Buying A Tesla

28 November, 2021 03:00PM ยท 24 minute read

I’ve been closely watching Tesla since their original collaboration with Lotus in the 2010 Tesla Roadster. In Australia, Tesla didn’t open a store until December, 2014 and the Model S started at about $100k at the time with only 2 Superchargers, both in the Sydney area and of no use to me in Brisbane.

Mind you, money stopped me anyway and so I drove my 2012 Honda Jazz somewhat grumpily and waited. (Sorry Jazz…you’re a pretty solid car and have served me well…) My company was increasingly supportive of Electric Vehicles and had obtained a Nissan Leaf for each of their major office locations, and Brisbane was one of them. So in June 2016 I booked the company Leaf and took it for a drive home and back to the office again as a test run - could a Leaf be in my future?

Nissan Leaf in Garage

Certainly it was much more affordable and it was fun to drive but when the round trip between the Brisbane CBD and my home took me down to only 12km of range remaining, I decided that it was too short on range to meet my needs once the battery would ultimately degrade with long term use.

Nissan Leaf 12k’s Left

Again, I grumbled and watched Tesla from afar. The Model S was a hit, and was followed by the Model X with it’s technical problems (those Falcon Wing doors…really?) and finally the Model 3. Tesla had opened their first store in Brisbane in mid-2017 but it wasn’t until the end of 2018 that the Model 3 was available to be viewed - and then it was the Left-Hand Drive model and wasn’t allowed to be driven in Australia at that point - so no test drives were permitted.

Despite that I couldn’t contain myself any longer and took my sons with me to the Tesla dealership and test “sat” in the S, the X and the 3 - even if the steering wheel of the Model 3 was on the other side! It cemented in my mind that whilst the X was the family favourite its price made it perpetually out of my reach, but the 3 was the far nicer vehicle inside. Cleaner, simpler and helpfully it was also the cheapest!

And so my heart was set on the Model 3, but with two other car loans still in play, I had to wait just a little bit longer. A few of my friends had received their Model 3 locally in 2019 and Tesla now had test drives available, but on advice from the only Model S owner I knew I refrained and didn’t test drive a Model 3 out of fear that it would only make me want one even more…

He wasn’t wrong…

Fast-forward to 2021 and now with my eldest child having a drivers licence, we needed a third car and with both existing cars now paid out, I was finally able to seriously look at the Model 3. I test drove a Standard Range Plus with FSD installed on the 1st of September, 2021. I was allowed to drive it for 45 minutes and fell in love with it on the drive. The budget couldn’t stretch to the Performance or Long Range models, FSD was out of the question too, but might be enough to get the White Interior (I loved the look and feel of it) as well as the lovely Red paint. I’d been wanting a Red car for 20 years. (That’s another story)

Important Tangent

My daughter was in her final year of High School and like many of her friends they were starting to organise their Grade 12 formal…dresses, make-up, hair and of course, the “car” that would drop them off. My wife and daughter were very excited about the possibility of dropping her at the formal in a shiny new, Red Tesla Model 3 and after my test drive we saw the website reporting 1-4 weeks expected delivery, and decided that given how well it drove and it would be easily delivered within the 11 weeks I needed to make the formal, that I placed my order the night of the test drive. Two birds with one stone…as they say.

Back to the Tesla Bit

Finance was approved within a day and the Tesla app and website changed from 1-4 weeks expected delivery, to showing “We’re preparing your Invoice.” On the 17th the App changed from its blank entries to listing the 8 instructional videos. There was no doubt I’d entered the infamous Tesla Reservation Black Hole. I’d read about it, but when you’ve been excited about owning an EV, specifically a Tesla and most recently the Model 3, it was approaching 10 years of mounting anticipation. I thought it was supposed to get easier when you got older to deal with this sort of thing, but apparently it really hasn’t. So had begun what I thought would only be a few weeks wait. How wrong I was…

Tesla First Estimate

The Tesla representative I was assigned was not the best communicator. He didn’t return several of my calls and I originally had called once each week to see if there was an update, but on week three his tone made it clear that so far as checking on updates for where my car was, in his words…he “wouldn’t be doing that.” Realising that I was becoming “that guy” I decided there was no point in pressing and instead returned to habitually reloading the website and the app in the hopes of a change of status.

