77 Comments

If you and Deb ever come back to Seattle for a visit, let me know. I was talking with our Executive Director, and we would love to have a reception for you at Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum. I'm assuming if you were at Seattle Weekly then you must know David Brewster who was our Founder. I know our members would love to meet you in person.

Expand full comment
Jun 29, 2023Liked by James Fallows

You,hopefully are not Tesla people, you just happen to drive one of their cars! There seems to be some kind of moral to the story. What would Freud make of your decision,hmmmm?

Expand full comment
author

Yes, good terminology point, thanks.

Expand full comment
Jun 28, 2023·edited Jun 28, 2023Liked by James Fallows

oh also, enjoy your car!

we all have cars until more money is put into modern public transport

in the vacation areas in northern New England, we have scads of tourists spending huge dollars

but put tax money into providing public transportation for our workers, families, seniors, veterans, and to relieve tourist congestion at favorite spots? not a dime....

somehow we are stuck in a time warp loop in the past, while the future wooshes past us in Europe and other places

money for medicine and proper care for all of our citizens? nope

all the money they need to explore space while we fry in climate change on earth....

and all the money they need to prosecute wars in the poorest countries around the planet?

yes, all the gelt you need for that....

up here we are driving the newest cars on the most broken down roads and bridges you can imagine, like Indian roads used to be back in the day :) But lets spend a bunch of money and all our creative energy on the 20 talking heads running for the GOP presidency as a way to boost their net worth...

"Everything is Sold American" Kinky Friedman

Expand full comment
author

Yes, and we're living with the aftereffects of the past century-plus of building cities around the car — from freeways to downtown parking lots — rather than building them for any kind of non-car transit.

It's now been a couple of decades of the reverse movement — of people moving back downtown, of "walkable" developments, of the spread of safe or protected biking lanes. (DC has really gone far in this direction.) But obviously there is an extremely long way to go. And many of the sprawl-suburban developments, built around cul-de-sacs and freeway entrances, are extremely hard and slow to un-do.

Expand full comment
Jun 28, 2023·edited Jun 28, 2023

Thank you for your kind reply!

As I was promoting my view of how to save the planet, I did not mean to sound like people should not buy cars!

One of the great joys of life frankly, is cruising down a beautiful road for hundreds of miles and listening to a great audiobook or radio station.

It is 6 hours from here to Acadia and Schoodic, really scenic and beautiful all the way!

Thanks for sharing, I love driving so I should consider your recommendation.

How is it in 4 feet of snow, driving blizzard, and -20 on the way to the ski area ? (Sugarloaf, Maine)

"Like" all the posts in the Comments section. A wonderful time is a hot cup of joe and perusing the Comments from all the varied, talented followers!

Enjoy your summer evening!

Expand full comment
Jun 28, 2023Liked by James Fallows

thanks for sharing!

In Europe and most places around the world, people ride trains or bikes. What is wrong with the US that we have to ride around in our own self-enclosed worlds? It seems impossible to get Americans out of their cars, but maybe the younger generation will smarten up.

Back in the 1970's, we hippies did not have cars, we lived in communes, and we tried to Save the Planet.

As the timeless George Carlin hilariously points out, what hubris. We can't save ourselves, let alone the planet.

Time to get out of our cars - it is wonderful and possible as Amsterdam shows us. Hundreds of thousands riding on wide, safe bike lanes, free ferries, and happily staying fit.

Their trams are silent, clean, and run every ten minutes.

It is like the US, and much of the planet, refuses to upgrade, move on, and evolve. But in the space race and the arms race, of course, every resource is available while our people stand in food lines and live on the streets in tents.

" When asked about Western Civilization, Gandhi said, ' it would be nice. ' "

Expand full comment
Jun 27, 2023Liked by James Fallows

One other reason that I am so disgusted by Musk is how far from the potential positive impact he could have contributed to the world. He had the opportunity to be an inspiration of the best of humanity and instead he chose the dark side.

