Waiting for the car

I bought my Model X on March 28th and it was scheduled for production on April 5th.

I had been warned by the Tesla owners I follow on YouTube and Twitter to expect a frustrating wait and I wasn’t disappointed. The Tesla app which you download when you buy your car provides the updates on the status of the car, and the wait for changes in status is agonising.

The next update was a few days later on April 9th when I was given my VIN number (that happens when the car is scheduled for production and is the thing that ties all your future dealings with Tesla together).

April 12th and my app notifies me that my Tesla is now in production. Now for the long wait.

The app have a cute visualisation of your future car, which somehow makes it worse

April 18th and my car is apparently built and in the delivery system en route to the port. Teslas are built in Freemont, California and travel by train to the port at Houston, Texas.

On April 30th I thought I ought to get ready so I drove to the service centre at Dartford to buy a Tesla Wall Connector (they are not chargers and technically the charging is done in the car) and a thing called a Chademo adapter which is needed to connect to Chademo rapid chargers (the only thing available near where I needed it in North Norfolk).

On May 7th I got the notification that my car was on the ship bound for Tilburg and after what seemed an age, on May 25th the app informed me the car was finally at Tilburg in the Netherlands ready for reassembly and then transport by car transporter to Dartford.

On Monday June 10th I finally got the word that the car could be picked up the following Friday.

All did not go to plan on Friday….

I arrived as agreed at 11.30am for my pick-up and hand-over only to find that they weren’t expecting me until the following week. There had apparently been a mix up in communications but the staff were excellent and located the car (stored at Blue Water) and said they could get it ready by 4pm if I was happy to come back, which I was.

I intended to leave just after 3pm to make sure I was in plenty of time, but I had a call about 2.45pm saying there was a large diesel spillage on the M25 and the Dartford tunnel was closed as a result and that traffic would be worse than usual so I should leave now.

It took me over three hours to go 20 miles, the last hour within a mile of the service centre. But the hand-over staff stayed behind in an otherwise deserted building and I finally picked up my car at about 6.30pm.

I should have had a leisurely hand-over and had everything explained to me but with no time it was just a question of getting in and driving off. Lucky I’d watched all those YouTube videos!

Hermes, as I call my new car, with the lights on near the showroom door

All’s well that ends well.

The Decision-making process

Why did I decide to buy a Tesla Model X? Well, I definitely decided that I wanted an electric car in January 2019 and there were relatively few cars available at that time. Mercedes had announced that they would be launching the EQC at some stage, and as a current (happy) Mercedes owner that would seem an obvious choice.

However, there were two big constraints: I travel to Norfolk at least every month which is 150 miles away. As charging options are extremely limited there I needed a car with a big range; I travel with two dogs, two parolets, five tortoises and up to five adults(!), so I need a lot of cargo space.

When the details of the EQC emerged it was obvious that it was a mid-sized SUV and, while it was likely to have the range I needed, it was short of space.

Mercedes EQC just didn’t have enough room

That left Tesla as the only manufacturer who had cars big enough and with enough range to fit the bill. On closer inspection, the Model S, the family saloon, didn’t have a big enough cargo space, so the Model X was the only choice.

There were some positives and negatives to weigh up:

On the positive sides, I loved the fact that Tesla was building electric cars from the ground up and their integrated approach to hardware and software seemed to me the future.

On the negative side, the nearest service centre was in Dartford, 30 minutes drive away on a good day, compared to a Mercedes service centre a short walk from my house (which meant I could drop my Merc in for a service and walk home).

It turns out, though, that the negatives are not nearly as significant as you might think. Electric cars need next to no servicing – Tesla used to suggest an annual service but now just relies on the cars to report when they need work. Because they have many fewer moving parts, there is much less to go wrong, and things like regenerative braking means brake disks and pads are unlikely to need changing for years. The only things you regularly need to worry about are windscreen washer fluid and wiper blades, and tyres.

So, that was it – after a trip to the Tesla showroom in Canary Wharf and a short test drive, I took the plunge and ordered my car.

New Year’s Resolution

Last year, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to buy an electric car. I’d been thinking about it for a long time, but there were various reasons why the options available were not practical for me.

For one thing I need a lot of space in a car as I need to transport children, dogs, tortoises and now parrots to Norfolk and back on a regular basis!

For another, the cottage we have in Norfolk does not have off-street parking – it’s down a very narrow lane which leads to the sea. This means over-night charging in Norfolk is out of the question, and the county seems to lead the pack when it comes to lack of availability of rapid chargers – the only ones which are really practical for significant charging.

And then, in the middle of the year, things changed. I found out that an enlighted small business in North Walsham, a few miles from Overstrand, had installed a Polar fast charger. Suddenly I had options.

