This may come as something of a shock, but Iâ€™m about to spend $60k on a car, the Tesla Model 3. There are some good reasons not to, the most obvious being the eye-popping price tag. Itâ€™s also a fair question as to whether or not cars are the future of transportation. (In big cities the answer is a resounding, â€œNo, theyâ€™re not.â€ The future there is ebikes, electric scooters, Segaways, and the like.)
Still, I have five major reasons to head down this path, and I thought it might be illuminating for some to hear what they are. Environment, Safety, and Technology are three obvious categories where Tesla excels. The other two are a little more personal and, as such, are not perhaps as well-defined or easily articulated. Iâ€™ll give it go anyway.
My favorite political cartoonist, Tom Toles, inked this in the 1990s:
Sadly, weâ€™ve really not come very far as a nation since that time. As the Union of Concerned Scientists says:
Our personal vehicles are a major cause of global warming. Collectively, cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth ofÂ allÂ US emissions, emitting around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for every gallon of gas. About five pounds comes from the extraction, production, and delivery of the fuel, while the great bulk of heat-trapping emissionsâ€”more than 19 pounds per gallonâ€”comes right out of a carâ€™s tailpipe.
We need to stop doing this.
One path forward is to switch from Internal Combustion Engine (hereafter, â€œICEâ€) vehicles to electrically powered ones. When 90% of all trips are under 50 miles, it makes little sense for every car to have its own gas-based power plant when a battery-powered vehicle could do the same trip and recharge using clean energy sources.
Tesla and founder Elon Musk deserve a fair amount of credit for pushing this agenda forward. As battery technology has improved, itâ€™s become clear that the days of ICE vehicles are numbered. Whether thatâ€™s soon enough to make a difference in terms of global warming, I donâ€™t know, but if the alternative is to the status quo, I opt for doing something.
Given the price of electric cars, this electrified future has to be initially subsidized by those who can afford it. When I test drove a Tesla Model S several years ago it was easily the best car Iâ€™d ever driven. It was also $90,000, so even with my heart in the right place, it wasnâ€™t going to happen. Others, who could afford it, had to buy into this dream first so that we could get the economies of scale necessary to make battery tech more affordable.
As Iâ€™ve said, my Model 3 is a $60,000 car, but Teslaâ€™s goal is to get a $35,000 version on the market as soon as possible. My purchase at this higher level is part of what will make the lower prices possible through economies of scale, and thatâ€™s good for all of us.
One of my primary considerations when assessing a car is safety. There were 37,000 motor vehicle deaths in the United States last year. (The high was actually in 1972 when there were some 54,000.) As a society weâ€™ve decided that weâ€™re willing to pay that price given the freedom and convenience autos allow, but make no mistake: Cars are dangerous hunks of metal.
Tesla vehicles all have 5-Star Safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In fact the Model S achieved the highest safety rating of any car ever back in 2013. It even broke the NHTSA testing equipment. Part of this is the nature of electric carsâ€”thereâ€™s no engine block so you can have a longer crumple zone to protect occupantsâ€”but part of it is also that Tesla has done an amazing job on safety.
Whether or not the Model 3 has the â€œlowest probability of injury of any vehicleâ€ as Tesla claims, itâ€™s undeniably true that the NHTSA gave the car five-star ratings across the board including in every sub-category. Other manufacturers, notably Volvo, do a great job with car safety, but I donâ€™t think you can get a safer car than Tesla makes.
Given my career as an Apple consultant, Iâ€™m obviously deeply interested and invested in technology. Teslas are like having a car thatâ€™s an iPhone. Thatâ€™s not going to appeal to everyone, but for a tech guy like me itâ€™s crack.
The Model 3â€™s giant touch screen controls virtually every aspect of the car, from opening the glove box to heating the seats to moving the incredible stereo speaker sound around the cabin.
The list of whatâ€™s done via sensors, electronics, and software goes on and on with these cars, and thatâ€™s part of what gives them a level of future-proofing thatâ€™s unheard of on other vehicles.
When Consumer Reports (no longer the most trusted name in reviews but still influential) found that the Model 3 had longer than expected stopping distances, Tesla literally solved the problem with an over-the-air software update. Just as every iPhone Iâ€™ve ever owned has gotten better over time because of software updates, Teslas do too.
This over-the-air update process is a major hurdle for other car manufacturers because they have dealership agreements that specify that only dealers can update and modify cars after sale. Given my loathing of car dealersâ€”love my Honda Fit, hated the buying experienceâ€”Teslaâ€™s direct sales model is a huge point in its favor.
Iâ€™m so into the tech side of things that I spent $5000 on the optional Model 3 AutoPilot. Hereâ€™s what that is:
Eight surround cameras provide 360 degrees of visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength that is able to see through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.
In the Model 3 theyâ€™ve also got a new onboard computer with 40x the computing power of the previous generation.
All of which is well and good, but what does any of it mean to the average schmoe behind the wheel? It means this: On my test drive, I pulled down twice on the gear lever to activate AutoPilot and the car started driving itself. It automatically stayed in its lane as the road curved, it maintained the appropriate distance from the cars in front of us, changed lanes when I told it to, and handled all the tasks of freeway driving.
