Tour de Tesla

It is finally happening! On day 12 of our family roadtrip we were about to visit the birthplace of Nikola. No, not the real person – we christened our Model S after the great inventor. We’re talking about the Tesla factory in Fremont, California!

I won’t deny that it was at the core of our trip planning to make sure we got this in. What other way to culminate our trip than to step into the very walls where our car was assembled? We carefully planned the whole day around this event, knowing that the tour usually lasts 1-1,5 hours. With great help that we have received from the Tesla personnel facilitating the visits (thanks again, Jaime!) it was easy to confirm all the details ahead of time.
We spent the night before in the hotel in Fremont, so we were just minutes away from the factory. Even so, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance – I carefully studied the instructions provided to know where to enter and where to park. I then cross-checked that information against Google maps to make sure we’ve got it right. We left the hotel with enough spare time to reach there in time and then some, but there were people already waiting at the entrance to Visitor Center when we arrived. I guess everyone is as excited about this opportunity as I was. Great to be in a crowd sharing the same passion. Some traveled from afar (Europe and New Zealand), some flew from across the country (such as a lovely couple from North Carolina that we had a chance to chat with). Most were surprised to see a Texas registered Tesla parking next to the entrance and gave us a nod of admiration and approval. I’ll take it!
At last, the doors opened and we all rushed in to fulfill the formalities (such as signing an NDA). We knew that we won’t be able to record or take pictures inside, nor we would be allowed to publicize about what has been shown to us. No big deal really, since there’s a lot of information already available out there. For the faithful followers of Tesla mission there’s hardly any secret left to be uncovered anyway. There’s always the Megafactories on NatGeo to get the gist of it. Seeing it in person though is yet another experience.

From the get-go, the passion of people working at the factory is very evident. The person who would be our guide was in his twenties and he wanted to work for Tesla since he was a teenager. It was showing, as he was very knowledgeable not only as far as the tour was concerned, but in Tesla’s history, the mission and tech stuff far beyond what was required to accommodate out group. It made whole of a difference listening to another passionate and very engaged young person believing in Tesla’s goal to provide a sustainable future of transportation. Many of the workers on the production floor greeted and waved at us as we were passing by, cementing the impression that most of the FUD you read about the company lately is rather far from truth. I am sure one can find an unhappy person in every environment and Tesla would be no different. I haven’t seen that during this visit though.

Since we cannot discuss the details of what’s inside, I’ll have to be brief. To start with, the factory itself is huge. I’ve spent most of my career supporting the manufacturing industry and I’ve also visited other automotive industry facilities (most recently Peterbilt), so I am no stranger to large industrial complexes. Yet Tesla’s factory leaves me impressed. To think that just a few years ago this facility was a NUMMI plant – a joint venture between GM and Toyota that produced almost 8 million vehicles since the 1980s when it opened. Two giants of the automotive industry had many years to practice and perfect their procedures and protocols in order to manufacture cars in the most efficient way. Tesla had acquired this facility at a bargain price, but that bargain didn’t include the know-how. They would have had to start from scratch. Seeing how in just a few years Tesla went from limited production of Roadster to the flagship Model S sedan, then Model X and now ramping up Model 3 numbers in order to satisfy the massive backlog of both pre- and newly placed orders is very impressive. The floor is teeming with life, many workers and robots side-by-side helping to accomplish something truly remarkable – building the best electric vehicles on the planet, against the financial odds and nay-sayers. All this while reinventing the wheel, challenging status quo around the automotive industry and its golden production procedures and ensuring the cars living the Tesla facility are not only safe, but equipped with the best technology you can get in a car today.

Needless to say, my dream has been fulfilled again and again. One, by owning the car. Two, by seeing in person how it is made. A truly remarkable experience. I think it is safe to say that we are in good hands as long as Tesla continues on its mission and provides us with the marvelous cars that they make.

 

California, here we come! (Road trip 2018 – part 8)

Day 11 – Seaside, CA – Fremont, CA

Another day of coastal adventure ahead of us! Leaving Seaside behind we drove to Pacific Grove. We checked out Point Pino Lighthouse – the oldest operating one on the Pacific – before we went to the beach, to see Asilomar Dunes natural reserve. The crusty surface we walked on reminded us of Badlands in South Dakota that we visited a few years ago – looking like a rock formation from a distance it is more like brittle sand that is kept together by salt and moisture.