3 weeks. Still nothing.

4 weeks. Still nothing.

5 weeks. Still nothing, although my electrician had mounted the wall charger and completed the 3-phase power upgrade, but the charger still wasn’t wired in. Didn’t matter - no car to plug it in to…yet!

6 weeks, still nothing, though my electrician finished the wiring for the HPWC so that was some kind of progress, but still no car to plug it in to.

Time Out for a Second

It’s worth noting that the website claimed a 1-4 week wait when I ordered, and a 1-3 week wait on the 2nd week of September.

Tesla Second Estimate

It wasn’t a performance model or a long range either. Then I came across a growing list of videos from other Australian recent Model 3 buyers reporting that the website time estimates were essentially complete fiction. It was never up to date…even when the notification came through on their phone saying their delivery was ready, payment had been received and their delivery appointment was set, it didn’t always show up on the website.

Additionally I learned that even once a Tesla hits the shores in Oz, it still takes 2-3 weeks before you’re able to even pick it up hence when the site indicates 1-4 weeks, it means it will be 1-4 weeks before you actually get the chance to book a time to pick it up - not actually pick it up. So realistically even if I got a message saying I can book a pick up time, it will be another 2-3 weeks before I can actually pick it up. (Yay) So at this point it’s looking more likely that I’ll get the car late October, or the first week of November which would be just in time for the formal.

You might forgive me (or not) for my rant as an impatient child to an extent, to which I see that side. Then again I was also feeling the pressure of living up to the promise I thought was safe to make to my daughter based on conversations with the Tesla representative and the Tesla website. I also knew, even then, that there were those that reserved a Model 3 multiple YEARS before their Model 3 was even delivered. Although that was for a vehicle that wasn’t shipping to anyone, anywhere, when they placed a reservation.

I suspect (and likely will never know) that the problem I created for myself inadvertently was choosing an entry level Model 3 with a White Interior and Red Paint. Truth is that if you are REALLY strapped for cash, you’re likely to order the fully entry level, White paint, Black Interior, stock-standard Model 3 Standard Range Plus - for which I believe that the order time might even have genuinely been 1-4 weeks. Even if you ordered a Long Range or Performance model, with standard colours, you’d probably get one sooner as these are higher margin and Tesla have been known for prioritising higher margin vehicles.

Designing The Website

I think about how I would have developed the website and if it was possible to separate the quantity of ordered combinations by exterior and interior colours then I would. However to test my theory I tweaked the colours, both interior and exterior and sure enough the delivery estimates NEVER changed. Knowing that Tesla don’t generally make your car to order in a manner of speaking, they seem to batch them in every combination based in part on the prior quarters order demand, it’s clear that I just didn’t pick a popular combination and that Tesla don’t break down their supply/demand by every combination. Hence their website delivery estimates aren’t based on anything other than the base model and don’t account for options and any delays they might therefore incur.

Back to waiting I guess, though by the 5th week I’d just given up on the website now knowing it was effectively full of sh!t.

Tracking “Ship"ments Literally

Running low on whatever patience I had left, I was interested to find some articles linked on Reddit and a Twitter account called @vedaprime that claimed to track Teslas as they moved around the world, including to Australia. Unfortunately his “service” used the VIN number that was often associated with orders in the past when shipments came from the USA, however from China he indicated the VIN wasn’t as reliably extracted from the website as it had been in the past. I did learn a few interesting things though.

As of the time of publishing this article, Tesla ship all Model 3 Standard Range Plus models from Shanghai to Australia on a limited number of vehicle carrier ships most commonly on the primary route: Shanghai–>Brisbane–>Port Kembla (near Sydney). Despite Tesla having sales and delivery centers in Queensland (in Brisbane too) they do ALL of their inbound Quality Assurance (QA) in Port Kembla.