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Polar fast charger at Kelly Clarke Motor Services, North Walsham. Photo: ZapMap user BatVan

So the search for the right electric car began.

Incoherence in Government

A story in this morning’s Guardian perfectly illustrates the policy incoherence that runs to the heart of the current government.

It concerns Britain’s National Cycling network, a linked chain of over 16,500 miles of cycleways which are used by half the number of people who currently use the trains each year.

Sustrans, the organisation responsible for the network, says it would cost £2.8bn to bring the paths up to scratch, as many are potholed or damaged, have difficult obstructions on them, or rejoin highways at difficult or dangerous places.

Meanwhile, we have a Government facing many significant challenges such as meeting the climate change goals, currently likely to be missed, and a National Health Service struggling to cope in the face of an ailing population made sick by obesity and dirty air.

One obvious part of the solution to these challenges is to reduce the amount we drive significantly and to encourage the population to exercise more.

So you would think getting the population on their bikes, as some of our Continental neighbours do so well, would be an obvious part of the plan.

More than half of the UK population lives within a mile of their nearest route and 4.4 million people used the Network last year, making 786m trips.

And each year the network saves the UK economy nearly £90m through reduced road congestion, according to Sustrans. Its health benefits save the NHS the equivalent of 2,206 nurses’ salaries, and leisure and tourist trips contribute £2.5bn to local economies, the charity claims.

The benefits are therefore obvious.

The Government’s response? In his recent budget, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, pledged £30bn for road improvements targeted primarily at motorists.

What about cycling?

Jesse Norman, the government’s cycling and walking minister, said: “This report shows that more needs to be done to make [the network] fully accessible, and that’s why earlier this year the government dedicated £1m to support initial work repairing and upgrading sections of this popular network.”

Doesn’t quite stack up, does it?

Amazon warehouse accidents total 440. What’s the story?

According to a BBC news story “Amazon warehouse accidents total 440”.

While this is obviously bad news for the people involved, is it good or bad compared to the industry as a whole?

The tenor of the story implies it is bad news.

But then the details of the story don’t quite back that up.

Firstly, the 440 figure is the total of four years worth of data collected by the GBM union from local authorities via freedom of information requests. The figure for the last complete year, 2017-2018, was 149.

Is this number high? Well, Amazon says it has 25,000 people employed in the UK and the Health and Safety Executive says the average non-fatal accident rate in the warehousing and transportation support industries category in 2016-2017 was 1,577 per 100,000 workers.

Assuming the rate has stayed about the same the following year, for Amazon to have had an average accident rate it would have recorded 394 accidents. So on these data you could say Amazon is a substantially better than average performer on accidents.

The BBC story quotes the GMB saying : “the actual numbers were probably higher, because some local authorities were unable to provide details of incident reports.”

That may well be so, but frankly they could be double and it still would not be much of a story.

Climate disaster and how to avoid it

Today the IPCC came out with its sternest warning yet about the dangers the world faces if global warming isn’t held to 1.5degC.

The thing is, we already know how Governments can do this. They tax the things they want less of and incentivise the things they want more of. This is simple and it works.

Take electric cars. If you want sales to grow fast bring in an effective incentive scheme. Norway leads the field on this. Its electric car policy saw a huge increase in the sales of electric cars. In 2015 22% of new car sales were electric and this is expected to grow to 30% in 2020. This was achieved through low road tax, VAT exemption, free parking for EVs and access to bus lanes, for example.

Or alternative energy.

Solar energy went from virtually nothing to 3% of the UK’s total energy generation between 2010 and 2017, driven by reducing costs for photovoltaics but mainly by Government incentives in the form of the Feed In Tariff

Government actions matter. Concerned about the rising cost the Government changed the policy in 2016 with the result that solar installations plummeted by 74% year on year in March 2016. Solar will continue to grow because the economics are getting better, but more slowly that it would have otherwise.

Windpower is another case in point. Antipathy to onshore wind has effectively stopped dead development of new onshore wind, the cheapest form of renewable energy. Offshore wind is still growing strongly, though, and is now bidding for contracts below that offered to nuclear projects.

Governments all have a balancing act to perform, trading off the immediate needs of the electorate, without whom they will not remain in power, and the longer-term needs of the country. 

To encourage the growth of more environmentally-friendly transport options – cycling, walking, public transport, electric cars – raising fuel taxes is a sensible policy. And yet petrol prices are a sensitive issue with the public so we have not had a rise in duty for nine years

The best hope of avoiding the short term trap is the law. The Climate Change Act of 2008 was a great example of this – in effect the Government willingly making a rod for its own back.

This law obligates the Government to reduce CO2 emissions to at least 80% below the 1990 baseline. This allows citizens and environmental groups to hold the Government’s feed to the fire if they don’t live up to this challenge. This doesn’t eliminate the short term decisions which will have a potential long-term detrimental effect, but it does make it far more likely that course correction is forthcoming. 