Enjoying our slow cruise along the coast, passing by many lazy beach resorts, we have stopped in Capitola Beach, known for its colorful Capitola Village resort. We should plan to stay here next time, looks like a great place to relax. Not today though!

Continuing North, we stopped in Santa Cruz to take a quick picture of Natural Bridges.  We also stopped at Seymour Marine Discovery Center. There’s a real blue whale skeleton on display – its size helps to put things in perspective.

On the way to Pescadero we have stopped at Swanton Berry Farm. Besides organically grown fresh fruits and delicious berry pies readily available for sale, you can also pick your own fruits. Just grab a container, enter the designated lot on the farm and pay a fixed amount per pound of fruits you collected. Great fun for the whole family! If you consider to visit, make sure to wear proper footwear and dress in layers – the weather there can change quite drastically from a pleasant breeze when the sun is out to chilly, gusty winds when the fog sets in.

Pigeon Point Light Station can be seen from afar. If you have a camera with telephoto lens you should be able to take some nice shots from a distance, right before entering Pescadero. There’s a hostel near the lighthouse, which seems like a great spot to stay for the night if you are interested in exploring Pescadero Marsh, see the breeding site of elephant seals or admire the redwoods in Butano State Park.

Reaching Half Moon Bay marked the end of our drive along Highway 1. From Huntington Beach where we started, we have covered almost 500 miles on this beautiful coastal road. It is also true that the scenery only gets better as you travel from South to North. While we had a fair share of wonderful experiences on all of our trips across the United States, the Pacific Coast Highway brought it to another level. If we could only pack our bags and come back tomorrow, we would not hesitate! There’s so much more to explore further North too, through the coast of Oregon and Washington. Hopefully we can plan for such a trip soon.

Seaside-Fremont

Leaving the coast behind we drove through Silicon Valley, stopping in Mountain View to charge the car. Nothing beats getting stuck in a traffic jam on 101. It probably took us 1,5 hours to travel just a few miles. Thank goodness for TACC and autopilot!
Interestingly, the supercharger in Mountain View has an attendant, who helps to guide arriving Tesla drivers to next available stalls (considering that this is one of the busiest superchargers in the country). Rather unique experience, first time I’ve seen it.

Surviving the rush hour traffic we arrived in our hotel in Fremont. We were too tired to venture out for dinner, so ordering a pizza did just fine.

The name of the conference room close to the lobby gives a hint of what was to come the next day. I could hardly contain my excitement!

Charging stops:

  • Monterey, CA (74 miles left; avg 263 Wh/mi; charged to 234 miles)
  • Mountain View, CA (97 miles left; avg 290 Wh/mi; charged to 210 miles)

 

California, here we come! (Road trip 2018 – part 7)

Day 9 – Lompoc, CA – San Simeon, CA

We are continuing our journey North along the Pacific coast. Distance-wise we only have to cover about 150 miles, but there will be plenty of things to see on the way. The initial plan was to stop again in Buellton to charge the car to full, but since we had some miles of range left from the previous day we deemed it unnecessary. There will be other opportunities later on.

Lompoc-SanSimeon

First on our itinerary was Solvang – a picturesque settlement in Santa Ynez Valley dating back to early twentieth century.  The Danish-style architecture prevails across the town, giving it unique appeal. There’s a Hans Christian Andersen museum (worth checking out!) where one can learn about the life and legacy of the famous writer. The museum features copies of the author’s masterpieces in many languages from all over the world, often complemented by beautiful illustrations that complete the classic story tales. There’s a mini-replica of the house where Andersen used to live growing up, too.
One will find plenty of opportunities for shopping and dining here – there’s a Danish bakery of course. Our favorite was aebleskiver, a traditional doughnut that requires a special pan to prepare it. Yummy!
We spent quite some time wandering around this idyllic town. The weather was absolutely great and we were in no particular hurry. We even found a Swedish candy store where they make and sell the famous polkagris. I brought some back home for my Swedish colleagues to their delight. Before leaving Solvang we have visited the old mission Santa Ynes, dating back to 1804.

