This guide covers things you need to know if you are thinking about placing an order for a Model S.
Does a Model S fit your lifestyle?
If your typical daily driving (commuting, or whatever you typically use the car for) is 200 miles or less – with longer trips from time to time – and your home has a garage or off-street parking space where you can readily install a charging point, then you are an ideal Model S owner.
If not, it may still be OK but you will need to check a little more closely:
- If you often drive more than 200 miles in a day you will need to check out the availability of good charging facilities. Perhaps your most common long-range trips pass a supercharger? If your long trip is to a remote workplace, perhaps you could get a chargepoint installed there? Are there CHAdeMO chargers in your region?
- If you live in an appartment building, or have parking that’s not adjacent to your house, you will need to check whether you can install charging equipment. A few places have laws that mean the landlord cannot prevent you from installing charging in communal areas. In other places, the planning laws may have required that recently-built buildings make provision for charging. Or your landlord/building management may be EV-aware and happy to facilitate things.
- If you can’t charge at home, perhaps you can charge at work? Maybe you live in a city such as London where Tesla has installed inner-city Superchargers to facilitate charging while you shop? Maybe you can park at a public charging facility near your home?
We all love our Teslas but there are certainly some people for whom it isn’t yet an ideal fit. If your circumstances don’t quite suit, or the car is just too expensive, it is better to wait for things to improve and cheaper models to be released rather than order a car that you will be unhappy with.
The order process
If you are buying a new Tesla, then the order process is always online, via the website. If you want to go to a Tesla store to place your order then they will be happy to help you, but they will simply walk you through the same order process you could have done on your PC at home. You can even order from the touch-screen inside a Model S if you really want to…
The order process starts by selecting colours, options etc. in the online ‘Design Studio’. You pay a deposit (typically by credit card), to secure your order. You have a short time (usually 2 weeks, but longer if you have ordered a model not yet in production) during which you can cancel the order and have your deposit refunded, and you can also edit your car’s configuration. After that, the order becomes confirmed and non-refundable. Pricing is fixed: There is no discounting or scope for negotiation.
If you are considering an ex-demo or used car then the process is somewhat different. Tesla have a number of cars used for demonstration purposes and for loan to customers while their cars are in for service, and most of these cars are available for sale (with a fixed formula discounting from the new price based on age and mileage). Stores and service centres can check the list of available cars for you. Again, the price is normally fixed, although larger discounts are sometimes offered after a model change or near the end of an accounting quarter. You still don’t need to go into the store – they can discuss your requirements and send you lists of cars by email.
Tesla have now started a ‘Certified pre-owned’ scheme for selling second-hand Model S, initially in the USA only. Cars are listed on the website in specific locations, although you can order a car from a distant location if you are prepared to pay a transport fee (or travel there to take delivery). It appears that this scheme is separate from the ex-demo cars since – at least in the USA – the ex-demo cars still count as ‘new’ for tax purposes.
Unlike typical car dealers, Tesla sales staff – known as Product Specialists – are not on a direct commission that incentivises them to make you buy the most expensive car possible. They are trained to guide you to buy the best car for your requirements, so you may well find them talking you out of an option purchase they think you don’t need rather than persuading you to load up your order with everything. It is therefore well worth asking their opinion on things you are uncertain of.
Most Tesla staff are very enthusiastic about their product, but one problem with a company that is growing so fast and a product that is frequently revised and improved is that the staff do not always know the answer to every question. Regrettably, you will sometimes get different (wrong) answers if you ask the same question to different people. If a point is particularly important to you, or the advice sounds unlikely, then either ask again or get things in writing.
At the store/test drive
Many of the options are like those on any other car – you can sit at home playing with option combinations in the Design Studio until you find the best fit to your taste and budget. However, some of them really need to be seen ‘in the metal’, so it’s important to pay attention to those when visiting a store or having a test drive, even if you aren’t planning to order until later.
