Studio711.com – Ben Martens

Electric Vehicles

Electric Vehicle Market Momentum

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

During the Super Bowl this year, there were seven car commercials and six of them featured at least one electric vehicle. It’s a giant land grab for anyone who wants to make a car. Here are some example stats:

  • In the last quarter of 2021, electric vehicles accounted for 10% of all new car sales in California and the Model Y and Model 3 were both in the top 5. The Model Y almost claimed the top spot for the best selling vehicle of any kind on California! There were 61,599 Camry’s sold and 60,394 Model Y’s.
  • Only 4% of cars sold in the United States in 2021 were electric but other countries are way ahead of us:
    • Norway: 86.2%
    • Sweeden: 45.0%
    • Germany: 26.0%
    • UK: 18.6%
    • China: 15.0%
  • Anecdotally, it is fun watching the uptake of electric vehicles around the Seattle area. We spot about one Tesla per minute as we drive around, but a lot of other electric vehicle brands are popping up too. I regularly spot Ford Mustang Mach E, Porsche Taycan, Volkswagen ID.4, and Hyundai Ioniq electric cars along with the more common ones like the Nissan Leaf and various hybrids.

The federal goal is to have 50% of all new passenger cars and light truck sales in 2030 be electric. Five years ago that might have sounded crazy, but now you kind of start to wonder who’s going to be willing to buy a new gas powered car 2030. Maybe 50% is a low estimate. At some point the value for gas engine cars is going to fall off a cliff so if you’re buying one, you’re resigning yourself to having no resale value and you’ll be paying a premium for keeping it running.

But we’re not there yet. Pretty much every car being sold today from any company is gas powered. Lots of things can happen to slow the uptake on electric vehicles too. One big sticking point is going to be the availability of battery material. Car companies can say they are bringing an EV to market, but actually producing them in quantity is another challenge. And even once you produce lots of them, there are plenty of challenges as Chevy is finding out with the Bolt. Chevy only sold 26 Bolts in the fourth quarter of 2021 because they were catching on fire and all of them recalled. Their sales total for the first quarter of 2022 is going to be 0 and they’re hoping to restart production in 2022.

This transition is not going to be easy. We will see which car companies survive and which new ones appear. If you look at the stock market, the pure EV companies are clearly the ones that people believe will have value going forward. I’ve written before about Tesla’s market cap being bigger than Ford, FM, Daimler, Fiat, Toyota, and VW combined, but since then, Rivian IPO’d and their market cap is roughly the same as most of those companies even though they’ve only shipped a couple thousand vehicles. Ford is even thinking about splitting off their EV business into a new company so that they aren’t dragged down by the slow death of the gasoline cars. The market clearly thinks that electric vehicles are the future.

It’s also worth noting that even if 50% of vehicles sold in 2030 might are electric, that doesn’t mean that 50% of ALL vehicles on the road will be electric. There will be gas powered cars around for decades and there will always be reasons why someone specifically needs a gas powered vehicle. It will just get more expensive and more niche to drive one. If you have a need or a desire to stick with gas vehicles, there will always be cars for you to buy. Just don’t expect that to be the norm.

As news about EVs rapidly gains momentum, it can feel like this is just a fad or the latest craze, but this is a movement that has been brewing for decades. Rather than being bump in the road, I think we’re experiencing a tipping point in the market.

Tesla Stock and Charging Network

Welcome to Tesla Tuesday!

Tesla stock is a wild ride. My second post in this series was about buying one share of Tesla stock right before the biggest market cap growth in the history of capitalism. It was fun to watch my little share bounce around on the wild seas of Wall Street, but I set a sell order for $0.25 more than my purchase price. My little experiment was just for fun and I didn’t actually want to lose any money. I guess I should have sold when it was up $300-400 because my sell order triggered last week. In fairness, the total market index fund that I prefer was also back down to around the same point as when I bought the Tesla share, but I’d rather have my money there long term anyway. So with that, I’m out of the Tesla stock game. That means no more disclaimer on my posts going forward.