About half an hour away is Pismo Beach. The recently opened Oceano Dunes Park visitor center was a perfect place to sit down for a picnic. Passing by the parked RVs and campers we traversed the sand dunes to get to the beach. It was quite a thermal shock once we stood on top of the dune! Back at the parking lot the temperature was in mid 80s, with a gentle breeze providing an additional comfort. Up here we were greeted with gusts of cold wind from the Pacific Ocean, happily blowing the sand in our faces and trying to throw us to the ground. It could not be more than 60 degrees here, and we had to quickly scramble for long sleeve jackets to stay warm (all while holding to our hats so they are not blown away). In contrast, the sand we were standing on was scorching hot. I took off my slippers to enjoy some barefoot walking and quickly regretted that.
After struggling against the wind and unstable surface we have eventually reached the beach. Me and my daughter quickly went to dip our feet in the ocean. It was freezing cold, and it felt like all of sudden the blood circulation to our legs have stopped. After few minutes our bodies adjusted to this change and both of us quite enjoyed the experience, giggling happily in anticipation of another oncoming wave to crash against our feet. What a great foot reflexology, completely free at that :).

It is official then – we stood in the waters of Pacific Ocean!

IMG_5339 Walking back to parking lot was somewhat easier, the wind was pushing us forward. A quick rinse of our feet to remove the sand and we were on our way.

The next stop was at the supercharger by Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. The inn was undergoing a renovation, but there was a local Tesla owners gathering. A few of them drove their brand new Model 3 to the meet. It was nice to chit-chat for a while and share some of the experiences. I didn’t really need that much of a charge, in reality it would be OK to leave after 5-10 minutes. As it happened, I was too engrossed in conversation with other Tesla enthusiasts that we stayed slightly longer than that. Oh well.

Some 15 miles later we would arrive at Morro Bay. Morro Rock – also known as the Gibraltar of the Pacific – stands proudly at the mouth of the harbor and can be seen from a far. A trivia: at 572-feet tall it is actually shorter than it used to be. Thanks to a quarry that was operating here once, chunks of rock were being blown with dynamite to provide material for local construction.
Lured by the smell of freshly fried fish and chips we have stopped by the dockside – both to enjoy the vista and the food. We were just few miles away from San Simeon now, where we would stay for the night. Since Hearst Castle was not on our points of interest list, we decided to check out Ragged Point instead. Leading to Big Sur, the curvy road winding along the coastline provided a nice adrenaline rush. Unfortunately, during our trip the stretch of Highway 1 between Ragged Point and Big Sur was not passable due to erosion and bridge repairs. We would cover the northbound stretch of the highway later, but for now it was time to rest.
That little escapade to Ragged Point ate some of our driving range. Luckily, Days Inn in San Simeon where we stayed had a Tesla destination charger, so plugging in for the night would allow us to start the next day with a full charge.

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Charging stops:

  • Buellton, CA (141 miles left; avg 274 Wh/mi; charged to 174 miles)
  • San Luis Obispo, CA (106 miles left; avg 275 Wh/mi; charged to 194 miles)
  • San Simeon, CA (104 miles left; avg 298 Wh/mi – used Destination Charger upon arrival)

Day 10 – San Simeon, CA – Big Sur, CA – Seaside, CA

Since Highway 1 was closed past Ragged Point, we had to take a detour South through scenic Cambria, then northbound Highway 101. That added some 150 miles to our trip, but it was not all wasted.

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The road led us through busy farmland. Along the way passed seasonal workers rushing to collect the fresh produce before they get spoiled (and taking advantage of the morning hours, before it gets too hot). The highway was full of trucks and semis delivering both empty crates and containers to the farms to pack the goods and carry the load back to market or distribution centers. We hardly ever think about where our food comes from or what effort it takes to grow and harvest the crops. This was a chance to have a glimpse at the hard efforts of people working in the agriculture and grow a new appreciation for what they do.

SanSimeon-Seaside

Passing by Salinas and Seaside we have arrived at Monterey. The scenery quickly transformed from the busy farmland to quiet town surrounded by majestic pine trees. There was what appeared to be smoke on the horizon. At first we thought it might be a fire, but it was actually the receding fog that is quite common across this part of the coast. The weather was gorgeous (mid-70s and sunny) when we arrived at Tesla supercharger. It was time to park the car and grab some early lunch at nearby California Pizza Kitchen. It was always one of our favorite places to dine in, but it was the first in a long time that we visited the place. It was also our first time experience in California!

With our bellies satisfied it was time to get going. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was next on our list. Although it was just half an hour away from Monterey, the weather was significantly different: dense fog, gusty winds and temperature in high 50s – low 60s. The fog seems to be constantly moving in and out of the land, something we would experience many, many times throughout the rest of our journey along the coast. Eerie and beautiful at the same time.

