This Week On Car Clinic: I Knew What I Meant When I Said You Can’t Buy A Tesla Model X… Yet

Dear Baraza,

Mine is not a question but a clarification regarding your article about Tesla electric cars.

  1. It is not true that Tesla vehicles are not exported to right-hand drive markets.  Right-hand models are also in use in Japan and Australia.
  2. Tesla Model 3 has a good starting price of $35,000 (about Sh3.5m for a new vehicle – before taxes and duty of course). In my view, this is not an astronomical cost, given  the cost of some of the vehicles on our roads, which are mostly used cars from Japan and Europe.

Also, a Tesla does not require fuel, engine oil, spark plugs, filters, engine coolant, gearbox oil, etc. Therefore, in the acquisition cost we should also factor in the savings on service costs over the lifetime of the vehicle, which already comes with an eight-year guarantee on the battery. The only cost, as you mentioned, is the cost of electricity, whose cost is high at the moment, but with Kenya moving to renewable energy, is going down every year. The Tesla UK website shows that when using a three-phase line at home, Model S charges 11Kw per hour, which is enough for 34 miles (54kms). Using a KPLC unit calculator, Sh300 is enough for 17Kwh. So with Sh500, you are good for the day.

  1. I believe Tesla cars have little or no maintenance, apart from brake pads, tyres, shocks and ball joints. The “engine” is basically two motors, one in front and the other at the back, with the battery pack on the floor of the car. Besides, Brake pads do not have to be replaced frequently as the motors reverse when the brakes are pressed and this causes the motor to slow down. This also generates energy, which charges the batteries. (This is from my layman’s understanding of how the car works from reading various articles on it). Tesla recommends annual inspection, which of course, would be impossible in Africa for now.  

John

 

Hi John,

  1. The particular question was about the Model X, which at the time of publication had not been availed for the right-hand drive (RHD) market. From the links you provided, it seems this has since changed. How soon will customers take deliveries of their RHD Model Xs?
  2. The $35,000 (Sh3.5 million) price tag is for the Model 3, and probably in California, where EVs and LEVs receive tax waivers and price incentives, making them cheap. They cost a lot more in other areas. The Model X, in particular, which was the vehicle in question, goes for about $130,000 to $150,000 (Sh13.2 million to 15.3 million). That is a lot of money to start with, exotic supercar prices, to be honest. Now factor in import taxes then we see how much it really costs to get one here. For the sake of comparison, the Landcruiser VX is $85,000 (Sh8.6 million) new in the US, but around here it goes for Sh22 million at Toyota Kenya. Compare that price with the Model X and tell us again what you meant by a “good starting price”.
  3. No vehicle ever invented is maintenance-free. If and when it eventually breaks down — as it inevitably will — and by then Tesla has no presence in Kenya, the nearest place one can get repairs done is South Africa, where they are currently setting up. But again, the focus is on the self-same Model X the reader inquired about. Early reviews and customer feedback reveal issues with build quality, which is always an indicator of troublesome days ahead.

This is my hypothesis. Tesla is less a car company and more an energy broker. Elon Musk is not that interested in dicing with the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Lexus (though he has shaken the industry enough to inevitably find himself swimming among the sharks). The endgame at Tesla is to stay ahead of the energy wave.

As you might have gathered from my earlier thesis this year, internal combustion is slowly getting extinct. Battery power seems to be the future. The Tesla cars are Musk’s test beds for developing battery power outputs and longevity/charge cycles, as well as supercharging (discussed last time). The intention here is by the time mainstream car makers catch on to the fact that they need to go hybrid/electric, they will need batteries, which they will have no time to develop, and there will only be one place to get good, reliable, long-lasting, energy-intensive batteries: from Tesla Motors.

Anyway, the feedback is noted. Let’s wait and see how things go when the first Tesla arrives in the country. I can bet someone is in the process of importing one as we speak – or is just about to.

******

Dear Baraza,

I have a tiptronic Subaru legacy BP5 whose handling is usually smooth in the mornings. However, it feels heavy, unresponsive and sluggish in the afternoons, especially I am driving at low speeds. It doesn’t respond for four to six seconds when the accelerator pedal is pushed and when it does kick in, it lacks power. The handling feels even worse when I drive the car in manual mode, especially when shifting from a high gear to a lower one. I’ve also noted that when in the thick of this predicament, the steering wheel also feels a bit stiff.

