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Reactions from Model S Beta?

I'm interested in reactions from ONLY those who have had first hand experience with the Beta vehicle (in person). Here's my story, and a related one, that sort of explains my reason for asking:

As I'd mentioned in another post I had been excited about this car for some time. However, what I may not have mentioned was that I was somewhat on the fence. That was until a good friend, and reservation holder, invited me to go with him to the Model S beta event at the factory in October. This journey is what made up my mind that I absolutely had to have this car. Shortly after they showed the car at a local Tesla dealer, and I took my wife and daughter, and they were equally excited about it as I was. So this is where it gets interesting...

The reservation holder I went with was not as impressed as I was. He rode in the rear seat, and I was in the front passenger. He commented that the fit and finish was not up to par, and that this car would never be competitive against BMW (he's a rather big fan). I explained that this was a Beta vehicle, not a production car, and was going to be a bit rough. This didn't sway him. In fact in a later conversation his wife mentioned seeing the car at the dealer and had the same unimpressed feeling her husband did, and proceeded to try to talk me into a BMW (not interested, thank you).

My concern is this. For people outside of any industry where they might have first hand experience with "beta" products, what they are, and what they can look like compared to the final production release, this may be confusing for some.

Your thoughts?

I'm 6'2"

When I was sitting in the Santana Row black beta I had a nice sense of space. More room than my wife's Mercedes E320 ( front and rear). When or if a center console is added ( hope so) I imagine the space may condense a bit but I can't imagine it not feeling roomy.

My only complaint/observation was a short seat cushion where thigh support was lacking. My hope is Tesla's final seat spec is yet to be revealed. I cannot speak to headroom in the Model S without the pano roof however I can't recall touching the roof in either the front or rear. I'll admit there's a lot to take in when you see the car for the first time so during my next visit I'll be a bit more critical.

Just sat in a Beta Sig in Los Angeles.

First off - we must calibrate our perceptions based on the contemporary build method. These Betas are hand built cars with lots of prototype parts (particularly the interior). As such, the fit and finish are never comparable to the quality you can expect from production tooling. That's pretty normal for a preproduction sample.

Lots of minor details are inoperative - like the door handles, trunk latches, pano roof, etc. Plenty of work to be done to get that stuff ready for production, but all of it low-octane (pardon my EV oxymoron) relative to the admirable engineering achievements on the drive train and structure.

Since we're used to seeing only production cars in showrooms, you have to squint to look past those distractions.

That said, here are some impressions -

The exterior looks pretty in pictures, but it is even more compelling when it's poised in front of you. The overall proportions and sculpting of the lines are brilliant.

Every now and then a design concept hits the sweet spot - the ideal balance of scale, form and functional purpose - where it sort of resonates. I think the Tesla team hit that mark with the S.

The car is very taught, with a great tension between its athletic strength and sensual sweep.

But what really impresses is that this beautiful shape delivers an amazingly practical vehicle. The cavernous roominess inside seems to emerge from some mysterious wormhole in space-time that is unconstrained by the lithe exterior.

This is a car not just to gaze upon, but to use ... every day, with comfort, and with ease. A car that is lean and quick enough to squirt through traffic, but spacious enough to be home on wheels for the family. Yet even in the back seat, you have the sense of being in a sports car.

At the core, it is the intelligence of the architecture that creates all this bounty. The Engineering ethic to leverage all the design liberty only a pure EV can offer. In my view, the architecture is in fact equal to our shamefully lofty expectations for the car that looks to be the game changer for EV's.

As to the interior details, here are my thoughts -

I've read many criticisms of a sundry interior design details - from low brow seats, to fixed headrests etc. Here's where I come out.

On the whole, there is a lot of very smart innovation and genuine flourish on the interior design. I admire the originality and clean, graceful flow of the door panels - with their indirect LED downlighting, and cleverly integrated door latch pulls.

The seats have artifacts of proto-grade execution (imperfect cushioning etc.) so they don't compare to a production Mercedes right now, but that should hopefully resolve with the real deal. From a design perspective though, the seat contours and integral headsets seem fine.

So most of interior nit comments seem overly picky or due to proto artifacts. What I do think needs work though is the dash / center console. It's choppy.

The big screen and dearth of buttons are great, and very coherent with the technological sea change message that this car represents. Those choices are smart.

But that screen is not well integrated into the rest of the dash, and seems bluntly spliced in place without nice transitions.

The big void where there is no center console doesn't read to me as spacious, but rather as skimpy. Functionally, it does not add up for me either. I can't put my feet there, and I won't put a leather case or daypack there since they'd flop over the low rails into the pedal well area. My elbow hits a cup in the holder and I've got no support for my arm if I'm browsing the screen with my fingers. It needs a console that flows up to and anchors the base of the screen, and then everything will click. There's so much good design in this car that this blemish is the rare spot that makes me wince.