Within the park there is Whaling Station Museum, featuring a Whalers Cabin built by Chinese fishermen in 1850. Whale, abalone and famous movies all come together at this place. Whale bones that were found ashore are also on display, so one can visualize how large the creatures are compared to humans.

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Despite the harsh weather conditions Point Lobos is a refuge for many bird species. Rugged terrain does not seem to stop flora either, there’s plenty of native plants that thrive here. There’s an ongoing effort to preserve the habitat and in some parts restore it to its natural conditions. Anyone can volunteer to help to plant the seedlings and to remove the invasive species.
Colder weather is not a show-stopper for having a healthy walk. Provided trails allow you to get close to the nature and enjoy the serenity of the area. The whole place is quiet, almost mystical. The sound of crashing waves and the breeze from the ocean can cure anyone’s anxiety, if you just let it!

After leaving Point Lobos we have continued South on Highway 1, towards Big Sur and ultimately Gorda – the farthest we could reach due to road closure. Once we reached Gorda it felt like we could just throw a stone and it would land at the Ragged Point. It was that close to where we started our journey today and yet it took us the whole day of driving around to get here.

Words can hardly describe the magnificent beauty of this part of the Pacific Coast. One just has to experience it themselves. If this is not the most beautiful coastal road in the world then it is definitely close to being the best. I strongly recommend to anyone to add it to their bucket list.

Even after covering the whole stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway between Monterey and Gorda we still had plenty of range left once we arrived in Seaside (where we stayed for the night). The combination of weather, slow speed we were cruising at (typically 30-40 mph) and rolling hills definitely helped. We would use the same supercharger in Monterey to get Nikola juiced up and ready for the next day’s adventure. In my opinion, this was the best experience we had this far!

Charging stops:

  • Departure: 212 miles of range (rated)
  • Atascadero, CA (170 miles left; avg 334 Wh/mi; charged to 191 miles)
  • Monterey, CA (60 miles left; avg 287 Wh/mi; charged to 232 miles)

California, here we come! (Road trip 2018 – part 6)

Day 8 – Pacific Coast Highway – Huntington Beach, CA to Lompoc, CA

Being the third largest state by area, California has a lot to offer when it comes to sightseeing. There is simply no way to check out all the state has to offer during a single trip (unless your trip lasts a lifetime, that is). One of the must-see attractions on our list was the famous Pacific Coast Highway, also known as Highway One. We have carefully planned the trip to allow multiple days for this adventure, so we would have plenty of time to enjoy the breathtaking vista of the Pacific coast and explore some of the places along the way. As usual, we have departed our hotel early. Starting in Anaheim we traveled towards Huntington Beach. It was still early in the morning when we arrived, but the pier area was already quite busy with activity: from people walking their dogs, running or cycling to a large group of surfers patiently waiting for the waves to break, so they can try their skills and stay afloat. Maybe it’s just me, but in their insulated skins they all resembled a bunch of seals waiting for some prey to show up.

Anaheim-ManhattanBeach

Passing Junipero Beach and Long Beach we have crossed the Vincent Thomas Bridge and arrived at the Korean Bell of Friendship in San Pedro. Donated in 1976 by the Republic of Korea to celebrate two centuries of US independence and to honor the veterans of the Korean War, it is a true masterpiece showcasing some of the best in human craftsmanship. Also nearby, Point Fermin Lighthouse – a historic landmark and a museum.

Continuing on, we have arrived in Rancho Palos Verdes where we visited the Wayfarers Chapel designed by Lloyd Wright. Just outside the chapel there is a great vantage point to take a photo of another landmark – Point Vicente Lighthouse. We wanted to stay as close to the coast as possible, so naturally we drove through Palos Verdes Estates. It’s easy to understand why people are drawn to live and retire in places like this, as it is really beautiful out here. If only money was no issue…

A short stopover at Redondo Beach supercharger (the busiest we’ve seen so far on this trip) and we were on our way. Initially we planned to have a quick stop at both Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach, but we decided to skip in favor of other points of interest that we planned for the day. A brief departure from the coastal highway then, as we would use Highway 405 and 10 till we reached Santa Monica.
Knowing that this is a popular tourist destination I was a bit concerned about finding a parking space that would be walking distance away from the pier. My wife already helped to map some of the suggested public parking spots, but we ended up just picking one that was close enough – they are all similarly priced (unless you absolutely HAVE to be five steps from the pier) and there seems to be plenty of them around.

