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This past February 19, on a Monday afternoon, Richard Flentge and I drove up in the Tesla Model 3 to the Tesla Service Center in St. Louis to take delivery of my brand new Tesla Model 3. VIN: 5YJ3E1EA0JF005868
A couple of notable things, there were a LOT of Model 3’s on the lot. Like probably 15 which rather crowds their small lot.

The Tesla Model S purports to provide a 275 mile range. It is right at 125 miles to the service center and I charged it to 100% before we departed. On arrival, we immediately connected to their normal Tesla charger. Ironically the service center doesn’t have supercharge. And we had it connected for over an hour. But on returning to the shop from St. Louis, the Model S was staggering in with less than 4% charge showing. A 250 mile trip WITH an hour of interim charging and it barely made it. Your mileage may vary.

The drive home for me was a bit of a horror. The Model 3 had a very stiff suspension and felt both rough and cheap to my unschooled glutius maximus. But the heroic problem was one that’s rarely spoken of with regards to electric vehicles. They just don’t have the same road noise as an ICE vehicle and it is very easy to look down at the speedometer and find yourself doing 80 in a 35. But on the Model 3, this is compounded by the fact that there is nothing to look down at. The instrument cluster is just missing in action.

The 15.4 inch center screen is all there is. And I mean ALL there is. You have to use it to open the glove compartment. The speed is in thin Helvetica numerals about 1/2 inch high in the upper left hand corner. PRND is in about 4 point type as is SOC. This is not a display. It’s a mess. And you will find yourself leaning over to get a peak (at least with my eyes). When you raise back up and return your eyes to the road you will likely be horrified to learn that you are no longer in the lane you thought you were in, but a concrete truck is and you are closing at an alarming rate.

Basically, the lack of instrumentation and reliance on this absurd display for drive critical information is a safety hazard of potentially fatal proportions and it really surprised me.

Without the noise and vibration cues and no display, my speed was just all over the place, 54 mph one minute and 82mph the next. No problem. I had actually spent a stupid $8000 of the $56,300 purchase price on the enhanced autopilot package and fully autonomous driving when available. So it must at least have cruise control, right?

The problem was, I had no idea how to turn it on. And I searched the screen not only in vain, but at my repeated peril.

So I pulled over in Ozorra and did what any confused driver would do. I Googled it. And immediately learned that I had of course overlooked the obvious. You simply pull down the PRND stalk past D and it engages the cruise control. Couldn’t be simpler.

So I pulled out of the convenience store I had parked at and out onto the freeway to resume the trip. Confidently pulled down on the stalk and….nothing. Actually a TINY little window advisory popped up on the screen. I bent over to see what it said and VROOOOMMMMM the truck next to me stood on his horn as I veered sharply into his lane missing a sideswipe by inches. Several harrowing lane departures later, I was finally able to make out the 4 point type – CRUISE UNAVAILABLE Driver Seatbelt Not Secured.. So my near death experience was CAUSED by Elon Musk’s amazing house of hubris, trying to keep me safe, from myself.

By St. Genevieve the car was for sale. By Perryville I had determined to very publicly auction it off, starting at $1 no reserve.

It’s been 12 years since I’ve bought a Windoze computer and the issue was the same. Bill Gates is pretty sure he knows best what I should be doing about closing files, exiting programs, and updating the operating system. Now it’s showed up in a car. In both cases, I bought the son of a bitch. It’s mine. And the manufacturers opinion as to how I should use it is beyond no interest, I consider it a heroic exercise in hubris and bad manners.

In the days since, my jets have cooled sufficiently I suppose to take a closer look at the car. And I find much to recommend it.

The instrumentation is a horror – actually a safety hazard. The voice recognition is comically inept. But to be fair, it is VIN005868. While not absolute, it rather implies that the car Musk vowed to produce at the rate of 5000 per week by the end of 2017, is more likely the 5868th or thereabout in a series as of February 2018. And all the giggly wow gee whiz very technical overviews of the Model 3 by new owners on YouTube may be a little out over the skis.