In other news, it has been interesting to watch other car makers wake up to the EV market since we ordered our Tesla last fall. Ford appears to be leading the domestic pack and VW has been doing well in Europe for a couple years. Tesla has a big head start though and one of their key advantages is their charging network. Most of the time we’ll be charging at home, but if we go on a road trip, I don’t want to be nervous about charging. A global engineering accounting firm did a test of EV charging networks and basically concluded that if you have a Tesla, they are hands down the winners, but since they aren’t open to all cars from all manufacturers, they lost out in total score to the Electrify America network. (source data) The compatibility part is interesting from a business perspective, but from an ownership perspective, this report makes me feel good about our decision. There are plenty of other comparisons showing the impressive reliability of the Tesla network and I mentioned this in my original post about why we chose Tesla. The market is going to look very different by the time we’re ready to by another vehicle so who knows what we will choose at that point.

Tesla Road

This edition of Tesla Tuesday will be a short one, but as I perused the various Tesla news sources, this post from teslerati.com about the road leading to Tesla’s new Texas factory caught my eye:

Changing the name to Tesla Road makes sense, but did you see the old name for the road? Harold Green Road! I’ve been working my way slowly through the entire Red Green catalog, so I immediately wondered if the road was actually named for Red’s nephew on the show. Nope. There was a local dairy farmer with the same name. But we can dream right?

Disclaimer: I own Tesla stock

Tesla Megapacks

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

One of Tesla’s strengths is their battery technology. Companies have tried to make EVs for decades, but batteries were always the sticking point. Now that we have crossed an inflection point with the batteries, the EV revolution has begun. But it turns out that there other great uses for that same battery technology too.

A recent video from Wendover Productions does a great job of explaining the complexities of the electrical grid, but a quick summary is that today even though we have more renewable energy in use, things like wind and solar rely on natural phenomenon and make it difficult to match demand. So we rely on fossil fuel “peaker plants” that fire up quickly when demand is high. A more ideal solution would be to store energy, but that’s a challenge. This is where Tesla comes in.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhxo2oXRiio

Tesla provides a solution called “Megapacks“. These are effectively giant installations of their batteries that act as buffer for the electrical grid. Some of their installations provide over 1 GWh which is enough to power all the homes in San Francisco for 6 hours. So these projects aren’t generally going to power an entire city by themselves, but used in conjunction with other types of power, it can be that extra buffer under heavy load or when a natural disaster hits.

It doesn’t stop with giant installations though. Every time the power flickers at my house, I wish I had a Tesla PowerWall. These batteries sit on the wall of your house and are generally used in conjunction with a solar installation on your roof. If you have a lot of people in your area with these batteries, you effectively have a distributed Megapack. So Tesla is getting into the business of providing virtual power plants. Each homeowner can feed small amounts of electricity from their batteries back into the grid and get paid for it.

Electric vehicle batteries last a very long time. One Tesla Model S owner is closing in on 1 million miles with only one battery replacement (covered under warranty). But those batteries do wear out eventually. While they might not be up to the task of charging and discharging every day to move a car around, they’re still great for electrical grid use. There was a recent story about someone taking a battery out of a wrecked Tesla and using it in his house for 4 years.

When I read these stories, it’s hard not to think back to battery powered toys of the 80s. Fresh batteries would go into a tiny little device and wear out seemingly immediately. Dad got good at wiring power adapter jacks into all of our battery powered toys to avoid endlessly buying new batteries and we got good at figuring out how to adjust the wall wart to produce the right voltage for whatever we were playing with at the time. Battery tech has come so far that we’re now able to power hundreds or thousands of homes with it for hours at a time. it opens up so many interesting opportunities!

Disclaimer: I own Tesla stock.

Driver Profile and Stats

Happy Tesla Tuesday!

One of the features we really enjoy on our Escape are the driver memory buttons. We both drive the car fairly often and we are very different sizes. Hitting the memory button automatically adjusts the side mirrors and the seat. Since we use it so often, I’m very excited for driver profiles in a Tesla. When you get in, you select your profile and it will not only store the mirror and seat position but also the steering wheel position and countless other things like mirror auto fold, cruise follow distance, acceleration mode, steering mode (comfort/normal/sport), stopping mode (creep/roll/hold), seat heat, walk away door locks, navigation settings, temperature, air vent direction, and much more. Now these settings are also getting synced up to the cloud so even if you rent a Tesla, you can apply all your profile settings!