I’m not a big fan of popular beach resorts. Competing for the worst suntan award with thousands of strangers fighting for every inch of available space is far from fun. I’m glad we planned our trip for early summer then, because I cannot imagine how crowded this place is during the hot season. The primary reason we wanted to check out the Santa Monica Pier is because it is the endpoint of our favorite Route 66. That and we wanted to try the original hot dog on a stick. OK, and to be able to say “yes” when asked if we have been to the Pier. Fulfilling our checklist then, we went on.

Back on Highway 1, we would pass by Malibu and stop at Oxnard supercharger. Arriving with an estimated 69 miles of range left we stayed here for about 30 minutes, ensuring we had enough of range for our remaining errands and to reach final destination. The supercharger is conveniently located next to shopping center, so there’s plenty of choices to kill some time while waiting for the battery to be recharged.

Next stop: Ventura, officially known as City of San Buenaventura (named after saint patron). While founded in late 18th century, the place has been occupied for thousands of years. Early Europeans could learn a trick or two from the inhabitants who were great ocean navigators and were able to make the best use of available resources, both on the sea and land. Located downtown, Mission San Buenaventura is a must-see landmark. Founded in 1749 by Franciscan priest Junipero Serra it still server local community till this day. For a small fee one can explore the attached museum presenting a rich history of the mission and the vital role it played throughout the history.

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived, but knowing that we don’t have much else planned for the day we took our time to enjoy the wonderful Mediterranean-like atmosphere that the city is known for. Strolling along the streets full of (expensive) boutiques, galleries and eateries we had a taste of what a perfect place to live in feels like. Speaking of taste, we could not pass the opportunity to try the famous McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams.  Some claim that this is the best ice cream in the world, but like all things involving taste it can be highly subjective. We liked it. End of story.

Before reaching our hotel we would stop one more time to charge, in Buellton. We didn’t really have to, but since it was on the way I decided to add it to my personal “superchargers visited” list. Bonus point: we parked next to a brand new Tesla Model 3. While I had a chance to see quite a few of them already, this was the first encounter for my wife and daughter. It was also the first one in the gorgeous blue that I could examine up close.
Buellton is home of Anderson’s, known for its split pea soup. It was getting late and we haven’t had our dinner yet, so it was a perfect opportunity to verify the restaurant’s claim to fame. Each of us ordered something different, but I wanted to try the soup – it didn’t disappoint. The only “gripe” I had was that the portion, following American tradition, was way too big for me to be able to finish. I didn’t want to waste any, so I asked for a takeaway box.

At last, we would reach Lompoc where we would stay for the night.

Santa_Monica-Lompoc

Charging stops:

  • Departure: 151 miles of range (rated)
  • Redondo Beach, CA (80 miles left; avg 255 Wh/mi; charged to 132 miles)
  • Oxnard, CA (69 miles left; avg 283 Wh/mi; charged to 160 miles)
  • Buellton, CA (74 miles left; avg 295 Wh/mi; charged to 189 miles)

California, here we come! (Road trip 2018 – part 5)

Day 6 – Disneyland California Adventure Park

If you have never been to Disneyland before, there are actually two theme parks vis-à-vis one another: the original Disneyland (established in 1955) and Disneyland California Adventure Park (opened in 2001). To remain frugal, we have stayed outside of the resort and purchased cheap(er) tickets – that meant we had to pick which of the parks we explore during a day (no hopping between them). Since we were staying in Anaheim for 2 days it was not a big deal and we decided to check out the Adventure Park first. Unfortunately I was under the weather on that day, so I decided rest at the hotel and would join my girls later in the afternoon. That gave them the opportunity to explore all the attractions by themselves first. My wife already had an action plan for the day – thanks in part to her brilliant logistics skills and in part to the Internet where plenty of people readily share their useful tips, they were well equipped to maximize the time spent in the park. They quickly queued for their favorite rides and even managed to secure some fast passed for the afternoon, when I came along. Did I mention that my better half got some logistic skills? 🙂

One of my favorite attractions was Soarin’ Around the World. While waiting in the hangar for our turn to be seated one could learn and develop a new appreciation for the rich history of aviation that can be attributed to Southern California. It was all on display above our heads and on the adjacent walls.

