New limited time clean fuel rebate for Southern California Edison customers

I was made aware of a program offered yesterday for new, existing owners of electric vehicles in Southern California Edison territories.  This is an interesting rebate in that participating vehicles need not be purchased new.  A particular vehicle and household can use the rebate once, but up to two more subsequent owners of that same EV are also eligible.  (If the owner that applied for the rebate re-sells the car, the buyer, can apply for another rebate in the SCE territory for up to two more subsequent owners.)  This applicability for used and currently owned vehicles is fundamentally different than the original California state program which was limited to brand new EVs only.  Furthermore, providing for future resale to other SCE utility customers, shows a commitment to the future for this program.

So, what exactly does this rebate offer.  In a nutshell, $450 a car (as of the writing of this article on May 23, 2017.)  Considering that the program is for SCE customers, it means that your address and utility matters for this. This whole process should take most people less than fifteen minutes to complete, assuming they have ready access to the documents on hand and that their car registration is scanned or photographed for the evidence requested by the Center for Sustainable Energy (who I assume are the same administrators for this program.)

Where to start, well, the SCE “special” website that is gathering all applications for this website is https://www.scecleanfuel.com/.  Understanding that you may have some additional questions, here are the FAQshttps://www.scecleanfuel.com/faqs.

So, what do you need to prepare for filing.

In my case, I had to create a login for scecleanfuel.com (this is different than your regular service account) and is a rather straight forward process that took longer to read all the disclosures than actually click and accept the terms.

Second, I had to find and obtain my service number (which is readily available on the PDF bill (or paper bill)) from SCE.  Without the bill, it’s available on sce.com if you have a registered account on THAT system.

Example:

Find your Service Number Here

Next, you fill out the online form on scecleanfuel.com.

Here are the screens to fill out, in reality, it’s one long one.

SCE 2017-EV-Rebate-01

SCE 2017-EV-Rebate-02

SCE 2017-EV-Rebate-03

SCE 2017-EV-Rebate-04

SCE 2017-EV-Rebate-05

In total after clicking submit, the next page (which I forgot to get a screenshot of) will require you to upload a scan of your registration. Luckily, I typically scan my registration for my records, so this is good.

Once you upload your registration, your application should show the status of the application and you wait.

Here is a screenshot of the page for our application for our two EVs.

SCE 2017-EV-Rebate-06

We filed yesterday afternoon (May 22, 2017) and our applications were already in the mid-hundreds. About 22 hours later, my mom (assisted by my sister) filed hers and her application was in the one thousand applications… I’m not sure how many applications will be accepted for this, but I always feel that these are almost always first come, first serve, so get your paperwork ready and apply.

If we sell an EV and there are still funds in the program, subsequent purchasers (up to two more times) of an EV that is placed in service at SCE territory may be eligible for this rebate again. The amounts may change in subsequent years, but it’s a nice little benefit for being a customer of Southern California Edison.

On the confirmation email for this program:

Once we receive a copy of your permanent vehicle registration we will review your application for completeness and accuracy. This process may take up to 30 calendar days. Delays beyond normal processing times may occur. If your application is approved, we typically issue rebate checks within 90 days of application approval date. All status updates are communicated through your email. As we cannot guarantee our emails will not be blocked by your email server, we highly recommend periodically visiting scecleanfuel.com/login to check the status of your application.

So, now, we wait.

I’m sure that we’ve driven over six orbits of the Earth on EV power alone!

Last week, I noticed that my wife’s Roadster reached 24,000 total miles on the odometer on May 4.

IMG_20170504_150433

A few days later, on May 7, we reached 75,000 total miles on the Model S Odometer as well.

IMG_20170507_181802

My wife is the second owner of her Roadster and it had 2,200 miles when we picked it up and the Model S had 22 miles on the odometer.  In the three years and eight months of Tesla ownership, it was a bit of a shock when I realized this morning that the total of these two mileages was 99,000 and that we were very close to having a 100,000 Tesla miles on our own vehicles.

Considering that we turned in the Active E with 54,321 miles on the odometer in February 2014 after two years. That means that our total EV mileage driven on vehicles that we’ve owned or leased now totals greater than 150,000 miles on electricity.  As impressive as this is, it is even more interesting to note that our actual totals are much greater than this.

