattening acceleration always elicits the same reaction: giddy, uncontrolled laughter.

“Like a roller-coaster ride,” one friend commented. The Volt can’t come close to matching the Tesla’s balls-to-the-wall fun factor.

But you know what? In normal real-world driving, the Volt in Sport mode feels nearly as peppy and responsive as the Tesla. More so, in some circumstances.

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

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While the Volt has only half the  power of the Tesla, it puts out only a bit less peak torque (273 lb-ft to the Tesla’s 317 lb-ft). Adjust for the Volt’s lighter weight (3780 lbs vs. 4650 lbs for the Model S), and the Volt actually has a better torque-to-weight ratio.

And because of its more aggressive low-end throttle mapping in Sport mode, the Volt actually feels more responsive pulling away from a traffic light than the Tesla.

(We’re assuming light-to-moderate pedal pressure, typical of everyday driving. When you floor it, of course, the Tesla blows the doors off the Volt.)

Whenever I transition from Tesla to Volt, my first few take-offs in the Volt tend to be a bit jumpy as I adjust to its more responsive accelerator.  And when I go back to the Tesla, it feels a little lethargic pulling away from a stop in normal driving.

So, yes, on paper, the Tesla far outperforms the Volt.  But in normal every-day driving, the Volt feels surprisingly close.

Ride and Handling

Let me be up front about this: I am not a high-performance driver. I don’t go screeching around twisty mountain roads. The only four-wheel drift I’ve ever done was in an icy parking lot at 20 mph.  Heel-and-toe? I read about it once.

So my opinions here apply to my comparatively sedate everyday driving–a bit faster and more aggressive than your average shmo on the road, perhaps, but well short of the aggression of the typical car-magazine test drive.

With that behind us, I have to say I don’t notice a lot of difference between the ride and handling of the two cars.

Both have a heavy, solid, smooth feel.

Both steer with alacrity and precision. (Among the Model S’s three options for  steering feel–Comfort, Normal, and Sport–I typically use Comfort mode.)

Both cruise smoothly over typical bumps with a muted rumble.

And both are exceptional highway cruisers.

My sense is that the Model S’s air suspension makes its ride a tad firmer than the Volt’s.  At times the Tesla seems just a bit harsh; I’d like to see an adjustable suspension with a slightly softer (as well as a sportier) option.

In terms of ride and handling, both cars are superb in normal driving. I’d call it a toss-up.


As a  bigger car, the Tesla has more interior space for driver and passengers.

By my tape measure, Tesla front-seat riders have about two inches more shoulder room. The advantage tapers to an inch in back.

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

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The Volt’s big drawback in comfort is its limited rear-seat knee room.  I’m 6’2″, so when I push the driver’s seat all the way back, the poor soul sitting behind me is likely to have his knees crushed. In the Tesla, there’s sufficient–though hardly copious–space for adult kneecaps in the rear, no matter how tall the driver.

Rear-seat headroom, however, is another matter. My head makes hard contact with the Model S headliner in the back, requiring a slight slouch. In the Volt, on the other hand, I can sit fully upright in the back with only a few wisps of hair brushing the ceiling. Score one for the Volt.

But with this single exception–a tall guy in the back seat–all my passengers much prefer the Tesla.

For the driver, I’ve found, the question is not so clear-cut.

Once in the driver’s seat, I find both cars quite comfortable. The seats are comparable. The Tesla feels more spacious, but it’s mostly a visual effect. Some may even prefer the more intimate cockpit of the Volt. Call it a toss-up.

But getting in and out of the two cars?  Definitely not a toss-up. For a tall, creaky guy like me, climbing into the Tesla–with its low roofline, swooping windshield, and narrow door opening–is a pain in the butt (or in my case, the neck and back).

Whenever I transition to the Volt, with its wider door opening, I breathe a huge sigh of relief as I slip much more easily into the driver’s seat.

Overall verdict on comfort: Tesla by a nose, with an asterisk for tall drivers and tall rear-seat passengers.

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

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2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

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The compact Volt, with its battery pack running down the middle of the car, is strictly a four-seater. The Tesla is touted as a 5+2, with the option of two rear-facing child seats in the cargo compartment under the hatchback.

Without the kid seats, the rear cargo area is huge. With back seats folded down, it becomes humongous. And then there’s the front trunk–which Tesla insists on calling a “frunk”–an auxiliary cargo space where the Volt stashes….an engine.

For me, the question of utility is mostly academic. In two years, I’ve had to leave behind a fifth passenger in the Volt maybe twice. I’ve not yet had occasion to use anywhere near the Tesla’s available cargo space. (In fact, I’ve yet to use the front trunk at all.)

And through an accident of geometry, it turns out that my extra-large size mountain bike slips into the Volt more easily than into the Tesla, due to its marginally wider hatchback opening.

The way I keep score, the Tesla’s advantage hauling a rare fifth passenger is balanced by the Volt’s bike-carrying advantage. I’d call it even. But the Tesla becomes the obvious choice if you’re always hauling lots of stuff, or regularly transporting that fifth passenger.


In terms of ultimate utility, the elephant in the garage is the Tesla’s limited range and slow “refueling” time. Until the Tesla Supercharger quick-charging-station system is fully in place, the Model S simply doesn’t work for me on trips more than 180 miles.