Once coming off the ship at Port Kembla, each car needs to be inspected and once it passes quarantine, customs and QA inspections, it waits its turn at AutoNexus for a car-transporter (semi-trailer connected to a prime mover aka a big truck) bound for Brisbane. The ships dock in several ports but only unload Teslas in southern NSW for the East Coast and Tasmania, and Brisbane isn’t as large a market as Sydney or Melbourne so gets less transporter trucks as a result.

Matching the VIN then progresses down the list of the first Reservation Number (RN) to match the configuration, then it’s attached to the RN, and assigned to the buyer. The whole process can take 1-2 weeks to QA all of the cars coming in from the docks with shipment sizes varying from a few hundred to well over a thousand - that’s a lot of cars to QA! Once the VIN is matched, then if Mr VedaPrime can find it, he can track the vehicle, but by then it should be imminently on its way to the buyer.

So I began searching for ships that fit the criteria. Using VedaPrime’s last 12 months of public shipping notifications on Twitter, I narrowed down the search to ships that had left Shanghai bound from Brisbane and eventually Port Kembla, and finally came across one that fit - the Morning Crystal. Departed Shanghai on the 26th of September, due to arrive in Brisbane on the 7th of October, then in Port Kembla most likely 9th of October. Assuming a 1-2 week QA delay then a 1 week delivery to Brisbane, the most likely date for a delivery would be the last week of October, about 9 weeks after placing an order but still within my 11 week limit.

Well then…I guess that means I’ll keep waiting then. Of course that assumed that my vehicle was on that ship. If it wasn’t, there were no current alternate candidates for at least another 2 weeks, possibly more.

Back to the story

7 weeks…still nothing. The first ship that I had my hopes pinned on (Morning Crystal) came and went without a word and the site now reported a 2–5 week delivery delay. The next candidate ship was the Passama, on the 19th of October in Port Kembla, but it also came and went without any Teslas aboard. I did however receive a call from Tesla, but from a different salesperson, informing me that my previous salesperson was no longer working for Tesla and he was taking over from him. Okay then. Great.

8 weeks and finally something changed on the website - there was now an estimated delivery date range of between 17th November to 1st December, 2021 and the VIN was now embedded in the Website HTML. A few days later and my final invoice notification arrived by EMail at 7am, though didn’t appear on the website until later that day. As I was financing my car it was advised I would get forms to sign shortly, and I did mid-morning. Submitted them and…back to waiting again.

VedaPrime’s Patreon

At this point I chose to join VedaPrime’s Patron and Discord group as I had a VIN now, and he claimed he could track it, or would do his best to do so. I’d reached the limit of what I could discern easily with my own knowledge and investigation on the public internet and Lord Veda (a nickname given to him by a popular Tesla YouTuber) clearly knew much more than I did about Tesla order tracking.

Now I’d seen suggestions about Tokyo Car and Morning Clara as potential candidate ships that could be carrying my Model 3. Tokyo Car was docked in Noumea, bound for Auckland then to Port Kembla (due 6th November) and Morning Clara was still in Shanghai, due to arrive on the 19th of November. So…back to waiting some more.

9 weeks…and my app and website began showing an estimated delivery schedule of between the 7th and 21st of November. There was mounting evidence that my car was in fact on the Toyko Car ship. With the 7th of November coming and going, I called my new Tesla representative to see if he had more information, and he didn’t. Of course. I’d given up calling Tesla about anything at this point. At this stage I’d called them five times in total following the order. They were generally unwilling or unable to help anyway, so there was no point in bothering them. I was learning far more from the VedaPrime Discord than from Tesla themselves.

10 weeks…and my app narrowed the dates down to between the 11th and 20th of November. Okay. We were cutting this really close. The morning of Friday the 19th of November was my latest possible chance if I was going to make the formal.

