Published November 16, 2012
By Mark Zimmer
After waiting decades for the possibility to buy a production all-electric vehicle, and three years since placing my deposit, I just bought my first – a Tesla Model S Signature Performance edition.
The buying “experience” with a few small exceptions has been overwhelmingly good, and quite unlike the customary dealership “dealer options” and negotiations hassle.
First off, Tesla will deliver the Model S anywhere in the U.S. and unlike a traditional dealer, this has no bearing on its retail stores. The delivery can be the place of your choosing.
A potential downside – which ultimately I was fine with – is that with hundreds of people now taking delivery of the Model S, Tesla is charging each a non-negotiable $990 fee.
The company is calling this final step in the revolutionary car buying process, "Tesla Personal Delivery," and it does not include an additional $180 charged for final inspection, preparation and coordination, so that’s an extra $1,170 tacked on regardless what it actually costs Tesla to get it done.
On the flip side, the more logistically remote the delivery, the better the deal for the buyer.
And in any case, Tesla Motors will deliver the Model S wherever you want in the United States but warns that out-of-state deliveries can result in additional DMV charges.
With all the controversy with its unique Apple-inspired stores, it's a good time to review my history in this entire buying process as well.
Back in August, 2008 I visited a Tesla Store in Los Angeles to check out a Roadster. When I couldn't easily get out of the Lotus-based two-seater, the representative said, "We will be making a sedan in the future."
That sounded more appealing, so in April of 2009 a $5,000 deposit was made online for the standard production run of the Model S. My wait began.
The first surprise; an announcement that all orders for the 85-kwh battery cars would be built first. If you opted for a 40-kwh Model S, you would be moved to a later 2013 production queue.
At a factory tour in 2011 it was announced that the dark red would only be available for the Signature series. The bright red color wouldn’t be available until sometime in 2013 after all the Signature series vehicles were completed. So I added a new Signature order with a $40,000 deposit online, and was now set for one of the first 1,000 off the production line. The original order was not transferable and it was recommended by the Tesla store personnel to leave that order alone until the Signature order was configured and confirmed.
During the summer of 2012 the final options selections were made for the Signature Performance car through email and phone conversations and the final delivery arrangements were made in November. On the positive side – and unlike the usual dealer process – no papers were ever signed at a store, galleria or service center. It was an easy process and I avoided having to sit at a dealership and negotiate price and APR.
When the Personal Delivery fee was announced, I’ll admit I was disappointed that there was no discount for factory delivery.
After all, any money and time spent to travel to Fremont and to back would be added to the $990 cost.
Some may think this sounds unacceptable, and an argument could be made that it is. But just as likely, the added fee can get buyers to think creatively how to get their money’s worth.
While some do pick up their Model S at the factory, especially if they live nearby, many have taken delivery at places like Disneyland. Some Model S owners throw a party and invite friends for the delivery.
As for myself, I made Tesla work a bit for my $990, and made a video out of the “experience.” I also enjoyed two hours of personal instruction within the arrival, unloading, social courtesy and paper signing that took about three hours total.
Oh also, for those who do show up at Tesla’s front door, it is not a total waste of money, as a gracious reception and factory tour are offered along with the instruction on the new car.
So while it’s easy to gripe about a non-negotiable fee, it's buyers choice and, keeping it all positive, the way to make it worthwhile is for prospective buyers to fantasize where they would take delivery and personalize the occasion to their liking.
Again, it's quite a change from driving a car off of a dealer’s lot – and more personalized and carefully carried out than many a dealership experience as well
Since entry, exit, starting, and controls are different than other vehicles, personal training is a must. After the training session, the papers are signed and checks are written if funds were not wired for payment; key fobs are handed over, farewells made and it's time to enjoy Model S.
The car is delivered in pristine condition. A custom trailer with frontal air dam helps protect the vehicle en route. The trailer’s wheel guard also removes to allow opening of the door.
Making it Momentous
My thoughts of delivery evolved from factory delivery to wanting Tesla to deliver to a scenic location while video taping the arrival and unloading.
"Tesla Delivers Anywhere," was the theme I chose and the results were worth the effort. The added benefit was learning about my new Model S at my own quiet, hilltop location.
I even treated the Delivery Specialist to a spin on another type of EV – my Segway i2 that for novelty’s sake I used to film the semi-historical first-gen, first-wave, Model S delivery.
<iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/53200128?badge=0&color=ffffff" width="610" height="343" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen="">>[embedded content]</iframe>
Tesla Delivers Anywhere from Ashley Nicole Video on Vimeo.
But in case you think I’m all exuberance and positive spin, I’ll note there can be glitches that occur with a vehicle order and Tesla has not been immune to them.
Delays in production caused by a wait for parts did add a few weeks to my wait. And while on hold, my original Delivery Specialist moved to Florida and another specialist was assigned. While that did not delay the delivery, it did lead to repetition of answers to delivery questions.
The subject of potential media coverage was another frustration.
One of the reasons I am writing this myself is Tesla shot down the prospect of my request to have a reporter and videographer along, even though I paid $120,000 for the vehicle, and it all took place on my own property.
Tesla did agree to let me video the delivery, but said it could not abide by having a news reporter present.
The company explained the major reason its does not want media coverage is that the delivery specialists are not trained to represent the company for a media event. I now would agree with that since visiting the Tesla Store a few days after delivery and learning that the original hood closing training at delivery was partially incorrect.
I was told, “No photos of your car until it’s on the trailer,” when I asked to take pictures at the service center. Perhaps it was to prevent photos of an un-detailed vehicle since one owner reported on the Tesla forum of a delivery where their car was not perfectly clean. It rained on my delivery day, so having a few water spots has to be taken into consideration in inclement weather.
After all the care and precautions Tesla insisted on, we did not overly inspect the vehicle on delivery day. Afterwards, I did discover a small paint blemish which Tesla has since inspected at the service center and added to a small list of items to be corrected or included.
Overall the personnel have been exceptional, even during the challenge of ramping up the production rate.
With all the reviews appearing for Model S, I don't need to repeat what has been said elsewhere. Plenty of facts and specifications are available at the Tesla Motors Web pages.
Navigate to "Enthusiasts" and "Forums" to read the owner experiences and the usual list of requests for future modifications and improvements. One benefit to the massive 17-inch touch screen and dashboard display is the flexibility that Tesla Motors built-in to add new features for existing Model S drivers. The updates occur through the 3G network and new features have already appeared.
There are a few unique details that I learned during training that have not been addressed elsewhere. The compact J1772 adapter adds 2 1/4 inches to a standard charge cord handle. The result is that Model S will appear like any other EV at the public charge stations.
A very important point about closing the hood was demonstrated by slowly applying pressure with both hands near the front edge of the hood until it clicks. I learned later, if the aluminum hood metal depresses, your hands are too high on the hood.
I asked if Model S can be accidentally powered off during a drive. The answer: "No." A manual power off must be accessed through multiple screen choices. Emergency brake can be applied anytime by holding down the Park button on the end of the PRND shifter.
Overall the delivery experience was everything I expected. Since there is flexibility in the time the Delivery Specialist can spend with the purchaser of Model S, it's personal for you. If more time is needed to accomplish a task or learn something new, just ask. I downloaded manuals in advance to speed the learning process and revised ones are available to the customer at their personal "My Garage" Tesla web page. Buying a car should never be a nightmare, but feel like a dream where you are flying. With the ease of purchase plus the acceleration and handling of Performance Model S, the dream is real.