Expand full comment
founding
Jun 27, 2023Liked by James Fallows

I remember being in a OS/2 users group meeting in 1995 when one of the bright guys in the room asked the IBM rep what their plan was when MS released Win95. I don't remember what his answer exactly was, but it was something like Win95 was gonna crash and burn on take-off and then OS/2 was going to take over the world. On the way out to the parking lot, the bright guy said that hope is not a plan, and he was going to stop by Barns and Noble on the way home and buy every book that they had on Windows NT Server. I followed him to bookstore and in 1998, I made a big, successful career change at the age of 40 from the EMS and Emergency Management field to the IT field.

One of the best pieces of advice I got when I started in that field was to learn the vi text editor backwards and forward. I had to go out on disability due to Parkinson's in 2019, but back in the day I could fly on vi or VIM. For Word Processing I got very good on WordPerfict in my undergrad days getting a Pol-sci degree, but I wrote my MBA paper using DeScribe, I have a copy of Scrivner and if I decided to write the G.A.N. (Great American Novel) it would be my tool of choice.

Expand full comment
author

I love memories of the OS/2 days!

The only actually-bad effect of my OS/2 loyalty was when our older son went off to college in the fall of 1995. I sent him with a computer running ... OS/2! It took him a while to reestablish that he was actually a cool guy.

WordPerfect/DeScribe/Scrivener: I've written at least one book with each of them. DeScribe [for onlookers: a native OS/2 word processor] was once again ahead of its time. On a recent office-cleanout run I couldn't bring myself to throw out the DeScribe manual.

Scrivener is still really great. I don't use it for Substack posts, but I do for anything that is any longer or more complex.

Expand full comment

As an IBMer during that period, but also with Microsoft contacts, I always thought the OS2 folks were a bit too high on their own supply. And once I got a good look at the UI of Windows 95, there was no comparison for graphics potential. MS was designing to beat Apple's Lisa/Mac. I suspect OS2 was intended to make obsolete the teletype and the original PC, which didn't need any help in getting there.

Expand full comment
founding
Jun 27, 2023Liked by James Fallows

I have heard quite a few stories of woe from people about MS Word eating their book, research paper or thesis to know to avoid it when writing anything over 20 pages or so. But since I am retired, most of my writings seem to be comments such as these.

Expand full comment
Jun 27, 2023·edited Jun 27, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Jim, it's been a blast getting to talk cars in your comments. Here's a fairly short story about where I put my nostalgia for the year in Paris when I was 12.

https://www.hagerty.com/media/driving/a-60s-summer-in-paris-leads-to-a-search-for-a-good-peugeot-404/

(Ignore the title—should have been In Search of Lost Time—With Apologies to Proust.)

Expand full comment
author

This is a great story! Thanks for writing it and letting us know.

Expand full comment

You're most welcome!

Expand full comment
Jun 26, 2023Liked by James Fallows

I bought my Subaru Forester (basically the Alaska State Car) new 11 years ago for $26,000+ and haven't looked at car prices since. I'm still freaking out over: "According to Car and Driver, the average price for a new car in the US is now $48,000."

Expand full comment
author

I know what you mean (about the $48,000). I noted that C&D stated this as the *average* price, rather than the *median* — so it may be jacked up by a number of six-figure monster trucks or luxury cruisers. But still.

It was mildly consoling to see that, inflation-adjusted, my $41,600 after-tax-credit price was *less* than $23,000 in 1999. [Not consoling on pace of inflation, but consoling about what we'd just laid out for this one.]

Expand full comment
Jun 26, 2023Liked by James Fallows

I did notice and appreciate that. Still, sticker shock.

Further on EVs--a friend just bought a Chevy Bolt, her first EV, and she is waxing rhapsodic to the point of being an evangelist for car and brand, not to mention the tax break. But she lives in the state's biggest city. After I read your piece I checked for EV charging stations along the route from here to there, and there are none. There are only two in my town, one at the local electric utility office and the other at the Chamber of Commerce. I'm going to have to wait for the buildout.

Expand full comment
founding
Jun 26, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Congrats on taking the plunge. I expect you'll enjoy it for at least 5 years.

We've owned a Model 3 since 2018, now with 53,000 miles. It's been good, with very few repairs (but your tires will wear out fast, since it's so heavy) and, or course essentially no maintenance (oil changes and the like). "Fuel" costs with our Palo Alto home electricity rates has been around 7¢ per mile, 10¢ per mile if on the interstates with the Superchargers.