For example, to do the Homelink gig with my garage door, I pulled out the trusty user manual from the glove box. Only it was a very brief safety leaflet and advised that the user manual was on the CONTROLS screen of the display. I went to controls, and there was no such thing.

Was I so inept I just couldn’t find it? Not precisely. How do I know? Because three days later I received an over the air software update. And guess what the first installation note advised? Yes, you now have a User Manual on the controls screen. And lo, there. A Users Manual.

This is one of those time paradox things. How did the print manual, printed weeks or months before, know there would be a User Manual on the controls screen, when there clearly wasn’t, but would be weeks or months later? Coincidence? Methinks not.

And so it goes.

It seems so ordinary. Do you know of another car that has a user manual on a video display screen in the car? Why is that seminal? Well first, Tesla has kind of marked new ground with their weaponized technique of updating operating firmware over the GSM network. But now they can update the operating instructions as well. And so the functions of the car can change from hour to hour and day to day as software improvements are made, but the manual can also be updated to reflect the changes. This is unique and really quite powerful.

In the first video, I make much of the car keys. And with good reason. I’ve seen a dozen videos gacking on about the little cards and how they aren’t as good as the fob. Actually they are an order of magnitude better and kind of again a likely patentable improvement to the car owning experience.

For twenty years we have been plagued by these “security” car keys with the RFID chip in them that prevents people from stealing our cars, NOT. But what they do do is ensure that if you break or lose a car key, you get to pay a dealer $300 to “program one” for ya. It’s a $7 key and it takes 22 seconds to “program” but that will be $375 – for your own protection you know. What a racket.

The credit card Near Field Communication (NFC) card with the Model 3 isn’t a car key, although it will substitute for one. It is the key PROGRAMMER. And any phone or iPad that you can run the Tesla app from acts as the car key. You use the card to program as many as you like and link them to the car. And when you get a new phone, it is easy enough to program another one. And with today’s software upgrade, you can list ALL the keys programmed to this particular car, and in fact remove any that no longer make sense. Finally we are free from car key tyranny and empowered to program our OWN car keys.

I have often complained that the TEsla Model S homelink that automatically opens and closes the garage door is indeed COMICAL in its operation. Sometimes working, sometimes not, sometimes closing when it should be opening , and often opening when it should be closing. I have come to believe this is due to a really quite vague sense of the Global Positioning System. It doesn’t actually know where it’s at half the time – at least to the precision necessary to operate the garage door reliably.

The Model 3 has a demonstrably accurate sense of where it is at. I can see on the nav map where in the EVTV shop it is parked. Not that it is IN the shop, but WHERE in the shop and at what angle.

There are a half dozen other innovations small and large in the design of this car that are simply a new level of automotive design. But I was wowed by the car keys, and the operating manual addition to over the air updates. With vehicle 5868 I have come to realize we are in the early stages of a development process. For example, in the second video above you will see me startled by noises coming from the battery. My distraction was over the possible collapse of our lift system, not the car. But the noises were actually the contactors in the battery that kept cycling. Similarly, the car in the shop will just periodically wake up and start hissing and blowing the heater fan and flashing the lights seemingly at random. The hydraulic pump on the drive unit whirs into life and then subsides. My Mother In Law the car? Satanic possession?

Perhaps. Or perhaps it is me. And my Smart phone. Which is the car key. Which unlocks and activates the car when I approach. And automatically locks and deactivates the car when I walk away. All based on a vague sense of Bluetooth BLE RSSI (signal strength). Comical. Annoying. And easily fixed with a future software update.

The very rough ride of the vehicle remains rough. I keep thinking I should get some sort of applause and a style score if I can do a full eight seconds. But a simple twist of perspective in going around one of the circular intersections here in Cape demonstrates that “nimble” and “clever” could also be applied to that same suspension. Frankly, it makes the Model S then feel like a wallowing boat. Or a much smoother more refined ride – depending on your mental state and point of view.

