Tesla , Patriotism and the Marshmallow Test

Tesla , Patriotism and the Marshmallow Test

In 1972 an experiment was conducted on 4-6 year old nursery school children. A marshmallow was put in front of them and they were told they could have the marshmallow now or wait 15 minutes and they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. The overwhelming majority of the kids could not defer gratification and ate the first marshmallow before the time was up...see... . The lesson learned was that most people even to their determent want instant gratification and can’t wait even if it’s their will end up later in their own best interest. Therefore, Tesla can do chart after chart with depreciation and gas costs all day long but the majority of new car buyers want their savings now.

Some fun facts ...The average cost of a new car in the U.S. has risen to a record high $30,748, is driven an average of 13,476 miles per year gets 24 miles per gallon and is owned just about 6 years (another record high). The United States imports 45% of it’s oil from foreign countries of which 2/3 goes to transportation. With the average consumer using 561 gallons of gas a year and with the average cost of $3.60 a gallon the consumer spends about $2,000 a year on gas for their cars alone. Having your base model $20,000 above the cost of the average car will change the world to some extent but at this point most people see the $30,000 marshmallow now and won’t and can’t seem to wait for the future savings and a second marshmallow.

The population who have deferred gratification by both waiting a long time for their Tesla and have figured out that the savings in gas and regular car maintenance will pay for itself over the long haul have already probably put down a deposit with Tesla. On a side note, you will be happy to learn that the kids who waited till the 2nd marshmallow were found years later to have higher SAT scores, better social skills and a bunch of other presumably good traits. .

During a dinner conversation over this past weekend I mentioned to a few friends that I test drove the Tesla and have a deposit and reservation for the X model to be delivered sometime in early 2014. (By the way the S model was one of the most amazing car’s I have ever had the pleasure to be in and drives, handles and accelerates like a dream). I mentioned during dinner that I consider the buying the Tesla one of the more patriotic things I could do at this point in my life. The reason ,I explained, is that if you believe it’s in the United States best interests to cut it’s dependence of foreign oil then Tesla can not fail. If you also believe in the marshmallow theory then the only way to severely cut our dependence on oil and have electric cars be 50% new car sales quickly, then Tesla must make a car that works amazingly well at a price tag at $30,000. Lastly the only way Tesla can make a car that is dependable and sellable at $30,000 is to

1) have a bunch of people who lucky enough to afford the current cost of the car to buy the car (deferring their cost benefit( aka marshmallow) over the next 5 years thereby keeping Tesla alive and well,
2) spread the word about the car whenever they talk to friends and drive the car as much as possible and not stick in in a garage
3) buy the preceding models to the 30k car and continue to feed the company feedback so that at the time the $30,000 car comes out, there is a learning curve.

If you believe in the concept of Moore’s Law (the so-called law, that the number of transistors that can be fit on a computer chip will double every two years, resulting in periodic increases in computing power)
Then logically, in a few years Tesla should be able to make the battery on it’s car go longer distances and the same time make the battery more affordable . An example of Moore’s law would be charting the personal computer’s hard disk capacity from 1990 to today with both cost of GB and capacity. Bottom line is when Tesla comes out with the $30,000 model and the patriots and marshmallow grabbers take hold of them then the world will change dramatically and change dramaticallyfor the better.

Signed Racer X (brother of Speed Racer and new member of the Tesla family).

P. S. If Israel is listening, then the same logic flows for Israel as well .. That being if Israel believes it’s in it’s long term interest that the United States be independent of foreign oil, then , the Government of Israel should send in deposits now for Teslas for all it’s Government cars. Israel doesn’t have a car company making cars in Israel and by keeping Tesla alive and well it has a strong chance to eliminate the Unites States need to import any oil from the middle east thereby logically making Israel safer and stronger.

What are your thoughts about the cost of the Model S & X as the Dollar devalues? Wouldn't you say 60K is the new 30K? I like what you wrote, I would love to see an equation that factored in more projected variables that move into the future. While the averages you quoted are last years numbers, when you factor in Moore's law into our monetary system the Tesla looks even more attractive.

In my opinion, Tesla is about 7 years ahead of its time. That is great for us early adaptors. When the average consumer catches up, it will thrust our nation into a golden age.

Your essay is very interesting. Thanks.


Re: Israel. They already have a small infrastructure of BetterPlace battery swap stations in place, and those are used by a small fleet of Renault Fluence Z.E. electric vehicles. They are "listening" but not necessarily drawing the same conclusions...

"The lesson learned was that most people even to their determent want instant gratification and can’t wait even if it’s their will end up later in their own best interest."

... when they are 4-6 years old.

I have met and worked with 6 year olds of all ages. What was interesting about this study was its predictive qualities. That tendency is a part of our core, persistent personality.

PS. Curse you Racer X!

I don't know a single wife that doesn't insist her husband has the mind of a 4-6 year old when it comes to TOYS. As you get older the toys just get more advanced.

