Jan. 13--Likely Stockton's first Tesla Model 3 whirred into town this week. I thought it might be fun to check out this future-is-here buggy. Owner Richard Harty obliged.
"This is my phone," said Harty, 58, waving his smartphone as we approached the Midnight Silver Metallic car hunkered outside his office. "As soon as I'm within 30 feet, the doors unlock."
Nice. Before we climbed in, I noted that the -- you'll love this word -- skeumorphic grill from the Model S is gone; no grille is needed on an electric vehicle, but the S had one anyway, for looks or visual tradition. Skeumorphism.
I promise no more words like that.
"Everybody goes 'Wow,'" said Harty as we admired the sleek style, sort of like a futuristic BMW 320. Designers cut a foot off the 3's trunk, lightening the vehicle (but losing no cargo space because there's no engine up front in what Tesla calls the "frunk").
"I get a lot of James Bond comments," Harty said as we slid in.
The most visually radical aspect of the 3 is its minimalist dashboard. Starkly free of buttons or knobs, its controls float on a 15-inch touchscreen mounted in the middle of the dash.
"There's a voice command, so you can say 'Navigate home' and it'll draw you a map," Harty said, flipping a lever on the steering column to start the car.
A GIS aerial map appeared onscreen. Harty jounced out the driveway and onto Hammer Lane. Turning on the "adaptive cruise control" he took his foot off the brake.
Tesla 3s aren't fully autonomous (yet) but the radar-based adaptive cruise control automatically adjusts the car's speed to keep safe distance from other vehicles.
I am not used to this. To me it seemed the 3 spurted ahead much faster than felt safe as it bore down on cars stopped ahead at a Hammer Lane traffic light.
Harty blithely kept his foot off the brake. Closer, closer ... "Whoa!" I blurted, thinking a crash imminent.
The "regenerative braking" kicked in. The engine slows the car, capturing kinetic energy to recharge the battery. We came to a stop well behind the car ahead of us. Whew.
The 3's radar not only senses the car ahead, the radar bounces under that car to sense the next one. If that car slows, the 3 will slow for safety even before a driver sees brake lights.
The 3's radar can do this in fog so thick a driver can't see the cars. The touch screen will show their location, however, even displaying their distance measured in feet.
We headed for I-5.
The old worry about EVs was the paucity of charging stations. And the nearest to Stockton is in Manteca (Stockton is slated to get a charging station, whereabouts unknown).
But the 3's 310-mile range, coupled with ever-more charging stations, eliminates range anxiety, Harty said. On a trip to L.A., he might stop for a 45-minute charge and lunch at Harris Ranch, and maybe a 15-minute top-off on the Grapevine. No worries.
Besides, Harty charges at home. An EV pairs beautifully with his solar power. Harty pays $0 for electricity and gasoline. Plus the only wear on a 3 is tires and brakes.
"What we saved on my Leaf (Nissan Leaf, Harty's other EV) has almost paid for my car," Harty said
Of course, the Tesla 3 cost Hartly $61,000. But Uncle Sam offers a $7,500 tax credit, the state $2,500 cash and the county $3,000, softening the blow to $48,000.
That still sounds like a lot, and it is. But savings spread over the 20-year car life in gas, wear and fees makes the deal pencil out.
"You don't have oil changes, don't have smog checks, and insurance is a little lower on this because of the auto-pilot," Harty said.
Speaking of the auto-pilot ...
We swerved onto the I-5 on-ramp. To show me the 3's power, Harty hit the gas. Wait a sec. We can't call it "the gas" anymore. OK, the accelerator.
Whoa, again! The 3 does not boast 6's famous "Ludicrous Mode," 0 to 60 in a startling 2.8 seconds. Yet, free of gears, we whooshed up the on-ramp like a puck smacked across an air hockey table (the 3's top speed: 142 mph).
"Oh, these are fun to drive," Harty grinned. "These things are fast."
Atop the highway, Harty switched on auto-pilot. As I gaped, and recalled all the fatal car crash stories I have banged out, Harty took his hands off the wheel.
"In auto-pilot, the car steers," Harty said.
We barreled along amid a school of cars and trucks. The screen displayed an image of the car slotted in its lane. Eight cameras and ultrasound help it stay that way.
"It doesn't freak me out," said Harty, anymore, at least. "But when I first did it I was hovering over the steering wheel."
Harty held a lever down. The 3, sensing surrounding vehicles, changed lanes safely. Locking into the new lane, the car slowed automatically, to stop from gaining on a slow-moving car ahead.
"I thought this was a gimmick," Harty said. "But when you're on a long trip, you're much less fatigued when you get there."
Tesla inventor Elon Musk says soon Teslas will be fully autonomous; a driver can go to sleep at the wheel.
Tesla uses artificial intelligence to reach this goal. The company gathers data from all its cars to analyze every road situation and teach its cars to drive better.
Teslas also boast over-the-air software upgrades via LTE or home Wi-Fi. Supposedly the next upgrade is a feature called "summon." Drivers who return to find their parked Teslas boxed in by cars parked way too close will be able to pull the car forward remotely so they can get the doors opened.
Harty ticked off other gee-whiz features, too many to list. I asked about music. The touchscreen gets Slacker Radio, an online music streaming service.
"You can say, 'Play Fleetwood Mac' and it'll play Fleetwood Mac," Harty said. Or the system pairs with your smartphone and uses its streaming service, or your music library.
Soon we were rolling hands-free down I-5 as the late afternoon sun lowered and David Bowie sang "Changes." Appropriately, it seemed to me.
"Ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange, ch-ch-changes ..."
Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at recordnet.com/fitzgeraldblog and on Twitter @Stocktonopolis.
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