Our Tesla content has been very well received by the Tesla community lately. The Tesla fans and owners do not tolerate any mistakes in any stories with regard to their favorite brand. We first met Stephen when he added some clarifications under a story we wrote a while back. His passion and his broad knowledge of the brand and cars were so impressive we asked him if he would sit for an interview. We hope you are as pleasantly surprised by his story as we were.
Hello Stephen. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a systems engineer for an enterprise software company, Kalido. This means I spend my days in technical sales situations which probably helps when people ask me Tesla questions (which is frequently). I have loved computers from an early age, learned to program on a friend’s Atari 400 and later on my family’s Apple //e, and it is the technology guy in me that attracts me to Tesla.
Tell us about your specific Tesla Model S.
I have a Signature Red Model S (#219) delivered in October 2012 with a tan interior and obeche gloss finish, and most everything except the Performance package and the rear facing child seats. I originally had reservation #3331 but I toured the factory in October 2011, rode in the car, met Elon (founder of Tesla) and some of the other execs, and decided to make the jump to Signature. While it was still early days, anyone touring the factory and talking to the engineers for that event could see that Tesla was going to be the real deal.
Have you done anything like get special rims or tires?
Living in Houston, I don’t need seasonal tires. However, the roads near me are pretty bad, so I stayed with the standard 19” stock wheels and tires even though the Signature came with 21” wheels and performance tires. While I like the look of the 21” wheels better than mine, I plan to keep my car for at least 10 years, and I figure the 19” tires will save me some money, give me slightly more range, and I’ll probably get less road rash on the rims. I had low profile tires on my previous vehicle, and I curbed all four wheels.
What cars have you owned in the past? Have you had other green cars in the past? Why not a more affordable Volt or Leaf instead of a Tesla?
The Tesla Model S is by far the nicest car I have ever owned and the only one that has ever gotten any type of valet respect. I kept both of my previous cars 10 years each, a Sentra SE-R and a Lexus IS 300. Both were good cars and fun to drive, but when it came time to look for a new one, nothing out there really excited me. I became aware of the Tesla Roadster, which was intriguing, but I was looking for a daily driver, a 4 door sports sedan, and certainly nothing in that price range. But when I heard Tesla was planning a $50k sports sedan, I read all I could about it, and I got sucked in. Eventually I put down a reservation. Later, when I found out how much it would be with the options I wanted, I had a tough decision. I really didn’t want to spend that much, but I had been mentally committed for a while, I was in a financial position to do it, so I went for it. In hindsight, it worked out because I bought stock after attending the factory event in Oct 2011 and it did pretty well (smiles).
The Models S has near supercar performance. Did you consider other green cars like this such as the Porsche Panamera S Plug-in hybrid?
No. Most hybrids have pretty terrible plug in range, and I wanted to get off of gas all the way. I really like the idea that the Tesla drive train is pretty simple, and having a gas motor in addition to batteries adds unneeded complexity and maintenance. You have to get oil changes. You have to get a smog test. The motor takes up space that could be used for storage. And for what? So the 5% of the time you need to drive more than 265 miles in a day you can fill up faster? I view this as a bad tradeoff. Most of the time if I need to drive more than 500 miles, I will fly. And the Tesla SuperChargers are even making long distance driving easy.
If there was no Model S what would you drive today?
If the Model S did not exist, I probably would have ended up with something like a BMW 5 Series.
Tell us about your use of the SuperCharger network please.
I have been fortunate to attend two of the SuperCharger ribbon cuttings in Texas and have visited 4 of the 5 Texas SuperChargers so far. While I can drive to Austin from Houston without a charge, Dallas is a bit of a stretch unless you drive fairly slow. Having these SuperChargers mean I can drive anywhere in Texas I’d typically drive without having to plan. That they are free is just icing on the cake.
Do you ever charge the car publically, but not at a Supercharger? Expand on this if you like. How do you do it, do you have to pay? Are the chargers compatible at the airport, library, wherever?
Most Tesla owners charge 95% of the time at home, and certainly that has been my experience. The times I’ve needed to charge away from home have been on road trips. For instance, when I drive to Austin, I typically charge at the Tesla Gallery at The Domain, which is fast and free. Before Tesla opened a place in Austin, though, I charged overnight at a Walmart near my brother’s house on a ChargePoint. Cost for fill-up was around $20, which was still much cheaper than gas for my previous car. When I drove to Dallas last time, I charged at the convention center hotel on a Blink charger for free. I have cards for three public charging networks: Blink, ChargePoint, and eVgo, and Tesla has adapters for everything out there. I’ve even charged at an RV park on a NEMA 14-50 plug and an old style RV plug (TT-30) at Texas World Speedway when I attended their performance driving school.
What was your biggest surprise about the Tesla Model S?
Other than the performance of the car, the user interface and infotainment system is probably the next biggest surprise. It is well designed, it is quick, and it gets better with time as updates come. Google and Apple made some announcements recently, and this space is likely to get a lot more competitive, but at the moment, Tesla has the best system out there hands down. In a way it is almost embarrassing how good it is compared with systems from Microsoft that were supposed to be ‘state of the art’.