@Sudre_ - Yah, the high end "toys" start nagging about other toys. ;)

"The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys!" -author unknown.


great article.

a few comments...

don't forget about "opportunity costs" associated with purchasing a more expensive car. In other words you loose the use of that extra money that could be put to good use somewhere else in your life such as funding your 401K or towards your child's education etc. Arguably if you are going to spend 60 or 70k on an automobile regardless of whether its an EV or ICE, opportunity costs of the purchase are not a concern.


equating Moore's Law to battery technology doesn't work. Li-Ion battery technology improves roughly 7-8%/year not exponentially like that of transistor doubling . Certainly nothing to sneeze at though. each year battery tech will provide greater range and lower cost/mile.

I'm on board with paying a bit more upfront for all the benefits that come with electric drive (decreased fuel costs, lower maintenance, increased national security, 6 star safety (ok, 5 stars in all categories), and superior drive characteristics).

I'm fortunate, my two kids passed the marshmallow test (at least for now).

Great post! Very interesting thoughts to consider, but let's not forget one of the most important reasons why buying a Tesla is patriotic: Made in America! Bringing manufacturing, high-tech, green jobs back to California and the US.

Living in the Bay Area, I'm extremely excited that I get to "buy local" with my next car purchase.

At a 7-8% improvement in battery technology, this technology should double in about 10 years. That's about the length of the warranty.

@Maestrokneer, I feel the same way. I have in my notes to try to get new plates for my Model S (because my personalized BYT plates are beat up) and to look for a frame for my license plate that reads:

********************My Tesla Model S************************


****************Is Made in Fremont, California**************

Darn, I tried to space out "BYT" to be in the middle of the frame above... oh well! :D

The actual experience the last 2 yrs is 17%/yr, and Elon said today that about the time of GenIII's introduction another major step forward in battery chemistry would occur (re replacing old ModS battery and having your car 'better than new').

Some of the stuff coming out of the labs is offering much more than incremental improvements. Extrapolating past battery development isn't necessarily adequate.

He (Elon) also said they need to come up with a better name then Gen III

Model C (for 'Car'). ;)

It seems to me that the only true patriotism left is for all people (whatever their citizenship or place of birth) to support green initiatives wherever they find them, especially around Oil. The pursuit of oil by violence has caused (and is causing) more than enough deaths.

I have a 5 year old boy so I am going to go and try this experiment out on him. Of course, as a European based (albeit US-born) Tesla reservation holder, I WANT MY CAR NOW! :-)

Great post and thread.
"We must hang together,...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately" - Ben Franklin

@karenkessler et al:

An enthusiastic +1!!!

I'm having Solar City install solar panels before my Model S Signature Performance is delivered. Although it won't completely cover my total power usage, they and I have calculated that it will easily cover the power to keep my Tesla charged, assuming a daily round-trip commute of 50 miles. As such, I plan for my new AWESOME transportation to be off both the "oil" grid and the electrical grid.

"equating Moore's Law to battery technology doesn't work. Li-Ion battery technology improves roughly 7-8%/year not exponentially like that of transistor doubling ."


It is still exponential growth, just the doubling time is about 10 years instead of 2 years. Not instant gratification, but enough to be a game changer in a few more years.

PS disk drives and computers increase in capacity and speed according to Moore's Law, but need for storage capacity and processing power increases too so that at times it seems they're barely keeping up.

Now think about battery capacity. When it doubles and we can go 600 miles on a charge or the same 300 miles for half the cost, and after doubling again, 1,200 miles (for the sake of argument), we will have achieved capacity in excess of our need for range quite beyond what computers achieved in the same 20 year span. (After all our need for range is limited by basic things like needing pit stops and sleep at least until Google's driverless cars catch on!

Unless our cars start doing 0-60 in 2.5 seconds with a top speed of 210 MPH

I still wonder how the charging will work for batteries that large. A 300kw battery is going to take quite a while to charge after I drive it to Florida from Missouri. I don't think hotels are going to have 480 volt 100 amp chargers for all their guests. That amount of power draw from all the guests every night would dim the lights in the rooms :-)

@goteslachicago, point taken

clearly i'm not a mathematician however my intent was to suggest not using the Moore's law analogy because that terminology implies doubling every two years, a big difference to doubling every 10 years. Like I said, nothing to sneeze at. If Karen was to publish her article elsewhere (I encourage her to do so) I just wanted to point out the analogy is not quite accurate. The marshmallow test analogy on the hand illustrates perfectly well our short sighted human desire for instant gratification...

In my opinion a 7-8% annual battery efficiency improvement speaks volumes without the need to muddy the waters with Moore's law. That term is reserved for transistor/circuit board tech.

No doubt, we are on the brink of a paradigm shift in transportation... exciting times!