We are of course interested in connecting to the vehicle CAN system and beginning our detailed inquiry into its operation. This is proving non-trivial. There is no OBDII connector. The diagnostics connectors of the Model S and Model X are gone. The Tesla Service Center tech assures me they have a new diagnostic system that connects to a small white Sumitomo five pin connector where the OBDII was on the Model S.

 

Makes sense. But we can find no sign of CAN on it. It has two twisted pairs connected to the four installed pins, but they do not appear to carry CAN data. BroadR-Reach technology is an Ethernet physical layer standard designed for use in automotive connectivity applications. It allows multiple in-vehicle systems to simultaneously access information over unshielded single twisted pair cable. Benefits for automotive manufacturers integrating the BroadR-Reach Ethernet standard include reduced connectivity costs and cabling weight, according to Broadcom Corporation, now Broadcom Limited, inventor of the BroadR-Reach standard.

It mostly operates at a relatively low 33.3 Mbps. Low by ethernet standards, high relative to CAN speeds. And would serve some serious advantages if you were checking multiple video cameras while troubleshooting enhanced autopilot hardware.

But it almost certainly HAS CAN. Tesla has made a very odd announcement about an EVENT DATA RECORDER that have been in all Model X and Model S vehicles and now in the Model 3 as well.
You have to order a data cable set from that costs $799 and includes a PCAN CAN to USB adapter. And you download a Windoze program to capture EDR information. Then you upload the data and the website processes out a PDF report. The EDR only records when an unusual event occurs. And Tesla retrieves entirely different data from the MCU to do similar analysis but for any time period

So we’re a little vague on the purpose of the EDR. But it does provide us a pointer to CAN connectivity. And it is somewhere buried in the Model 3 console. Which opens the door to installing a device to read CAN and port it to an OBDII connector you could install on the side of the console.

Our investigation thus far reveals something I am at a bit of a loss to describe. The Model S and Model X have very conventional wiring harnesses. But on the Model 3, all the harnesses and connectors feel and look more “integrated” in the car, meaning harder to dig out and separate from everything else. You just don’t really have very good access to anything. But I’ve quickly come to admire the workmanship. And I mean true workmanship – not the infantile sophomoric and 50 year old focus on door and panel gaps. This is something from the 1950’s and I could care less about door gaps and panel alignment as long as the doors and trunk close well. But the various devices on the vehicle very much look like they were put there on purpose.

The interior room is a bit of magic. The vehicle is fully 11.5 inches shorter than the Model S. But it’s all taken out of the frunk. And the dash is lowered and moved forward and the windshield is extended downward and forward. The result is what feels like more interior room and better visibility, at the cost of frunk space. I’ve actually used the frunk four times in the Model S in five years. And the rear space available in the Model 3 is actually an embarrassment of riches.

I don’t like the door handles. I didn’t like the door handles on the Model S. Now that I think about it, I didn’t really care much for the door handles on my grandfathers 1952 Studebaker pickup. I don’t recall a car where I DID like the door handles. Maybe I have some sort of deep seated door handle issues. These are probably better than most.

Mirror, seat, and steering wheel adjustments are a hoot. Sound system is excellent. iPhone integration is reasonably good. And in the video I rave about the center console. Cup holders the right size and the right place and an excellent space to hold a phone and charge it.

In the second video, we take a look at the drive unit and suspension. The drive unit is small, compact, and probably easier to swap out than a Tesla. Again, a couple of innovations. It has a hydraulic lubrication pump and a filter for the gearbox lubricant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in a transmission. I can only surmise it is a fulfillment of a Musk directive that they produce a drive unit that would do a million miles. While difficult to examine, I have to believe the heat exchanger on the top of the drive unit features two separate cooling loops, one for inverter and a second for the motor. This should relieve Tesla owners of the embarrassment of doing 3 laps at the track and then overheating the inverter and going into a kind of a limp mode. The Model S had a single cooling loop for both motor and inverter.

The rest I am largely just making up. But as long time EVTV viewers are aware, I make shit up better than most people who are supposed to actually know.