During periods when we’ve had our cars in for service, I’ve been tracking our EV vs ICE miles and we’ve done about 80,000 miles on loaners and rental EVs.  So, our actual total is about 235,000 miles of electric driving.  In the meantime, we’ve done about 24,000 miles of ICE driving on our 2001 BMW X5 (both our driving, and when we lend the car out to visitors) as well as the times that we’ve rented ICE cars when we travel.

When I reached 74,000 miles of the Model S earlier in April, @Brian_Henderson (FYI: 75k is 3 orbits of Earth 🌏 driving pole over pole. ⚡🚘😃) reminded me that a circumnavigation of the Earth is approximately 25,000 miles and this is also cool to hing that all the vehicles that we’ve owned or leased means that we’ve travelled 6 orbits of the Earth.  So, that’s cool.

So, are we going to reach 75,000 miles on the Model S this month?  I’m pretty sure that we’ll get there before the end of this month.  If not on our beginning of June trip.

A few thoughts and reactions on today’s Tesla’s impressive re-commitment to charging infrastructure

Impressive supercharger expansion plans were published on Tesla’s blog today.

Concept Tesla Supercharging station from 2017-04-24 Blog Post
Concept Tesla Supercharging station from 2017-04-24 Blog Post

In the first couple of sentences of this latest blog,  Tesla reaffirms its commitment to charging for its customers.

As Tesla prepares for our first mass-market vehicle and continues to increase our Model S and Model X fleet, we’re making charging an even greater priority. It is extremely important to us and our mission that charging is convenient, abundant, and reliable for all owners, current and future.

Well, supercharging does that for almost ALL the models of cars that Tesla has sold.  Just not ALL the cars that they have sold.

The Roadster and Model S 40 both do not have access to supercharging, but have ample range to make it the distances that are set up between MOST of the North American Supercharger network.  I have not traveled on any of the other Tesla Supercharger networks, so I am unsure of the distances between their sites, but would presume that this statement also holds true for those distances.

We have been blessed to have our Model S available for us to travel these distances, but we know of several Roadster owners who would prefer to travel these distances and I would like to try to do that, one of these days.

To that end, if Tesla’s blog-post is any indication, it would seem that Tesla’s next iteration of supercharging might indicate a LOT more space and dedicated Tesla lounges in the locations that would be dedicated to this activity.  If this is what Tesla is planning to do, why not provide a couple of stalls with Tesla dedicated Level 2 for those that are not in need of a supercharge.  They can even fit these devices with a credit card or other payment system so that those opting for the slower charge can pay for the energy and/or stall that they are using for this travel.  This allocation will then provide for Tesla to follow through on the statements that introduced this latest blog post.

Besides, in terms of costs, it would seem such a high density supercharging location would be more vulnerable to higher utility costs than current density supercharger locations.  Things like demand charges and the like will definitely be a challenge toward the execution of this vision, therefore the costs associated with a couple High Power Wall Chargers (HPWCs) is really quite negligible.

Concept Tesla Supercharging station from 2017-04-24 Blog Post
Concept Tesla Supercharging station from 2017-04-24 Blog Post

The other thought I had with this concept release was a feeling of “deja vu…” and I realized as I was writing this article that it reminded me of the Rocklin, CA Sales, Service, Delivery, and Supercharger location from Day 11 of 2016’s Long Way Round Trip to the Gigafactory.

Untitled

IMG_20160728_134203

Which actually is a further case for this proposal to add High Power Wall Charger (for Roadsters, Dual Charger, or High Amp charger Teslas) at these new conceptual Supercharger locations.  At this stop in 2016, we met with a couple who were also taking their Roadster up I-80 to Reno for the Gigafactory and TMC event.

The direct costs for a stall or two of High Power Level 2 (keep it on Tesla proprietary plug if they must) covers all Teslas built.  Most of the Roadster owners that I know have already purchased my recommended accessories for the Roadster, i.e. Henry Sharp’s The CAN SR/JR, etc. and can therefore work with the Model S/X North American Proprietary plug.

