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Where the Model S Fails

I took my test drive of a Model S today in Portland, Oregon. As a long-time BMW owner, I was very pleased that the ride and handling (with steering in Sport mode), was very similar to a 5-series. Additionally, these are beautiful cars in person and will turn lots of heads. Unless you get the no-touch entry with the Tech Package, however, you will be forever looking at smudgy door handles as the chrome practically shows your fingerprint every time you touch it to reveal the handle. The Tesla guys were constantly cleaning them today - please make the no-touch reveal standard!

Unfortunately the Tesla design team dropped the ball on the dash and console, as in person it looks cheap and unrefined. The dash stitching just looks out of place, and there's too much brushed chrome trim, some of which intersects other pieces by one piece being on top of the other (never seen that in a car). Those of you who are used to real wood like on a BMW or Mercedes will be disappointed, as none of the "wood" looks real in any way. The Piano Black is the only trim that doesn't look cheap to me (my opinion). The huge rectangular touchscreen and it's straight edges conflict with the mish-mash of dashboard curves, which is the opposite of the exterior, which is a smooth blend of graceful curves.

I'm still buying a Model S, however, as there's so much to like about this car, and it's truely revolutionary. I just wish the Tesla design team had copied the interior of a 5-series or X5, which are stylish, functional, and cohesive, with great attention to detail. In person, the exterior styling exemplifies the breakthrough product that is the Model S, the interior simply does not.

I need to point out the harsh reality that Model S can't be comparable to Jaguar or even high-end Mercedes for luxury. In order to make profit Model S just plain has to have something mundane in it, because that large battery you have in it costs money. A lot of money. You are not buying cat that costs $77400 + options, you are buying $43400 car with 34k battery + options.

The fact that Model S has that great acceleration, smoothness, handling and quietness is byproduct of superiority of electric drivetrain, but there is a price for that superiority, and that shows in other parts of the car. While I agree that interior design should be nice, I'm not expecting anything close to Jaguar, more like middle-class BMW or Audi for it. Base car has to be very basic and quite ordinary.

So, people, lower your expectations for luxury, enjoy the superiority of the drivetrain.

The most luxerous car I ever drove was a 2003 Honda Accord V6 EX w/Leather. My expectations are high because I am spending over $65k + $35k in battery for a grand total of $110k. But based on previous experience, I shouldn't be that hard to please. I loved, and I mean LOVED driving the Model S and it wasn't even the performance version that I ordered. My biggest concern is that it can last the 10 to 15 years it takes for me to justify the costs. One of the reasons I was surprised to see the warantee dropped from 5 years to 4 on all but the battery which is 8 years. I am all in for the Model S and can't wait for it, but would wait if it meant it still needed to pass Elon's stamp of approval.

Timo, I don't fully agree with you.
I agree with the part of the driving experience. I don't agree to lower my expectations. If you say you are building the best car in the world that can compete with certain brands, then the least I would expect is the interieur to be comparable with a middle-class competitor. And I am not talking about the luxury of a high-end Merc or Jag. From the pictures and films it seems that the interieur is kind of ok. I worry about the seats.

You attempting to steal rights to Leo's word?

perfect! Now, find soflauthor and sell him rights to it! "The SOFL 'Stuff-It Tesla Crapholder'!" It will make millyuns, I tells ya!

As the original poster, it has been interesting reading the various responses to my post. Some people really are just interested in having efficient, safe and eco-friendly transportation from point A to point B. There is also a population of car owners out there however, that really enjoy the driving experience and are willing to pay for that experience.

Tesla describes the Model S "as the world's first premium electric sedan", and by that I assumed they are hoping to compete with the other "premium" sedans on the market. The point of my post is that Tesla has an opportunity to make me a lifelong customer, as I'm 100% sure I will be completing my Model S purchase (#8756 :( ). However, they surely know that the Big Boys are just looking at their product as a way to test the market for electric cars, and if the Model S proves a market exists, competition will come. If I could buy an all-electric BMW 5-series for $65,000 today I would do so in a heartbeat (sorry guys). I've owned six new BMW's and I know from experience I will be completely pleased with the styling, performance, comfort and reliablity of any BMW model. BMW has succeeded in making me a lifelong customer.