To the chagrin of hard-core electric-car proponents, I’ve always believed that there has to be a gas engine in the family somewhere. After three months of owning a Volt and a Tesla, I’ve not changed my view.

Yeah, I know: Plug-in devotees have taken Teslas on long cross-country trips. Hooray for them.

Frankly, I’m not willing to plan my whole trip around finding charging stations.

Case in point: a recent overnight visit to a friend 200 miles away. Theoretically, this is within the car’s EPA range of 208 miles. Am I willing to cut it this close? No chance.

But suppose I had managed to get there, cruising at 55 mph with A/C off. And suppose I’d found a charging station somewhere nearby. That still means the friend has to come pick me up at the station, then drop me off the next morning.

Why not just plug in at my friend’s house?  No way: To charge the Tesla’s 60-kWh battery fully from a standard 110-Volt outlet takes two full days.

So my trip was a no-brainer: Take the Volt.

In three months of Tesla ownership, I’ve now made four trips where I had to take the Volt.

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

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Until the day that Superchargers are installed at 150-mile intervals along the New York State Thruway and New Jersey Turnpike, “Take the Volt” will be a familiar refrain in my household.

Range Loss in Winter

The Chevy Volt suffers a fairly dramatic loss of electric range in winter. In my experience, it drops from 40-plus miles in summer to as low as 25 miles when the temperature falls to the teens. That’s about a 40-percent loss.

If you do the math, the Volt uses about 250 Watt-hours per mile in summer, and 400 in winter. Annual average: 320 Wh/mi.

Since I’ve never run the Tesla’s battery down to zero–and hope never to do so–I can’t pinpoint actual range. But the car does report its efficiency. In February, I averaged about 360 Watt-hours per mile, compared to about 320 Wh so far in May, a difference of just 11 percent.

I expect  efficiency to keep improving as the weather warms up. Whether the ultimate difference is 12 percent or 15 percent, it’s still a huge improvement over the Volt. Tesla engineers are clearly the unchallenged masters of battery management.

Overall, the way I drive it, it looks like the Tesla’s annual efficiency will average about 320 Wh/mi–virtually the same as the Volt. 

My results match the EPA numbers fairly closely:  35 kW/100 mile for the Tesla, 36 for the Volt. (Multiply by 10 to get Wh/mile.)

Considering that the Tesla is almost half a ton heavier and has better performance, that’s a big win for the Model S.

Random Things I Like Better About the Volt

*Tire-pressure monitoring system.

The Volt has an on-demand readout of current pressure in each tire.

The Tesla, by contrast, has only a crude  “Tire pressure too low” or Tire pressure too high” warning that comes on when necessary.

I’ve also been getting  ”Check tire-pressure monitoring system” alerts. (My Tesla service guy assures me these are spurious.)

*Center Console

The Volt has a standard console with both open and closed storage spaces. The Tesla has only an armrest, with two cup holders that appear when the armrest is slid back.

The Tesla’s open floor between front passengers’ knees gives a feeling of spaciousness, but there’s no place to put stuff.

Sunglasses, wallet, insurance card, driving glasses, 5-Hour Energy shots, and the like simply get thrown on the floor. There are low rails that prevent stuff from sliding around, but it looks messy.

So I recently purchased a Center Console Insert (CCI) from an independent company called Teslaccessories. It snaps into place between the floor rails and provides a better-placed cupholder and a small closed storage area. It’s a big improvement.

Tesla is readying its own factory drop-in center console, which its website says is “coming soon.”  

Not soon enough, if you ask me.

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

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*Regenerative braking system

Both cars have two regen settings: a “Normal” that feels like a standard gas car when you back of the accelerator, and a more aggressive setting that slows the car rapidly and pumps more energy back into the battery.

In the Volt, the settings are selected by the gear lever: D for the standard setting, L for the aggressive one.  It’s easy and intuitive to flick back and forth between the two settings, depending on traffic and hills. It’s actually a lot of fun, like downshifting in a stick-shift gas car.

The Tesla, on the other hand, requires the driver to change regen settings through the touch screen. Typically, it takes up to three taps to find the right screen and make the change. That rules out on-the-fly adjustments.

The Volt regen system has a further advantage over the Tesla: It’s not affected by cold weather.  In the Model S, the aggressive regen is limited below about 50 degrees and turned off altogether below about 30 degrees until the battery warms up. This can take as long as 20 or 30 miles of driving.

*Battery state-of-charge indicator

The Volt’s 10-bar State of Charge (SoC) gauge is a bit crude, but it’s better than the Tesla’s vague sliding bar, which has no delineation whatsoever.

Virtually all electric cars have SoC indicators of some sort–even the cheapest one available, the 2013 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, has a nice little dial that that reads down to 1 percentage point. It’s bizarre that the super-expensive, cutting-edge Model S lags so far behind in this respect.

Random Things I Like Better About the Tesla

*Dashboard touch screen.

No doubt about it, the 17-inch touch screen in the Tesla Model S is way better than  the Volt’s tiny screen and confusing welter of buttons.

The Tesla screen’s many virtues are well known, so I won’t go over them here. Suffice it to say that anything else seems utterly primitive by comparison.

*Getting software updates

In almost two years, I’ve gotten one upgrade on the Volt–which required taking it in to the dealer. (I waited for a regular service appointment to get the upgrade.)

In three months with the Tesla, I’ve gotten two software upgrades, both remotely over the car’s 3-G wireless connection.

Remote is better. Duh.