The more analytical may counter that the opportunity cost for two stalls on HPWC vs another pair of Supercharging stalls outweighs the benefits of covering ALL Tesla vehicles, but I say that the goodwill created by such a program is more important than that.  Tesla should execute on its statement today, but for ALL Teslas, not just the ones that can supercharge.

So, a week ago I got interviewed for a New York Times article…

It was an unexpected honor to find myself featured in an article in last week’s New York Times.  When I was being interviewed for the article, I did not expect to be featured, but felt the need to represent my opinions as both an owner, EV advocate, and investor in Tesla. There is a fear among some early Tesla fans that the media will give us the “Broder” treatment.  I won’t be re-hashing the controversy here, but I feel that it would be foolish to approach this without considering this years old controversy.

I’m glad to confirm that the New York Times coverage was fair and all quotes attributed to me are accurate.  However, I did spend a lot more time with the writer and the nuances of my conversation with him, didn’t show.

I’ve excerpted the portion where Neal Boudette covered my comments:

Among the skeptics are some of Tesla’s biggest fans.

Take Dennis Pascual, a tech industry consultant in Long Beach, Calif., and owner of two Teslas — a Model S sedan and a two-seat Roadster, the first car Tesla put on the road. He is such a fan, in fact, that he has put down deposits to buy two Model 3 compacts once Tesla starts making the car later this year.

He also owns some Tesla stock, but is not about to buy more.

“It’s a little pricey for me to jump back in,” he said, speaking by phone from his Model S. “Right now, I think we’re in a hold.”

Moreover, he worries about Tesla’s ability to carry out the bold expansion plans it has for this year and next. Tesla’s high-profile chief executive, Elon Musk, has said the company expects to begin production this summer on its first mass-market offering, the Model 3, ramping up to 5,000 cars a month by the end of the year and driving output to several hundred thousand cars over the course of 2018.

“They really need to deliver, and that has me concerned,” Mr. Pascual said, who has worked at start-up companies and has years of experience in the technology business. “I’m bullish long term, but yes, I’m worried. I’m always worried about companies executing.”

Part of where the nuances didn’t show is my discussion with him that indicated my willingness to trade options on Tesla at the current levels, and that though this is different from additional ownership in the stock, still shows my bullishness.  So, the quotes make me look less bullish, but that’s also a function of the impressive rise in recent months.

The last quote attributed to me about being worried about companies executing is verbatim.  It’s also how I tend to balance ANY company that I invest or work for.  At the end of the day, it’s always the execution that I worry about.  Whether it’s Tesla or any other company that I am rooting for.  Missing expectations have a nasty way of biting folks in the … rear end..

It’s not everyday that I find myself in a prestigious newspaper like the New York Times, so I did what anyone would do and we went around town to buy several copies of the actual hard-copy of the paper.

IMG_20170418_112732 In preparation for the article, I spent a couple of hours taking pictures with Andrew Cullen and I am sure that he had a lot of great shots with my smile on it.  The best shot from Andrew was in the original link to the online version of the article that featured me in the Model S looking out.  This was what accompanied the first round of the article when it went online on April 11, 2017. IMG_1449.JPG

I had a smile and looked happy in that one.

However, later photos replaced that for the print and online versions on April 12, 2017.  Andrew did a great job taking photos and I have to thank him for being patient with me.  In keeping with the tone of the article, the photo editors of the paper picked some shots that made it look like I was worried.  I was far from worried, I did have the sun in my eyes for these next shots that were selected for the article, so let’s just chalk that up to great editing.

IMG_20170418_112743 Those that know me well, know that this particular pose and introspection is not how I usually am.  So, it’s rather humorous for people to see me with such a “serious” look. Andrew Cullen for the New York Times (April 12, 2017) IMG_20170418_112820

Either way, I was pleasantly surprised to make it onto the New York Times.  My mother is a huge fan of theirs and I’m sure it thrilled her to no end and a week after its publication, I thoroughly enjoyed the attention it has gathered with family and friends.

My favorite story came from my de-facto aunt and uncle (some of my mom’s closest friends) in New York City who reached out to my mother to convey their surprise at having my picture in the paper during their breakfast ritual.  Paraphrasing my uncle to my aunt, “you would never guess who made it to the front page of the New York Times…”  Beats the heck out of being on the wall in the Post Office. 😜

Five Years of EV Ownership

February 23 is a special day for me. It’s the day that we took delivery of our first EV in 2012. This means that five years ago, today, I joined the rEVolution and picked up my BMW Active E from Long Beach BMW.