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The ride itself was worth the long wait. I won’t spoil it any more, but do make sure to check it out if you visit. You won’t regret.

The best part of the park (in my opinion anyway) is the Cars Land, themed after – you guesses it – the Cars movie. If you’re as big of a fan of the movie as we are, you won’t be disappointed. Usually one can expect an animation to reflect the real world, or at least to draw inspiration from it. The movie is full of analogies and tributes to Route 66 – that is probably why we love it so much. The park has achieved an incredible feat doing the opposite – transforming an animated theme into reality without sacrificing that cartoonish and magical aspect of it in the process. We’ve been also blessed with being at the right place at the right time, so I managed to capture the moment when the light was about perfect.

We’ve been so absorbed by the world of Lightning McQueen and Radiator Springs that we have almost missed the parade! We quickly followed the music and managed to catch the best part. We (at least the two adults present) felt like children again! What an experience!

Day 7 – Disneyland Park

After a good night’s sleep it was time to check out the other theme park – the one and only, the original Disneyland. I was entering with mixed feelings. As a child, I used to wish that one day I would be able to visit the magical world of characters created by Walt Disney. Many years have passed since then, will it live up to that childhood dream? Or will it… oh, just stop it old man, go and enjoy yourself! And I did! I was still fighting whatever the bug that got to me, so I wanted to take it easy again. My girls were off to exploring the crazy world of rides while I took my time to wander around and photograph all the attractions. It actually worked to our favor – I could document all the picture worthy scenes, so we can relive these moments after coming back home.

It’s absolutely astounding what human imagination paired with skillful hands can accomplish. One minute you are in the whimsical world of Mickey and friends, the next you are cruising down the river on a steamboat, just to jump to the future later. Another amazing thing is how clean and well maintained everything is. Considering that some of the exhibits are as old as the park itself, the maintenance crew is doing an amazing job keeping things in top shape.

While I enjoyed the whole park a lot, there’s only one favorite attraction: Star Wars Launch Bay. One of the best memories I have from my childhood is that of watching “Return of the Jedi” with my father on a big screen (it was big – they converted the whole sports arena into movie theater!) when I was in the elementary school. Every one we knew was there watching the movie, it was truly a lifetime event. Till this day nothing can top that experience. Exploring the world of Star Wars and walking around props and memorabilia from the original Lucas’ trilogy brought all those great moments back. Having Chewbacca to pose for a picture for me was a perfect icing on a cake.

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Tired, but completely satisfied we slowly headed for the exit. It was time to wave goodbye to Mr. Disney. Thank you for the world you created and the legacy you left behind. We are very glad that we could experience the park at last. For me personally, another big item can be struck off the bucket list.

On our Nissan LEAF buying experience and how we became a “3/4 EV” family

Our very first car that we bought (and the very first car I have ever owned, I might add) was a 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS. It served us well over the 11+ years of ownership: a number of short- and long-distance road trips, driving around the town to make our then-baby daughter fall asleep, moving from an apartment to a permanent house, towing a trailer full of raw lumber for my woodworking projects or serving as my bicycle carrier.

When my wife passed her driving test (which she did on the Outlander, too) it became her primary vehicle for running errands. It is only natural that we wanted to keep the car until our girl is mature enough to drive by herself, too – she will be ready in just a few years after all. That WAS the plan.
Unfortunately, age has caught up with Andy (that’s what we called it!) and the last year or so of ownership brought a list of unexpected expenses and repairs. As Murphy’s law would have it, some of the incidents left my wife stranded when I was away on a business trip – a rather stressful experience when I cannot be around to help. Facing a prospect of yet another expensive repair in the near future we had to make a decision: should we keep prolonging its life while its value continues to diminish or would it be better to get something affordable, hopefully electric, that would come with a peace of mind and a new factory warranty? With mixed feelings we decided to search for an alternative.

Now, I am an early reservation holder for Tesla Model 3. Like many others, I put my deposit down right when the car was being revealed, thinking at that time that this will most likely be my entry way to the world of Tesla ownership. Amazing how things can turn out at the end!
Encouraged by our experience with already owning an electric car we promised ourselves that our next vehicle will be an EV as well. No more fussing with mechanical failures and repairs, rattling engine or gasoline. We really wanted our next car to be another Tesla, but it would be rather hard to justify the Model 3 at its currently available configuration and price – the promised affordable version won’t be out till sometime next year, provided Tesla can ramp up the production and clear the backlog of orders and reservations.

