This Week On Car Clinic: Why You Can’t Get A Tesla Model X… Yet

Hello Baraza,

I’ve been a loyal reader of your column  and  admire the advice you give. My question  regards electric cars. The likes of Tesla Motors’ Model X. I’ve been reading a lot about this car in foreign tech blogs and so far it seems people are very impressed with it .My question is, do you think there is potential for this car in Kenya? If somehow I were able to import it,  what kind of challenges do you think I would face, apart from the charging issue? Would you advise me to buy it? 

Kirtan Patel

Hello Patel,

I seriously doubt that there is potential for this car in Kenya. Get me right – I did not say this type of car, but this particular one and here is why:

  1. Left-Hand Drive and the American (USDM) export rules: First, Tesla is an American car company that  does not export to right-hand drive markets, which means that all the vehicles they make are exclusively left-hand drive. Besides the sometimes-here-sometimes-not embargo by the Kenya government on the importation of left-hand drive vehicles, there is the fact that these cars will be quite tricky to drive on our keep-left traffic setup, more so on a two-lane single carriageway. For instance, how would you overtake?

The United States is a strange place. To buy a high-end vehicle such as a Mercedes-Benz or a Range Rover, one has to undergo a background check and vetting to ensure one will not export it to the Middle East in general, and to the Taliban and/or the Islamic State in particular. China, too, seems to be blacklisted and there is an actual database of motor vehicle dealers expressly banned from exporting vehicles. The exportation seems to be a real problem, especially given that limited inventory and high tariffs in the affected areas mean that wealthy customers are willing to pay up to three times the advertised price for a black market car.

The illegality of this under-the-table export is not fully understood, but manufacturers want to squash it for two reasons: loss of sales and loss of money in future. Loss of sales stems from the fact that the insane import taxes levied on top-tier cars means that a company like Land Rover will sell their Range Rover luxury SUV for close to half a million dollars in China, but through the black market they get nothing. This leads to the second problem: paid-for after-sales service. From the initial lost sale also comes lost revenue in post-sale maintenance and repairs not covered by warranty.

Now, if non-domestic US sellers such as Mercedes-Benz and Range Rover can get really hot under the collar about such exports, what about a homegrown company like Tesla? Besides the revenue loss, there is the real fear that the vehicle might end up in a market that does not respect intellectual property rights and the car might be reverse engineered. With this in mind, who, exactly, is going to sell a Tesla to a Kenyan?

To make matters worse, your name betrays your race and the anecdotal evidence that pointed me towards this little bit of information in the first place arose from an incident in which a New Jersey Mercedes-Benz dealership got sued for discrimination on racial grounds by a man of Indian descent who went to  buy a GL Class SUV and was told he could not have one because he might sell it to the Taliban, simply because of his name and skin colour; never mind that the Taliban have nothing to do with India or vice versa. This was overlooking the fact that the man is a US citizen and had bought Benzes for the past 30 years without incident. Now, look at the man who has just been voted in as president of the US and tell me racial discrimination will not go away. Can you?

  1. Supercharging: Elon Musk chose a strange word to describe the ultra-quick battery charging technique for his electric cars. Supercharging typically means forced induction for an internal combustion engine; but in Tesla’s case, it means charging an electric car really fast.

There is a dedicated Supercharger Network set up all over the United States exclusively for use by Tesla owners and it has been free of charge (pun intended) for unlimited use. Incidentally, Tesla just announced that from  January 2017, the charging will also be free, but only up to 400 kWh, after which owners have to pay for the electricity. Apart from that, Tesla still recommends normal charging with electricity that comes out of the wall at home and at work when the vehicle is not in use.

Even if you do manage to import a Tesla, what will be the pecuniary sense behind spending astronomical sums (Teslas are damn expensive) buying one if you are not going to enjoy the associated benefits?

  1. Maintenance and Recalls: Lately, the motor vehicle manufacturing industry has been inundated with a flurry of recalls surrounding issues as insignificant as technical service bulletins (TSBs) for minor electrical glitches (General Motors’ ignition switch fiasco) to those as grave and expensive as the multimillion dollar settlements following the deaths of end users (the Takata airbags saga).

Should the car you buy be affected by a recall, replacement of parts and/or the vehicle itself will be out of your own pocket since you operate it in a place where they did not sell the car in the first place. And you will replace your car to avoid lawsuits; car companies go as far as hiring bounty hunters to track every single vehicle down and bully the owner into honoring the recall.

