One of the main barriers to car ownership these days—and especially among the Youths—isn’t so much the purchase price, but the cost of actually owning a car. Tesla’s second Master Plan looks like it’s aimed at changing that calculus, and it could mean more cars for everyone using solar power, ride-sharing and autonomy.
If you’re not a Youth and/or you haven’t owned a car, let me tell you a tale of woe and misery from my own life. I live in an apartment building, which has a parking garage within it. The building management company charges $250 per month just for a parking space. I also live in Brooklyn, a slice of the universe in which bumper cars is assumed to a traumatic and sadistic experience, one not meant to instill joy among children, but rather as a cautionary tale inspired by true life. Thus, insurance rates can be properly insane even if you’ve got a clean driving record, upwards of $150.
Add a car payment of, say, another $250 a month if you’re fancy and want to buy a new car that isn’t too expensive, but isn’t the cheapest, either.
So you’re looking at $650, every month, before you even take fuel and maintenance into consideration. And if you’re not making payments on something new and presumably reliable, add in repair costs for something older or older-ish.
As we’ve noted time and time again, youth car culture isn’t dead, it’s just different, and young people flocking to cities has been a part of that equation. And all the student loans we all have now don’t help at all, either. So if anyone could lower not even the purchase price of a car, but the ownership price of a car, it would go a long way to helping us all get behind the wheel.
Tesla might just be that “anyone.” At least if its second plan is to be believed.
I won’t bore you with all of the nitty-gritty details, because this really the bit you need to know from the plan:
- Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
- Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
- Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
- Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it
In case you aren’t putting those four dots together yourself, here’s how I think it’s supposed to work.
First, you’re supposed to have purchased solar panels for the roof of your home, conveniently enough from Tesla’s soon-to-be-subsidiary Solar City. The next step is that you’re supposed to have a big battery in your house to store all the energy from those panels, like the one conveniently enough sold by Tesla, known as the “Powerwall.”
Third, you need to have a car, preferably one with self-driving capability, like the one sold (once again, conveniently enough) by Tesla.
(Most of this is actually all been on Tesla’s website for years, and I don’t know why Tesla needed to make a big “Master Plan” announcement, but, shrug.)
The dream here is to pull into your home, fuel your car up with the gloriously free energy from the sun, and then when you’re not using your car yourself, you can essentially pimp it out (in the traditional sense, not in the Xzibit sense) to people who don’t have their own cars. If your car can drive itself, that’s even better, since it can drive itself up to whoever wants to borrow it. You can even charge them money for the privilege.
How much money is the question. For a base point, I looked at Zipcar, which charges $12.89 per hour to rent a BMW X1, a car that’s in the same price ballpark as the Tesla Model 3. I think it’s fair to assume that no, you won’t be renting your car out every single minute you’re not driving it, and Tesla’s a big company and Elon Musk has a lot of money, so let’s not be overly generous with them.
So for argument’s sake, let’s pretend that you’re renting your car out for two hours a day, three days per week. Six hours a week, four weeks a month, at 12.89 per hour comes out to a grand total of $309.36 a month you’d be getting back from your car.
Already, we’ve knocked that $650 per month ownership cost down to $340.64. That’s almost half the amount, and if you rent out your car more than those admittedly low figures, you could be doing even better. You might even make a profit.
Of course, nothing in life is ever so neat and tidy. A Tesla Model 3 will probably set you back anywhere from $25,000 to $55,000 to start, depending on your options. A Tesla Powerwall—which won’t go into full-rate production until 2017—will set you back around $3,000. And it won’t really help until either the price of solar energy falls, or our average electricity rates go up. Plus there’s a one-time charge of getting an electrician to install it all, which can’t be cheap.
And then there’s that increasing urbanization problem as well. I, for example, can’t install solar panels on the roof of my apartment as there is currently another apartment sitting on top of it. I imagine that’d also be a bit of an issue for other people who live in cities, which is where big apartment buildings tend to be. Though the self-driving thing will, hopefully, bring our insurance rates back to Earth.
All of this does sound great though, on balance and in theory. This seems like the best idea I’ve heard yet to reduce the day-to-day cost of car ownership. Now we just need to see if it’ll actually happen.