That's the problem! Charger capacity isn't going to scale. 500-600 miles seems like a practical limit. It will take 19 hours to charge on a 50A circuit and 9.5 hours on a home HPC.

With super chargers easily available, when you hit the big road trip, you could drive 250-300 miles or so, stop for late lunch or early dinner and add back in 150 miles of range during that stop, then drive another 250-300 miles, ending the day with 150 miles range. Day 2, start off with 450 miles range (50A connection for 10 hours), drive 250 miles, long lunch supercharge back to 450 mile range, knock off another 300 miles leaving 150 miles range.

2 days driving like that could get you from NY, NY to Tampa, FL.

I should point out that recent development in batteries is quite a bit faster than 7-8%/year. More like 10-12%, and silicon nanostructure-based anodes are just now coming in commercial products. Silicon makes energy density increase of around x5 possible.

@Teoatawki, I would not say "limit" but I would say "goal". Practicality of larger batteries depend of accessibility of chargers, in some places quite a bit larger batteries and ranges will be needed just to be safe from getting stranded in middle of nowhere.

@Timo, it's a great goal, but I'm suggesting that 600 mile range is about the point where larger capacity mass market car batteries start to make less and less sense. Batteries are heavy and expensive, so people are going to be less willing to spend for battery capacity they can't use.

Once you can drive 600 miles between charges, most people would consider that a full day of driving. With less than hour of super charger time at a meal break, you can extend that to 750 miles in a day. A side benefit of the larger packs is that super charging will be less of a stressor on the packs, so maybe you could super charge at another meal break and extend that day's drive to 900 miles. Also, many people would feel that once you can consume more energy in a long day of driving than you can put back in a 10 hour overnight charging session, increasing battery capacity beyond that point is a waste.

There will always be a need for larger batteries for special purposes, such as pickup trucks, farm equipment and tractor trailer rigs.

In 2 yrs, from 2.9 to 3.5 to 4.1.
That's about 18%/yr average. By the rule of 72, that's doubling every 4 yrs.

Call it the semi-Moore's Law. >;)

Teoatawki +1.

That's why 300 miles is appealing - for me the practical limit for a sustained business drive is 200 miles - anything more and I fly, and I even fly the 200 a lot (San Antonio to Houston).

For a family trip, that limit is more like 500-600 miles, so I'd love an approach where the frunk or footwell of the trunk would allow the addition of a rentable 'travel battery' to increase range by 100+ miles. That would guarantee only one stop on a long day's drive.

I've driven 800+ miles in a day, not fun, and that was without kids. Not really looking to replicate that.

So I'd probably look for increased technology to represent decreased cost, reduced weight (not my own), and increased performance in the future, more than radical range increases in range.


@Cattledog, 200 miles as threshold to fly seems small to me. That's just about three maybe three and half hours of driving, and to me getting to airport and to destination, waiting for luggages, queuing to get to the plane etc. + actual flight time takes more overall time and you lose the freedom of not caring about exact times, you just jump to the car when you feel like it and that's it.

300 miles I start to consider flying. 400 I might actually fly. 500 I probably fly unless I like having freedom of Model S (or in my case GenIII sport sedan) at the destination (or if the ticket costs me more than two week full upkeep vacation in holiday paradise, like it sometimes does).

As I said, bigger battery might be necessary if there is no chargers on a way. With only 220V@16A accessible you get only 35kWh in overnight ten hours and that just might not be enough. with supercharger infrastructure 600 is enough. Without you might want more. Given your example 800 mile trip or 1600 mile round trip 600 mile range battery just isn't enough, you are 1000 miles short of destination and 35kWh/10 hour overnight is only about 150 miles. It would take you week to get to your destination with just 600 mile battery.

So 600 for majority is enough, but not always.


Saying there are no chargers along a route is not a reasonable assumption. Even now there is no route you can travel that doesn't pass by electrical outlets that can be used for charging. At slowest they are the 30A-240V J1772, and more often campgrounds with 240/50A service. That would make the 800 mile drive on a 600 mile pack need charging along the way of 7 hours worst case ... not optimal but stopping a the 240V/50A takes it down to 5 hours...

That said, I just got back from a semi regular road trip of 1000 miles each way, driven in one day. We took 16 hours to drive down of which 14 was driving. I'm looking forward to driving the same trip in the S which, with Superchargers, would make the same trip 14 hours of driving plus 3 hours charging/relaxing/eating totaling 17 hours. I think that is the perfect example of how much of difference superchargers would make. The addition of one hour of breaks on a long trip is minor, esp when it means you can drive electric.


Saying there are no chargers along a route is not a reasonable assumption.

World is quite a bit bigger place than USA.


With all due respect, where exactly in the world are you trying to drive 600 miles without passing a outlet? Even gas stations typically use 240 volts to run the car lifts. If you are driving 600 miles without passing a gas station you have now exceeded the range of most cars by a good bit.


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