Sit in any new BMW, even a $40,000 one, and you'll see that the Model S interior looks of lower quality and refinement (again this is my opinion). However, I feel the exterior styling of the Model S equals that of any car on the road, and this is my point. To make me a lifelong Tesla customer, you're going to have to make me willing to walk away from the company that arguably makes the best cars on the planet, and to do that, you're going to have to make a car that completes on every level. And in my opinion, the interior of the Model S is not competitive.

I'm buying a Model S because there's nothing like it out there. But to make me a lifelong customer, you're going to have to give me the BMW car ownership experience. I know you A-to-B'ers think I'm a snob or whatever, but I guarantee you there are a lot of potential buyers out there that think like me.

I look forward to owning my Model S and wish I had a lower reservation number. Thanks for all the comments.

+1 RickS_8756

RickS, you are telling me you would buy a BMW-5 that only gets <100 miles to the charge for $65k? Because NO other car manufacture has figured out how to increase that range without Tesla's help.

If they use the ~$40k Tesla battery pack for a real range then your BMW-5 will be about $80,000 not $65,000.

I like how so many people assume another car maker can just turn their car into a Tesla range runner for no additional cost. All of those other manufacturers are not doing it because they want Tesla to make all the money I guess.

I am sure if Tesla is hugely successful BMW will flip a switch and suddenly be able to make high range BEVs over night. (NOT)
Actually they may call Tesla and ask for a skateboard, then BMW will be able to do it but not for $40-65k. 40k is probably what Tesla will charge for the skateboard.

First of all, not ALL BMW owners agree with RickS. I have 2 BMWs and I don't really agree that they make the 'best cars on the planet', and I definitely disagree with the implication that the BMW ownership experience is so good. Especially considering the cost of regular maintenance and repairs on their cars past 4 years. BMW could be a LOT better in terms of the ownership experience.

Second, I think the Model S interior is much nicer, and better crafted, than my 2002 3-series, and just below the interior of my 2008 3-series. Can't speak to the quality of any model after that, but I stress that quality can be a very subjective issue as well.

BTW - wasn't it BMW who held out for so long on adding more cupholders (and still can't get them right), who had the worst iDrive interface imaginable, and who worked the minimalist interior to perfection? I would certainly not choose BMW as the shining example of luxurious interiors.

In the end, you have to be happy with your purchase. If you're going to sweat things like power folding mirrors, burl wood, and cupholders, chances are you won't be happy with Model S v1.0.

+1 rd2
As a former BMW 3 series owner it seems to me every car is a +/- proposition. Now if Tesla gets into the motorcycle business they may pull me away from my BMW r1200gs...

Ricks 8756, you really confused me I have never had wood in my bmw's .now I have seen wood in toyota,s and Kia , but not in a refined BMW

I own a CLS550 and while I do have a lot of good things to say about the exterior and interior quality I must say that I have ownership experience problems and issues with the entertainment center (can you imagine no touch screen in this age).

Ok, so the Model S entertainment center seems to be going in the right direction (audiophiles are complaining about quality etc), ownership experience could turn out to be great (we don't know that yet) but the quality of the interior is still in question. People can have an overall positive satisfaction but that does not change the fact that independently the interior of the Model S that most of us have seen is not anywhere where it should be. I don't think Elon would argue that.

@Sudre, If they use the ~$40k Tesla battery pack for a real range then your BMW-5 will be about $80,000 not $65,000.

It would be a big mistake to think that if Tesla sold its battery pack to BMW, MB, Porsche etc and Tesla maintained Model S' current interior quality with the current price tag that over 60% of current reservation holders would not swarm to those other auto makers whatever their individual ownership experience has been.

There's an adage in my culture that says even though we cry, we still should see hence whatever the bias for Tesla, we should still be able to offer constructive and corrective criticism.

I love the Model S, I love the great work that Tesla is doing (has done), I hope they do well and I hope that they keep advancing to be ahead of the revolution.

I agree somewhat. I don't love the interior on the S; however, compared to many of the future concept cars in the same (or higher) category, I hate their interiors even more!

