Look, Ma! No Hands!!

We're cruising on the freeway, 70 miles an hour on the open road. It's a lovely day with puffy clouds in a blue sky above rolling green hills - nice scenery to look at as we wind our way north towards Oregon. We're able to enjoy the scenery because "Otto Pilot" is steering. With clear white lines marking the edges of the roadway, and yellow lines down the center, it means our Tesla Model X can lock in on those features (among others) - and drive itself!

Beth at the wheel. Model X doing the driving. ** see footnote

Beth at the wheel. Model X doing the driving. ** see footnote

Whoa! "Drive itself," you ask?  It freaked us out, too, but once we tried it - and got more used to it - we both came to appreciate the "autosteer" feature built into this, and other Tesla vehicles. It is weird to let go of the wheel and let the car take over. But it tracks right down the center of the lane, easily following the curves in the road, sensing nearby vehicles, and adjusting its speed if someone ahead of us slows down. When you want to change lanes, a click of the turn signal is all it takes. The vehicle safely moves into the next lane when the coast is clear - by itself!

A super cool thing about Tesla is that it collects real-time data from all its vehicles on the roadways. A fellow we met during our road trip likened it to the Borg Collective (for those of you Star Trek, Next Gen fans!). Data from each individual vehicle is sent back to Tesla where it is analyzed, and incorporated into upgrades to enhance safety. Like the Borg, Tesla is the collective intelligence comprising all individuals linked into a hive mind. Unlike the Borg, Tesla is not evil!  

For Tesla it means that they get realtime data feedback from the Tesla fleet, ensuring that the system is continually learning and improving upon itself.

But, you ask, just how does the car drive itself?  

Tesla's hardware & software allow for evolving self-driving technology: a forward radar, a forward-looking camera,  a dozen long-range ultrasonic sensors positioned to sense 16 feet around the car in every direction at all speeds, and a high-precision digitally-controlled electric assist braking system make up the system. This combined suite of features, Tesla notes, represents the only fully integrated autopilot system involving four different feedback modules: camera, radar, ultrasonics, and GPS.

Check out this video of Tom driving hands-free, with Otto Pilot in command!


When you're flying on a commercial airliner, the pilot often engages autopilot. Tesla's autopilot (or autosteer) works similar to the systems that pilots use when conditions allow. And like airline pilots, we're still fully aware that we are responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the vehicle. Tesla has designed a safety feature to remind us of that: every third minute, the car makes an audible chime and a message pops onto the dash telling us to hold the wheel. The car needs to feel a bit of tension on the steering wheel so that it knows you are still there. 

Once, when we were on a clear stretch of road with Beth driving about 50 mph, we did a test: when the message came up, she touched the wheel, but didn't provide tension. The car didn't sense her! It chimed again, more insistently, and once more asked the driver to hold the wheel. Beth again lightly touched the wheel and, as before, the car didn't sense her. We were amazed what it did next!

Beth Hands Free.jpg

The car began to slow down. It put it's hazard flashers on and, sensing all around to make sure it was clear of other vehicles, it moved out of the lane of moving traffic! Can you imagine if, say, you fell asleep at the wheel? Or had a medical issue that incapacitated you? The car realizes the driver is not in control and automatically moves into a safe position - and stops. We are astounded by Tesla's commitment to safety.

Autopilot is still in Beta. Self-driving vehicles are not fully here yet. But Tesla's autopilot, which continues to learn and evolve with real-time input, is getting there. It is so nice to be able to enjoy the scenery while Otto pilots our futuristic Model X relieving some of the tedium, and danger, from the drive!

**  We have our hands completely off the wheel in these photos & video for illustration purposes. When we are in autopilot mode, we typically sit with our hands resting lightly on the wheel so we retain contact & control.

Dash display

Dash display





Powering Up

People often ask us about charging: "How far can you go between charges?" "How do you know where to charge?" And "how much does it cost to charge?"  

As for the first question, it's kinda like a gas-powered vehicle. It depends on how fast we're going, whether we're climbing up hills, and if we have other things drawing power, like the A/C or the chilled or heated seats. (I love the chilled seats!)

Our Model X P90D is rated at 257 miles between charges. If we're driving along, slowly cruising through the scenery as we recently did while exploring southern Oregon and Highway 101 in northern California, our mileage can be better than that. But we like to keep the batteries topped up especially since we might decide to take a diversion.

So we take advantage of charging stations when we can, and time them for rest stops (i.e. naps), lunch breaks, or overnight hotel stays. The car’s onboard computer constantly monitors the battery during both driving and charging to ensure it maintains peak performance.