So what are the viable alternatives? Not many at the moment, unfortunately. Kia Niro and Hyundai Kona are expected in their EV version by end of this year or sometime in 2019. Given their low initial production volume and the fact that they won’t be immediately available outside of California, makes it difficult to consider at the moment. Chevrolet Bolt could be the contender, provided one could get hands on one and if it would be a tad cheaper. We were really looking for an affordable car, leaning towards lease vs purchase, so we can wait it out till other manufacturers catch up and there will be more models to choose from.
That leaves us with Nissan LEAF. The 2018 edition looked like a good choice though, especially with the new 40 kWh battery (~150 mile range) and updated design. I’ve read and heard good opinions about it, so we decided to give it a go. We wanted to keep it simple though (to keep the price down), so only S or SV variants would be considered.
I went to Nissan’s website and looked at S version first. I kept it pretty much default, adding only the Charging Package (so we can benefit from faster charge times using higher current/voltage). It looked promising:

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Looks like we might be in luck, as there is an ongoing offer until end of July:

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Looks even better! I am sure we can negotiate the down payment when we commit to lease it. Just to compare, I have also configured SV variant – adding a tech package and pearl white paint option (to match our current car, why not!):

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As expected, Technology Package and premium paint increased the base price a bit, but it should not have much impact on the monthly cost of leasing, right? Wrong:

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That is a significant difference! I assume the special applies only to the basic (S) variant. So be it. Let’s schedule a test drive!

The test drive only assured us that LEAF is a viable choice. Quiet as you would expect from an electric vehicle, responsive, decent trunk space and roomy (in the front row at least). Unlike Tesla, it lacks a frunk cargo space (at first glance it looks like someone packed a V6 engine in it!) but it is not a deal-breaker. The one we tested had a ProPILOT Assist feature too – it had no problem keeping in the lane or distance to the car ahead of us during the short drive. Again, would be nice to have, but my wife is not going to drive any long distances, so we will be fine without it. Let’s go back to dealership and talk financing details!

This is where it all fell apart, unfortunately. As I was going back and forth between S and SV, I asked the financial adviser to provide the data on the latter one. It came to over 600 dollars a month with 4,000 dollars down. I could not help but to make a reference to a fully loaded long range Tesla Model 3 that can be had for similar amount (well, you can’t lease it at the moment, but it would come to $721/month for 72 months with $5,000 down payment and a rather hefty 3,7% APR if you place an order now). Surely, this cannot be right!
I then asked the adviser to show us the numbers for S version – still, the monthly payment was $350 a month (far from $249 deal on Nissan’s website). No go – he promised to contact me when they come across the deal that would match our expectations though. Sadly then, we shook hands and left. Not the outcome we were expecting.

I must say that all this while we were getting plenty of attention from the sales representative that greeted me when I first visited the dealership, as well as various other Nissan personnel, including general manager of that particular location. What beats me is that it doesn’t seem to be any interest on their part to make a deal. No negotiations, no room to wiggle. Almost as if they didn’t want to sell the car. Our sales adviser was trying to explain that the residual value of LEAF is pretty low after the end of lease, but that should not be my concern – it should be Nissan’s to think of their sales and marketing strategy. To add to the insult, while browsing the available inventory in the 100-mile radius from where we live there were 32 cars matching or in similar specifications to what we were looking for. 2 weeks later now, there are still 31 listed, so it’s not as if the car is selling like hotcakes. Disappointing. Very.

* * *

Call it a compromise, but we have settled for a hybrid instead. Since I’ve had previous experience owning a Hyundai I was interested to check out Kona – neither my wife not me were particularly crazy about the design though. Then Ioniq caught my attention. Cheaper than Kona, better equipped and definitely better looking sounded like a much better of a deal. It is worth mentioning that the Hyundai dealership nearby make the whole experience absolutely worthwhile. From the get-go, we were greeted by a very friendly and polite sales adviser who would help us through the whole process. Patient and tactful, transparent about sales conditions and never pushy – this is how the car sales experience should be like. While signing the paperwork I was greeted by one of the brothers that own the place, then received a personalized thank you note via email for being their customer. It all made us quickly forget about the negative experience we had with Nissan.

