The “Device-ification” of the Automobile
10 Reasons My Tesla Ownership Experience Predicts the Future
I bought a Tesla Model S P90D back in September of 2015. It is, hands down, one of the top three products of any kind I’ve owned in my life (I’ll write about the others another time). The enormous, intuitive, super functional touch screen is probably my favorite feature. It fully shames any other manufacturer’s idea of a driver interface, rendering them all clunky and poorly conceived by comparison. In particular, the huge map that works just like those on smart phones (pinch to zoom out, spread to zoom in, etc.) is absolutely wonderful, and means I’m not using my phone as a distracting GPS device while driving.
The Auto Pilot feature is cool, too, but for me, it’s more of a gimmick than anything I rely on regularly (and in fact, I forget about the darn thing most of the time).
Same goes for the parallel parking feature. It’s super cool, but almost never gets used, as I am a suburbanite.
Even more of a gimmick, but something fun to show people, is the summons feature, in which I can use the remote (or my phone) to bring the car to me out in the driveway, for instance. There is something that makes you chuckle when seeing an expensive piece of automotive hardware driving itself, even if for a few feet in a straight line.
One of the surprisingly pleasing aspects of the car, which could easily be incorporated by other manufacturers (and maybe already is, for all I know) is the automatic garage door opener. The car knows I am pulling in the driveway without me having to do anything, and simply opens the garage door to allow my entry. Now, I admit, pushing a garage door button myself is not a heavy burden, but I still appreciate this very simple/smart feature. It just makes sense, and once you see it done, you wonder why it took so long for anyone to come up with it.
Also cool but hardly used is the front trunk, or “frunk,” where, because there is no engine, a neat storage space is available instead. It’s about the size of a small YETI, but the back end of the car has so much room, especially since there is no gas tank taking up space, that I hardly need the additional storage up front. Still, it’s a fun feature to show people, making one feel like a VW owner of the 60's.
Like licorice candy, these are all fine and dandy, but there are 10 major aspects to the ownership experience of this car that I believe predict the future of the automobile (in no particular order):
- Instant torque — There is no describing how fun the sheer acceleration of this car is to a performance enthusiast like myself. I’m no purist; meaning, I don’t care what type of power plant is producing this speed, I only care about the speed. And does it have it — in droves! I can “dispatch” any poor sucker with a gasoline engine, whether from a standing start at a stoplight or when needing to pass on the highway (safely, and within the speed limit, of course).
- Better and better range — For my driving habits (ahem), this car has a range of about half of what a similar gasoline car would provide. It’s not enough, truth be told (will it ever be?), but battery capacity is only going to get better, as evidenced by the fact that Tesla has already released a 100 KW battery since I bought my 90, and are working on even higher capacity units, and have built an enormous Gigafactory to lead the world in battery production.
- Charging station ubiquity — Helping to offset the range issue is the growing infrastructure of Tesla charging stations around the globe. I have used many of these, and they always work like a champ. I am an early enough owner to have my usage be free, and this is excellent. Since it is a DC charge and doesn’t have to go through a converter, and the amperage is high, the charging time is super quick and efficient. I LOVE these.
- Emissions — who doesn’t love zero emissions? Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not naïve enough to think a battery just gets built without any impact on the environment, and I know where electricity comes from. But my region is supplied by nuclear power, which, for the most part, is one of the cleanest and most efficient ways to generate electricity (radioactive by-product and the risk of a melt down not withstanding).
- Silence — even though I am a motorcyclist, I hate loud bikes. And although I appreciate the good roar of a high performance automobile, there is something super thrilling about that quiet jet-like whistling sound of the Tesla as it pulls through its impressive acceleration curve. I was quickly converted to it’s near silent slingshot impersonation.
- Simplicity —it is elegant to have only a fraction of the moving parts of “normal” automobiles. This means a lot less things to go wrong, and many fewer to maintain. For instance, there are only two fluids associated with the car (if you ignore the adrenaline of the driver): windshield washer and brake fluid. Simple is the new sophisticated.
- Space inside the car — with no transmission or driveshaft hump, no huge engine gobbling up space in the driver’s compartment, no gas tank, etc., the designers are able to maximize usable space within. As a result there is ample legroom and almost a creepy amount of space around the floor and between seats.
- Crashworthiness/safety — without the heavy and large engine and transmission of a gasoline car, the crash performance is much improved compared to vehicles of comparable size. This is because the body crunches/compresses more completely without pushing the engine into the passengers inside. What is peace of mind worth?
- Costs will come down — admittedly, my car is a ridiculously expensive piece of equipment, especially since I opted for the high performance model (always the way it goes for those who want it). But with the release of the more affordable Model 3, and with the ramping up of all major auto companies around the world who are going to be coming out with more and more fully electric models, price will come down as components evolve and are scaled up from a manufacturing standpoint. In fact, Tesla is no expert on manufacturing yet, and even laughably seems to think they invented the concept of “design for manufacture,” which is actually a century old. But there ARE companies who ARE experts at mass production, and they’re quickly responding to the call of the marketplace that Tesla helped instigate.
- “Device-ness” — this is the most curious aspect of all, and the biggest indicator of where things are headed: the relationship we have with automobiles is changing in a fundamental way. Where, say, in the 1950’s it was a full-blown and almost scandalous love affair, today we have entered into the “just be friends” category, and not the BFF variety, either. Cars have gone from objects of lust to something closer to a commodity, or even more to the point, something more like our smart phones. Although, don’t get me wrong, there are still those who love horsepower and a good wax job on a Sunday afternoon (and the fact that you thought of something else when I said “wax job” proves my point about how far things have changed). Clearly, though, that generation is dying off. The Millennials and Generation Z folks spend more time on Snap Chat and video games and less in their driveways shining their steeds. Again, not all, but most. Run this little test for yourself: the next time you see a super cleaned up car with Armor All on its tires and the windows perfectly washed, take a look at the driver. It’s 10:1 odds that he (yes, it’ll likely be a “he”) sports my same hair color (a dead-sexy silver, should you not already know).
What does all this mean? That Tesla is at the vanguard of the transformation of cars from being objects of lust to mere devices instead.
A device is something we use to accomplish something for us (a toaster makes toast, a drill makes a hole, and a smart phone connects us to the internet and our friends). Strictly speaking, a car has always been a device of sorts, of course, but for many people automobiles have also been a status symbol, an extension of their personality, and in some cases, even a political statement. With the “device-ification” of the automobile, when these additional factors fade away, it won’t be such a reach for us to share our car out to others, or to even utilize it to transport us somewhere without any interest in enjoying the task of maneuvering it, or to perhaps not even own one directly or entirely ourselves.
It’s an odd thing that Tesla finally broke through and truly got this revolution rolling by doing the opposite of “Device-ifiying” their cars. They began by making the first electric cars that didn’t look “cute” or minimal, but instead emphasized the power, performance, and yes, status of their products. People like me, who enjoy being at the leading edge, but not at the cost of appearance and performance, can have it all. And there are apparently a lot of us, enough to prime the pump and get the process going, so that the momentum of device-ification can get rolling. And once it does, well, in more ways than one, it’s a true statement that . . .
the future is going to be electric!