Using a Supercharger is easy. You simply pull up, plug in, and depending upon how low we've run the batteries, it might take 15 - 50 minutes to top up to have enough range to get to our destination or the next station. 

We know where to charge thanks to a couple of things. One is the Tesla Supercharging network, which is expanding quickly across the country.  

At the Supercharger in Seaside, CA

This map on the left shows the Superchargers as of today. The map on the right shows the Superchargers that will be in place by the end of 2016. With more and more people buying Tesla vehicles (and almost half a million orders placed for the new Tesla Model 3), Superchargers will be cropping up all over!

Tesla vehicles use an onboard charger to convert alternating current (AC) from a wall charger to direct current (DC) that’s stored in the battery. Superchargers consist of multiple chargers working in parallel to deliver up to 120 kW of power directly to the battery. As the battery nears to a full charge, the vehicle’s onboard computer gradually reduces the current to the optimum level for topping off cells.

Here's what the display looks like on our touchscreen during charging. We stopped in Bend, OR, to explore the town. While at the destination charger at the Riverbend Hotel, we enjoyed a lovely lunch at their restaurant overlooking the river, then took a pleasant walk. 

Here's what the display looks like on our touchscreen during charging. We stopped in Bend, OR, to explore the town. While at the destination charger at the Riverbend Hotel, we enjoyed a lovely lunch at their restaurant overlooking the river, then took a pleasant walk. 

How do we know where to charge? That's easy, too! Our navigation system plots the route to our destination, showing us not only the superchargers along the way, but also telling us how much battery power will remain at that destination. Other charging stations, called "destination chargers" are found at hotels, restaurants, RV parks, public buildings, etc., for the growing network of EVs (electric vehicles) to use.

A "destination" charger. This one is in Ft. Klamath, south of Crater Lake National Park. 

In addition to the Tesla's onboard navigation system indicating the location of these chargers, we also have an app called Plugshare that shows us where these are located. We've never had a problem finding a place to plug-in for a pop!

And how much does it cost? To use the Supercharger is...free!! We don't pay anything.  Sometimes, the destination chargers require a small fee, but 5 or 10 bucks for a full battery top-off is no big deal and so far, on this trip, we've only had to do that twice when exploring the coast along Highway 101.

It's great not to have to pull into  a gas station and fill up with fossil fuels!!

Topping off at an AeroEnvironment destination charger.

Topping off at an AeroEnvironment destination charger.

Electric Friends


“When you are at a gas station,” said the lady with the shiny red Tesla, “you rarely talk to anyone at nearby pumps. But at Tesla charging stations, you talk to other owners, and have a nice visit!” Charging a Tesla is like a social affair!

When we plugged in the Model X for a quick pop-up at the supercharger in Springfield, OR, we were the only Tesla in the charging area. Fifteen minutes later, after a quick break, we were back at the X and ready to roll. (We’ve come to the area to visit Metalworks, the company restoring & rebuilding Tom’s classic 1981 Toyota FJ-43 Land Cruiser. But that’s another story for another blog!)

We really had to dash to make it to Metalworks before they closed, but the other Tesla owners were keen to see the X, as they'd never seen one in "the flesh." Of course, we enjoy showing the vehicle, especially to such an enthusiastic group. And it is something to see when the falcon wing back doors are raised!

The falcon wings draw a crowd!

The falcon wings draw a crowd!

It's fun talking to electric vehicle owners who think so positively and, more than anything, grasp Tesla's vision of a cleaner world and are thrilled to play a part in the growing movement, and technology, to make it happen.  

Off the Chart

Our first stop on the Tesla Model X road trip was in Santa Barbara, CA, to see friends & family and pop into the Tesla Service Center. Tom lived in this beautiful city for 40 years, working as a CHP officer and spending decades diving the Channel Islands as a professional underwater photographer/ cinematographer. No time for diving on this trip: we had to get a little tweak on the X before heading north.

High above Santa Barbara

High above Santa Barbara


This vehicle is truly remarkable! It’s like a supercomputer, that drives itself, attached to a luxury high-end sports car. And like most computers, it sends software updates when available. As the vehicles “learn,” real time information is sent to Tesla where software is continually being upgraded, improved and incorporated into those updates. And, like most computers, this supercomputer had a teensy bug in it. Hence our trip to the Service Center.