Bottom Line

If I could keep just one car, which would it be?

I guess if you put a gun to my head, I would reluctantly give up the Volt.

The style, performance, and overall pizzazz of the Model S are simply too compelling to give up.

The Tesla’s charms would far outweigh the annoyance of having to rent a noisy gas-guzzling combustion-engined car for long trips.

Decision point: Sept 2014

Fortunately, no one is putting a gun to my head. I’ll definitely be keeping both cars until September 2014, when the Volt lease expires.

By that time, hopefully, there will be a full network of Superchargers around the Northeast (and the rest of the country).

When that happens, the Model S will finally be in a position to make its case as the best car in the world.

David Noland is a Tesla Model S owner and freelance writer who lives north of New York City.


By David Noland

2013 Tesla Model S: Now Available In Red, At Last

Red 2013 Tesla Model S cars roll down the production line (Photo: @elonmusk on Twitter)

Red 2013 Tesla Model S cars roll down the production line (Photo: @elonmusk on Twitter)

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If you want a red Tesla Model S and didn’t get in there with the Signature models, you’re in luck.

The photo above was revealed in a Tweet by Elon Musk on Tuesday, showing new red Model S cars heading down the line, prior to completion.

“New Tesla red going down assembly line for the first time. We spent a lot of time on this color!” tweeted Musk.

Red was initially available on the first run of Signature edition cars, but it’s taken some time for Tesla to introduce the color into regular Model S production.

The shade, called Multi Red, is different from that of Signature red cars, slightly lighter in hue and with a deep, non-metallic finish.

There’s been a little confusion as to whether it’s the same shade as cars doing the rounds at various shows over the last few months known as Sunset Red.

Both shades are apparently the same, as confirmed by Tesla’s George Blankenship in an email with one Tesla Motors Club forum member .

It’s been available to order for several months now on Tesla’s configurator, but with the first red models now rolling down the line it shouldn’t be long until owners get their hands on the new cars.

And of course, other shades are still available…


By Antony Ingram

Tesla Makes Money On Model S: $35K Per Car Selling ZEV Credits?

2013 Tesla Model S

2013 Tesla Model S

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Tomorrow at 5 pm Eastern, Tesla will hold what may be its most eagerly awaited conference call to date.

The Silicon Valley startup automaker will discuss its first-quarter financial results–which will give the first clue to its financial viability as an operating automaker.

But Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] will have raked in revenue not only from selling electric cars, but also by selling those cars’ zero-emission vehicle credits to other automakers.

Tesla sold “more than 4,750″ Model S electric sport sedans last quarter, the company said on April 1 (no, it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke), and another 2,650 last year.

Selling credits since 2009

Now, as the Los Angeles Times reports, we learn that one analyst estimates Tesla could take in as much as $35,000 more from each Model S by selling its ZEV credits.

This is hardly new; the company has been doing so at least since 2009, when it sold ZEV credits to Honda and one other unnamed automaker.

Thilo Koslowski, an auto-industry analyst at Gartner Group, told the LA Times that the company might take in as much as $250 million this year from selling the credits.

Tesla communications director Shanna Hendriks declined to comment on the article, noting tomorrow’s earnings call. (SEC regulations discourage companies from commenting close to release of important financial information, including earnings.)

How much per car?

The math’s a bit unclear, since if Tesla sells 20,000 Model S cars this year, that would work out to $12,500 per car.

Nonetheless, as the article notes, Tesla’s ability to garner additional revenue beyond the sales price of its cars “highlights just how far California regulators have gone to promote the electric car.”

More properly, that should be “promote zero-emission vehicles,” since hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles also qualify for the same credits.

ZEV rules —> compliance cars

California’s ZEV sales requirement has produced the phenomenon of so-called compliance cars, which will be built and sold by five automakers in just enough volume to keep themselves within the law and avoid fines.

Those cars are the Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Honda Fit EV, and Toyota RAV4 EV.

On balance, most of them are quite good electric cars.

And they give those companies experience with developing all-electric vehicles that they’ll need in the latter half of this decade, as carmakers must start to sell higher volumes of plug-in cars to meet increasingly stringent national fuel efficiency standards.

2013 Fiat 500e electric car, Los Angeles drive event, April 2013

2013 Fiat 500e electric car, Los Angeles drive event, April 2013

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Losing money on electrics

But to the degree that it’s cheaper for an automaker to buy ZEV credits from Tesla than to sell more of its own electric cars at a loss, they may well do so as a matter of financial expediency.

Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, for instance, has famously and repeatedly griped that his company will lose $10,000 on every electric Fiat 500 it must sell in the state.

His vehicle engineers, meanwhile, are remarkably proud of the 2013 Fiat 500e–which we found to be surprising good–and its marketers speak vaguely of plans to roll it out beyond California.


ZEV Credits still a sideshow

Tomorrow evening, financial analysts will be poring over Tesla’s financials to tease out information on how much money the company really makes on its core business: building and selling electric cars.

Certainly California’s ZEV regulations give Tesla a financial boost.

Years from now, we may be able to look back and decide whether that incremental revenue was crucial to Tesla’s fate (whatever it turns out to be) and its first-quarter profit.

Over the long term, analysts expect the value of ZEV credits to vary, but say it will likely fall over the long term as the cost of building plug-in electric cars continues to fall.

But let’s be clear about one thing.