If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you know that one of my criteria whenever I buy a new gadget is whether or not it has an API that I can connect to. I want to have access to all my data! Today I have apps running that collect weights from our digital scale, temperatures and runtime from our thermostat, runtimes from our irrigation controller, the list of beers I’ve tried, how much water our house uses by the minute, how much power we use by the day, and a few other things. I used to log every trip we took in our cars too before the service that I was using died. So when I looked into an API for Tesla, I got excited.

Tesla doesn’t officially offer an API but there’s obviously one available since you connect to the car with your phone. There are a few popular services which let you use that API to get nearly endless amounts of data from your car. I’ll probably end up using TeslaMate but TeslaFi is an option if you don’t want to host it yourself. These services pull down all the data from the API and store it for you to generate even more charts than what the Tesla gives you by default. This YouTube video demos the capabilities early in the video and then goes into information about setting it up. He demos it in the browser inside the car but you could view the info from anywhere. Imagine having a log of everywhere you drove, how much energy you used on each trip, and details like how long the seat heaters were used on each trip.

Pretty much everything in a Tesla is connected into the computer. Even opening the glove box requires a button press on the screen. At first that might seem unnecessary, but when you go that route, it opens up a ton of new capabilities. For example, now you can set up a pin code that must be entered to open your glove box. Or instead of just having a button to retract your mirrors, because it’s hooked into that central computer, you can tell the Tesla to automatically fold your mirrors in or out as you approach or leave your home. The same is true for your garage door opener (if you add the Homelink accessory.) There’s a pedestrian warning speaker on the outside of the car, but you can play Spotify music through it while you’re washing the car. And since all of this stuff is controlled by a computer, you can do a lot of these things from the app on your phone too.

The phone isn’t just for running the app though. It can also serve as the key to get into your car. It connects to your car via Bluetooth as you walk up, unlocks the car, and lets you start driving. Just put your foot on the brake to “start” the car and you’re off! It takes “keyless entry” to a new level. There isn’t even a key! (There’s also a card you can keep in your wallet as a backup or you can even purchase a fob if you really want one.)

So yes, some of the scenarios are silly, but I love the open world of possibilities. Instead of trying to predict every button or feature that needs to be added, everything gets plugged into the central computer. If users want some new integration between components, it can be added in software and blasted out to everyone’s car automatically.

Disclaimer: I own Tesla stock.

Range Anxiety

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday! Let’s talk about range anxiety. It’s the most common topic when people hear that we’re buying an electric car. “What happens when you run out of battery?” When someone asks me that, I usually ask “When was the last time you ran out of gas?” And that can be followed up with “Would you have run out of gas if your car was magically filled up every morning when you woke up?”

Everything in the car is built to help ensure that you never run out of battery. If you set your destination, you’ll be automatically routed to chargers along the way if you’re even close to not making it. And if you ignore the warnings, the car will become increasingly annoying at reminding you that you’re making bad choices. Pretty much the only way you can run out of battery is to do it on purpose.

But ok, let’s assume that you are somehow out for a drive and you magically end up with no battery. Then what? The first step is to call Tesla Roadside Assistance. If it was a car issue, they’ll take care of you, and if it was your own mistake, they’ll still help you but you’ll end up paying the bill. The likely response is that your car will get put on a flatbed and towed to a charger. After a few minutes at the charger, the car can be unloaded and you’re on your way.

When our Escape had a dead battery in our garage, we had to get towed to the dealer and I realized that I didn’t know how to get it out of the garage onto the truck. It’s a keyless ignition system so how do I turn on the ignition to put it in neutral? I finally found a “brake shift interlock” that solved the problem. There’s a similar procedure for a Tesla. You need to charge up the 12v battery enough to power the screen so you can put it in tow mode. Then it can be pulled up onto the flatbed. There’s a procedure for getting into the frunk mechanically and getting to the 12v battery charge points.

EVs can generally be charged by generators too as long as they are a nicer generator that puts out a clean sine wave. You probably just need a few miles of charge to get to a real charger. As EVs become more common, there will be more roadside assistance vehicles driving around with this option.