Then on the 11th of November, the text I had been waiting for arrived: and I was offered the choice of a Delivery appointment at either 10:00am, 1:00pm or 3:00pm on Monday the 22nd or Tuesday the 23rd of November. My youngest son had a school awards ceremony I would not miss which wrote off Monday almost entirely (not to mention an afternoon of meetings I couldn’t skip) leaving Tuesday morning as my sole option - so I booked 10am Tuesday as my pick up date.

Tesla Delivery Confirmed

My car had in fact, been on the ship Tokyo Car and was now landed in Australia. Hooray…of a sort because unfortunately…

It was over

So much for having that car for the formal. I reached out to Tesla, one last time, and left a message to which they texted back they would let me know if it could be delivered sooner but it was no use. They wouldn’t.

During the 11th week the finance finally cleared, funds cleared and on Friday that week as I was picking up my kids from school the call came in from the Tesla delivery center - we were good to go for Tuesday. I also received an Email and replied to that Email asking if Tesla could pick me up from the nearest train station but never got a response.

Why did I ask that?

I knew that on Tuesday morning at 10am, I had no convenient way of getting to the delivery center as my eldest daughter was away at schoolies all week, my wife was working, my mother no longer drives, my sister was working as were my friends in various locations, all too far away. So it was either public transport or a Taxi/Uber. Unfortunately for me I chose to live in the middle of nowhere, meaning the cheapest Uber would cost me $120 AUD one-way. The cheapest Taxi would be closer to $190 AUD. The Tesla home delivery option requires you to live over 250km from the nearest dealership so I didn’t qualify for that either. The closest a train got me was still a 45 minute walk and the bus connections to the trains were terrible. So it was going to be a combination of Train + Taxi in the end. Oh well…what can you do?

Pick-up Day…at LONG last

Tesla’s showroom in Brisbane is in the classy end of Fortitude Valley (yes, there is a classy end you Valley-haters…) near other dealerships like Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini and many others. Space is at a premium though and as such they will show you the cars at the showroom, you pick up test drives from there and they do have some limited servicing facilities, but their delivery center is far from the CBD of Brisbane.

It’s located in a somewhat run-down steel warehouse with a chipped concrete floor with a corrugated iron roof held up by exposed girders. A quintessential warehouse. The only way you know it’s a Tesla delivery center from the outside is a lone rectangular black sign partly obscured by trees along the roadside. The bigger issue was it was in Hendra and the nearest train station was a decent walk away.

Warehouse Sign A Lone Sign lets you know it’s the Delivery Center

That morning it was raining and so I decided to suck it up, take the train as close as I could and then get a Taxi from there - I don’t like using Uber on principle. (That’s another story)

Waiting for the Train in the rain

When I got to Northgate the rain had stopped and looking at the rain pattern on the radar I estimated I had about 60 minutes before the next wave of rain hit so I decided to save my Taxi money (about $45 from there) and walked to Hendra instead.

Walking to Hendra

To be honest, it really was quite a pleasant walk in the end. (Maybe I was too excited about the destination to care at that point?)

I arrived 45 minutes before the scheduled time and apologised for being early. Lord Veda had highly recommended getting there early so I think that was good advice.

Warehouse In Front of the Delivery Center

I was greeted by a very pleasant ex-Apple employee who now worked for Tesla and said: “You must be John! Yours is the only Red one going out today and it’s lucky because I literally just finished setting up your car.” I’d already spotted it, as I figured out the number plate from the Qld Transport site the previous day by searching the VIN.

Spotted Mine! Mine was the Red one in the far back right of this photo

Some photos, set up and giggling to myself later and I was off. Not before she insisted on taking a photo of me with the car and waving me off. As I was leaving it was 9:45am and still no other owners had shown up. I had quite literally…beaten the rush.

United with my car at last! United with my car at last!

I drove to Scarborough and my old favourite spot on Queens Beach where I once took photos of my car 20 years earlier and took some photos in about the same spot…then went home. Later in the day I picked up my kids from swimming and that’s pretty much it.