IMG_2626

I didn’t even have Level 2 charging installed in the garage on that day and had to plug in the car on 110V.

IMG_2630

IMG_1020

In fact, it wasn’t until several weeks have passed until I got our Level 2 charger installed under a grant that covered the charger, but not the installation. It’s a 30A J1772 charger from Chargepoint (CT-500) that is still going strong today (I use this for the Model S predominantly). It’s lost it’s networked feature as the modem in the device is no longer supported.

IMG_1047

IMG_1044

What this also means is that February 23 is also a bittersweet day for me as well… As that same Active E was taken from me quite unceremoniously on this same day in 2014.

Time does heal old wounds and I don’t pout when I say Active E anymore.

IMG_0158

Then again, we did add the Roadster and Model S to our garage as we wait for our Model 3 and whatEVer else will take our EV future.

It helps that I can borrow the Roadster when my wife feels generous in letting me use it.

These next two pictures are from when we first picked the Roadster up…

IMG_2672

IMG_5008

and how it looks a week ago.

IMG_20170216_173505

Here’s the Model S when we picked it up at the Tesla Factory

Untitled

at its first Level 2 charge on our delivery weekend first roadtrip (in Sonoma for this shot).

Untitled

And this recent shot when I was using the CHAdeMO charger near the Fountain Valley Supercharger from almost two weeks ago.

IMG_0901

And a little nostalgia for those few months that we had more EVs than drivers in 2013-2014.

IMG_5395

IMG_5396

IMG_5397

That was all three cars scheduled to charge at various times throughout the night on their own chargers.

Unfortunately, didn’t have a better shot of all three cars… Here’s a classic shot of the Model S and Roadster on the Model S first day home.

Untitled

In fact, for the past five years since we picked up the Active E  With all three cars (and various loaners and the few EV rentals we’ve done), we’ve added approximately 204,000 electric miles vs. 24,000 gasoline miles (both our own use, and when we lend our lone ICE car to visitors, as well as our use of ICE rental cars).   What’s funny is how much fanfare I had when I first hit 100,000 electric miles, and 200,000 went by and I didn’t even pay attention to it.

I’ve documented the challenges that we’ve had with all three cars and they’ve all pretty much “behaved.” In fact our Model S just replaced its first 12V battery earlier this week. We’ve actually just replaced all four tires on the Model S a few weeks prior (still around 69,000 miles on the Model S).

IMG_0903

To be fair, we did replace ONE of the four tires about 30,000 miles or so ago for a tire failure from driving over a road hazard. But the wear was pretty even, and we replaced all four tires when the tread was around 4/32 for two of the tires, and kept the other two (at 5/32) as “back-up”. The tires are “special order” and I would hate to have a failure and not have a pair ready to swap out (at the same tread.)

I guess what’s really special with driving EV is how “normal” it is for us now.  In the beginning everything felt like it was going to be a challenge.  How we managed to get 54,321 miles in the Active E in the two years that we had it depended a lot on available Level 2 charging.  The infrastructure was there and we planned our trips so that we can recover miles when we got to our destinations.  With the Roadster, we didn’t need to plan as much.  We often had enough range to get back home.  Now with the Model S, it’s even more interesting.  We went Here, There, and EVerywhere as well as the Long Way Round to the Gigafactory Party.  But the fact of the matter is, we picked up the Model S at the Fremont Factory.  Went to Sonoma for wine and then back down to Southern California in November 2013, without much planning.  That’s what EV ownership should be like.  Pick up and go.

Are we there yet?  To me, I’m there.  But to the rest of the world, perhaps we’re getting there.  It’s been a great 5 years and 200,000 miles of EV driving, and I’m looking for more and more EV adventures.  Stay with us and see where electricity will take us.