Over the long term, if Tesla Motors can’t design, develop, build, and sell electric cars in sufficient volumes to make enough profit to fund its future operations, then all the ZEV credits in the world are irrelevant.

Which isn’t to say, mind you, that they don’t look very attractive to Tesla’s CFO on the eve of its first quarter operating as a profitable automaker.


By John Voelcker

Tesla Model S Electric-Car Deliveries For Q1: 4,750-Plus, Says Company

2013 Tesla Model S

2013 Tesla Model S

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When the news is good, you want to get it out there.

Last night, Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] released a statement saying that it had delivered more than 4,750 Model S cars from January 1 through March 31 of this year.

The statement came before the first quarter of 2013 had even technically ended (California time).

But as Tesla noted, those total deliveries exceeded its prior estimate of 4,500 Model S cars delivered for the quarter.

That means, the company noted, that it will amend its Q1 financial guidance from achieving an operating profit to full profitability (including capital expenses and other costs).

In a statement posted on its blog, CEO Elon Musk said he was “incredibly proud of the Tesla team for their outstanding work.”

Musk also thanked the company’s customers for their “passionate support” of both the Model S cars they had purchased and of Tesla itself.

“Without them,” Musk noted, accurately, “we would not be here.”

40-kWh Model S canceled

The announcement also included some revisions to the plans for the 2013 Tesla Model S lineup.

The last and smallest battery-pack option to go into production, the 40-kilowatt-hour version, will not be offered after all, “due to lack of demand.”

Tesla noted that just 4 percent of its Model S deposits were for the lowest-range version, which didn’t justify producing it.

Customers who put down a deposit on the 40-kWh model will instead receive a 60-kWh Model S–but, Tesla said, “range will be software-limited to 40 kWh.”

That means, we presume, that range will be roughly two-thirds of the 208-mile EPA rating for the Model S 60-kWh version.

Those cars will not only have a higher top speed and better acceleration than the 40-kWh model would have, Tesla said, but can also be upgraded back into a regular 60-kWh car at some future point by any owner.

The company did not specify the cost of such an upgrade.

Supercharger hardware standard

Finally, the company said that all 60-kWh Model S cars have been built with the Supercharger quick-charge hardware as standard.

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on red carpet

‘Revenge of the Electric Car’ premiere: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on red carpet

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That was to have been an extra-cost option, but Tesla–calling it an “Easter egg” to celebrate yesterday’s Christian holiday–said the quick-charging equipment will continue to be standard on all Model S versions.

That will, the company suggests, improve those cars’ resale value even if their drivers never use the Supercharger network of Tesla-only quick-charging locations.

That network now includes eight locations in California and the Northeast Corridor, but is expected to add more stations in the Northeast and expand into Florida, Texas, and the Pacific Northwest in the near future.

Tesla communications director Shanna Hendriks took pains to point out that last night’s sales announcement was not the “really exciting” news about which CEO Elon Musk tweeted last Monday.

That news, in which Musk will “put [his] money where [his] mouth is in [a very] major way,” was intended for last Thursday but later postponed until tomorrow.


By John Voelcker

Don’t Cry: Tesla Model S Torn Apart For Safety’s Sake

Modern cars feel so substantial and safe they can often feel impregnable–you’re just rolling along in your little bubble, protected from the world outside.

The Model S, the luxurious electric car from Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] with its large body, incredible refinement and luxurious interior is just such a vehicle–though as the video above (via Wired) demonstrates, there’s only so much extreme force a car can handle.

No car is completely crash-proof, and it can take the work of a split-second out on the road for something to go very, very wrong.

If it does, modern cars really are as safe as they feel, with airbags, deforming crash structures and more, keeping occupants as safe as possible.

But put enough force through a car body and occupants can still become trapped, or incapacitated to such an extent that safety teams need extraction tools like the “jaws of life” to provide better access for ambulance crews.

In an electric car, there’s an element of added danger for those crews, with high voltage cables and different body structures to contend with.

It might be excruciating to watch the Model S torn apart, bit by bit, but reassuring to know that if the worst happens, the emergency services still have a way of extracting you from the car.

In the video above, the real action starts around the 27-minute mark, as safety crews rip the front passenger door from its frame. They then remove the front wing and hood, before making cuts into the A-pillar, chassis support struts and finally, the door surround–careful to avoid the electric components nearby.

All this accomplished, some dashboard support struts are cut, before a hydraulic ram pushes the dashboard upward. The resulting gap could be enough to free an injured passenger’s legs following a crash–or to give paramedics a larger space to extract a passenger with back or neck injuries.

Tesla itself provided the Model S for Fremont Fire Department to train on–and the resulting video can be used to train other crews to deal with the car.

The rest of the video goes through all the realities and myths faced by first responders to electric vehicle accidents–and it’s worth a watch to fully reassure you of the safety of these vehicles.


By Antony Ingram

Does The Tesla Model S Electric Car Pollute More Than An SUV?

2013 Tesla Model S

2013 Tesla Model S

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Does the supposedly clean, green Tesla Model S really pollute more than a gas-guzzling Jeep Grand Cherokee sport-utility vehicle?

That’s what one analyst has claimed.

In an exhaustive 6,500-word article on the financial website Seeking Alpha, analyst Nathan Weiss lays out a case that the Model S actually has higher effective emissions than most large SUVs of both the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and smog-producing pollutants like sulfur dioxide.