We've driven across the country (well, CA to Ohio and back) several times, and the Supercharger network is the biggest selling point, even though we're starting to see some maintenance problems at some locations. We also subscribe to ChargePoint as a backup.

It was great at first, once you get used to it, but they don't age so gracefully. Battery capacity has dropped by over 15% and continues a downward trend. And now that we're out of warranty, minor repairs are very expensive. I used to be impressed with service's courtesy and competence, but staff has turned over a lot and has been growing more surly as we question the genius of Musk and Tesla by having a car with a problem. And getting timely service appointments through the App is almost impossible. Almost no traditional sense of customer service.

We used to be confident we could get anywhere, but this Spring, I wanted to head out into the CA deserts to try to see the super blooms, and realized I might not make it with the sparse charging network around Death Valley, so we just didn't go. We're thinking of selling before Musk destroys the reputation of the brand, and buying a plug-in hybrid to try to get the best of both worlds (electric for local driving, but gas for desert runs).

Good luck with your Y. Hope your experience is good. Just remember, Teslas monitor everything you do to build their AI self driving database, and that can include listening in on your car at any time. So keep driving your Audi if you want your privacy really secure.

Expand full comment
founding
Jun 27, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Buying a plug-in hybrid is probability our plan also. My cousin found out the hard way about driving a Tesla in cold weather when he drove to WV from the DC area in Dec 2018 for our Aunt's funeral. It turned a normal 6 hour trip with 1 recharging stop into a 12 hour trip with multiple recharging stops. For now a EV doesn't provide the same level of flexibility that a hybrid or IC vehicle does for long trips for a person in the US who can afford to by a EV that is capable of such a trip. But to be honest, I know plenty of people back in WV, who have trucks or cars with IC engines in them that if they had to right this minute, could not drive them more than 1 hours drive before they would break down.

Expand full comment
founding
Jun 28, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Actually, we crossed the country in the Tesla in Winter for Christmas back East, where some of the temperatures were as low as 9° F, and we basically had no trouble - we did see some diminished range, so charged more often, just to be safe, but found that a big confidence booster.

However, when I-40 was closed by a Winter storm, and we had to transition from I-40 in Amarillo TX to I-20 in Odessa TX, it was touch and go - no superchargers between interstates in the TX panhandle, and we made it by the grace of the Nissan dealer in Lubbock, which had one slow charger (to support Leafs). We got lunch and a leisurely tour of the Buddy Holly Museum while we waited, and even with that charge, barely made it to Odessa with 2% charge to spare.

We viewed it as an adventure, and it brought to mind my Grandmother's talk of her trips across the country in the 1920's, when they weren't sure they could find gasoline everywhere. So, not the reliable transportation for everywhere that every customer might expect.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks very much for the guidance, on the possibilities and the pitfalls of making this move.

I *thought* there was some switch you could set to eliminate / disable the internal microphone in a Tesla. But of course that would also disable all voice commands for the car. Will bear this in mind.

Expand full comment
founding
Jun 28, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Perhaps some reporter should investigate what they really monitor, and when.

With the rapid acceleration, I thought it'd be a shoe-in as a police vehicle, until I realized Tesla (and therefore, some hacker of Tesla's system) can tell where every car is at every point in time, so it's no surprise you don't see any Tesla police cars.

Once I called the road service on my phone, and they answered through the car speakers. It freaked me out. That's when I realized they can listen to anything anytime. They basically said that during the call. It was meant to reassure me that they were looking out for me. But...

As a reporter, you might not want to be leaving digital breadcrumbs behind if you're meeting sources, investigating sensitive matters, or generally care about your privacy.

Expand full comment
author

I hadn't thought of these angles (including on the police cars), but what you say makes sense. I will prowl around in the settings to see how much of the internal monitoring is within a user's/owner's control. Thank you.

Expand full comment
Jun 26, 2023Liked by James Fallows

I can’t fault your decision making process on your Tesla purchase but I thought I’d share an encounter my daughter had with the company. She was working for Ford at the time as an engineer and decided to take an interview with Tesla, this would be 2 years ago.

