Tesla-Model 3

Image source: Tesla

"We trivialize the demons we know, we demonize the trivialities of the unknown."

In a small town in the mountains of Colorado, Ernie Petrocine is waiting patiently for the delivery of his Tesla Model 3, while proselytizing about the future of transportation: the electric car. "People should never, ever think about buying a gas car again," Petrocine said. "That's yesterday. It's not some foggy thing in the future, it's now."

He owns both the Tesla Model X and Model S - forerunners of the Model 3, which is currently in production out of Fremont, California. To date, a little more than 11,000 Model 3s have been delivered since production began in the last quarter of 2017, according to the 2018 Tesla tracker by Bloomberg. That means about 1,000 cars are being delivered each week to meet the demand of more than a half-million reservations taken on the car since its unveiling in March, 2016.

Petrocine was present at the unveiling, held on Tesla CEO Elon Musk's SpaceX campus near Los Angeles. As a previous owner of Tesla cars, he was selected to be one of the first to ride in the Model 3, the world's first "affordable" electric car.

His very first impression was how smooth the dashboard was. "You could take a dust rag and wipe from one end to the other, in one swipe," he noted. This odd observation is notable when he realized there are no instrumentation or controls installed in the dash . Everything from how fast you're going to how much charge your battery has remaining is indicated on the LED display, mounted to the right of the steering wheel. This touch-screen panel measures 15 inches and functions as mission control for the vehicle. The compressed firewall (which is really not a firewall because there is no combustion engine) added greatly to the leg room which the 6-foot-plus Petrocine noticed during the ride. "It was incredibly comfortable, and nimble. It handled extremely well and there is no shifting, so it was a very smooth - and fast - ride," he said.

How much does the Tesla Model 3 cost?

The Model 3 is a four-door sedan, and with standard features starts at $35,000. This relatively low price is a big departure from the flagship Tesla consumer cars, the S (sedan) and the X (sports utility van) which now start in the mid-$70K range. But as Musk himself said at the unveiling, those who purchased the first iterations of the Tesla (including the high-priced Roadster, the first Tesla electric car) helped fund the advances in technology that made the Model 3 possible.

Standard features include a roomy interior (to seat five adults comfortably), the ability to accelerate 0-60 in less than six seconds, an EPA range of a minimum of 215 miles on one battery charge, and safety features including autopiloting, eight airbags, automatic braking and collision avoidance, and electronic stability and traction control.

But Petrocine is holding out for the upgrades he ordered for the two Model 3s he reserved. (He reserved six, but the hold fees for four of them were refunded by Tesla, due to the huge demand.) He is getting the 300+ mile battery and the all-wheel-drive options, which places him on the schedule for delivery in late September or October of this year.

How much does it cost to upgrade the Model 3?

The 310-mile battery option will cost an additional $9,000 over the standard price, Petrocine reported. The all-wheel drive option is currently being configured at the factory, and he hasn't yet received information about how much that will add to the base price.

For living and working in a rural, mountain community with a temperate climate, all-wheel drive is a natural concern (the air shocks, which can raise the clearance of the vehicle for uneven roads, are a welcome feature as well). But Petrocine considers the long battery life an important step toward making electric cars viable for everyday use with commuting and travel.

"Tesla's goal is to transition the world's transportation to renewable energy," he said. But to be practical, the car's battery needs to go about 300 miles. "You don't have to go farther than that. After six hours of driving, you need to get out and stretch, eat, visit the restroom. Tesla designed the car to match the needs of the human body after six hours of driving. Charging every 90 miles is not practical."

Is it worth paying extra to upgrade the battery capacity and range of the Tesla Model 3?

A battery that holds that kind of charge is big - and heavy. "Too heavy for one axel," Petrocine noted, "the only pace to put it is on both axles - it's the whole bottom of the car." That even distribution also created the responsive handling Tesla cars are famous for. But that didn't quite do it, so the design of Tesla vehicles includes the air shocks which lowers the vehicle on long, straight stretches of road to minimize drag and increase efficiency. Everything incorporated into the design evolution of Tesla EVs worked toward the goal of creating an electric car that can go about 300 miles on one charge.

But that is only half of the solution, Petrocine said. Tesla is also creating an ever-increasing network of thousands of high-speed superchargers throughout the world.