As a 2013 Tesla Model S owner, I was shocked and concerned by his claims. 

Although carbon emissions were not a big factor in my decision to buy a plug-in car–I was more interested in performance, style, and low operating cost–the car’s green cred was a nice bonus. 

Now here’s this Weiss guy, calling me a global-warming villain.

But I couldn’t help but notice that in his role as financial analyst, Weiss had been advising his clients to “short” the stock of Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA]–to bet against it. (Tesla stock price down = happy clients; Tesla stock up = very unhappy clients.)

And is it a coincidence that the article appeared the same day Tesla stock skyrocketed 30 percent, after Tesla’s first-quarter earning report? (It’s since risen another 30 percent.)

Weiss’s motives aside, his claims deserve a close look on their merits.

Not only the tailpipe

Like all 100-percent electric cars, the Model S indisputably has zero tailpipe emissions. 

But Weiss looks at emissions from the powerplants that supply the Tesla’s electric “fuel,” as well as the excess electricity consumed by the Model S due to charging inefficiencies and “vampire” losses.

These two factors, he concludes, give the Model S effective carbon emissions roughly equal to those of a Honda Accord.

Throw in the carbon emitted during production of the Model S’s 85-kWh lithium-ion battery, says Weiss, and the Model S ends up in Ford Expedition territory. 

Not so fast….

Although Weiss makes a number of valid points, I see several flaws in his argument. And he bases his carbon-footprint estimates of battery production on a single report that is far out of sync with previous research on the subject. 

Furthermore, he fails to account for the carbon emissions resulting from the production of gasoline. If the carbon footprint of a Tesla’s fuel counts against it, why shouldn’t a standard car’s fuel be subject to similar accounting?

So let’s go through his analysis and his conclusions point by point.

*Power plant emissions count against electric cars

Virtually all electric car advocate agree that when toting up the environmental pros and cons of electric cars, it’s only fair to include powerplant emissions. 

When this has been done previously, the numbers have still favored electric cars. The Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, concluded in a 2012 report, “Electric vehicles charged on the power grid have lower global warming emissions than the average gasoline-based vehicle sold today.” 

The carbon-friendliness of the electric grid, of course, varies wildly from region to region, depending upon the type of powerplants there.

2013 Tesla Model S in Queens, NY, service center, awaiting delivery to buyer David Noland, Feb 2013

2013 Tesla Model S in Queens, NY, service center, awaiting delivery to buyer David Noland, Feb 2013

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Tesla Motors has an interactive calculator on its website that allows you to calculate the effective carbon emissions of your Model S, depending on your particular state’s powerplant mix (coal, gas, nuclear, hydro, etc.). The numbers range from 26 gm/mi in Idaho (mostly hydro) to 310 gm/mi in West Virginia (mostly coal). 

According to Weiss, the national average for Tesla’s claimed Model S CO2 emissions works out to 163 grams per mile (g/mi). Tesla says the corresponding figure for gas cars is 400 g/mi.

Although not truly zero-emission, electric cars in general (and the Model S in particular) are still better than most gas cars. Or so goes the mainstream scientific thinking.

Weiss begs to differ.

*Tesla’s numbers are too optimistic

According to the Tesla website, it assumes a Model S electricity usage of 283 Watt-hours per mile for its CO2 calculations. That’s the power required to drive at a steady 55 mph.

Weiss disputes that number as unrealistically low. He cites, among other sources, the EPA’s number of 321 Wh/mi, as well as 48 reports on the Tesla owners’ forum that averaged to 367 Wh/mi.

He concludes that the real-world power consumption of the 85-kWh Model S is actually more like 375 Wh/mi. That’s 33 percent higher than Tesla claims. 

Accordingly, CO2 emissions would also be 33 percent higher.

I can’t argue with Weiss on this one. In 3,000 miles of driving my 60-kWh Model S, I’ve averaged 343 Wh/mi. Since my 60-kWh car is about seven percent more efficient than the heavier 85-kWh model, that would correspond to a real-world consumption of 367 Wh/mi for the longer-range car.

Because my driving–as well as that of the 48 Tesla owners Weiss cites–has occurred mostly in winter, I would expect average energy usage to decline as the weather warms. (I’ve already seen my efficiency improve in May.) I’d guesstimate a real-world year-round number for the 85-kWh Model S of 340 Wh/mi.

But I won’t quibble with Weiss’s figure of 375.

So a 33-percent bump raises Tesla’s claimed Model S effective carbon emissions of 163 gm/mi to 216 gm/mi, or about the same as the Toyota Prius V. 

*Charging losses boost carbon emissions by 18 percent

Not every kilowatt-hour of energy that comes out of the wall plug ends up in the Model S battery. Citing EPA figures and reports from owners, Weiss estimates the Model S’s real-world charging efficiency at about 85 percent.

Again, Weiss has a good point. I’ve measured charging losses of 10-15 percent in my own car. Tesla quotes a “peak charging efficiency” of 92 percent on its website. An average charging efficiency of 85 percent seems plausible.

That means a Model S typically draws 17 percent more power from the plug than it uses to power the car.

So now our Model S carbon emissions are up to 254 g/mi, slightly less than those of a 2013 Honda Civic.

*Vampire losses further raise emissions by 55 percent

Whoa! This is truly a shocking claim. It implies that vampire losses–the power used by the Model S when it’s off, just sitting there in your garage–amount to nearly as much as Tesla claims the car uses while driving.