It will be interesting to see what this month’s budget tells us about the balancing act.

Picking stocks

Many years ago when my boys were young teenagers we used to have to take them off every Saturday to play Warhammer, the strategy game you play in person with others with characters you bought and lovingly painted yourself. It became a big obsession with both of them, rivalling even Pokemon and I got to know Games Workshop well.

I spoke to colleagues at work and unless they also had boys of a similar age they were oblivious to the whole phenomenon.

These Warhammer characters were not cheap and the rules of game were so obtuse that it was amazing so many teenage boys became so hooked (or maybe not, knowing teenage boys).

Anyway, I figured this was an interesting business model so I bought a few shares. Today the company was featured in The Economist as the best performing stock in the FTSE 250.

I may have had to wait 15 years, but I can really pick a stock – this one has risen by over 526%.

Remaking Post-Industrial Cities

Interesting talk this lunchtime at the RSA from Don Carter about his new book Remaking Post-Industrial Cities, which looks at 10 cities in the US and Europe and charts their decline and recovery. 

Don Carter, Carnegie Mellon University

Carter looks at the history of the cities in three phases:

  • The industrial powerhouse phase, from 1865 to 1945
  • Renaissance, from 1946 to 1985
  • Re-invention from 1986 to 2015

He argues that there are clear parallels between all the cities he has studied and that lessons can be drawn. 

First up, turning cities around in the post-industrial period takes time and determination. It is important to realise the the scale is large – metropolitan and long-term. This means, a strong vision of what kind of city is being built it critical. And it means strong leadership and being prepared to take risks. Often it has involved very significant investment, such as the Olympics in Barcelona, but these grand plays aren’t enough on their own, as they can fail. 

The successful cases have all developed diversified economies, have strengthened the central city and have invested in culture, heritage and quality of life. 

The over-riding impression at the end though, underlined by perceptive questions from the audience, was that while the city may recover, many of the people who made their lives there often don’t and that tectonic societal upheavals, such as the election of Trump, or Brexit, or populism in Italy, may the cost.

Maybe we can look back on the cities themselves in 20 years with satisfaction that they recovered so well, but what happened to the broader society in the meantime is quite another question. 

Don Carter is an architect, urban designer and developer of international renown. He is currently Director of Urban Design and Regional Engagement at the Remaking Cities Institute, Carnegie Mellon University.

Elon Musk: good news or bad news?

The outcome of the SEC investigation into Elon Musk’s wayward tweet on taking Tesla private could turn out to be either very good, or very bad. 

The requirement by the SEC that Musk and Tesla each pay $20m in fines is trivial for both. The instruction to hire an independent chairman to oversee Musk is the crucial condition. 

Tech company founders have often found themselves in need of outside experience to lead once their enterprises reach a certain size . Those who can make the product, seldom have the characteristics or experience to morph into successful managers of much larger enterprises. 

The best example of this working well was Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to hire Eric Schmidt to front up their rapidly growing company in 1998. It was the persistence of their VC backers which led them to find Schmidt eventually and the arrangement worked like a dream. 

However, there are several reasons why a similar successful outcome may be harder for Musk to pull off, and these are two of the major ones:

Time

The SEC has given Tesla 45 days for Musk to resign the chairman’s role, not a lot of time for such a tricky and sensitive search, especially so since it is unlikely Musk has spent any time thinking about what wants or needs from such a relationship. 

Temperament

Musk has a towering self-belief which seems to cover just about every walk of life – extra-terrestrial colonisation, combatting climate change, rescuing children from flooded underground tunnels. It is perhaps unlikely that he recognises the possible benefits which would accrue from a wiser corporate head, experienced in the ways of public companies. 

It would be very good for the world if a Schmidt-like outcome occurred. Whether it can or not remains to be seen. 

Climate Change: too true to be good

Great summary today at the RSA of climate change from Environment Agency head Sir James Bevan. He was concise and chilling on the enormity of the challenge of climate change and the catastrophic consequences of failure to act decisively. 

Sir James Bevan, Environment Agency head
Sir James Bevan

Sadly, but predictably, he was less impressive in his assessment of the progress being made in Britain and around the world. As a political appointee it would be naive to expect him to point out the inconsistencies between the current Government’s language and its actions – support for fracking, removal of support for on-shore wind, reduction in financial incentives for solar energy, tax breaks for oil and gas, freeze on petrol tax etc, etc. 

“If we don’t get it right Britain will be neither, green, nor pleasant, nor even have much land”

He says governments have to tread carefully because of their electorates, but that hardly covers it. Still, the fact that he is laying out the challenge so starkly (“if we don’t get it right Britain will be neither, green, nor pleasant, nor even have much land”) is a surely good thing.

by Jim Muttram