For instance...

Volker.Berlin | JULY 23, 2012
As another European buyer, I keep telling myself two things:

First, the German brands are known to "soften" their suspension and steering for the American market. German cars that are adjusted to accommodate American expectations are said to be still relatively "stiff" when compared to American brands, but less so than the same cars when tuned for the German market. I'm not sure to which extent this is actually true, but it seems plausible to me.

@Volker: I have driven German cars in the US and in Germany (and own a VW GTI in the US) but I don't think you will have any issues with the suspension. The suspension feels very soft, especially for a German car BUT the low center of gravity completely negates all the poor handling of most soft suspensions. I know it has been said before but it is really hard to explain the feel of the car without driving it. It really is the best of both worlds: Smooth movement over bumps and poor road surfaces and great cornering.

The only issue in the handling I see might be an issue for some people here and probably more people in Europe is the lack of feedback in the steering wheel. Surprisingly, I had the same feeling when driving a MB E-class in Germany last year. I think TM might be able to tweak this in software a bit.

Overall though, I think you will be happily surprised by how the car drives.

Need edit feature. It looks like Italics don't span new lines...

all tags close with each paragraph break. They span ordinary linebreaks, but not double breaks or para. A really irritating "feature".

junky wrote: The suspension feels very soft, especially for a German car BUT the low center of gravity completely negates all the poor handling of most soft suspensions. I know it has been said before but it is really hard to explain the feel of the car without driving it. It really is the best of both worlds: Smooth movement over bumps and poor road surfaces and great cornering.

@VolkerB - my daily driver for the past 6 years has been a BMW 550i w sport suspension. Great! Great engine! However I found in my test drive that the Model-S suspension system provided a ride that I felt was 'sportier' yet 'smoother' than my prized BMW. My wife especially enjoyed the Model-S handling and ride (from the back seat) and repeatedly pointed how much she is looking forward to my new daily driver.... from her point of view based on the smoother ride! Will be interested to hear what you think when you get your test drive.

gjunky, pilotSteve, thank you very much for sharing your impressions, and particularly for putting those impressions into some context of your daily driving experience. I starving for tidbits like that! And definitely I'm glad to hear that the Model S' suspension compares favorably to that of a 550i. I'm not surprised that it is much softer than that of a GTI; actually, I would have been worried if it felt anything as stiff as the GTI.

I want to set this straight, though: You seem to have the idea that I'm worried about the Model S' suspension not being sporty enough. That's not the case. My argument was that very likely the Model S gets some different "finishing" for extra-American markets, like Germany. That may include suspension settings, interior materials, option packaging, and/or some other aspects. My assumption is based on the fact that apparently that's what other brands do as well: Tweak their cars slightly differently for different markets.

My conclusion is that I take all test drive reports and early reviews, even and particularly those in the German media, with a grain of salt -- because the Model S that is currently being test-driven and reviewed is very likely not the Model S that will be delivered in Germany. I'm not saying that I think suspension is too stiff or too soft -- all I'm saying is that I hold my judgment until there are reviews of the actual configuration as it will be delivered in Germany.

Weighing in on the interior of the car per @Rick's original post - having driven the Model S two weekends ago I would echo 100% the comments about the interior. It is not close to Lexus/BMW in terms of design, beauty, etc. It has its cheap looking materials, storage issues, etc. and it will not compare well to anything higher-end being driven in Europe. The word my wife even used to describe the much-touted touchscreen was "obnoxious."

That said, I found that the driving experience of the car was significantly better than anything I have driven in the class. I have not tested anything at the 100K price point so comping it against the $60K 5 series, Lexus GS, etc. The Tesla was much more fun to drive (my opinion) than those, not to mention you can be the only one you know driving a Tesla or you can join the six billion people driving those others.

Combining all of that with the EV angle and the case for the Tesla is still pretty strong. I do feel like waiting for model s 2.0 is going to be a very good call for those that are patient.

Jscottanders, wow how can you put BMW and Lexus together, the BMW is at the top of what we have had to choose from. Now we have an. American car that is for a lot of us at the top of the automobile food chain.. Lexus does not compare to a ford or hyundai.