I finally had my dream EV.

Tesla at Queens Beach

The Minor Details

There are a few things I wasn’t 100% clear on until the delivery day. Firstly, you do get the UMC Gen-2 Mobile Charger with the two tails (10A and 15A) which is a single phase unit, delivering a maximum of 3.5kW. The Model 3 also came with cloth floor mats, and a 128GB USB Thumb Drive in the glovebox for sentry mode and other things. It did NOT come with a Mennekes Type 2 cable for connecting to BYO cable charging points which was disappointing and it didn’t come with a Tyre Repair kit. I was aware that Tesla’s don’t have a spare tyre so had pre-purchased a repair kit when I bought my HWPC.

In 2019 in Australia, all new Teslas came with a HPWC as well, but that was long since un-bundled. The car also comes with a free month of Premium Connectivity after which it’s $9.95 AUD/month, which I’ll be keeping after the free month ends.

My original sales assistant incorrectly informed me it didn’t come with car mats, so I ordered some. Now I needed to return them. Oh well. I’ll also need a Type 2 cable - there are too many of those chargers around to NOT have one of those in the boot, just in case.

Unicorns

Tesla are constantly tweaking their cars - from the motor to the battery to software and even the occasional luggage hook or seal. They don’t wait for model years most of the time and so it becomes an interesting lottery of sorts and they get themselves caught in knots a bit when they advertise something on the website but then they change it after you order it and it’s built to a different standard. In the Tesla fan-lingo they call those the “Unicorns”.

When I ordered mine the website stated: 508klm Range WLTP, 225kph Top Speed, 5.6s 0-100kph time. The current website however now says: 491klm Range WLTP, 225kph Top Speed, 6.1s 0-100kph time and to add more confusion the compliance sticker adds: 556klm Range.

What had happened is Tesla increased the size of the LFP battery pack mid-cycle from 55kWh to 60kWh (usable). At the same time Tesla changed the motor to one that was slightly less powerful, though it’s unclear why…it was likely due to either efficiency or cost reduction reasons. We may never know. The motor change though didn’t happen until late October which approximately coincided with the website specification change. This meant that there were three builds that had the more powerful motor but also had a larger battery.

The VIN ranges where this happened were those within my build range hence my vehicle is one of a few hundred Unicorn SR+ models. Lucky me?

Conclusion: Order to Delivery Day

The final time from Test Drive and Order to pick up was 11 weeks and 6 days, 8 days shy of three months. Others that received their cars a week before me, some had ordered in early October and only waited 6 weeks from order to pick-up. In one of those “there’s no way I could have known at the time” situations, I’d just ordered at the beginning of a build cycle for Q4 2021, I’d ordered a low-demand combination as well, so I had to wait the longest of almost everyone in my production batch of cars. Oh well…I have it now…so these three months can now be a fading memory…

My obsessing over a new car like this is something I’ve never done before. I’ve been trying to figure out why this was so different to my other experiences. Options include: I’m getting less patient and/or more entitled in my old age; The ordering process was more akin to ordering a tech product from Apple’s online store than any car purchase I’d ever experienced; or the information provided by the manufacturer was in fact worse, than having no information at all.

I honestly don’t think I’m getting less patient with age…more entitled though? Maybe. I think the difference is the contrast with a traditional car purchase. Traditionally sales people from Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda and Subaru, were well versed with delivery times, standard delays and set realistic expectations up front or at least they certainly presented the situation more honestly than Tesla did.

Tesla appeared to be up-front in their estimates via their website, but it was fundamentally misleading and their sales people were generally unhelpful. Perhaps it was because the Tesla inventory system was not optimised to provide accurate information by specific build sub-types, production batches and such, to enable sales staff and customers to set realistic expectations. Either way it was exceedingly frustrating and had Tesla indicated up front I mightn’t have the car until late November, I would have made other arrangements for my daughters formal and let it be.