The quote she relayed from her interviewer that I found interesting was “we don’t have great work/life balance here”. The expectation was to work 12 hour days, 6 days a week for roughly 15-20% more pay than at Ford (8-10 hour day, 5 days a week). Of course she decided that devotion to the Elon way was not worth the sacrifice of a personal life.

The thought of that kind of dedication to the company somewhat soured my own perception of Tesla. Again though your rationale for your purchase was sound and I wish you many years of safe travels.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks. I have followed accounts of a number of experiences like your daughter's. And, as you know (and as she knows), there are different work/life-balance choices that make sense in different circumstances and at different stages of life.

I too have been wary of the company, but for the reasons set out it seemed a better choice for us. We'll see, and I'll report back here.

Expand full comment
Jun 26, 2023·edited Jun 26, 2023Liked by James Fallows

At 89 with 41,000 miles on my second hand 2011 Audi I am not in the market for another car. I watch the Tesla/Musk debate simply as a spectator. [Like I watched the Joe Louis/Billy Conn fight in Yankee Stadium in 1946.]

Your article brought auto nostalgia, as it may have triggered for many others. My first car was an undoubtably second-or-third-hand Buick. I nick named it 1:1 because it seemed to consume a quart of oil for a gallon of gas.

Some years later I had to choose between a sensible VW bug or a TR3–zoom zoom. In Congo I had two VW bugs. Very practical and fixable. My only problem was that, on occasion, in the morning I would find my car propped up and my tires missing. I believe that I found the place where I could repurchase my tires and hub caps.

In Chile as a diplomat I could import one car. For a second car I bought an Isetta with over 50,000 miles. Front-wheel drive, 13 horsepower, and front of car was the door. Bus drivers in Santiago enjoyed pushing my car up on the sidewalk and local cops couldn’t believe that an American diplomat could own such a bucket of bolts.

My last ‘can’t believe it’ car was an Audi S4. Stick shift and zoom zoom. At the Somerville roundabout I could escape all oncoming traffic.

Currently I am considering an electric vehicle [4 tires] to get me from my summer home to the Orient Country Store about a mile away. It runs on batteries with plug in charger and costs less than $800. That’s as close as I’ll get to EV—and no Musk issues.

Expand full comment

Nice memories.

(Isettas, by the way, drove their twin rear wheels with their one cylinder motorcycle engine)

Expand full comment

Isetta, made under license by BMW from 1958 to '62, was the smart car of its day. A high school friend's mother had one as a sort of grocery cart, so we drove it a bit. And I saw a still running but shaky version just the other day:

https://flic.kr/p/2oJ1aiw

https://flic.kr/p/2oJ1aiw

https://flic.kr/p/2oJ1aCE

Expand full comment

BMW Isettas were made from 1955 to 1962. 161,728 were made, 51,968 exported. Look up the German Wikipedia for some nice photos, including the Isetta of the Cologne police, and an Isetta with a camping trailer.

Expand full comment
Jun 26, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Jochen And their 3 gallon gas tanks with no indicator.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks! And ah the cars-overseas memories.

— When Deb and I lived in England in the early 1970s, we had a used Morris Minor. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morris_Minor It had a Model T-style crank for the front of the car, which you used to start the engine if it stalled or wouldn't start otherwise. I have a vivid nightmarish memory of being on a roundabout outside Oxford when the motor stopped for some reason. I was standing in the middle of traffic trying to crank the car back to life.

— When were in Japan in the late 1980s with our kids, we had zero extra money, and everything in Japan was prohibitively expensive (because of the *doubling* of the yen's vallue against the dollar, after the Plaza Accords). So we chose a car at a used-car lot in Yokohama that was mysteriously about 1/5th the cost of all the others.

Later we found out that it had been some kind of yakuza death-car, where people were shot up. That's why it was on clearance price.

When we left Japan we sold it to a very well-known American reporter, arriving to begin a stint as Tokyo correspondent.

Expand full comment
Jun 26, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Jim A conservative Chilean reporter bought my Isetta when I left in 1969. He bought it on the installment plan—paid the first installment, then zippo.

Apparently he didn’t bother to change the car registration. Months later El Siglo, the communist newspaper, published a photo of the Isetta and linked this reporter to me, a ‘well-known CIA agent.’