The motor is described as a three phase AC permanent magnet motor. I think this may be slightly disengenous, albeit likely true in a literal sense. Tesla has suffered an invasion of motor talent from the National Technical University of Athens. Principle motor designer is Konstantinos Laskaris. He is joined by Motor design engineer Konstantinos Bourchas and Staff Motor Design Engineer Vasilis Papanikolaou. And indeed, rumor has it that Tesla has built a motor design skunkworks in Athens with perhaps a dozen of the local talent engaged. Apparently greeks like motor design. Who knew?

And I’m looking at this motor and thinking that these guys, hungry to make a mark in the world as top talent at the most advanced car manufacturer on planet, have come up with a boring 192kW 3-phase permanent magnet motor design???. Like in a Leaf???… hmmm…. what are the chances??

And we seem to be seeing a 5 or 6 percent INCREASE in efficiency for the overall drive train over a Model S. And a 17600 rpm top end and 140 mph??? And a million mile motor??? With a filter and pump on the gearbox????

Many tout the permanent magnet motor but in truth it just isn’t as good at almost anything as a common induction motor beyond size and weight. The magnets weaken over time, they weaken catastrophically if over heated, and they just don’t have any ass at high rpms. They lose all torque at high speeds. These are of course generalizations.

If I wanted to make a mark, I think I would want to make a switched reluctance motor work in a vehicle. They work great at high rpm and are heroically efficient. But they suffer even worse torque ripple/cogging issues than permanent magnet machines. Indeed, fashion of the day is experiments to add SMALL permanent magnets, not to drive the motor, but to distort the stator flux fields to weaken the SRM motor but flatten out the cogging and torque ripple and acoustic noise that basically prevent the use of SRM motors in vehicles. And so I’m picturing a six pole 3-phase stator with small permanent magnets with a switched reluctance rotor. Kind of a hybrid – a Permanent Magnet Switched Reluctance Motor or PMSRM.

I’m not originating this idea. There are a number of papers on this very topic 2010 to 2015 and sooner or later, somebody is going to try to put the theory and experiments into production. I mean why would three Greeks travel halfway around the world to Fremont California to lay up? Oh, did I mention that SRM motors are basically indestructible.?? Much less heat loss than induction motors?

SRM’s are truly different. AC Induction and Permanent Magnet AC motors both rely on the irresistible forces of two opposed magnetic fields. SRM’s are not. They produce torque based on the principle that a distorted magnetic field will produce a torque effect in trying to straighten the path of the magnetic lines of flux through the path of least “reluctance”. Reluctance in magnetic flux fields can be thought of as similar to resistance in electrical circuits. Air in the spaces between rotor poles have a HIGH reluctance while the ferrous nature of silicon steel laminates in the rotor poles themselves exhibit a very LOW reluctance.

There are numerous tutorials on YouTube describing switched or synchronous reluctance motors. But I think you will find most descriptions somewhat vaguely unsatisfying. I might be persuaded to attempt it. But I’m not sure I can even do so without building a gauss table first in order to be persuasive.

In any event, I could be completely wrong. They might be very tame Greeks. It’s all probably considered secret sauce if true. And I could be reading messages from God in cloud formations. But there is “just” a tiny bit of hesitancy on startup, it seems quite perky after that, and there is something deeply troubling about cutting 1500 watts out of the continuous 50mph numbers by cutting another 0.01 from the coefficient of drag. I can’t work all that out from what I see in this car.

This past week or so, Porsche has announced a pretty serious challenge to the Model X and Jaguar has entered the field as well. These are likely NOT the press release paper tigers of yore, but could quite likely be real cars. The moment of the electric car is finally here. It’s been a ten year ride here at EVTV, and a hell of a party Woodrow. But I might want to kick a pig. It is my belief that we are quickly blazing through a firm early adopter advance, and the curve is about to turn vertical drawing in the super consumer and prosumer elements. We’re kind of taking a victory lap here at EVTV and giving more serious consideration to the concept of repurposing EV batteries for solar energy storage – a bit of a new frontier.

Stay with us.

Jack Rickard