So You want to Build a Tesla Killer (or, My Tesla Model 3 Has Some Quirks)Published:
I’ve had my Telsa Model 3, dual motor, for a year. It’s a great car, and one of the best cars I’ve ever owned. The thing with the Tesla Model 3 is that, because it’s so groundbreaking, it’s hard to find honest discussions about its quirks. Specifically, discussing Tesla and the Model 3’s quirks shows what other automakers can do to gain marketshare back.
Disclaimer: I own a small amount of Tesla stock. I’m a bit of a Tesla fanboy, in addition to my Model 3, I have a Powerwall. And, yes, as a Tesla stock owner, I’d like to see the stock go up.
What Tesla got Right
Before I get into the quirks, it’s important to discuss what Tesla got right. Specifically, I’m going to focus on the details that I like.
Most coverage of the car discusses its performance, so there’s no need to give its performance a lot of space. It’s worth pointing out that the instant torque means that it’s effortless to pass, make left turns, pull into heavy traffic, and merge in tight situations.
The Tesla Model 3, dual motor, is fast enough, handles well enough, and has good enough traction, for all situations on public roads. I can’t say that about any other car that I’ve driven. Our older Leaf came close with its instant torque, but it had some issues with snow. The Model 3 sets a new standard for performance that all automakers will need to meet.
Another obvious detail is range. My Model 3 can go over 300 miles on a charge. This is a touchy subject, because batteries are the most expensive, and heaviest, part of an electric car, and increasing range directly increases cost and weight.
The computer screen in the Model 3 is the easiest car computer I’ve ever used. Every option is intuitively laid out and easy to find. I hope other auto manufacturers copy Tesla’s interface. Furthermore, the general lack of physical buttons leaves the rest of the interior neat and simple.
A minor detail I like is the door handles. I really like the way they’re flush with the doors until I open them. In contrast, I hate the door handles on the Model S. (The Model S’s door handles retract in a non-intuitive way.)
The phone key means that I no longer carry keys around!
The sound system is crystal-clear at all speeds. It also has a very powerful matrix surround-sound processor, so music mixed for surround sound comes from all directions.
The Supercharger network means that I’m able to take my Model 3 on road trips, instead of using my gas car. On one road trip, I charged while I bought groceries, and while I ate lunch. This saved me an additional stop for gas.
Autopilot is an impressive beginning for self-driving cars. One thing many people misunderstand is that it’s more like cruise control and the driver must constantly watch the road. A lot of the reported “problems” with Autopilot are just people avoiding responsibility for not paying attention.
Finally, and I shouldn’t have to say this: It’s not a hybrid. I don’t like handling gas, maintaining a gas motor, the vibrations that come from them, and the noise.
So what are the Quirks of the Tesla Model 3?
In the US, Tesla uses a non-standard charging connector. The Model 3 comes with a dongle for plugging into a standard car charger (J-1227) for 120V or 240V charging. J-1227 and is used on all electric cars and plugin hybrids sold in the US, except for Tesla.
Charging with a J-1227 connector on a 120V or 240V electrical supply can take many hours to fully recharge. Thus, it’s only useful for charging while parked for a long time, such as overnight, at work, or at a destination like an amusement park.
In the US, high-speed DC charging is available, but the story is similar to VHS versus Betamax. There are three high-speed charging standards available in the US: Chademo, CCS, and Tesla’s proprietary Supercharger. Tesla offers an adapter to plug into a Chademo charger, but none for CCS. Without going into much detail, CCS is going to win, Chademo will quickly be forgotten, and everyone will laugh at Tesla’s “Betamax” Supercharger network.
Furthermore: CCS is required by law in the EU, and Tesla committed to CCS in the EU. They are converting their EU Superchargers to CCS, and the EU version of the Model 3 uses a CCS connector without a dongle. I’d happily convert my Model 3 to J-1227 + CCS, and only have to use a dongle for the older Superchargers without CCS.
The automatic windshield wipers work very poorly and are a safety hazard. I honestly don’t understand this. My automatic windshield wipers work flawlessly in my other car. Windshield wipers are a safety feature, yet overriding the automatic windshield wipers is dangerous in the Model 3 because it must be done via the touchscreen instead of by touch on a stalk behind the steering wheel.
When I brought the car in for service, they (Tesla Service) refused to fix the problem with the windshield wipers. Tesla needs to do fix its automatic windshield wipers, even if it has to use a different mechanism for detecting when to run the wipers.
(I suspect the problem is that the windshield wipers are triggered by a video camera placed at the top of the windshield. Less water lands where the camera is, then on the rest of the windshield.)