Tesla Weekend Social 2017, a visit to Paramus, NJ

A week ago, January 21, 2017, my wife and I were on a trip to New York and planned to visit my cousin and the new addition to his family in Randolph, NJ for the day.  This is one of my cousins who had kindly housed us both heading to Maine and back from Maine during our Here, There, EVerywhere cross-country trip of 2015.   We were staying in Manhattan the night before and had some time before we were scheduled to see them on January 21st, so it was a welcome surprise when we received an invite to the first Tesla Weekend Social of 2017. We wanted to see what has changed since the first social that we attended last year.

We received the following email on the 14th of January.

TESLA
Weekend Social
Please join us for a Weekend Social New Year celebration at your nearest Tesla location.

Kick off 2017 alongside fellow owners, enthusiasts and Tesla staff. Family and friends are also welcome. Seasonal refreshments will be provided.

To attend an upcoming event near you, please RSVP below. We look forward to celebrating with you

After some challenges obtaining a confirmation (apparently there were some back-end issues that was communicated to us and eventually fixed,) we were able to get a confirmation to be added to the attendee list at the Paramus, NJ Sales, Service, Delivery Center and Supercharger location.  Since our family commitments were not until the afternoon, we decided to head over to Paramus, NJ to attend the first Tesla Social of the year and to spend a few hours with some New Jersey Tesla folks.

To provide ourselves with the most flexibility for this visit, we rented a car from Hertz.  Unfortunately, unlike our experience renting with Hertz’s On-Demand 24×7 product from a few years ago, there are no longer any electric vehicles in Hertz New York locations (nor is the 24×7 product being offered in the USA.)  So, we had to rely on driving an ICE vehicle for this trip, a Ford Focus.

We arrived at the location about 15 minutes before the scheduled 10:00 am program and secured a spot near the front of the store.  Here is a photograph of the area by the entrance of the store that we parked our rental car in.  We were originally parked right beside the HUGE ICE SUV on the right of the photograph.

IMG_20170121_094155

Upon exiting our rental, one of the employees requested my keys to move the vehicle to the back of the store. It’s a rental and I had some items in the car that I didn’t feel comfortable to be in a section that I can’t see the car in, so I asked if he needed to move it, that he move it somewhere closer. He decided to move it to the other side of the parking lot, away from the entrance and across the superchargers at the location.

This location was not nearly as convenient as the customer parking spot that I originally used, but I figured there must be a reason why he needed to move my rental.  However, as you can see from the first photograph, this was a strange request as our original parking spot was right beside a large ICE SUV and another ICE vehicle.

We checked in and signed into the paper sign-in sheet that the store had placed at the entrance.  Here is the walkway to the entrance and the sign in is to the left of the photo.

IMG_20170121_094202

Directly ahead of the entrance is your typical Tesla Service Center entrance reception desk. (This is not normally situated in a Tesla Store). Remember, Paramus is a combination Sales, Service, Deliver Center and Supercharger location.

IMG_20170121_094152

For the event, the store personnel provided coffee, bagels and other breakfast items along the credenza under the apparel, beside the Design Studio wall.

IMG_20170121_094159

I walked around the area to get my bearings and took a peek at the Delivery Center part of the store and saw an X and an S awaiting their new owners.  It seems that the New Jersey folks were not one of the stores that cover the vehicles in some sort of drop-cloth as I’ve seen in other Delivery Centers.

IMG_20170121_094404
Not being used to weather, we originally walked in with our winter travel coats and realized that there was no place to keep our jackets.  Rather than wear our jackets the whole time, I decided to return them to the car.  I had to look for the employee who took our rental key to get access to the rental car and place our jackets in there. Once I located that employee, who is nameless, not to protect the guilty, but because he never took the time to introduce himself to me. I found the car tucked in between several inventory Model S that they have on the lot, and not by any customer vehicles.

IMG_20170121_094613

IMG_20170121_094611

IMG_20170121_094603

IMG_20170121_094606

The rental car was nicely surrounded by Teslas, but I did not ever notice any other customers vehicles being collected in the same manner as our rental car.

It appears that we were particularly targeted for this as when I walked by my original parking spot.  Another monstrous ICE SUV was parked there and not another Tesla or anything related to the event.  I was a little miffed at this considering the fact that all other customers were able to park in the customer section and our little rental car was summarily moved.  Either way, that’s a section of improvement for Tesla Paramus.  Either valet park all cars, or leave them be.