Weiss, citing a number of sources, (including my own report on Model S vampire losses on this site), settles on a number for vampire losses of 5.1 kWh per day. He then combines that figure with an estimate of 7,728 miles driven per year to conclude that vampire-related Model S CO2 emissions amount to 140 g/mi.

This brings his new total up to to 394 g/mile, about the same as a BMW 5-Series.

I’d call Weiss’s number for vampire drain a bit high, but not implausible. I measured at-the-wall vampire losses averaging 4.5 kWh per day on my car.

One reason for Weiss’s high-ball estimate may be his apparent misunderstanding of the Model S battery thermal management system. He claims that vampire losses in the 30-to-50-degree range are nearly triple those occurring at temperaturess of 50 to 80 degrees, due to the extra juice required to keep the battery warm.

This is simply wrong. I have noticed no such variations.

And a Tesla rep confirmed to me that the Model S battery is not temperature-controlled when the car sits idle, so there is no battery heating/cooling power draw. (Elon Musk has publicly confirmed this.) The brief pre-heat/cool prior to the once-a-day “topping off” charge cycle would have only a minimal impact on vampire losses.

I also take issue with Weiss’s estimate of the Model S average yearly driving distance of only 7,728 miles. (His derivation of the number is too lengthy to analyze here.)

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

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How could it be that Model S owners drive barely half as much as the national average of 13,476 miles per year? l know my own driving mileage has actually increased since I got my Model S, simply because the car is such a blast to drive.

It’s only temporary

But Weiss’s major miscue in the section about vampire power drain–other than misspelling my name–is his implication that these daily losses are a permanent long-term condition.

Tesla has in fact been working on “sleep mode” software improvements to reduce vampire losses. Its next major update, due this summer, is expected to cut vampire losses by half.

By the end of the year, they will be virtually eliminated, according to Tesla spokesperson Shanna Hendricks.

Weiss acknowledges the promised sleep mode, but doubts that it will make any difference. “History (and the mechanics of the battery) suggest it will not meaningfully reduce idle power consumption,” he writes.

I suggest it will. And that by the end of the year, 55 percent of Weiss’s argument will have gone up in smoke.

Anticipating the new sleep mode, I’m going to ignore vampire losses and stick with 254 gm/mi as the Model S carbon footprint, compared to Weiss’s vampire-bloated number of 394 gm/mi.

*Battery production adds 39 percent more

The manufacture of a car contributes to its lifetime carbon emissions. And it’s well established that the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries is a carbon-intensive process. The question is, how much?

For his battery-production carbon numbers, Weiss relies primarily on an outlier study from the Journal of Industrial Ecology. Its estimates of carbon footprint from lithium-ion battery production are far higher than previous studies, and it has been pilloried in the blogosphere for numerous errors too arcane to enumerate here.

A 2010 study in the journal of the American Chemical Society, on the other hand, concludes that the environmental impact of the battery is “relatively small.” It estimates that battery production adds about 15 percent to the driving emissions of an electric car.

A 2012 study for the California Air Resources Board puts the number at 26 percent, assuming the California powerplant mix. But if you adjust to the dirtier national U.S. grid powerplant mix, driving emissions go up. So the percentage share of battery production goes down, also to about 15 percent.

Tesla may, in fact, beat even those lower numbers. Uniquely among electric car manufacturers, Tesla uses what are arguably the most efficiently manufactured lithium-ion battery cells on the planet: “commodity” 18650 laptop cells, which Panasonic churns out by the billions in highly automated plants. (I’m unaware of any carbon life-cycle analysis for these batteries.)

We’ll go with the consensus mainstream number of 15 percent, which brings total Model S carbon emissions up to 292 gm/mi, against Weiss’s battery-boosted grand total of 547 gm/mi.

Carbon summary

We’ve arrived at a number for the real-world effective CO2 emissions of a Model S of 292 g/mi. Admittedly, that’s lot higher than Tesla claims on its website.

But worse than a Grand Cherokee? Hardly.

The V-6 Grand Cherokee’s official EPA CO2 number is 479 g/mi when fitted with the smallest engine offered, a 3.6-liter V-6. The more powerful V-8 model logs in at a whopping 592 g/mi.


In a follow-up post a few days later, Weiss backed off and significantly downgraded his estimate for Model S carbon emissions.

He concedes that, in calculating vampire losses per mile, total distance of 12,000 miles per year makes for a better comparison. He also downgrades his estimate of idle power losses to 3.5 kWh per day.

And, strangely, he neglects to account for the carbon footprint of battery production in any way.

2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

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With these new numbers, he recalculates the Tesla’s total effective carbon emissions to be 346 g/mi, not a lot more than the 292 g/mi I calculated above.

Weiss also downgrades his SUV bogeyman, pointing out that even at his revised lower figure of 346 g/mi, the Model S is still a worse carbon polluter than the Toyota Highlander, which the EPA rates at 312 g/mi.

What about carbon from gasoline production?

But for all his zeal in exhaustively parsing the carbon footprint of electricity production, Weiss conveniently forgets to mention that producing gasoline also has its own carbon footprint.

According to a 2000 report from the MIT Energy Lab, gasoline production accounts for 19 percent of the total lifetime CO2 emissions of a typical car. Actually driving the car accounts for about 75 percent of its lifetime carbon output.