Minor point about finishes - the banana leaf sounds great in concept, but in practice it's not too cool. It is a very stark, very busy, high contrast stripey pattern that adds alot of visual noise to the cabin instead of warming it up. It kind of cheapens it by looking like a Formica faux-wood counter at a Pinkberry instead of a subtly refined high quality wood. Figured maple is quite beautiful, and comes from a sustainable farmed tree. Provide an alternative finish here, and let folks choose what makes them happy.

To sum up, this car is killer gorgeous. Refine the dash/console with some modest updates, and then nothing will spoil the beautiful picture when you sit in the driver's seat.

If they don't come up with a better idea for a console, I'll build by own. And while I'm at it, remote the drive/reverse/park switch to the console if they keep the shift lever on the steering assembly.

Hmmm... Maybe pay for some upgrades on a Model X for my wife building and installing consoles like Tesla should have made.

Naah... I'd rather TM just got it right.

RE the banana leaf. My ride in Oct and wood sample on site was much higher quality then the black beta that I sat in Newport Beach which was, as Mark K describes above, very poor (probably the same car).

@Mark;
Very thorough, lots of expressive rhetoric! A couple of edit quibbles, so you can copy/paste it elsewhere without fear:

"EV oxymoron" -- that's a contradictory phrase, like "partly unique", or "military intelligence". EV analogy, perhaps.

"Very taught" -- it can't learn, so it's "taut" --> tension.

"EV's" -- just EVs works fine. Save the apostrophe-s for singular noun possessives (not already ending in 's') and abbreviation of "is" or "has".

Nice blend of formal and colloquial, by the way. Gets your points across pretty well!

Really leaves the clear sense of the hunger of the Tesla/S fans and reservation-holders to have the inside be worthy of the outside. A formidable challenge, it seems!

@Teo;
A quirky/fun thought: the first (and almost immediate) Tesla after-market support service/industry: custom Model S consoles! Choice of 5 designs, in 3 colors, available online, $200 - $999.
:D

With a side-line in front license-plate holders. :)

Legal eagle question: If a CA driver is out-of-state, and removes his front plate for the duration, can he be ticketed?

I have got a technical drawing with detailed exterior and interior measurements up here:
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/6637949/Pano_export.jpg
(1.5 MB, 4600x1600 px)

This drawing was exposed at the Oct 1 event in Fremont. I have no idea if it reflects the actual measures of the production vehicle, or if it has foremost decorative value and is otherwise out of date. So look at it at your own risk!

But what really impresses is that this beautiful shape delivers an amazingly practical vehicle. The cavernous roominess inside seems to emerge from some mysterious wormhole in space-time that is unconstrained by the lithe exterior. (Mark K)

:-D
Suffering fanboy syndrome...? ;-)

Yowza! That Oct. 1 technical drawing has some odd features. Why do the 4° and 5° 'downvision' sight lines emanate from the driver's chin? And that giant in the back seat doesn't have much footwell room; his knees are cocked and a small bump will drive his head into the roof!
Heh.

Mark;
I guess your "low-octane" is indeed a kind of EV oxymoron, though more of a pleonasm (redundancy). No carbon chains, 8C or other, in battery power! High-octane rhetoric is so tricksy!
;-/

No combusting carbon chains, I should have said. Nanotube electrodes etc. are likely to involve super-long carbon chains.

Mark, excellent write-up that matches my impressions. I too like real wood grain interiors and I was disappointed when there wasn't that option. Fortunately, they came out with the carbon fiber accents that I do like.

The skateboard design with the entire drivetrain between the rear wheels is the true quantum wormhole IMO. The frickin car runs on magic!!!

@Volker,
But what really impresses is that this beautiful shape delivers an amazingly practical vehicle. The cavernous roominess inside seems to emerge from some mysterious wormhole in space-time that is unconstrained by the lithe exterior. (Mark K)

Forget the 88 mph issues, it's a TARDIS!

@Brian H,
More like $499-$1499 + $250 for matching leather. I'm confident the companies making tow hook license plate holders will provide a mod S version for under $100.

I'm sure you COULD be ticketed for "improper display" in another state, but you'd have to make it worth their while, like 60mph in a school zone, or something else serious. Or a speed trap town where 75% of their revenue comes from traffic fines.

Who has seen the lacewood trim in person? Impressions?

Some responses followed by thoughts on the interior -

@Brian H - Thanks for the meticulous proofreading. Imperfect prose is a hazard of posting from an iPad while horizontal and dozing off. Just felt moved to convey what struck me when I saw the Beta a few hours earlier.

@Volker - Your posts are prolific and productive. To earn a fanboy badge from you is a major high-five :)

That many of us obsess a little is a sign of really giving a damn what happens here. This machine, and this time, are kind of pivotal.

When we criticize to encourage improvement, I feel obliged to credit Tesla's awesome work on so many fronts. When your product is very public, comments run the gammut from unreasonable rants to authentic insights. Being honest and precise lets Tesla sort it out intelligently.

@Teoatawki - Totally, dude. If the Time Lords or Doc Brown were to build their time machines post-Model S, they would have seriously upgraded from the London Bobby Box and DeLorean as starting points.