How does the cost of driving a mile in a Model 3 compare to a gas car?

For the Models S and X, charging at a Tesla supercharger is free for life, part of the benefit of investing in the development of this technology. For the Model 3, there will be a per-use charge, but Petrocine maintains that an electric mile costs about one-third to one-fourth of a gas mile.

The cost per kWh to charge a Model 3 will depend on where you are in the country and the prevailing electricity rates in your state but even in states like California with expensive power the cost of driving a mile in an EV is less than half of driving a mile in an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle.

"There are more places to charge my Tesla than there are gas stations," Petrocine said, "And I challenge anyone to prove I'm a liar." For example, he said, the infrastructure included in US campgrounds have 50-amp plug-ins at campgrounds for RVs. "EVs by other car manufacturers need a step-down cable to charge at these, but the Tesla can handle it. RV campgrounds provide the next-fastest charging to Tesla supercharging stations," he said.

To demonstrate the enormous number of charging opportunities, Petrocine pulled up a map of nearby charging locations on the LED display in his Model S. There are eight located in his immediate vicinity. "And there are only six gas stations in or near town," he said.

Is range anxiety still a real thing for a Tesla owner?

"Tesla has killed my range anxiety. People think I have to plan all the time, I don't plan at all." His Tesla plans for him. For a hypothetical trip from the northern Colorado Rockies to Florida, the LED display showed where he needed to stop, and for how long, to charge along the route. And in his Model S with free charging at every recommended stop, his transportation costs would be zero.

There were no manufacturers creating the types of batteries needed for a half-million-plus Telsa electric cars currently in demand. So, Tesla created the "Gigafactory" where large lithium-ion batteries are manufactured. It's the largest factory of any kind in the world. "In the next 10 years, there will be 20 of these factories," predicted Petrocine.

How long will the battery in the Tesla Model 3 last?

He has an answer for the skeptics who predict he'll be sorry when it comes time to replace the battery. "With correct charging habits, the battery degrades about 2% every 100,000 miles. At that rate, you won't have to replace your battery until you reach one million miles on your car. I don't think anyone has ever driven a car for one million miles." Besides, he added, it won't be replacing your battery with a new one - it will be recycling your old battery for a refurbished one.

To provide all the electricity needed to power all the electric cars, the answer must be solar and other renewable energy sources, said Petrocine. To provide all the electricity the US needs, it would take less than 1% of the total land included in the country covered with solar panels.

"If you had solar panels at your house, you could charge your car at home for no cost," he predicted. Battery life lasts longer if you don't charge to 100%; Tesla vehicles have several control apps you can run from your computer or cell phone, including ones to control how much your battery is being charged, and when. Upgrades are done over-the-air, with downloads.

Petrocine has lived in his little town all his life, he's of the third generation of his family to do so. He studied mechanical engineering but left school during the Vietnam War to serve in the Marines. "When I went back I got a degree in marketing but read physics and math my whole life." When he returned to the Colorado mountains, Petrocine opened several retail stores, but never forgot his love of engineering; he was determined to be the first person in town with an electric car. To date, he has driven 86,000 miles in his Tesla vehicles and teaches classes to local school children about the future of electric cars. "It's a future that doesn't ask you to sacrifice a thing, a future of presents," he said.

"In reality, electric vehicle transportation is not the future, it's now," he said. "Some people say I drank the Kool Aid."

SolarReviews last word on the Tesla Model 3

There is a larger perspective we shouldn't forget about the Tesla Model 3. Even if the skeptics are correct and there are some issues with this car at some point (which we haven't seen) what the release of this car is doing is signaling to that world that clean transportation is possible. Approximately 27% of carbon emissions come from transport and the latest climate observations show that already the globe has warmed in the last 38 years by between.6-.8% .

I think history will show that folks like Mr. Petrocine are both visionaries and climate change heroes. Indeed Elon Musk and Tesla have acknowledged the contribution of early adopters to the development of the technology that now makes such an affordable offering as the Model 3 possible.

I don't think anyone will care in 50 years as to whether the Model 3 was a more economic purchase than the gas cars of the day. What will matter is that humanity transitioned to clean electric vehicles and that this was a key pillar in the fight to maintain a climate that can support human life on this planet. The Tesla Model 3 will go down in history for the role it is playing in this transition.