Tesla currently requires that â€œdriversâ€ (here, I mean the person in whatâ€™s traditionally been called the driverâ€™s seat, but we are going to need a new term) touch the wheel every minute or so. In the not-too-distant future, this car will drive itself on the freeways without human interaction of any kind. I have a high degree of confidence in this because, compared to city driving, there are fewer variables to compute: no stop lights, stop signs, crosswalks, pedestrians, cross traffic, etc.
Tesla also claims that eventually their cars will have full-self driving capability. Iâ€™ll believe that when I see it. There are so many variables in city trafficâ€”or just a standard grocery parking lotâ€”that I think we may be quite a ways off from this.
Nonetheless, automated freeway driving is on the way, and although I may have felt a rush of adrenaline and cortisol as I engaged AutoPilot and took my hands off the wheel at 60 miles per hour, this experience is going to quickly become blasÃ© as it moves into the mainstream. And it will move into the mainstream if for no other reason that computers will be able to drive freeways more safely than human beings, and insurance companies will undoubtedly incentivize that behavior.
In this Trumpian era, which is to say an era marked by corruption, jingoism, and rampant dishonesty, it can be difficult to express oneâ€™s love of country without others automatically inferring support for the worst president in our history. Let me fix that up front: Trump is a narcissistic, lying idiot who is a danger to both the United States and the world. My love of country has absolutely nothing to do with him.
And I do love America. The great American melting pot has given me and my family a standard of living far beyond what others in human history have achieved. Think of how billionaires and royalty from other countries lived just 100 years ago. Our standard of living exceeds theirs dramatically. You might think this hyperbole initially, but consider air conditioning, indoor plumbing, electricity, the Internet, rock and roll music, airplanes and cars (the ability to travel great distances generally), the iPhone, the ready availability of food, the eradication of polio, and so on. Most of us in America live like frickinâ€™ kings and we complain because our email is down for 20 minutes.
Tesla is an American company. Thatâ€™s no knock against Honda or Toyota or any of the other excellent foreign brands. But Iâ€™m a homer. This is the country that got me here. If Fords and Chevys and Chryslers weren’t comparative crap, Iâ€™d have at least considered them at some point in my automotive buying journey. Itâ€™s not the primary consideration in what I do, but when I can I buy local and buy American, and Iâ€™m proud to do that.
Even if I werenâ€™t enamored with the car or concerned about the environment, I would want Tesla to succeed because itâ€™s an American company. (I feel the same way about Apple.)
Honest to God I have no idea what to call this, so bear with me if what follows is rambling. Iâ€™m going to try to express something rather deeply personal, and Iâ€™ve found whenever I inject that into my writing, things tend to lurch toward, well, I donâ€™t know. Call it what you like. Here it is.
On the basis of Tim Ferrisâ€™ excellent Tools for Titans, I started using an iPhone app called â€œLast Day.â€ (I believe it was previously known by the charming title â€œDeath Clock.â€) Based on insurance actuarial tables, the app takes your sex, birthday, geography, and calculates how long statistically you have to live. Some will consider this morbid, but I firmly believe that there is a benefit to be had from this sort of memento mori (â€œremember that you will dieâ€ in Latin) reflection.
As I write this, I have 10,353 days left. Thatâ€™s just statistically. I could always be hit by a bus this afternoon. Tomorrow is promised to no one. But the fact is Iâ€™m running out of time. We all are. Weâ€™re constantly having it slip away, usually so slowly that we take no particular note except around birthdays or major holidays. I, for one, intend to do things with the time I have remaining.
Maybe this is a midlife crisis talkingâ€”age 50 is right around the cornerâ€”but part of my vision for how my life should be includes driving the best car I can. For me, thatâ€™s a Tesla Model 3. In the thought experiment of â€œWhat would you do with unlimited time, money, and familial support?â€ Iâ€™m driving a Tesla Model 3. (Which is convenient because I canâ€™t afford a Model S, Model X, or Roadster. Bottom line is that the Model 3 has the newest tech and I donâ€™t need or want a Roadsterâ€¦yet.)
I want to crush it when it comes to life. That is to say, to be the best person I can be in the various roles I play (husband, father, son, friend, employer, business owner, etc.) and tasks I set for myself. It may sound crazy to conflate that desire with the car I drive, but it makes sense in my head if not in the real world.
Itâ€™s not the most important metric of success, but how often do you say, â€œHell, yeah!â€ to things that transpire in your life? (I dislike the construction â€œthat transpire.â€ Really, the phrase should probably be “that you make happen in your life.â€) If youâ€™re like me, itâ€™s not often enough, and Iâ€™m working at improving this. I think my odds of increasing the â€œhell yeahsâ€ are substantially improved by a Tesla Model 3.
At any rate, I aim to find out. If you plan to too, well, hereâ€™s my referral code if you want to do me a solid. Using that referral code when you buy a Tesla also comes with 6 months of free SuperCharger use, so it’s win-win.