When did Elon Musk sign your car? You were also at a pretty cool party in NYC in 2012. You met Franz von Holzhausen, the designer of the Model S there. Can you tell us just a bit about that party and how you got an invite to that?
I had Elon sign my car at the Austin Gallery opening. He was in town to speak in favor of amending the state dealership law to allow Tesla to sell directly to consumers. At the same time, Texas was also lobbying Elon to use Brownsville for a SpaceX launch pad. As for the Tesla party in New York City, I believe all reservation holders were ultimately invited, although it might have been in reservation order. My recollection is that we didn’t have that much notice and the purpose of the party wasn’t announced in the invite. However, I joked at the time “if a billionaire invites you to a party, you go”, and I had a lot of frequent flyer miles handy, so I went. I was glad I did because it turned out to be the announcement that the Tesla Model S had won 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year, and it was a fun and inspiring night. You can link to the speeches here. Tesla was still small enough at the time that there were opportunities to meet and speak with the executives, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to do that a few times now. At this party I especially enjoyed speaking to some of the Motor Trend experts who seemed universally amazed that Tesla turned out such a fantastic car on their first attempt.
How important were the tax incentives to you in your decision to buy? Would you have bought if there were none.
Having the $7500 federal tax credit was nice, and it helped push me over the edge when I was fretting about the price of the car. I still might have gotten it, but I kind of view it this way: there are plenty of things that the government does with the money I pay them that I disagree with. This is one case where the government’s interest and mine align. That is, I agree to be an early adopter for technology that helps reduce smog from cars (Houston has a terrible number of poor air quality days) and help them reach their goal of 1 million EVs on the road. In return I get to keep some of the money I would normally be paying them. You don’t get the credit if you aren’t already paying in at least $7500 in tax, and other than a 401k, I have no other tax hedges.
Did you buy the Tesla service plan? Which?
I prepaid for the 8 year plan since I plan to keep the car 10 years if not longer. Prepaying effectively reduces the price from $600/year to $425/year which seems reasonable to maintain an asset of this value.
What other things have you done to live more of a green lifestyle besides buying the Tesla Model S?
I wouldn’t say my primary reason for getting the Tesla is green related. However, being around other owners and listening to people like Elon Musk and Leilani Münter talk about sustainable transport can really inspire you to do more. I was keen to get solar on my home so I could say I was ‘driving on sunlight’, but I have some huge trees around me that the solar company says makes my home close to unsuitable. I try to recycle, have replaced most of my bulbs with LEDs, and have a NEST thermostat (although again, probably more for the technology aspect than the green one). Also, being in Texas, there are a number of climate change deniers around, so I enjoy showing folks that EVs can both look good and be fun to drive. And if I can blow away a few trucks with “My Carbon Footprint is Bigger than Your Carbon Footprint” bumper stickers at the light, so much the better.
You and I connected when you took issue with many of the aspects of my story about the GEN III Tesla and how the direct service and sales model might not be a strength for Tesla when that car comes. Feel free to add a few sentences about why that story stirred your passions so much.
I see many articles that claim that Tesla can’t be successful without dealers. However, as your story pointed out, almost everyone has had a bad dealership experience somewhere along the way. Education happens online and at galleries in nice malls—in a low pressure environment when you aren’t out looking for a car. Tesla adds service centers near where people own the cars—but has committed to just break even on service. By contrast, dealers make a significant portion of their profit on service (oil changes, transmission service, etc.), many services that electric vehicles just don’t need. If you are a dealer and you need to spend more time educating someone on electric vehicles before they buy for vehicles that make you little to no profit in service, are you going to be highly motivated to sell that car compared to your gas car offerings? Probably not. More importantly, regardless of what Tesla does, if electric cars need less service, and dealers make their money from service, then that means that there will be less dealers needed in the future as electric cars take a larger percentage of the market. That is the stark economic reality.
At the moment, Tesla can maintain the current plan and hit all of their current global sales targets, so I think they’ll continue as is and revisit the issue again prior to Model E launch. In the short term, this probably does mean they will sell less cars in places like North Dakota, but it makes sense to focus on higher density areas first.
Thank you Stephen.
Our sincerest thanks to Stephen Pace for sharing his story and for helping us to create this publication. Stephen is an active member of many Tesla Forums including one of our favorites, the Facebook Tesla Model S Owners Club. His passion for Tesla the company, its employees, and its products, is infectious. His is an expert on all things Tesla and we feel lucky to have him as a frequent commenter under our Tesla stories.
Note: The Q&A section above is presented in interview format, but the content was taken from unedited e-mails between Stephen and the author. Stephen’s words were not changed in any way and he approved this story prior to publication. The photos are his and used with his permission. We hope you will also note that there is text with each of the gallery photos if you click them open. Please feel free to thank Stephen in the comments below or ask any questions you might have of him in that space.