I have owned Lexus, Audi and MB autos, and have to say that the interior of the Model S is inferior to those cars. I have grave concerns with the seats, for example. I attended the DC event. The leather on the seats in several of the cars (including the Performance model I drove) appeared "stretched"; that is, the leather was not taut and form fitting ton the contours of the shell. When I commented about this to the rep, he replied that the cars had been driven by many people. But seriously, the cars were only a few weeks old (the car I drove had 1500 miles on it). If the seats looked shoddy with such low mileage and age, what will they look like after a year or two.
I also do not think the fit and finish is up to European or even Lexus status.
I canceled my Signature reservation, the above beingmerely some of my concerns. I also feel that a vehicle of this calibre and cost should include (or at least offer as an option) safety feature such as blind side detection and front collision avoidance systems. These features are avilable from upscale manufacturers such as MB, BMW,Lexus and even Caddy XTS (which sells for $61.5K fully loaded.
I still have a very low production reaservation (already got my configuration email), but will likely defer for 6 months to see whether Tesla makes any changes. I have 3 cars at the present time, and can wait.

Steve W, you have to admit it is hard for most of us to believe that Teala cannot make seat comparabe to a Chevrolet, Volvo, or liar

@mel, I'm not sure I understand your comment about Lexus. From an interior design and quality perspective they are right up there in terms of fit, finish, comfort. BMW is a superior drive, of course. My point is there is not really a comparison between the model s and those cars in that area, so anyone who is looking for that is probably going to be disappointed.

@steve I didn't notice that about the seats but that sounds pretty bad.

With ICE cars, the difference between standard and upscale mechanically is not that great, or expensive to create. So they concentrate on image and the cockpit. The M-S is different, in that almost all the additional value and cost is structural and mechanical, so there's less loose margin and money to throw at the comfort and image stuff. The famous e.g. is that a Caddy costs about 20% more than a Chevy to make, but buyers want a nice big price tag for status' sake, which leaves lots of cash to dedicate to the interior (to reinforce the upscale rich pimp feelings of the owners).

If that's what turns you on, go for it!

As for the nattering, as Elon said today, the shorts have means, motive and opportunity to badmouth the stock and company.

Rick et al; are you short, or long TSLA?

Being asked for what exactly keeps the production run rate low at the moment, Elon offered the following answer. This is very much an answer to the original post of this thread, and I guess a lot of people on these boards will be glad to hear it. Emphasis mine.

There are several thousand parts in the car. Probably 97-98% of them are fine. There’s a couple percent that needs to be addressed. But you cannot ship a car that is 98% complete, or where there’s sort of 2% of the components are not of consistently high quality. So there’s probably a couple dozen suppliers where we have some challenges, where we’ve got to fix the supplier, bring it internal or get a different supplier.

These are not big things. That’s very important. Honestly, sometimes the most ridiculously silly things. Like it could be a piece of carpet or a bit of interior trim that doesn’t have a flush condition or like there’s a piece of bright molding on the dashboard which doesn’t exactly follow where it has an intersection with another piece of bright molding. That intersection doesn’t have the right press. So there are these little things that are extremely annoying. [laughter] But we just can’t be delivering cars that don’t have an outstanding fit and finish.

Of those sort of couple dozen parts, almost all of them are like interior soft trim issues. So it’s not like there’s some important fundamental technology thing. Like our battery pack and power train is in great shape. Chassis is in great shape, and body and paint. Obviously we want to keep refining it and make sure that the gaps and fits are as close to perfection as physics will allow, but obviously the vexing things are a bunch of seemingly trivial interior components.

Perhaps though it’s just because we assumed those things wouldn’t be problematic, and they were more problematic than we realized. We’ve since beefed up our interior trim engineering group considerably, and [unintelligible] in the future.

+1 Volker. This one gave me confidence ...

Thanks VB.
I read into Elon's statement that they at Tesla have either noticed or listened to comments that the current state of the interior is vexing or a turn off.

Thanks TM for not settling for less than standard.

But it is comforting that the core of the vehicle is solid in areas like battery pack and power train. I guess that's the areas that matters to some.