I felt insulted. I had spent much of my time as a Foreign Service Officer in Chile [with the ambassador’s unflagging support] countering some of CIA’s misguided initiatives.

I took special delight, in our sound proof conference room, scrubbing CIA’s recommendations for American $$$ in the forthcoming National Assembly elections.

They knew virtually nothing about their proposed right-wing candidates. One of their ‘hands on’ candidates was from Valparaiso. In fact he was ‘hands on’—he was an obstetrician who recently had visited Moscow.

Another candidate they favored was employed by the state sugar factory in Linares. Oophs, they got the initials wrong. It wasn’t INSA, but rather a tire recapping business that he owned. I knew, because I had lunch with him and his family the week before.

Finally, from a list of dozens, the ambassador and I permitted support for two innocuous candidates, one from suburban Santiago and a pretty good guy senator from Conception.

I felt insulted when the communist press targeted me as a ‘CIA agent.’ I was a Foreign Service Officer who had spent months at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington.

Expand full comment
author

Great tale, thank you.

Expand full comment

Jim Even now I am reticent to write publicly about creating international bond ratings and doing all the sovereign bond ratings myself. As a former Foreign Service Officer I never contacted US government officials (including embassies) AND they never contacted me. I didn’t trust that they could keep a confidentiality and, frankly, I had excellent contacts on my own.

I graciously refused to charge our then-modest fee if I chose not to rate a sovereign state bond and/or indicated a rating that they would find unacceptable. Character and history were often as important as ‘the numbers.’ The fact that Ireland could exist on bar chits during weeks of a bank strike was a significant character plus.

There was one small European country that I characterized as ‘a charming country and a crappy credit.’ In Norway (excellent oil-based credit) I dined with the senior civil servant (who had fled to Norway with the king during WW II). He wondered what the Americans were doing in their large embassy building. Christian Brinch had been shuffled over to a new junior officer who had no idea who Brinch was.

As you know full well, there are some things that should be written on erasable paper or discussed during a fluid evening. I have written much of this in document-filled commentaries with severely limited circulation. (Charlie read my Foreign Service commentaries in 2011.)

Expand full comment
Jun 26, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Just bought a new car myself last month. I’m just about the perfect use case for an electric. I have a 15 mile commute to the office, drive 15 to 20 miles each way to nightly AA meetings, and a couple times a week to the grocery store. If I needed to drive any distance, which might happen 3 or 4 times a year I could rent a car. But… I live in a 60 year old townhouse development in Reston Virginia. There’s no parking directly in front of my house, and the carport doesn’t have wiring for car chargers. Heck, it only has a 10 amp circuit that barely supports power tools. So electrics are not a good choice.

I’m on the HOA board and rewiring the carports is on the list of things to look at, but it’s likely to be expensive and is a few years off. Eventually it’s going to become necessary to keep house prices from falling.

Once I ruled out electric I decided I wanted a convertible, and I didn’t want to spend 6 figures, and there aren’t many options there, so I ended up with an Audi a5. Fun car, and most of the controls I need to use while driving are physical. Gets 30 mpg, too.

Expand full comment
Jun 26, 2023Liked by James Fallows

A few years ago our local Utility company had a program where they would install and maintain Level Two Chargers at Condos and Apartments. Limited time offer. Our brilliant board, led by me, applied, and now we have ten well used chargers for residents only. Check with you local utility, maybe they have something similar.

Expand full comment
author

Very interesting, on many fronts. Thanks for sharing this info.

Until the EV revolution, I had assumed that I'd eventually get another Audi. (Whenever the A4 goes "to a farm upstate where it will be happier.") Enjoy the A5 !

Expand full comment

I'm no fan of Elon Musk, but I understand your decision. We bought a Hyundai Ionic 5 last summer (after waiting in vain for a Mach E we ordered in January), before the tax credit rules changed. I love it, but the advantage of your purchase is that the Tesla is American built, the charging network is the best, and your net cost sounds a lot better than if you had bought a Mustang Mach E. Musk, like so many super-rich guys, is a threat to our political system. If we survive their intentions, though, eventually we'll start taxing them at an appropriate rate to pay for a genuine social democracy.

Expand full comment
author

Tom, thanks. Interesting to hear of your journeys down this same path.