 

I love the good work you do but of late you appear to have lost your way somewhat. I believe the nascent motoring class that buys the paper on Wednesdays to read  Car Clinic does so to get answers to mundane and everyday motoring issues. Certainly not to be bored with your out-of-this- world experiences driving through the Namib Desert sands. Who does that except maybe you and Maina Kigeni. 

I certainly don’t believe readers want full-page examination and detailing of expensive European cars that are out of their range, like the Jaguar you reviewed in two articles. I believe the upscale readers who want those details have other avenues and magazines to pore through, like What Car and Monthly Motor, among others. I don’t want to sound like Trump, but this is a family newspaper and your readership is not as advanced.              

Now my question is, what’s your take on the new instant fines  by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), especially the one that makes it criminal to drive with your arm hanging out of the window. Does anybody do that? I personally like driving with my arm resting on the window, not outside, with the glass rolled down, especially when it is very hot.  Is that not taking away our mundane civil liberties?

 

Greetings, Sir,

You are the one who seems to have wandered into the wrong room. The nascent motoring class would do well to upgrade their knowledge through exposure to more advanced material rather than stagnate in the highly repetitive albeit popular Car Clinic Q&A back-and-forth.

If you found the Namibia experience  boring, then I apologise. I will turn up the linguistic wick one or two notches and hope for your attention next time. What I am not going to do is stop the narratives. When you say readers don’t want a full-page examination and detailing of motor vehicles, you speak for yourself. There are those who find Car Clinic monotonous. So who do I listen to? The whole idea behind the detailed review is to kill the need for questions week in week out: have you any idea how trying it is when seven weeks in a row one gets the same request to compare a Toyota RAV4 to a Subaru Forester? Why not just do an in-depth review of the two cars and keep things moving?

When a car manufacturer forks out millions of shillings to plop me in the middle of the desert the way  General Motors did in Namibia, or Range Rover in Morocco , it is because they have seen it fit to engage me,   and they expect two things:

  1. Direct and honest feedback on what I think of the car as a representative of the people’s voice based on the following I have established over the years.
  2. Dissemination of accurate information about the motor vehicle:  what is good or bad  about it, whether or not it makes sense, and what they can get for their money should they buy one.

It, therefore, follows that if I return home and shut up about the car, I have let down my side of the deal.  What is involved here is social responsibility, not an urge to please a few individuals.

Clearly, you are new to this page. This column started six  years ago with the exact same reviews that you claim are sending you to sleep, and the birth of Car Clinic was incidental from that beneficial concord between the Nation Media Group and myself. The original name was Behind The Wheel/Car Review because that is what I would  do: I would  get behind the wheel of vehicles that run the gamut from Premios and NZEs to Nissan GTRs and supercharged Jaguars to Hino trucks and Scania juggernauts, and I reviewed them all. This is a motoring column, not a private consultancy.

To cut a long story short, progress is moving upwards to be level with those above you instead of pulling them down. If part of my readership is not advanced, they’d better catch up with their more sophisticated colleagues real fast because forward is where we are moving.  Car Clinic continues, but so will the full-page narratives.

THE NTSA MATTER

I have spoken against some of the rules enforced by the NTSA several times for their thoughtlessness (in the same full-page examinations that you are averse to), and this is just but the latest in a string of knee-jerk statutes dreamt up in the heat of the moment by a body that seems less focused on pride in its work and more locked in a struggle to maintain its relevance and justify its existence.

The idea behind this particular ordinance is to criminalise the extremely dangerous habit of dangling outside a moving vehicle commonly espoused by touts on PSVs. A few individuals in private cars also practice this foolish manoeuvre at great risk to themselves. The problem comes in when the authority tasked with reining in this obvious lack of wisdom does not take the time to draft up a bullet-proof law that will simultaneously eliminate the problem while still sidestepping the delicate issue of infringement on civil rights and liberties.

If there is an ombudsman for this kind of issue, they should ask one simple question: what if the driver has to make a hand signal?

The last time I checked, hand signals were not only legal, but were also highly recommended for the sake of making one’s intentions as clear as possible to make the lives of fellow motorists easier. Should I make my hand signals from inside the car and hope that other drivers have some sort of penetrative, voyeuristic vision that enables them to see my hands all the way down to where the gear lever is?

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