Conclusion: Delivery Day

The delivery experience was, quite frankly, the worst of any car purchase I’ve ever had in most respects…but it’s a subtle thing.

I’ve spoken with other owners that had a basic 10 minute run-down of pairing their phone and being shown the basics and shoved “out the door” so to speak. For me, I’d arrived early and they were busy getting everything ready for everyone else, so that’s on me, but if not for that it would have been 10 minutes, got it, great, now out you get, on to the next customer.

Also, when you put down a significant amount of money for your dream car and you show up to a dodgy-looking warehouse that’s hard to get to and treated a bit like a number, dealing with four different people from start to finish, it feels unprofessional and you feel like you don’t matter very much - you’re an imposition not a customer.

Tesla have a LOT to learn from existing car purchasing experiences from pretty much every other manufacturer.

Warehouses There’s some nice Electric Vehicles in this bunch of warehouses…seriously!

Warehouse Laneway The front door is down a dodgy laneway and isn’t signed anywhere

I’ve bought Honda, Subaru, Toyota and Mitsubishi between multiple countries and having a common point of contact from start to finish was consistent throughout. They all spent significant time with me or my wife walking us through every feature of the vehicle and were all in nicely presented showrooms when we picked them up. And yes, they even had a tacky red bow on the bonnet, because, why not? It’s not every day you buy a car. So why shouldn’t you make that a special experience for the buyer?

Maybe the problem is the model of existing dealers and the profit they need to make over the car’s actual price, requiring more salespeople, service departments and larger parcels of real-estate to house it all. If you are to believe the Tesla approach of being leaner, minimal up-sells, less salespeople and smaller showrooms, well then I should be getting more car for my dollar. Maybe I am? It’s hard to be sure. Or maybe it’s that Tesla have pushed their own leaner sales-model too far and the best experience lays somewhere in-between.

Tesla are finally making a lot of money after nearly going bankrupt in 2018. Maybe Tesla should reinvest some of that into customer service.

Conclusion: Lord Veda’s Patreon

I witnessed VedaPrimes Patreon start at $170 AUD/month and then rocket to $1,700 AUD/month over the two months I was a Patron. Unlike TEN though, once people have their cars they tend to drop off, so it varies significantly from month to month. In the end he was unable to find my VIN at any stage in the process. My car was transported on a smaller carrier and slipped past his radar. Either way though the value for me wasn’t the VIN tracking - it was the Discord.

In the Discord I met a lot of people that were hopefuls like me. We shared our frustrations, our knowledge of charging, 3rd party apps, tips and tricks and of course, talked about Charlie the Unicorn in relation to naming our new cars…when they actually arrived. It was a blast actually and without people sharing the hundreds of tidbits of information, from different Tesla salespeople, known VINs and such, I suspect Veda wouldn’t be able to paint as meaningful a picture for the broader group. In essence, the groups collective knowledge is a huge part of the VedaPrime services' value.

That said I now have to bow out of the group at this point and am grateful for the friendships and discussions we had during our long wait for our vehicles to arrive.

Final Thoughts

My advice for anyone buying a Tesla:

  1. Don’t trust the website about delivery times
  2. Don’t believe a word the salespeople tell you about when it’s arriving until you’ve had a booking text message
  3. Teach yourself how to use the car through the videos because Tesla don’t want to spend their time teaching you on delivery day.

Despite these things, there’s one thing Tesla have going for them that might make you forgive all of that.

They make some of the best cars in the world.

And I love mine already.

Afterword

This post was written as I went and has taken three months to finish. I know it’s a bit long, but it captures all the threads I pulled, all the investigations I did as well as the final result. If nothing else it’s a point of reference for anyone interested in what ordering a Model 3 in Australia was like in 2021.

My daughter went to the formal in a Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Aspire PHEV. It was also Red. She was happy with that and returned safely from Schoolies having had a great time.

I did NOT call my Tesla “Charlie”. Sorry Discord gang. I just couldn’t…