So sure, it could theoretically happen. I could theoretically run out of gas too, but I don’t worry about that. If range anxiety was a real thing, I doubt that all four of Teslas cars would be in Consumer Reports’s list of the 10 most satisfying cars (and three of the top 4 spots are Teslas!) Want range anxiety to go away? Buy an EV.

Disclaimer: I own Tesla stock.

Tesla Autopilot

Our upcoming Model Y, like all Teslas, come with some self-driving features but others are optional. The term “Autopilot” has a lot of features that may or may not be included with any given Tesla so in this post, I’ll try to demystify what they mean.

All Teslas come with Traffic Aware Cruise Control. This is very similar to what is found on a lot of other cars, though it’s fancier than cars that I’ve owned. When you engage cruise control, it will attempt to drive at the speed you’ve set. The max speed can be easily adjusted with the thumb scroll on the right side of the steering wheel. If a car in front of you is going slower than the max speed, it will follow at whatever distance you’ve configured. You can also configure the cruise control to always be set to X mph over the speed limit or X% over the speed limit. The cruise control will automatically adjust to the current speed limits. The car will automatically begin to slow down for situations like exit ramps (it uses the average speed of cars that have gone before you) or if someone pulls out in front of you. It will even bring you to a complete stop if the car in front of you stops. If you’re following a slow vehicle and you use your turn signal to switch lanes, the car will automatically speed up to your desired speed if no one is in front of you. I use cruise control a lot but frequently end up disengaging it to deal with traffic so I think I’m really going to enjoy this feature.

All Teslas also come with Autosteer. After the cruise control is engaged by clicking down on the right stalk, clicking down again will enable autosteer. Autosteer is recommended to be used on highways and interstates, but it can be enabled on almost all roads. This is a differentiator from systems like “Blue Cruise” which only work on specific roads. The autosteer system does what it sounds like: it steers the vehicle for you. We tried this out on our test drive and it was creepy and awesome at the same time. You must keep your hand on the wheel at all times and give it a little tug every 30 seconds or so to let it know that you’re still paying attention. If you really drive hands off and ignore what’s going on, you’ll get progressively stronger warnings until the system disables itself. (Drunk drivers have found themselves pulled over on the side of the road automatically.) The system isn’t perfect but from reading reviews, people almost unanimously agree that it reduces stress especially on long drives. You don’t realize how much effort it takes to just stay in your lane for hours at a time until you don’t have to do it anymore. I don’t know how much use we’ll get out of this feature around town, but it makes me excited to take a road trip and let the car handle a lot of the driving for me.

There are other features like Autopark, Lane Assist and Collision Avoidance Assist which have multiple options that can be configured. For example, maybe I just want a chime if I’m drifting out of my lane in most cases, but if I’m drifting into oncoming traffic and a collision is imminent than take over and get me back into my lane.

The next big features is commonly referred to as the Full Self Driving (FSD) beta but it includes things like Navigate on Autopilot, Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control, and Smart Summon. These features are not enabled by default and currently cost $10,000 extra. Smart Summon tells your Tesla to move to your location. It will exit its parking spot and come to you. I could see this being a fun party trick but the car moves too slowly or gets too confused in busy parking lots to be useful. The first two are the ones that are making all the news. With these features, you can get in your car, pick a destination, and let your car drive you there. You are still responsible and need to have your hands on the wheel but it will change lanes, make turns, and stop for traffic signals. The $10,000 price tag is hefty and most buyers do not opt for it, but Tesla is now offering a $200/month subscription service to temporarily enable them. This works because all the cars have the required hardware in them.

The Full Self Driving feature is still in beta and honestly, it’s probably a poor choice of name. This is generally considered to be a Level 2 self driving feature. The levels range from 0-5 and at level 2, there’s still a lot of responsibility on the driver. Tesla is furiously working to move up the levels, but for now “full self driving” is aspirational.