The glass roof is a poor compromise and horrible execution. There is no pushbutton shade that is common in other luxury cars, instead, the shade is manually installed, which is an extremely awkward process. When I want the true sunroof experience, the glass roof is too tinted to really enjoy. There are some ways to fix this:
- Make the glass roof completely optional. Perhaps the car will be cheaper, and lighter with a metal roof?
- Include a power / pushbutton shade
- Make tinting optional
The car needs a small speedometer in the normal location. Volkswagon’s ID3 concept car, and the Mustang Mach E do this perfectly. Both Ford and Volkswagon copied the large center screen and low dash from the Model 3, and then placed a mobile phone sized display where the traditional speedometer goes.
My phone disconnects from the car when I start driving, requiring that I manually reconnect it. Like the automatic windshield wipers, Tesla Service refuses to fix this problem.
The trunk is very high, resulting in poor visibility out the rear window. Tesla allows viewing through the giant backup camera screen while driving, but the picture is too distorted to clearly see what kind of car is following you.
Advanced autopilot features, like lane change and navigate on Autopilot, are extremely glitchy. At times, autopilot lane change swerves like a drunk driver. When driving with autopilot, the driver really must pay close attention and be ready to take over at any time.
Autopilot needs active driver monitoring, because it is too easy to get distracted by a phone or scenery, or fall asleep. In a normal car, when a driver gets distracted, the gradual drifting onto lane bumps and rumble strips act as a gentle reminder to pay attention. Autopilot rarely never hits a rumble strip or lane bumps.
Autopilot works poorly on winter roads that splash up lots of dirt and muck onto the car.
In my subjective judgement, the turning radius is larger than other cars I’ve owned.
What do avoid when building a Tesla Killer
When I think of a Tesla Killer, it’s not a “better Tesla,” it’s an entire lineup of electric cars that have wider mass market appeal than Tesla’s lineup. A “Tesla Killer” requires understanding what the general consumer wants in a car, thus beating Tesla on the entire car, not on a specific detail. Your entire electric car lineup needs to be on-par with every advantage that a Tesla has, and then improve over all of Tesla’s quirks. Only then will you have a true Tesla Killer.
Don’t get sidetracked by trying to build a car that’s faster than the Tesla. I very rarely drive the car as fast as it can go, and something that’s 90% as fast is still fast enough for me. Remember, most people don’t set out to buy the fastest car they can buy. If your car is faster then the Tesla, but overall sucks, no one is going to buy it.
Another critical thing, when building a Tesla Killer, is to make sure your electric car offers at least 250 miles of range. Yes, the average American might only drive 20-30 miles a day, but the average American also buys cars to take on long road trips. Short range electric cars were a minimum viable product for enthusiasts and early adopters. I suspect that there is a market for cars with less than 250 miles of range, but they may be such a niche that they are only economically viable as the base model.
Some people passionately argue that the average person drives about 30 miles a day, and thus doesn’t need an electric car with a lot of range. This is a poor understanding of how people use cars. The market spoke very loudly, and short range electric cars do not sell. (Look at how the Leaf lost marketshare to the Bolt and entry-level Model 3.) A successful electric car must offer a minimum of 250 miles of range. At this point, there are no model lineups that variants above and below 250 miles of range. Offering both a normal (250 miles) range, and a low (125 miles) range version of an electric car might make the appealing to fleet use.
Do not pretend that a plugin hybrid, range extender, or a hydrogen car is an electric car. It means that you fundamentally misunderstand the advantages of an electric car, and why people buy them. At this point, I see buying fuel, and oil changes, as an outdated chore. This is no different than changing tubes in old TVs, or buying CDs instead of streaming music.
In the EV world, I wake up with a full charge, or get a full charge on a road trip when I stop for a meal or bathroom break. If I need to, I’ll charge while on an errand, like buying groceries, or in the parking lot at a destination. Gasoline or hydrogen mean that I still need to go out of my way to buy fuel. It’s only a matter of time before the general public understands charging while parked is easier than buying fuel at a filling station.
Furthermore, if you want to beat Tesla, you will need to do a better job at educating the general public about things like charging while buying groceries instead of making a separate stop to buy gas.
(In the US) Don’t make me put up with a traditional auto dealer. Everyone knows the American dealer system is just supports useless middlemen who don’t add any value. (The arguments about comparison shopping among multiple dealers for the same manufacturer are absurd.)
Worth noting: A complicated entertainment system won’t make me switch from Tesla. My other car has a very nice entertainment system, but it’s so glitchy I wish I just bought my kids tablets.
In Summary, the Tesla Model 3 is one of the best cars on the market today. Because of its drivetrain, the Tesla Model 3 sets the bar high for electric vehicles. The way to beat the car is to be on-par with its drivetrain and general ease-of-use; and then improve on its numerous quirks. A quick, well-handling electric car that also has a standard charger, correctly functioning windshield wipers, normal roof, and a normal speedometer will stand out in this new market.