This particular event at Paramus seemed to be more casual than the other Tesla Social events that we have attended in the past. There did not seem to be an agenda and we spent a long time talking to the Tesla employees and fellow owners before we were brought into the lounge for the group discussion portion of the event.

Prior to being brought into the lounge for the group discussion, we spent a lot of time with two members of the staff who were very attentive and we wanted to commend them. Monica and Joey (didn’t catch last names). Monica moved to Paramus, NJ from Pasadena, CA and Joey who just started a few weeks ago.  They were very eager and helpful.  Monica has been with Tesla for a while and we discussed her move to New Jersey from California as well as my wife’s Roadster and Joey, as a new employee, was effectively being trained by us as long-time owners of Tesla.

Don’t get me wrong, I can spend HOURS talking Tesla with people, it’s just strange to invite a group of owners without seeming to have a plan for their time.

We waited until about 10:45 am before the program started.  However, program might be a generous word for this event.  It seems that it was meant to be very free-flow and I suspect that an agenda and some structure could have helped make the event better. The format was very open and thus had a hard time maintaining a flow.  There were many owners there.

 

IMG_20170121_104735

IMG_20170121_104934

IMG_20170121_104738

Topics ranged all over the place and it was interesting to hear information that was directly contradictory to advice that I have received in Southern California regarding tire rotations and the like from Tesla Service personnel in New Jersey. Perhaps the difference can be attributed to the difference in climate and weather between the states.  In hearing from those involved at the location, it seems that folks around New Jersey have to go through a lot more tires than I do in Southern California.  I didn’t want to be the cause of ire from other owners, so I politely kept this information to myself.

Another subject that was brought up was regarding the $0.40 per minute supercharger idle fee that was recently enacted by Tesla.  It seems that these concerns are quite universal and the discussion around this was interesting.

After the group discussion wrapped up, a few of the New Jersey owners joined us in conversation as they were intrigued by visitors from California attending their session.  It seems that there is currently not an official Tesla Owners club for the New Jersey area and I spent some time explaining how the Orange County, CA club operates versus its other brethren in other parts of the world.  Several of the New Jersey owners seemed interested in forming one for their area and I handed out club cards for them to reach out for more information.

We also discussed Roadster ownership versus Model S as well as our visit to their state from our trip cross-country and how relatively easy and enjoyable that trip had been.

In the end, it was just as advertised, it was a Tesla Social, but one without an agenda.  I felt that an opportunity was missed in that this was the first social after some drastic changes in ownership for those that take delivery of a Tesla after the removal of the included supercharging for the life of the vehicle policy was replaced with the new pay as you go system.  Additionally, it’s been a few days since the release of the Tesla Model S and Model X 100D top range versions of those vehicles and it would have been good to have been provided some sort of presentation on those.  Alas, this was not the plan for the day.

We spent some time with yet another early Model S owner discussing growing pains and we took our leave so that we can head out to visit my cousin and his family.  We said our farewell to the two Tesla staff members, Monica and Joey, who provided such good company and service and left for the day.  These two counterbalanced the unnamed employee who saw it fit to move our Ford Focus rental while leaving all other vehicles unmolested.

A little “life hack”… Amazon Echo Dot in our Tesla Model S

So, like many people, we received an Amazon Echo Dot for Christmas.

I actually ordered one for us when we decided to GIVE an Echo Dot to my Father-In-Law for his Christmas gift.  I wanted to get familiar with the technology before taking on the role of “Alexa Tech Support” for him.  We also decided to get an Echo Dot for my techie sister, but I didn’t need to train myself to be her “Alexa Tech Support.”

As a result, we now own multiple Amazon Echo Dots. [As I was writing this post, I realized that Amazon has an affiliate program, so many of the links to Amazon on this post is signed up under that program.]

For those unfamiliar with the Echo Dot, it’s basically a stripped down Amazon Echo integrated high fidelity speaker and voice “assistant” that Amazon created to help stream music and is configurable with many add-on “skills.”  It’s basically Siri for your home.  However, rather than wake her with the phrase Siri, you call her by her name “Alexa”, (or configure the trigger word to be Amazon or Echo).  (On a side note, Google saw what Amazon has done and created the Google Home as a response to Amazon’s Echo.  However, the Echo Dot is the less expensive alternative, using a basic speaker as opposed to the high end speakers in the original Echo and the Google Home.)  The Echo Dot’s price point without the integrated speakers make it a less expensive way to get into the genre.  In lieu of high fidelity speakers, the Echo Dot can be connected via a 3.5mm plug or Bluetooth.

