Polarizing as it is, Tesla is the dominant name in the EV conversation stateside. It was early to the full EV market, the Supercharger network has helped buyers realize long-distance electric car travel is at the very least coming (and in many cases, it’s here already), and the range and power of its cars is consistently at the top end of offerings in the U.S. Today’s featured EV reader, David, has owned Teslas since the very early days, starting with the Roadster. His ownership experience has been over a long enough period to give an interesting and well-rounded take on the cars.
Welcome to EV Ownership Stories! Every week, we’ll be posting an interview with an owner of an electric vehicle. We’re here to show that people have been living with EVs for longer than you’d think, in stranger places than you’d imagine. If you’d like to be featured, instructions are at the bottom of the article.
David’s Tesla ownership experience started with the Roadster. The original Tesla Roadster was the first mass-produced road car in America to use a lithium-ion battery pack (back in 2008!) and was based on the Lotus Elise platform. (We did get some Li-ion Nissans earlier, but only in very limited numbers. -ed.) It came in the infancy of the company as a legitimate manufacturer, and build numbers were fairly low - only a bit over 2,400 were ever produced. However, it proved itself to be a serious contender with nearly 250 miles of range and a sub-four-second 0-60 time, both unheard of for electric cars in the late aughts. Roadsters have already solidified their place as a cult classic a mere thirteen years from their introduction. To further solidify its place in the collective psyche, it was also the first production car to leave the planet and complete an orbit of the sun, in 2019, when SpaceX launched Elon Musk’s personal car as a test payload for the Falcon Heavy rocket system.
Back on terra firma, David purchased his Roadster in 2010, a few years after introduction, and when it was very unclear if the company would be sticking around for much longer, as he told me:
When I bought the Roadster, I had very little hope for Tesla’s long term survival but I figured a lot of the owners were engineers like myself (or “well connected people”), so even if the company folded, we could figure out how to keep our cars on the road.
The novel powertrain, with zero RPM torque and a sales experience that promised no haggling and no pushy salespeople, drove him to consider it. David lives in the greater Bay Area in California, so he rarely needed the full range offered by the Roadster, but it allowed him to easily daily drive the sporty two-door with minimal issues. Unfortunately, around 2013, he and his wife needed to replace the two-seater with a more practical vehicle. Their other car at the time was a Fiat 500, which didn’t offer much more usable space. Additionally, health issues were making the low-slung Roadster more of an issue on a daily basis, which necessitated a more standard ride height and ingress experience.
At the time in the U.S., the only serious contenders in the EV space were the Nissan Leaf, and the Tesla Model S. As David explained to me, the lack of a solid battery management strategy for the early first-generation Leafs (and the associated range and power degradation that comes with that) made him only seriously consider the Tesla. As a Roadster buyer, he was eligible to buy one of the first Model S’s off the line, but he wasn’t still sold on the longevity — or build quality — of the company’s cars. He opted to wait a few months to make the trade for his new sedan, hoping that some of the kinks in the early production process would be worked out.
When he did pull the trigger on his Model S, it was still extremely early in the run. Customer deliveries started in July 2012, and David’s was delivered in March 2013, directly from the Fremont, CA factory. The VIN dates it as one of the first 6,000 delivered. His early model was built at a time when there were only two options for the Model S. There was the rear-wheel-drive P85 performance package, with larger wheels, a larger battery bank, and a more powerful motor, and the base model 60D. Because the range of the stock model was plenty for him with well over 200 miles on a single charge, he opted for the more comfortable (and less expensive) 60D.
Since then, he’s been pleased with the experience overall. Like his Roadster, it’s never left him stranded, and all the major mechanical components have held up well to daily driving, but he has experienced a medley of unfortunate build quality issues that have plagued Tesla since its inception:
It has not been smooth sailing ... There were several recalls including one for potentially incorrectly torqued safety belt anchors. The car developed a “clunk” when backing out of my driveway and turning into the street: the bolts holding the steering rack had come loose! The main screen started “leaking:” the adhesive holding the various layers that make up the touch panel started melting in the sun and oozing at the bottom creating quite the sticky mess. This also created shadows throughout the screen. It was replaced under warranty. The closest I ever came to being stranded was when the air conditioning system failed as it not only cools the cabin but also the battery pack. I was able to get it fixed under warranty without drama. Finally, while the car was at a Tesla service center for one of these issues, one of the retractable door handles failed.
He still, overall, considers himself fairly lucky with his ownership experience, given some of the issues that have plagued Tesla owners, especially early adopters. His long-distance use of the car has been limited — due to decreasing needs for a daily driver over the past decade, he’s only put 54,000 miles on his Model S — but he has used the Supercharger network a few times for long-distance trips, and never felt limited by it. His normal home charging is on a spare dryer outlet in his garage, which has been more than sufficient for his short trips around the Bay. In his longer excursions, he finds the range estimates are right on the money for his driving style (around 200 miles on a full charge).
Because of the variety of build issues he’s faced, though, and the recent focus of the company on self-driving and other driver aids versus a more driver-oriented center of attention, when it does come time to replace the Model S, he’s open to considering alternatives. The biggest day-to-day complaint he’s had has been the massive center screen that works as a phenomenal road map but also makes accessibility to HVAC controls challenging while driving, something I’ve wondered about myself when I’ve driven a Model 3 in the past. It’s unfortunate to know that doesn’t get easier to use as the years of ownership tick by. His words on his next car?
I hope that in the next few years the choice of EVs will increase, including some that focus on the driver as opposed to being self-driving entertainment systems on wheels. I’m not looking for a “driver focused sports car” but rather a comfortable car that I can control in a direct and intuitive way. There might be a classic car EV conversion in my future...
Those I definitely have experience with, and I can vouch for them being plenty driver-focused when done right. I’d certainly recommend one if the budget and the range constraints seem to fit the bill, and for David, they definitely should! Thank you so much for sharing your experience over the years with Tesla, it’s an interesting perspective about the biggest player in the EV space that I enjoyed writing about.
We’d love to hear from more readers about their EVs, modern or classic, factory or otherwise.
What car do you own? (If you owned a car in the past, let us know what years!)
Where do you live with it?
How and where do you charge it?
How was buying it?
How long have you had it?
How has it lived up to your expectations?
A photo of your car
If you want to be interviewed, please let us know an email with an re: EV Ownership Stories to tscott at jalopnik dot com!