There’s a full summary of options in this article but here are the ones to check out in person:
S70D, S85, S85D, P85D
The four variants offer a range of performance from ‘fairly quick’ to ‘insane’. It’s hard to tell from the performance numbers on paper just how quick these cars are as the electric drive gives a different experience to that of ICE cars with similar statistics. If you are buying the Model S for reasons other than performance, then probably any of the variants will be plenty fast enough for you. If you want a performance car then you really need to try them out to see whether the extra performance of the ‘D’ models is worth the price to you.
Do bear in mind that you lose some space in the front luggage compartment (‘frunk’) if you select the ‘D’ (4-wheel drive) model. If you are planning on fitting some particular item of luggage in there (e.g. child buggy or folding bike) then you will want to check it out.
If you are thinking about buying one of the ‘D’ models for winter driving, then arguably winter tyres are more important than 4-wheel drive. Obviously, the ideal is 4WD and winter tyres, but the RWD Model S equipped with winter tyres is better than a typical RWD ICE due to its more even weight distribution and better traction control. A Model S on summer tyres, however, is hopeless in snow.
As well as the obvious features of a sunroof, selecting the Panoramic Roof option also increases the headroom available inside the car, particularly for back seat passengers. Some people find this more important than others, but it is definitely something to check on an actual car.
One non-obvious benefit of the panoramic roof is that it provides screw-in mounting points for a roof-rack: There’s no satisfactory way to use a roof-rack with the standard roof.
It is generally agreed that the level of tint/UV filter in the roof glass means that glare/solar heating is not a problem even in sunny climates, but again this is something to check for yourself.
Colours are always hard to appreciate on a colour chart, and some of Tesla’s colours are particularly difficult. Try to see a car in your chosen colour, preferably under more than one lighting condition.
The red often appears a bit pink in photos – it isn’t at all pink in real life. The original green and blue appear almost black in low light, showing their true colour only when the sun shines on them. The difference between pearl and plain white can only be appreciated by looking at them.
Third row child seats
These are very handy to have if you have children of the right age to fit, but they suit a limited age range and, when folded away, they do fill up what is otherwise a useful extra storage area. Worth checking out if you think you might want them.
Finance and incentives
Tesla offer their own finance in most territories. As usual with manufacturer financing, you can almost certainly find cheaper money elsewhere, but the Tesla plan comes with one important feature: A buy-back guarantee on the value of the car after 3 years. This gives the option (but not the obligation) to sell the car back to Tesla after 3 years for a fixed formula based on the original list price, hence putting a cap on your maximum depreciation. Alternatively, conventional leasing arrangements are available where you pay fixed amounts while you have the car and the bank takes all the risk on the amount of depreciation when you hand it back. If you buy the car outright, or arrange your own financing independent of Tesla, then you take all the risk on the value when you come to sell.
The value guarantee is perhaps not as useful as it might appear at first glance – the figure is fairly pessimistic compared to used Model S values that have been seen so far and, conversely, if some major disaster occurs that makes used Teslas worthless, then the company is likely to be bankrupt and unable to honour the guarantee. However, if you were going to finance anyhow then it is an incentive worth looking at.
In general, your Model S purchase is likely to be a different financial proposition to cars you have bought in the past: the balance between first cost and per-mile costs is tilted towards first cost, the long-term depreciation is uncertain, and you might want to keep the car for a longer or shorter time than usual. If you are in the habit of changing your car often, you may find you like driving electric so much that there’s nothing else you want to switch to and so keep it longer, or you might find the Model S itself is evolving so fast that you keep wanting a replacement for the latest technology. So, rather than financing the Model S the same way you did your last car out of habit, it is probably worth reviewing the options afresh.
You should also look at how government incentives for EVs work in your area before ordering. Some incentives are just a straightforward grant that reduces the cost of the car but others may need you to arrange your affairs in a particular way. In the UK there are huge tax benefits from buying an EV as a company car rather than owning it personally. In the USA the federal tax credit is potentially available to everybody but, depending how you organise your tax affairs, you may not be able to get the whole benefit from it or you may need to pay out the cash at the time of purchase and then wait a long time before you get the benefit of the credit. In some areas there are incentives that are time-limited, or only available to a limited number of applicants per year, so you may need to take care with your order timing to make sure you don’t miss out.