To get the full audio entertainment possibilities for Echo and its eco-system, it is best to have a full Prime membership and the new add-ons that Amazon now sell (Amazon Music which unlocks a whole world of music, in addition to what is already included with Prime Music) I have yet to take that plunge and am currently working with just Prime Music.  The base system comes with basic TuneIn included and I find that I Heart Radio can be easily accessed with a free account, the other supported music providers are Pandora and Spotify, neither of which work on Alexa without a premium account, so I don’t use those.  Now, with the original Echo, the sound quality is superior and the little speakers on the Echo Dot will do for the indiscriminate listener, however, if you wish to use better speakers, that’s entirely possible by just attaching them to the 3.5mm or pairing via Bluetooth.

With Prime Music, coupled with my own library of albums, I am able to stream music randomly by genre or artist by default.  Such as when I ask “Alexa, play Sting” when she responds by “Shuffling songs by Sting” or a specific album, “Alexa, play The Police, Ghost in the Machine” and she responds “Ghost In the Machine, Remastered, by the Police” or my favorite, “Alexa, play New Wave music” and she says “Here is a Station for New Wave music, New Wave.”.  I believe that the Amazon Music that I currently don’t subscribe to just expands the universe of albums available.  I like to listen to music in complete albums.  I’m “old school” like that.  I believe that it’s the way that the artists intended for us to experience their work, so it’s great to just listen to albums that I purchased from Amazon directly or the ones provided on Prime Music.

As I started playing around with the Echo Dot, I was amazed at all the little things she can do using voice control.  The audio entertainment options are pretty good, but I found that I like having Alexa with me as my voice assistant in my office.  I can keep writing and just have her read Wikipedia articles, tell me the weather, tell me a joke, give me my Daily Briefing, give me the latest scores for my favorite sports teams, start or stop my lawn sprinklers, etc.

In the meantime, my techie sister received her own Alexa, and we were chatting about “her” to my sister and we briefly talked about the possibility of integrating Alexa into the car.  Considering that Alexa’s Bluetooth capabilities, we thought to give it a try. (Apparently, we were not the only ones thinking about this, here’s a thread on TMC on the same exact thing.)

So, yesterday, I tried driving around with Alexa as my co-pilot.

So, what did I bring with me.

1) Amazon Echo Dot (or “Alexa” as we now call her in our family.)

2) A wi-fi hotspot device

A) A Novotel Mifi Hotspot that I have that uses 3G

B) Enable my mobile’s hotspot function for 4G/LTE.

3) Re-use an existing Micro-USB charging cable in the car.

That was it.  Granted the Amazon Echo Dot that I set up in the car was previously configured at home, so we’re skipping that setup, we’re just moving the device from the office to the car.  (One of the nice things that Amazon has done is when adding an additional Echo device to the home, it already inherits the Skills learned on the account.)

Step 1

Since we’re starting out with an already configured Echo Dot, we have to get it ready to reconfigure. So, after we plug it into the car, we press the Action Button for Five seconds until the Orange Ring comes back on and go back to setting it up for the new Wi-Fi.

IMG_20161229_161056

Step 2

This setup assumes that you’ve already configured the Echo Dot at home, so I already had the Alexa App downloaded to my iPad.

IMG_20161229_161135

We connect to the Echo Dot via Wi-Fi so that we can use the Alexa App to configure its Wi-Fi to

IMG_20161229_161159

IMG_20161229_161233

IMG_20161229_161402

After connecting to the Echo Dot, it will ask you for a few things on the setup screen, the important thing to get everything running is the setup for WiFi, find the mobile hotspot and enter the password OR if it’s hidden, enter the information.

