Tesla Model (bug)S

Tesla Technical Difficulties

I’m not Tesla-bashing, this is just a minor rant about the growing pains of an ambitious, complicated product.

I’m a big fan of what Tesla’s doing (though not as much the minivan Model X), but like any complex product, the Model S has its issues. It’s a great car in many ways–astonishingly so given Tesla’s short history. But still.

Our Model S is Mrs. NotUnless’s daily driver, bought as a safe, comfortable commuter car that got her into the HOV lane solo with enough range that she doesn’t have to worry about running the air conditioner on the way home (as she did with her Nissan LEAF).

Anyway, it’s her car, and she’s bonded with it like no car before, so weeks go by when I don’t drive it. And like a nephew you don’t see very often, any changes that have occurred in the meantime (like software updates or growth spurts) are really noticeable.

The Model S is really ambitious, especially with the way it integrates so many things into a common software base. You get a sense that you’re driving a modern laptop computer around, with things running in the background that you’re not directly aware of but that are slowing things down. As newer software updates are delivered (over WiFi or 3G Cellular), things often get slower. It’s not a big deal, but it reduces the “premium” feel when you hit a button to open the charging port and it’s a full two seconds, without feedback, before the port pops open.

Or when you try to navigate to a nearby location, and the navigation system just hangs at looking up the destination until you reboot the car, so you have to pull out your phone and use Waze to get where you’re going instead.

There are other examples, like when you’re playing music and all the songs show the same album artwork, from an obscure unrelated album you maybe had on a device in the car once, more than a year ago. Again, not a big deal, but it demonstrates a certain lack of polish. Especially when the bug persists release after release.

The “Beta” features like Summon (where the car parks and unparks itself) and “Autopilot” (where the car steers itself in addition to maintaining speed and distance without driver input) are very much “Beta.” They’re also astonishing in what they already do, and they’re labeled “Beta,” so you should know what you’re getting into. You have to pay attention.

Summon works for us about 25% of the time. When we try to pull into our (cramped) garage, about 75% of the time the car gives up. Which is the right thing for it to do, rather than keep going and make a mistake like crashing into our other car.

Autopilot can be a little scarier, like the time it tried to steer us left into the center divider. It was night, there wasn’t another car nearby to lead by example, and the highway markings were a little confusing and worn out, but still–it was a terrifying event when I had to take the wheel and steer us back parallel to the lane. And you just have to take on faith that Tesla Motors observed when you took control and abruptly steered right while Autopilot was aiming for the divider, because there’s no way to give Autopilot a “thumbs down” like when Pandora plays some song you never asked for and never want to hear again. Like “Into the Center Divider” by I Wish I Was Paying Attention.

These days I explain Autopilot as being like riding with a human student driver. Let them do their thing, but you need to always pay attention and be ready to take control if / when they really make a mistake.

So would we buy the Model S again? Absolutely. It’s still one of the best cars we’ve ever owned, and it confidently demonstrates the potential of electric cars.

But don’t get me started about the bugs. Or those damned door handles.

2 thoughts on “Tesla Model (bug)S

  1. Beautifully written. You must have had a good English teacher. A fun review publish on a larger scale to a wider audience. We going to Lemons?


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