Waymo is one of the leaders in this space. They’re probably a level 4. If you’re in Phoenix, you can call a Waymo self-driving taxi to your location, get in the back seat, and then proceed to your destination with no human driver. (If you’re intrigued by this idea, check out Malcom Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast episode titled I Love You Waymo.) It’s only level 4 because it works in a ring fenced area of Phoenix. You can’t tell it to drive you across the state, but like Tesla, they’re working hard to improve.

The tech side of this is amazing. Tesla has billions of hours of driving footage form their cars and they use this to train their models over and over again. They’re building their own supercomputers that specialize in these types of computations and employ armies of the smartest AI engineers. They held an impressive AI Day event in August and you can either watch the full event or get a 19 minute version of it.

While the tech and the enormous amounts of computing power are exciting to me, I’m also excited about the safety aspect. While it’s uncomfortable, the safety records of these systems already put humans to shame. 80-90% of people think they are an above average driver so it’s no surprise that people think they’ll drive better than a computer, but if you’re in that camp, watch that AI day footage and tell me that you’re processing that much information about your environment every second without a single lapse of attention. With so many Teslas on the road, there is already plenty of data to show how much safer it is to let computers drive. As of April the NHTSA says there is an accident every 484,000 miles, but if you’re driving a Tesla with Autopilot engaged, there’s only an accident every 4,190,000 miles. It’s not a totally fair comparison because there are some situations where Autopilot won’t engage, but still, they are approaching 10x better safety than humans. It doesn’t stop there though. Tesla is continuously improving and pushing out software updates on a regular basis to all the cars. They track the accident rates and it keeps going down as they improve. The computers have a lot of hubris to overcome, but the data is on their side.

So while it seems futuristic to have a car steering for you, the future is now… and Tesla has been doing it since 2015. With the rate at which they are progressing, it’s not hard to imagine that by the time I’m retired and too old to drive safely, I won’t have to drive at all, but I’ll still be able to get around.

Disclaimer: I own Tesla stock.

Tesla Home Charging

Before we decided to order the Model Y, I spent a lot of time researching the charging options to understand what kind of work would need to be done in our garage.

Teslas come with a mobile charger which fits in a small bag. It has a standard 110v plug adapter and a 20 foot cable. On the Model Y, that’s good for about ~3 hours of range per hour. That’s not something that you can rely on for regular usage, but in a pinch, you could use it to get enough juice to make it to a regular charging station.

When we had the transfer switch installed for our generator, I had the electrician add a 220v 20 amp breaker for the table saw. That circuit will give us ~14 miles of range per hour. That’s probably the minimum I would be comfortable with, but it’s easily a workable situation. Our typical daily usage will be around 80 miles per day and we are done driving around 4pm in the afternoon. So by 10pm we would have already recovered what we used during the day. My current plan is to install the NEMA 6-20 receptacle between two of the garage doors and have a hanger there for the cord. The only downside to this plan is that it will be on the same circuit as the table saw. Ideally the Tesla would have a dedicated circuit, but for now, my plan is to disconnect the charger when I’m woodworking.

If that gets annoying, the next option is to have an electrician come out and install a subpanel. Our current panel is so full that we cannot fit another 220 breaker. The subpanel would give me room to add a 50amp line with a NEMA 14-50 receptacle. That would bump us up to 29 miles of charging per hour.

It’s tempting to do the subpanel now. 1) There are some federal and Washington state tax breaks for installing home charging equipment. 2) It opens up the possibility of some other things I want to add to our panel like a whole house surge protector and per circuit usage monitoring. 3) It would be good to have at resale time. But for now it’s a chunk of money that can wait until we have the Tesla in the garage and decide that we need it.

There’s one other home charging option and that is the Tesla Wall Connector. It’s a dedicated Tesla charger and, when connected to a 60amp circuit, it will provide 42 miles of charging to the Model Y per hour. That charger maxes out at about 48-kW. For comparison, a Tesla super charger peaks at 250-kW which results in 150 miles of range in about 15 minutes. If we somehow forget to charge up the car and don’t have enough juice to get through our day, we’re less than 3 miles from the nearest supercharger.

So for today, all I’ve done is order the NEMA 6-20 charge adapter. They have been out of stock for months but recently became available. I ordered one already to make sure I’m not stuck when the Model Y finally arrives. I will need to run some cable and add the new receptacle too but that will be a fun project as we prepare for the arrival of our new car next summer.