About the interiior-

I tell novitiates on our Engineering teams to never be shy about telling the truth, good or bad; and above all, to put love into the doing, or find something else where you can. To do something ... anything, that's truly great, you've got to be all in. I see many palpable signs of that culture in Tesla's cadre.

If it were a matter of our personal satisfaction, some of us on this forum do have the means to actually redesign and build those interior parts that fall short. But this passionate debate transcends personal interest, we want Tesla to win in the bigger arena.

Elon, it comes down to this: You can't make money if you don't ship. Endless revisions are your enemy, but so too is mediocrity. Profit is essential to power this change, but it's clear that you are doing this for something much more profound than money.

Teasing the magic balance out of those classic conflicts is very very hard, and something few can do. But those who can, must. Your track record says you've got the juice for it.

The simple calculus is:

Get the interior right, and you'll win more than the eco fringe. You'll snag some mainstream 5 and 7 series buyers, and that will force the big guys to follow suit. Sell more cars = compel more change.

The folks rooting for this don't want to see you stumble. Refine the interior and you'll hit the ball out of the park.

@Mark K wrote: Get the interior right, and you'll win more than the eco fringe. You'll snag some mainstream 5 and 7 series buyers, and that will force the big guys to follow suit. Sell more cars = compel more change.

The folks rooting for this don't want to see you stumble. Refine the interior and you'll hit the ball out of the park.

You have it exactly right, Mark. In some ways, the interior is more important that the exterior. It's where the driver 'lives' as he/she uses the car. For prospective buyers, it clearly demonstrates a richness in Tesla's design thinking. That's why high-end ICE vehicles have such solidly designed interiors. It's why everything is integrated properly, why the design has symmetry, why a center console moves from the dash toward the rear seats, providing a cocoon for the driver. It's all about fine materials, thoughtful placement, and functionality.

Get it right, TM. And if the interior is now final, take one more look. If it's still not right, don't settle. You're betting your company on this.

@Mark K
If you're not doing some form of writing professionally, consider moonlighting as a reviewer.

:)

A couple of quick comments - I wrote about headroom in another thread, but my family (5 of us) is on the tall side(I'm 6'3"), 5 of us fit in the car (beta version in Bellevue).

I'm a reservation holder (and glorified product manager) while also a bit of a car geek. That being said, comparing this to a BMW 5-Series is a bit apples/oranges. I'm speaking in generalities here, not having the time to really do a comprehensive study, but when looking at price comparisons, over 120,000 miles, the Tesla I'm optioning out (comes to $69,500 at this point after federal tax credit) is equivalent to a $40k Suburban, a bit more (at the noise level) than a $35k Honda Minivan, and about $20k less than a BMW 5-series (with comparative performance). Sure, I'll only be able to drive 230 or so miles (I'm betting it will be more like 250 with areodynamic tires), without recharging, but that happens to me like once a year (trip to Idaho), so I'll either take my time, or the Suburban. And I find BMWs a bit of a cliche, especially in Seattle, even more so on the Eastside. Oh, my brother in law recently purchased an Kia Optima (with leather and panoramic sunroof), which works about to be about $25k less than the Tesla over 120,000 miles. But it's a Kia...

I have seen the Lacewood in person and it did nothing for me. Basically bumpy matt black panels. (a bit of texture). If I was going for black, i would go for the piano black finish, but I am not. The banana leaf is interesting because it is very "different". I think one could get very tired of it in time.
I too would vote for a more conventional wood grain finish. This is a Californian car, so in that spirit, Californian redwood would go beautifully with tan or white, but the much lighter timbers such as European white ash and maple will also look stupendous, i believe. Both of these woods have great figure and would really set off the interior.

@kafahsholtz: Good points. There's a summary of these calcs that was put together here: http://teslarumors.com/Teslanomics-Menu.html

You can do customize calculations here: http://teslarumors.com/Teslanomics-Calculator.html

I saw the red beta at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas yesterday. The car was at the NVIDIA booth to showcase the use of a Tegra chip. There was some interview going on in the car and didn't get to sit in it (I went to the Oct 1st event so it wasn't such a big deal).

People were asking if this was a Tegra 2 or Tegra 3 chip. The answer was that it was currently a Tegra 2 and that they couldn't comment on the future.

There were at least three people from TM there. I talked with one of them and let him know I was a reservation holder. He was from the marketing department but wasn't the most helpful individual and didn't seem to care much about comments on this forum about the center console and other interior issues.

He stated that the car (not just the interior) was 90+% complete and that very few changes, if any were to be expected in the production version.

As other people have commented, the interior of this beta seemed to have been put together in a hurry. It is a beta and this is fine with me. I am merely pointing out that you could see stuff glued in there and that there was still a big keyed red switch on the driver side which I assume was a master kill switch.

I took some pictures with my phone but they are probably not worth posting because it was hard to get a good view with the crowd there.
BTW: There was also an electric DeLorean at the NRG booth.

@gjunky, Tegra 3 it is. An answer like that almost always means that it's in the works but the company doing the integrating wants to announce it themselves once they've had time to integrate and test.

Thanks for the great news!


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