For what it is worth, my wife enjoys the new car a lot. It is a bit of an adjustment coming from a SUV to a compact car, but she is happy to have a reliable car again. The gas mileage is great (52+ mpg and climbing, the car is EPA rated at 58 mpg) thanks to combined 1.6 liter gasoline engine and 32 kW electric motor coupled with 1.56 kWh battery. The technology is up to speed (it comes with Apple CarPlay as standard) and I am sure it will serve us well till we can decide on what electric car will replace it. To think of it, we are three quarters of a way there! 😉

California, here we come! (Road trip 2018 – part 4)

Day 5 – Carlsbad, CA – Los Angeles, CA – Anaheim, CA

If we were to leave Legoland and head to our final destination for the day, it wouldn’t be much of a trip (Anaheim is only about an hour away). No worries, we had a plan!

Carlsbad-LA-Anaheim

While we don’t necessarily qualify as art connoisseurs, we definitely have an appreciation for fine art. Being in proximity we couldn’t have passed the opportunity not to visit the famous Getty Museum in Los Angeles. We couldn’t care less about the typical tourist traps attractions that LA has to offer, so we had the luxury of spending as much time as we wanted checking out various exhibits at the museum – and it didn’t disappoint. The place itself, planted firmly on a hill, is a a great escape from the city buzz. Beautifully designed and well maintained, it invites you to relax and enjoy some quiet time.We took upon this invite and had a mini-picnic first, devouring the sandwiches we have prepared earlier. Before we entered the gallery, we spent some time exploring the architecture of the even caught a glimpse of the downtown from up the hill.

Jean Paul Getty spent most of his life collecting art and many of the fine samples are on display. Our family has developed a taste for impressionism over all other art forms (thanks in part to visits to Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth and Albertina Museum in Vienna), so we were in for a treat. Famous masterpieces from Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne and others – all under one roof! As if it wasn’t enough, there were a few paintings committed by no other than the famous post-impressionist Vincent Van Gogh.

If we were into any step-counting game, I am sure we would accomplish the daily challenge and then some – our legs definitely demanded a rest after hours of exploration. As the saying goes, the best things in life are free, and so is the case with the Getty Museum – it is admission-free. Yes, you have to pay for the parking if you come by a car, but that’s rather common in any metropolis. If you come by EV though, there are many charging spots to chose from and they are all free of charge.

Tired but content we continued on. The very next experience: rush hour traffic. Thanks to updated Tesla in-car navigation we have avoided hopping on the freeway and instead continued on a parallel street, slowly crawling forward (as opposed to being completely stuck). I would not be surprised if there was a snail or a turtle passing us by at some point. Eventually we managed through. Bucket list item “experience LA traffic” – checked.

Speaking of traffic, there’s a lot of stereotypes floating around. You’ve probably heard of California, New Jersey, New York or Texas driving. While I’d be biased providing my opinion on the latter one, I can debunk at least some of the myths and generalizations related to Californian motorists. In general, people are patient and if you signal they will let you in. Speaking of signaling, everyone seems to wait for at least few seconds before changing the lane – we’ve seen it across the whole state, in case someone will say it is a Southern or Northern part of the state thing. Seems excessive, but it works. I do like the traffic lights at the on-ramps – one car at a time (more if there are parallel lanes) helps to keep the flow of traffic while allowing others to merge. I also like the flashing yellow light when approaching a stop (especially around the bend, where you don’t see what’s coming). Overall, I found it rather stress-free to travel across the Golden State. So, go and experience it yourself before you judge or repeat the half-truths you have overheard somewhere else.

Since we knew that our destination hotel will not provide the charging, we decided to top up in Hawthorne before arriving in Anaheim. Wait a minute… isn’t that where… you betcha! That’s where the SpaceX headquarters are, and so is a Tesla supercharger. Both companies share the space – Tesla Design Studio is right across the wall (or heavy-duty curtain rather) from the rocket factory. Although you are not allowed to take any photos while inside, you can definitely hear the sounds coming from the other side when sitting at Tesla’s lounge: welding, hammering and various power tools – music to the ear of any mechanical engineer.

Once Nikola received its daily dose of electrons we resumed our trip, eventually reaching the hotel Indigo – a nice, modern looking hotel located a walking distance from Disneyland. We’ll be staying here for two days, fulfilling childhood dreams 🙂

Miles driven: 156
Teslas spotted along the way: I lost count (or stopped bothering 🙂 )

Charging stops:

  • Level 2 (ChargePoint) at the entrance to Legoland – plugged in while visiting park
  • Left fully charged (~240 rated miles)