Thus the carbon footprint of fuel production adds about 25 percent to a gas car’s nominal CO2 emissions number. 

Sorry, Mr. Weiss. If you apply the same rules to gasoline cars that you did to the Tesla, your Toyota Highlander just went from 312 g/mi to 390 g/mi.

On this adjusted apples-to-apples basis, the Tesla figure of 292 g/mi is roughly comparable to that of the Scion iQ.

*Other pollutants 

With all the growing concern about global warming and carbon emissions, old-fashioned “smog” air pollution–primarily nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2)–has receded into the background.

Due to strict emissions laws, modern gasoline cars emit very little of these lung-threatening pollutants. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, about coal-fired powerplants.

Weiss calculates that powerplant emissions give the Model S an effective level of NOx pollution about triple that of the EPA limit for gas cars. (I’m discounting his suspect inclusion of vampire losses.)

The situation for sulfur dioxide is much worse. Weiss calculates that effective Model S sulfur dioxide emissions equal that of about 400 gas cars. (Again, the suspect vampire data is discounted.)

Weiss writes, “In many states, including California, if a smog-testing center could measure the effective emissions of a Tesla Model S through a tailpipe, the owner would face fines, penalties, or the sale of the vehicle under state ‘clunker buyback’ programs.”

In terms of sulfur dioxide, gas cars are so clean and coal-fired electricity so dirty that a 60-watt light bulb effectively emits as much sulfur dioxide as an average gasoline car driving at 60 mph.

Frankly, I can’t argue with these disturbing numbers, and I have not seen them refuted anywhere. But they say more about the tough emission laws for gas cars and the remarkably lax rules for coal-fired powerplants belching sulfur dioxide than they do about the Model S.

Nevertheless, I’m feeling a bit guilty about the sulfur dioxide spewing out of my Tesla’s virtual tailpipe.

At least I live in New York state, which uses coal for only about 10 percent of its power production. That’s about one quarter of the U.S nationwide percentage, so presumably I’m “only” 100 times worse than a gas car when it comes to sulfur dioxide emissions.

Fortunately, I’m not alone; the vast majority of electric cars operate in states with low-coal grids like California, Washington, and New York.

And the grid is slowly getting cleaner. As more wind, solar, and natural gas come online and antiquated coal plants are shut down, my effective SO2 emissions will steadily decline.

So in the end…

After all of this, the conclusion seemed clear: I drive a kick-ass, high-performance, five-seat all-electric luxury sport sedan that has the same wells-to-wheels carbon emissions as a tiny Scion minicar with two real seats.

Anybody got a problem with that?

When it comes to virtual tailpipe emissions, carbon and otherwise, the Model S ain’t perfect.

But if you ask me, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

David Noland is a Tesla Model S owner and freelance writer who lives north of New York City.


By David Noland

My 2013 Tesla Model S Electric Sport Sedan: Delivery at Last!

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with Tesla Motors delivery driver

HI-RES GALLERY: 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with Tesla Motors delivery driver

  • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with Tesla Motors delivery driver

  • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

  • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

  • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

  • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

  • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

  • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

  • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

  • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

  • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with Tesla Motors delivery driver

    • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with Tesla Motors delivery driver

    • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

    • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

    • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

    • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

    • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

    • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

    • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

    • 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland


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After 1,386 days of waiting, I first glimpsed  my new 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan at a local discount tire store.

The Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] delivery rep who was bringing the car up from the New Jersey distribution center to my house in New York’s Hudson Valley had called me from the road, to say he was going to be late.

The car hadn’t yet gotten its New York state inspection, so he was stopping by the tire store, about three miles away from my home, to get the inspection and sticker for the Model S–sitting on a trailer behind his truck.

I sat in my kitchen twiddling my thumbs in frustration for about five minutes. Then I jumped into my Chevrolet Volt and raced over to the tire store.

I couldn’t bear to wait any longer.

Trying to be realistic, I had steeled myself for a tinge of disappointment. After nearly four years of anticipation, hype, and acclaim, my expectations ran so high that it seemed no car could meet them.

“Get real, man,” I cautioned myself. “It can’t possibly live up to the hype.”

My visceral reaction upon first seeing my Model S there in the tire store parking lot was a jolt of euphoria. The car was freaking gorgeous.

I’d seen many Model S cars in captivity, so to speak, at Tesla stores and events. But in the wild, surrounded by the mundane, everyday cars parked at a drab strip mall, the Tesla Model S radiated an extra presence, a feline grace and power. It was a cheetah among wildebeests and water buffaloes.

And it was mine.

I’d worried about my choice of color. Seeing swatches at a Tesla store and playing with the color selector on the Tesla website, I’d specified the metallic green without ever seeing an actual car in that color.

Again, euphoria. The color was perfect: a dark, rich, British racing green with extra sparkle and luster.

After its state inspection, the car was loaded back onto its trailer for the brief drive to my house. I followed in the Volt.

The Tesla rep, an outgoing young fellow who’d given up a successful Broadway acting career to join the Tesla team, rolled it off the trailer and began the exhaustive briefing that every owner gets before the final handover.

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

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That was when I learned two unexpected pieces of good news.

First, my car included electrically adjusted and heated seats, which I hadn’t known came with the leather interior option. Second, the car had  Internet connectivity, despite the fact that I hadn’t ordered the optional high-tech package.

With built-in Slacker, that meant essentially any music, instantly. Eddie Cleanhead Vinson? Done.