Disclaimer: I own Tesla stock.

Tesla Stock

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday! At the bottom of my incredibly long post about why we ordered a Model Y, I included the disclaimer that I own Tesla stock. One share to be specific. Buying individual stocks is a no-no for me. It’s a losing game. (If it was possible to be good at it, the game wouldn’t work.) But it felt like if we were going to own one of their cars, it would be fun to own a share of their stock. It’s a lot less dorky than buying a hat.

But as it turns out, through a lot of luck, I purchased the stock right before it went on the biggest run in the history of the stock market. (The green dot below is where I purchased.) Fortune.com did an article about how in 12 trading days, Tesla added more market cap than any other company in the history of capital markets. I bought the stock on October 15 and in the next 12 days, Tesla’s stock went up over 45%. The first jump came after they announced their Q3 earnings. Then a few days later Hertz announced that they were purchasing 100,000 Teslas for its rental fleet. That will mean Teslas make up 20% of their entire fleet. And all of those Teslas will be purchased at full price just like the rest of us. Yesterday it went back down because Elon announced that he’s selling a chunk of his stock either as some combination of freeing up capital to pay some of his taxes or to appease people who think rich people don’t pay enough.

The percentage increase isn’t a record, but Tesla was already so highly valued that this represented almost a $400 BILLION increase in the market value of their company. Tesla is now worth more than a trillion dollars making it one of 7 companies in the trillion dollar club.

For comparison, let’s look at the market value of some other car companies you might have heard of:

  • Ford: $77 billion
  • General Motors: $85 billion
  • Daimler: $93 billion
  • Fiat Chrysler: $64 billion
  • Toyota: $292 billion
  • Volkswagen: $87 billion

Tesla is at $1.15 TRILLION. That’s almost twice as much as all those other car companies combined.

Is it justified? Who knows. They keep raising prices and the order list keeps getting longer. They’re building out new factories, securing lithium deals in huge quantities to make batteries, and opening up their charging network to the world. Yes, their valuation seems very high right now, and I expect that at least some of the other car companies will eventually catch up, but they’ve got a long way to go to catch Tesla and it’s not like Tesla is resting on their laurels.

This feels like the time I walked into a casino, put $20 on red, won, and then walked out with my winnings… except I haven’t walked out yet.

Disclaimer: I own TSLA stock. Nothing that I say should be taken as stock advice. Do your own research.

Federal EV Tax Credit?

Welcome to Tesla Tuesday! We’ll see how long the series last but there are a few things that might be interesting to share so I’ll put them up on Tuesdays.

Last Tuesday was the very long post about our rationale for ordering a Model Y. One thing that wasn’t in there was any mention of federal tax incentives. D.C. has been kicking around so many different options for most of this calendar year, that we made our purchase assuming that there won’t be any savings when we take delivery. Teslas don’t qualify for any of the current federal tax credits because Tesla has sold too many vehicles. The only thing we get here in Washington state is no sales tax on the labor for installing chargers in our homes.

Some of the variables in the proposals are caps on the MSRP of the vehicle, caps on the salary of the purchaser, whether or not unions were involved in the assembly of the vehicle, how much of it is made in America, how many EVs the company has sold previously, and differences in how the money is given back (tax credit, point of sale, etc.) These things change dramatically with every iteration so I don’t get too invested in any of them, but the current bill would give us between $7,500 or $10,000 back as a tax credit. It’s notable that this is currently worded as a non-refundable tax credit which means that if your tax bill is less than the credit, you don’t get the difference back in cash.

This whole thing is obviously fraught with politics. Plenty of union lobbyists are working to keep Tesla from getting any benefit. Additionally, each side of the aisle has their own views on government spending combined with thoughts about whether an incentive like this actually drives EV adoption and whether or not that’s good for the environment and/or for our citizens. I have my own thoughts about how the government takes my money and uses it, but whether I would personally vote for it or not, you can bet that if they’re handing out money, I will be taking advantage of it. Until then, I’m not holding my breath and I’m prepared to pay the number on the screen when we clicked Order.

Disclaimer: I own Tesla stock.