I made a trip to the mechanic, who made me part with a few browns, supposedly for unblocking the exhaust system. However, the problem didn’t go away. Upon taking it for further checkup,  I was told the problem was as a result of the ATF heating up, after which I had it replaced, alongside the filter, diff and plugs, but the problem still persists.

 Your generous input on what exactly might be happening here and recommendation of a possible solution will be a fine way to pull this brother from months of Sundays of insomnia. I must pen off by appreciating the great work you do educating us through your Car Clinic articles, as well as the timely, priceless advice you give for solving our problems. You most certainly give me one more reason to look forward to Wednesdays.

Geoffrey

 

There are two scenarios here, the first being that the poor engine/transmission response (not handling) and the stiff steering are not related.

A likely cause could be a failing pump for the automatic transmission fluid, which is why the fluid and filter replacements didn’t work.

It’s difficult to explain this to a non-mechanic (assuming you’re not a mechanic) but here goes: generally, an automatic transmission engages a certain gear in response to sensing a certain amount of hydraulic pressure. More specifically, something called a valve body contains hydraulically activated valves which direct fluid in such a way as to engage a particular gear. As you indicated in the problem, there’s a delay, especially at low speeds. This means that something might be causing the fluid pressure not to initially build up quickly and, therefore, causing the first (or lower) gears not to engage quickly (i.e. it’s delayed). Because of the complexity of automatic transmissions, there are many things that could cause this problem. A few possibilities are: a faulty transmission fluid pump, a partially clogged fluid filter, and a faulty transmission valve. You might have to tear down that transmission or worse still, get a new one. If you opt to disassemble the gearbox, take it elsewhere, your mechanic is a charlatan. The exhaust has nothing to do with this, unless you have Check Engine Light as well.

Another likely cause could be a faulty throttle indicator mechanism which is misreading the throttle position and, therefore, not reacting accordingly.

The stiff steering could be caused by a faulty control valve assembly of the rack-and-pinion unit, which might need replacement. A major component of such a steering system is something called a “control valve assembly”. This device directs pressurised power steering fluid to either the left or right, depending on which way the driver is turning the steering wheel.  For example, when the driver turns left, the control valve assembly applies “left pressure” to the steering gear – this makes turning left easier for the driver. Similarly, when turning right, the control valve assembly applies “right pressure” to the steering gear. From the above, it’s pretty clear why the control valve assembly is the culprit in this particular problem. Specifically, one or more parts inside the control valve assembly are probably sticking. More likely than not, you will be asked to replace the entire steering system.

The second scenario is that the poor response and the stiff steering are related, in which case your mechanic might have been on to something and is, therefore, not a charlatan. The most likely connection between the two is that the engine is not running smoothly; it could be stalling or trying to stall (stuttering), which would explain the steering going stiff as the power assistance goes offline temporarily along with the engine. It might also explain the delayed response from the throttle/transmission. However, the causes of this are way too many to get into right now.

******

My friend is having a very difficult time choosing between a Mitsubishi Galant and a Subaru Impreza for a first car. He is concerned about reliability, maintenance costs and of course, the looks between the two. I personally think the Galant Sportback is quite a looker. 

Please advise him on the queries and perhaps better alternatives in the same price bracket (around Sh1 million).

Gilbert 

 

Hello Gilbert,

Let me start off by saying I will not offer alternatives. I only work from a shortlist provided by my inquisitors because offering alternatives and unwittingly skipping one or two models tends to draw the ire of both peddlers and pundits of the omitted vehicles. Have your friend look around some more for something besides the two that tickle his fancy then we can take from there.

That said:

  1. Reliability: let the Galant be and go for the Impreza.
  2. Maintenance costs: these are cheap Japanese cars, what maintenance costs? Besides, the maintenance costs will be directly determined by the reliability, so see 1 above.
  3. The looks: I believe your friend can decide for himself on this. Some (like you) might be drawn to the Galant while others might find the Subaru more attractive, though I don’t know who these people might be. There isn’t a single Impreza model that is conventionally pretty: the original’s charm comes from its simplicity, the bug-eye model could attract lovers of abstract art or those with a taste for the macabre, the blob-eye model is essentially an update of the bug-eye, the hawk-eye car is… Listen, it’s hard to justify an Impreza’s looks, okay? Just go with your gut feeling.

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