The left rear tail light is a hatch that pops open to reveal the charging port. When open, a light appears on the dash indicating its status. The indicator light on our panel kept showing the port to be open.  Not a big deal but we called the Scottsdale Service Center where we took delivery of the X. Knowing we were en route to Santa Barbara, they immediately set up an appointment with that center for us.

Sarah Allen, the Service Advisor, greeted us when we arrived. A vivacious gal, Sarah is a hot-rod gal to her soul but has been swayed into loving electric vehicles and is passionate about Tesla and Elon Musk’s vision to get us off fossil fuels & reduce our carbon emissions.  She spent time with us chatting about all things Tesla, going over some of the computer commands we’d been show initially, and had forgotten, and handed over the keys to a gorgeous dolphin-gray Model S sedan to use while the X was in the Center.

When we picked up the X the following morning (fully charged and cleaned!), Sarah explained that it was an easy fix. The techs simply replaced the tiny circuit board for the charge port. No greasy wrenches, sockets, or screwdrivers here! I (reluctantly) handed back the keys to the Model S and off we went in our X, the light on the dash properly off.

Tom’s a true car guy. He’s owed over 30 vehicles and has had some kind of issue with all of them. It seems, he says, like there are those who pessimistically find nothing good to say about Tesla, not taking into consideration that Tesla is a brand new concept, custom built vehicle, loaded with new and evolving technology.

No car has ever come off the assembly line perfect.  (He had a brand new high performance Chevy once that, within a year, had to have two cracked-block motors and a defective alternator replaced!) It seems that if a single Tesla has a flat tire it makes national news. Tom declares that this X “is the finest vehicle I’ve ever owned! It’s the most sophisticated, the most fun, and the best.” He still has a couple of old collector cars that use gas…but he’ll never buy another new gas powered vehicle again.

Tesla is reputed to have the best auto service in the world and we can certainly attest to that. Sarah exemplifies the quality of people in the Centers. Tesla is the future of automobiles – and that future, as our Model X reveals and the off-the-chart service at Tesla centers supports – is now.

Manteca charger.jpg

Road Trip - Prescott, AZ to Santa Barbara, CA

We’re sitting in Burbank at the Tesla showroom, taking a break while our Tesla Model X is hooked into the supercharger outside for a final pop. The drive from Prescott thus far has been a breeze. Not only does the vehicle handle beautifully, it also keeps us informed about a lot of things, including how far we can go on the current charge.

 This model has a range of 257 miles. Our first stop, 3 hours into the trip, was at the Quartzite, AZ, supercharger near the Arizona – California border. We’ve always stopped at the border to fuel up, stretch, take a restroom break, and grab a drink or snack. Before we got the Tesla we timed our stops: it was always at least 20 minutes. Fifteen minutes at Quartzite, refreshed, stretched, and a big cup of ice water in hand, we charged up enough to reach our lunch stop ahead in Indio.


Over the past 4 years driving back and forth between Prescott and Santa Barbara, we’ve often stopped in Indio for lunch at Subway. With the supercharging station right behind Subway it was a no-brainer to stop there this time. We chatted with two other Tesla drivers charging their vehicles, had our sandwiches, then, fully charged, were on the road again.

As long as we drove 70mph or less, autonomous driving could be enabled. At one point, while driving in autonomous mode, the vehicle ahead of us braked suddenly. Our Tesla immediately slowed down and maintained a safe distance. It’s quite a safety feature: if someone ahead of us slammed on the brakes, the car reacts faster than we could to avoid a collision.

Our final stop is Santa Barbara. The worst part about the trip so far? Being back in California traffic! At least we’re in a comfortable and very safe vehicle!


You know that feeling of anticipation? The excitement when something you’ve waited a long time in coming finally arrives?  This morning dawned that way.

At 6:15, the morning sun warming into a blue-sky day, our neighbor picked us up for the ride into town to catch the shuttle to its drop-off at the Phoenix airport.  More friends picked us up there and drove us to the Tesla Service Center in Scottsdale where a number of sleek Tesla Model S sedans gleamed outside the Center.

No fancy showroom here, we walked into a room set up with tables where we were warmly welcomed by one of the staff. “In just a minute,” he said, “we’ll take you back to see your Model X.” In the meantime, he wanted us to know that if there were any issues or questions we had, to call him at any time and that they’d be there for us no matter where we were. Lauren, our delivery manager, came over to meet us. After a brief chat, she opened a door and we entered a room, empty save for a Tesla X against the wall, unobtrusive beneath a custom black cover.  The rest of the large room was devoted to our Model X.

