2016 Tesla Model S [photo by owner Shiva]Enlarge Photo
First, a message to hold the steering wheel appears. Then, the instrument-panel display starts to flash. If a driver ignores that, all audio is turned off and the car beeps for attention.
After that final warning, Autopilot disengages and brings the car to a stop. The driver isn't allowed to engage Autopilot again unless the car is put in park before starting to drive again.
Autopilot also limits speed to 90 mph. Driving the car myself, if I go over that speed, Autopilot also disengages for that drive. Again, I would have to bring the car to a stop, put it in park, and start the drive again to reengage Autopilot.
The system is smarter now, because it can sense how fast the car is going relative to the posted speed limit and/or the flow of traffic. If I’m going over the speed limit or faster than the traffic on other adjacent lanes, my car asks me to put my hands on the steering wheel more frequently.
If the road has many bends or curves, it also asks for my hands on the steering wheel as well as it drives through the bends.
I welcome all of these changes, as it makes the system safer for everyone and helps to minimize the risks of incidents or abuse. I had limited experience with autopilot before the 8.0 update, so I don’t miss the older system with fewer restrictions.
Solar panels at Supercharger in Barstow, CA, during Tesla Model S road trip [photo: David Noland]Enlarge Photo
As any electric-car owner knows, one of their best features is not going to a gas station but just plugging in our cars at home. This literally takes 5 seconds.
I noticed almost immediately how busy the San Francisco Bay Area Supercharger sites could get.
Though I do most of my charging at home, I tried a few times to charge my car at local Superchargers in Fremont, Mountain View, Dublin, and San Mateo. I wanted to test and see how quickly cars charge, as well as talking to other owners and my local sales staff.
On two separate occasions last fall, I noticed owners leaving their cars unattended and returning after a full charge, rather than the 80-percent charge that's usually done within 30 or 40 minutes.
I even saw a Model S owner drop off his car late on a weekday evening and depart in another car that picked him up. They returned once his car was done fully charging.
It didn’t make sense to me that owners abuse the free Supercharging, even if our cars came with unlimited fast charging for “free.” Drivers from outside the area visiting on a trip who needed to stop and charge would run into issues and have to wait for those Superchargers.
This problem is not exclusive to Tesla or electric vehicles, though: Whenever something is “free,” some people will find a way to abuse it, as I've seen driving our other electric cars.
Tesla Model S at Supercharger site in Ventura, CA, with just one slot open [photo: David Noland]Enlarge Photo
When a Bay Area Tesla owner complained to company CEO Elon Musk on Twitter about congestion at local Superchargers, and owners leaving their cars unattended after a full charge, Musk announced that something would be done.
Last fall, Tesla announced an official change in policy: Once any Tesla is done charging, an owner has 5 minutes to move the car away from the Supercharger station to free up space.
Otherwise, parking fees start to accrue. The idling fee is $0.40/minute. If you move your car 6 minutes after it finishes, that’s $2.40 in penalties—but one minute earlier, within the 5-minute grace period, the fees are waived.
End of unlimited free charging
Tesla also announced in late 2016 that the “unlimited, free Supercharging” program would end. Owners who ordered after January 15, 2017, would not get unlimited Supercharging, but an annual allotment of 400 kilowatt-hours to use for long-distance trips.
Above that allowance, owners would pay for Supercharging based on their state’s rates and policies. In California, the rate is $0.20 per kwh, while in Virginia, it’s $0.13 per kwh.
This is still lower than rates at third-party fast-charging networks, including Blink, EVgo, and Chargepoint, as Tesla says its policy is not to profit from providing charging to owners.
In May 2017, Tesla further altered its policy. Unlimited Supercharging is now part of the owner referral program, at least through the end of 2017.