Someone commented some time ago that the "finish" details for any product end up being fussier and eating more time than just about anything and everything else. Earlier approximations and shortcuts suddenly come to the fore, and won't go away. :)

In the end, I think the success of Model S will boil down to a question of whether the driving experience will trump all the other nits that we pick at here. Having driven the car, I tend to think it will, but that question will be answered by the mass market once all the early adopters have their cars. And, the answer is months and months away; stay tuned...

Brian H - I don't have any position in Tesla's stock. As I stated a few times before, I'm number 8756 on the waiting list for a Model S, and I want to see them succeed as a company. I just feel the interior is the weak point in the car, and doesn't come close to the style and refinement of any of the luxury brands I've owned in the past 20 years (BMW, Lexus and MB). This is solely my opinion, and I'm admittedly a car enthusiast, not an A-to-B'er.

My reason I created the original post was to bring the subject to Tesla's attention. Sure they have a backlog of early adopters, but when that's gone they are going to have to compete totally on the merits of the vehicle.

Go sit in a new Lexus or BMW that costs $65,000. Their interiors are WAY nicer, and if they decide to create an all-electric luxury sedan you can bet it will have the same design aesthetic as their ICE vehicles. Don't be naive that these companies don't have the technology. BMW already has cars coming out in 2013 (i3 and i8), and if the Model S is a success they will surely create direct competition for it.

Just because I pointed this out doesn't mean I have negative feelings about Tesla or the Model S. I'm buying a Model S - period. But I only keep cars for three years and if Telsa wants to make me a repeat buyer they're going to have to offer me something that's better than BMW's 2016 i-whatever, and they're going to have to improve the car's interior to accomplish that. Only time will tell.

Mel, I am not certain what you are implying by your statement "Steve W, you have to admit it is hard for most of us to believe that Teala cannot make seat comparabe to a Chevrolet, Volvo, or liar". Do you think I am lying? I only reported what i observed. I want for Tesla to succeed. But the interior of the car, and especially the seats, leave a lot to be desired. As I said, I commented on the issue of the seat leather to the Tesla rep, and he merely attributed the problem to the cars being test cars. Maybe that is why the leather seemed stretched in the cars, but I don't buy it. Not when the cars were only a few weeks old and only had about 1500 miles on them. I regret that I did not take pictures, so you would believe what I saw.

I am not bent out of shape by the lack of cup holders (I don't eat or drink in a car), but do wish there was more storage space for sunglasses, coins (for tolls), etc.

I gave them $45,000 in deposits ($40,000 for the Signature reservation and $5,000 for the production model), and have waited nearly 3 years for the car to be produced. I am still waiting for the refund of the $40,000 deposit from the canceled Signature model.

As i indicated, the interior is not the sole reason I canceled the order on the Signature, but it is one reason. In the three years since I placed my initial deposit, I have suffered 3 retina detachments in my right eye and one retina detachment in my left eye. As a result, safety features in a vehicle have taken on an increased importance. I praise Tesla for achieving a 5 star crash test rating, but they have fallen down on not including systems to prevent (avoid) a collision in the first. Features such as blind side detection system, a collision avoidance system where the car automatically applies the brakes if an accident is immenient, headlights that turn in the direction that the car is steering. My 2005 MB has a front collision avoidance system and turning headlights, so why can't the Tesla? Due to changed circumstances, such safety features are now more imporatant to me that 0-60 in 4.4 seconds. Such features can be found in vehicles costing $50K/60K from other manufacturers. So why does Tesla not include such safety features, even if optional. based on conversations with the Tesla reps, I believe they are rushing the car to market (which is understandable). They told me that they are aware of this deficiency in the car, have already developed some of these safety features and will add these features to the car, but do not know whether they will be upgradable on a car in the field. I will likely defer the production car (P258; already received the email to configure and order) for 6 months, hoping they add some (if not all) of these features to the car.

BTW, I have no stock or other interest in Tesla, and no intention of buying the stock. My comments are based solely on my observation and current needs, which I hope Tesla will listen to in order to improve the car. It is a wonderful car to drive; world class in that department. Now they just need to attend to the interior and safety features to truly make the car the best in the world.

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