Center stage in the white room, its falcon-wing back doors raised high in greeting, glistened our stunning Signature series Tesla Model X.  That new-car smell infused with leather notes wafted into the room drawing us in to explore the new futuristic SUV. Tom & I walked around the vehicle for a few minutes before Lauren brought us to a table set with a bottle of Moet champagne and other welcome gifts…and the final piece of paper to sign indicating we’d accepted delivery of Tesla Model X # 493.

A center mounted 17” vertical touchscreen on the dash is the control panel where the majority of the vehicle’s features are accessed via apps: navigation, audio, charging, lighting, doors, etc.  Ann, Tesla’s rep, then spent over an hour familiarizing us with the many features of the Model X. Finally, she unplugged it from its charging port and one of the fellows drove it around front for us to take home.

It only takes a moment when sitting in the cockpit to realize this is no ordinary vehicle! It handles and drives like a race car, with the comfort of a spacious SUV. As soon as we were on the freeway with open space ahead, Tom touched the pedal. Instant torque pushed us back into our seats, the feeling similar to that moment when a jet first leaps off the runway! We enjoyed the drive north, even trying out the autopilot feature.  It sure is weird to give autonomous driving over to the Tesla – but it does a brilliant job. We’ll go into more details about it when we hit the road in a few days to head to the Pacific Northwest.

Although it had a full charge with plenty of juice for our return to Prescott, we stopped at the Tesla supercharging station in Cordes Junction at the intersection of I-17 and Hwy 69. Popping open the “taillight” reveals the plug. Tom hooked the car in, the indicator light flashed to show we had a good connection, and we walked away.

From inside the travel shop, we used our Tesla App to see how much charge we were getting and 15 minutes later used the app to turn on the air condition before we walked out to the vehicle.  Unplugging from the charger, Tom remarked how fun it was to watch the other vehicles pumping gas and paying money to do so. (Tesla founder Elon Musk’s main purpose behind Tesla is to wean us off fossil fuels.) 

All we could say as we slid into the comfortable seats for the drive back home was



PS:  And when we got home, Tom took the photos off the mirror!





Anxiously Waiting...

A few more days….but who’s counting? After all, we’ve only been waiting a long time for this day to arrive.  For years we’d been looking at a picture of Tom’s dream vehicle laminated and taped to his bathroom mirror.

(When Tom decides he wants something, he puts a photo of it on the mirror. Then, he puts into place all the necessary business steps to turn the photo into reality.)

The original photo, laminated, on top...We've been looking at it for years!

The time-frame to place an order for the dream car was limited, and Tom kept waiting, always believing in the vehicle, but waiting for the pieces to fall into place.

Finally, with days left before the initial order period was to be closed, Tom bit the bullet and made the call to place his order. It was October 7th, 2015. The dream vehicle: Tesla’s Signature version of the Model X SUV.

The Signature is one of the first 1,000 special-edition all electric SUV’s to come off the Tesla line.  It has features that subsequent Model X’s will not have, or will only have as custom add-ons. But when Tom ordered the X, what those custom features would be remained a mystery.

His call to Tesla went something like this:

Tom:  “Can you tell me how much the Model X will cost?”

Tesla:  “No.  We haven’t built the car yet, so we can just give you a ballpark.”

Tom:  “Can you tell me what the special features of the Signature version will be?”

Tesla:  “No. We aren’t certain exactly what features we’ll include yet.””

Tom: “Can you tell me when we will get the vehicle?”

Tesla:  “No. We’re just going into production and can’t predict the date. Do you have any other questions?”

Tom:  “No. That pretty much sums it up. I’ll think about it overnight.”

Tesla:  “If you wait, the Signature versions will all be sold out.”

Tom: “That’s a great marketing ploy! OK. Here’s my deposit!”

(Tom called the next day – and true to the Tesla representatives word, there was, indeed, now a long waiting list!  Tom was order number 966!)

And with that, the Tesla X came one step closer off the bathroom mirror to Tom’s dream car reality.  In subsequent months, Tom was able to build his Model X via the Tesla website finding out what special accessories it would have, the price, and finally – after months of querying – getting the delivery date coordinated with our return from New Zealand.

It’s the first time Tom’s been happy to leave New Zealand (well, sort of) because he knows it’s almost time to see that photo become real. We’ll travel 27 hours home, have one day to catch up, then it’s down to Phoenix where – finally – we see the image in the flesh.

Or, in this case, the titanium-metallic metal.


The titanium color selection from the MyTesla website!

The titanium color selection from the MyTesla website!