Step 3

For the next step, I’m assuming that you want to use the Echo Dot as a Sound Source for your Model S.  I initially started this process on the Alexa App.  I went to Settings, selected the Echo Dot that we brought with us and started the Bluetooth Pairing there…

IMG_20161230_115222

…then decided mid-way to just use the Model S Bluetooth option…

and selected the only Amazon BT that was broadcasting in the parking lot…

and voila… it worked…

IMG_20161229_161632

Pay attention to the grayed out Phone and highlighted Media section…  This means that to switch to this input, you lose Phone access. (one of my early complaints about the Model S is the fact that the car only connects to ONE Bluetooth device at a time, my old Active E can connect to several and designate one BT as primary for phone calls…  But I digress.)

IMG_20161229_161637

Step 4

Next comes placement of the device in the car…  At first, I placed my Echo Dot in the cup holder.

IMG_20161229_161747

But as ANY Tesla owner can tell you, Tesla cup holder locations are a premium in their vehicles (the Roadster has ONE). So, I ended up relocating Alex down on the base of my car, right beside my Mifi box.

IMG_20161229_161943

We’re now all set to use Alexa for streaming music while we drove. This worked fine, but I make a lot of calls when I’m out and about and this was not a “safe” way to use it, so I disconnected Alexa from the BT and used her independently of the Model S speakers.

One thing to bear in mind is in EITHER configuration, I had to tell Alexa to go to Volume 8 (maximum) so that I can hear her and the streaming on the Model S Bluetooth can be equivalent to content on the Model S infotainment system.

So, how was it?

Here are a couple of quick 30 second demo videos that I shot.  The first one shows Alexa playing the music through the car speakers… One thing that we lose is the display of the music that is playing, it’s no problem, but we have to ask Alexa for the song title, etc if we want to know what is playing.  Convenient at home, but on the road, I like the Model S Infotainment display information.

In this second video, we have Alexa as a co-pilot/companion on the drive.   So, she has her own speaker, she’s a little faint, but I use the car’s infotainment for the music and Alexa can tell me things that I don’t have to look away from the drive.  Things like what the current score is for the Laker game or tell me a joke.  One thing that I tried, but didn’t shoot on video was to see if Alexa can independently tell me what music is playing nearby (a la Shazam)…  She doesn’t understand that skill.  So, I guess I’ll have to see if Shazam will build that skill for Alexa.

Issues

1) The way I had it set-up, Alexa would turn-off and restart everytime I leave and get back in the car. This creates a delay.

2) On 3G and on LTE I got hiccups on the streaming and answers.  So, I chalk that up to network providers.  As this didn’t matter whether I was on Bluetooth or on Alexa’s own speakers.

3) Not an integration issue, but a syntax one.  Alexa currently is pretty picky with syntax, so if you don’t phrase it the same way that Alexa expects, she doesn’t do what you want.

Fixes

1) Get a battery for Alexa. (luckily here’s an Amazon search for Amazon Echo batteries).

A) I haven’t selected one yet, but I’m leaning on getting this one –
Evo – an intelligent Battery Base for 2nd Generation Echo Dot. (“Alexa” unlimited) (EVO Black)

2) The LTE connection that I had was better than the 3G one, but I wanted to try it out and having multiple providers is useful to see the effect.  In the end, a 3G network will suffice.  However, it is important to get a better network connection.  Also, it will be important to know that Alexa, like the car’s streaming infotainment does require that a network connection be available.  Something that may or may not be available on longer drives.

3) Skills, skills, skills.  And further enhancement of the product.

Future

In the end, it was novel to have Alexa with me on my drive and errands yesterday, but there’s still a way to go before she becomes a fixture on our long EV trips (like our Here, There, and EVerywhere or Long Way Round trips.)  Let’s hope that more skills are developed for Alexa that will tie in with the Model S better.   I find myself tempted to buy some Electric Motor Werks chargers because they HAVE an Alexa Skill built for the Juicebox… Maybe some other time…

Besides, if Tesla ever removes Slacker from the Model S, an Echo Dot with Alexa paired might be a good alternative…

Are you in the market for a Tesla Model S or Tesla Model X? Please think of using my referral code. I need one more for luggage and you save $1000 USD or £750 GBP (or whatever currency equivalent is in your country.) Referral purchases are what powered our Gigafactory Party invite and our jacket and overnight bag.