As I mention below, I've only heard good things from owners of the Ioniq5 and the Mach E. But the combo of price (after tax credit) and *especially* the short delivery time made the Tesla very appealing.

Agree on the meta-points about Musk.

We can compare cars some day!

Expand full comment
Jun 26, 2023Liked by James Fallows

1) I am siding with the 'not a Nickel for Musk' faction.

2) I don't believe the Y will last 25 years as your previous rides

3) Isn't it appalling how big and heavy cars have become

PS Interesting how the halo car marketing theory worked with you (TT/A4)

Safe travels

Expand full comment
Jun 30, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Agree I wouldn’t buy a Tesla myself partly because of Musk’s antics, but his moving a lot of highly-educated and highly-paid, and thus probably Democratic-leaning, engineers to Texas might turn out to be his most important political legacy.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks on all of these.

1) I intentionally didn't go at length into "nickel for Musk" in the original post, mainly because I thought the Henry Ford comparison encapsulated it. And, as you see, I'm going into it more here. Believe me, I understand.

2) That is a safe bet!

3) Yes. One thing I notice about my (beloved) Audi is how "low" it seems, compared with the behemoths it now drives among. When I got the car, I was more or less on the same eye-level with drives of other cars that passed by. Now, with these monster trucks and SUVs, their eye-level is about two feet above mine.

On the halo marketing, I hadn't thought of that before, but you're absolutely right.

Expand full comment
Jun 26, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Sad that this is so. I've had a Tesla Model 3 since 2018. It's a fabulous car. I will not be buying another Tesla because of Musk. I will not be buying Tesla Solar and Batteries even though the technology is pretty great because of Musk. I am trying to find an alternative to Starlink because of Musk. I can't bear giving him anymore money.

Musk is clearly one of the biggest enemies of freedom and democracy. He is a fascist and he is using his billions to encourage fascism.

Expand full comment
author

I understand and appreciate your spelling it out.

To avoid making this piece too long, I cut a part speculating on what Musk's time at Twitter might mean about his previous work in cars, batteries, space, solar power, and so on.

— Has he been this impetuous, tone-deaf, bullying etc all along, and most of us didn't realize it because fewer people know about rocket-building or solar panels than do about social media? (Ie, is the "real Musk" finally revealing himself?

— Was he "actually competent" in these other realms, but not at Twitter, because it's a difference between hardware and software? Ie, maybe he knew enough about engineering and tangible products to be effective at them, but was entirely out of his depth when it comes to media?

— Was he essentially a figurehead at Tesla and SpaceX, so that they succeeded in spite of him rather than because of him?

— Are Tesla and SpaceX actually more like Twitter than we think (as the critiques of FSD etc indicate)?

— Has something "happened" to Musk, to turn him into the out-of-control figure we see now?

I don't know.

And I understand all your points. In our case, we actually needed a car, and the place where we could get one within a few days rather than a few months (or years), and at a very attractive price, was Tesla. And the *car itself* we like a lot.

Expand full comment
Jun 27, 2023Liked by James Fallows

I should have made it clear that I didn't intend to dis your decision, just venting frustration that so many good products are now contaminated by Musk's poisonous and dangerous personality. Tesla is a great car and I hope you and your family enjoy it.

Expand full comment
Jun 26, 2023Liked by James Fallows

In my estimation, Musk is a gifted, and completely ruthless, marketeer.

To be convincing, you need to believe your own tales (to a degree).

As the beliefs only serve one purpose, to sell, they are only loosely connected with reality.

All of this made Musk blunder into Twitter.

And yes, he knows nothing about engineering, rockets or cars, either.

Expand full comment
author
Jun 26, 2023·edited Jun 26, 2023Author

Thanks.

And on your final line: When it comes to social media, I *do* feel competent to judge Musk's knowledge, instincts, and decisions. And at Twitter, virtually everything he has done has been a disaster. Whether intentionally or through stupid prideful inadvertence, I don't know.

When it comes to space ships and electric cars, I *don't* feel competent to make similar judgments. I think most people in the press are in the same boat. That's why I'm agnostic so far on the Twitter/Tesla+SpaceX contrast, and why I'll keep looking for informed commentary from people who can make these calls.

Expand full comment