This was turning into a very good day indeed.

My first solo spin was a five-minute drive to the local high school to pick up my daughter. She was impressed, but I’m not sure her friend noticed.

The second outing was to show off my Tesla to my buddy Chris, a fellow e-car enthusiast.

Pulling onto a local two-lane road with a 40-mph speed limit, I floored it briefly. We both giggled uncontrollably as the car shot silently ahead, touching 70 mph within three or four heartbeats before I quickly backed off.

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

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Too late. I saw flashing red lights in the rear-view mirror.

Damnit. He must be after somebody else. I was only over the speed limit for a few seconds.

How could this be happening?

It was happening. A local town cop happened to be parked precisely where I began my acceleration run.

“Sorry, officer, I couldn’t resist,” I said. “I just got the car an hour ago…I had to see what she’d do.”

“Sir, do you know how fast you were going?”

“Maybe 60 or 70?”

“Seventy-two. In a 40-mph zone.” 

He took my license and disappeared into the police cruiser for a very long time.

When he came back, he said sternly, “Sir, I’m going to cut you a break this time. But from now on, don’t use the public roads to test out your car.”

And he handed me back my license.

Yes, it was a very good day–hopefully the first of many with my Tesla Model S.

Stay tuned.

David Noland is a Tesla Model S owner and freelance writer who lives north of New York City.


By David Noland

How You Can Buy a 2013 Tesla Model S Now, With No Waiting

2013 Tesla Model S

Good news for rich, impatient, picky Tesla Model S electric-car wannabes!

If you’re looking to buy right now–but can’t abide a car sullied by a few thousand miles of loaner-car duty under the recently announced buy-it-now program–Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] now offers a new but little-known option.

Yes, you can purchase a brand new, top-of-the-line Model S with no waiting.

Today, if you order an 85-kWh 2013 Tesla Model S Performance version through normal channels, you’re looking at a waiting time of about two months, according to the company’s website.

(The wait is closer to three months if you want a more prosaic standard 85-kWh or 60-kWh Model S.)

But Tesla has a few dozen lavishly-equipped Performance models available in stock, for immediate delivery. 

Some of these $110,000  “inventory cars” were either orphaned by buyers who couldn’t come up with the money once delivery day arrived.

Others were built as display cars for Tesla Stores, or to be used for other marketing purposes.

A small number of 85-kWh cars without the Performance package are also available, at lower prices, from inventory.

These cars are all new, with only a few break-in miles on the odometer. They carry a full new-car warranty.

The downside? You can’t pick and choose your options, and the specific paint/interior color combination you want may not be available.

All inventory cars have been preconfigured with 21-inch wheels, the Performance Plus handling package, the panoramic roof, the technology package, and a premium sound system.

All colors are available–including the long-awaited multicoat red.

Most interior and decor accent options are also available, although not necessarily in all combinations.

As they say, “Buy now, while supplies last!”

David Noland is a Tesla Model S owner and freelance writer who lives north of New York City.


By David Noland

2013 Tesla Model S ‘Performance Plus’ Package, Other Options, Added

2013 Tesla Model S

2013 Tesla Model S

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The 2013 Tesla Model S electric car wouldn’t be defined as a supercar–which is, more or less by custom, a two-seat sports car, not a large sedan.

But to take the luxury plug-in sedan “into supercar handling territory,” Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has announced a new “Performance Plus” suspension and handling option.

The package upgrades the shock absorbers, stabilizer bars, suspension bushings and fits new Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires on 21-inch wheels.

Per Tesla’s description, the new rear tires are not only 0.8 inches (20 mm) wider, they’re slightly staggered to improve acceleration on surfaces with marginal grip.

The $6,500 package requires the customer to order the 21-inch wheel option and, Tesla says, increases range 6 to 12 miles over the standard car with those wheels and improves the ride quality to boot.

Retrofit available too, mostly

Most of the hardware will also be offered to current Model S owners as a retrofit package, starting this summer.

That $13,000 upgrade includes the new upper and lower suspension arms, both fitted with the stiffer bushings, plus the new Michelin tires on the 21-inch wheels: 8.5 inches wide in the front, 9 inches in the back.

It does not, however, include the uprated dampers or the stabilizer bar.

Tesla says the retrofit provides “the majority of the handling benefits without requiring a full suspension removal and replacement, which would be far more costly.”

The company won’t sell the wider rear wheels and tires separately, it says, because their increased grip requires the stability provided by the revised suspension bushings.

Four other options added

Tesla announced details of the Performance Plus package on April 9, along with four additional options available to European buyers, as it prepares to offer the Model S in European markets.

Those options will likely be offered to U.S. buyers as well over time.

The Cold Weather Package adds an upgraded heater for the battery coolant to boost range and performance in the coldest of weather, along with an “improved defrost” grille, heaters in the cowl and the windshield washer nozzles, and inside, heated seats for the second row as well.

The Security Package adds an overhead intrusion sensor and an alarm siren with a backup battery.

The Park Assist Package installs bumper sensors front and rear, plus software to indicate on the instrument panel and audibly how close the Model S is to adjacent vehicles.

And the Lighting Package, included as standard in the Model S Signature Series, adds additional lighting in the “footwells, door jams [sic], door panels, and storage areas.”

Prices were not given for any of the additional packages, and none of them yet appears in the Model S online configurator.


By John Voelcker