Getting a Handle on the Tesla Model S – Video and Review

Getting a Handle on the Tesla Model S – Video and Review

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

In June, Fresh Dialogues toured the Tesla Factory and last week we finally got behind the wheel of the finished product: a Model S Performance. It’s an impressive vehicle: sleek, stylish and powerful. Very powerful. The acceleration felt like a rocket. We took it 0-50 in about four seconds and thanks to its low center of gravity, it was easy to handle on the winding hill roads around Palo Alto. Going 60 plus on Highway 280 felt smooth and effortless. You gain speed so fast, it’s quite formidable, especially for this Toyota Prius driver. In the latest test drive, Motor Trends confirmed a 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds; faster than Tesla’s own specs of 4.4. That makes it the fastest American sedan.

I’d heard about the ‘sensitive’ accelerator pedal and wondered how it would be in the confined space of the Tesla HQ parking lot? But I found it easy to navigate and control both in forward and reverse gears. Backing into a parking space was a cinch thanks to the rear camera.

The massive 17-inch touch screen looked like it could be a major driving distraction, but having experienced its utility, I’m more appreciative.   Glad to see that most functions can be controlled from the steering wheel, including the impressive sound system.  Spinal Tap fans will be delighted to learn that the volume goes to eleven (really!); a spec no doubt dictated by Tesla product architect, Elon Musk with tongue firmly in cheek.







You can choose what appears on your dashboard: energy consumption, range, media, climate control, etc.



Tesla’s Christina Ra explained the energy charts and how the range is impacted by all that powerful acceleration.





The regenerative breaking was very noticeable (see green shading on graph). The second you take your foot off the accelerator, you feel it kicking in, giving you more control and increasing the range of the car. It’s rated 265 miles by the EPA, but the way we were driving, the projected range fell to 192. To get the maximum range, Tesla recommends an optimum speed of 55 mph, with the windows up and no A/C.



Two criticisms:

1. These snazzy door handles certainly look and act cool. Tesla Factory worker Charles Lambert said it best, they’re distinctive and sexy. According to reports, they’re not just eye candy, they actually improve the aerodynamics of the car. I understand they’re fitted with an anti-break-your-fingers release mechanism, but when I checked it out, the handle gave me a good finger squeeze –  not in a good way. It stung. Maybe I’m extra sensitive, but I think Tesla should consider adjusting the specs, just a tad.

2. When you get in the car and sit down in the driver seat, the car switches on. Touch the foot break and the motor is on and ready to go. But when you stop, it feels disconcerting not to have an “off” button. Say you pull over to make a phone call… or enjoy the sunset? I’d be more comfortable knowing this super powerful motor is definitely off. And isn’t suddenly going to take off….



Overall though, a remarkable driving experience and a giant leap up from my beloved Toyota Prius. Made in Silicon Valley is definitely a plus.


More on Tesla at Fresh Dialogues  – Meet the First Tesla Model S owner

Note: I will be interviewing Elon Musk at the Computer History Museum as part of its Revolutionaries Series. If you have any burning questions for Tesla’s founder, please contact us or share them on our Facebook Page.

The Future of Green Building

The Future of Green Building

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Did you know that buildings account for almost 40 percent of total energy use in the U.S.; almost 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions; and 12 percent of total water consumption? The climate friendly solution is “green building.”

But what does green building mean? And what is the future of green building? Phil Williams, VP of Webcor Builders sat down with Fresh Dialogues to answer these questions and explain how the venture capital and building sectors work together to deliver innovative green building products – like smart glass – that reduce energy consumption and environmental impact.

Here are some highlights of our conversation (edited for clarity and length):

What is green building?

“The term actually started here in San Francisco in the mid-1990s, and starts with a certification of a building under the LEED standard (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), developed by the US Green Building Council. We try to reduce the energy, the water, be responsible in the use of materials and create healthy interior environments.” Phil Williams

Why build green?

“There’s a high probability of climate change due to man’s impact; it’s seen as good business, it’s my energy bill today in terms of what is my overall cost of doing business.” Phil Williams

What should we expect from green building in the future?

“We’re really excited about Underwriters Laboratory’s Environmental Group. Pretty soon, all of us in the building environment are going to have product category rules and will have environmental product declarations so that every manufacturer knows how to report their information.

It’s like a box of Cheerios…you’ve got some healthy products, you’ve got some less healthy products, some with sugar, some with fat. The consumer can now make a choice. When we didn’t know, the consumers were blind to the health or the energy consumption of a building. The marketplace will determine what happens, but now the information will be available.” Phil Williams

How do new green building products get in the supply chain?

“We work closely with several venture capital firms that are specifically focused in the built environment, and we have a strong engineering background…We can be part of that next breed of product…we have that advantageous viewpoint that we can lend to our clients and we can help those new innovative firms get a foothold in a very competitive industry. Any insight that we can provide benefits everyone.” Phil Williams

Webcor is sponsoring a four part interview series all about Green Building. Check back soon for more details.

Meantime, you can check out other green building interviews and stories by clicking here or on the Green Building Tab above.

SolarCity’s Lyndon Rive: On Biz Model, Growth & Domination

SolarCity’s Lyndon Rive: On Biz Model, Growth & Domination

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

SolarCity’s CEO Lyndon Rive sat down with Fresh Dialogues last week to share details of the solar company’s business model, rapid growth, and ultimate goal of being the world’s largest energy provider. Yes indeed: this 35 year-old entrepreneur from South Africa anticipates no less than world domination.

Although Rive was tight lipped about the impending IPO expected in Q3 this year, he referred to the $280M investment from Google last year and said, “Our expectation is that companies like Google and other Fortune companies start making similar investments.”

“In order to monetize the full benefits of the solar system you need a large tax paying company. .. might as well use that tax bill to motivate the growth of the renewable industry…” he added. “We are approaching hundreds of Fortune 100 and 1000 companies…and will continually be raising funds, potentially in perpetuity.”

SolarCity is targeting companies that can benefit handsomely from the 30% Federal Business Tax Credit for solar investments. Although Rive wouldn’t name names, Apple Inc. springs to mind immediately. Record profits and enormous tax base? Check. Recently inclined to alternative energy investments? Check. In case you missed it, Apple recently invested in a massive 4.8 megawatt fuel cell development using Bloom Energy technology. Watch this space. We’ll keep you updated.


Business Model

SolarCity’s innovative model offers a range of solar options. Customers can buy systems outright or pay zero down and lease or purchase the power the system produces. Large investments from partners like Google allow the company to make solar affordable and continue growing rapidly. Rive described the company’s business model thus: “(We) install solar systems for free, so we need capital to pay for that, and take a long term revenue stream on the electricity that we sell. So, as fast as we grow, that’s the business model that we’re in.”


2012 Energy Policy After Solyndra – Axelrod Transcript

2012 Energy Policy After Solyndra – Axelrod Transcript

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Here is a transcript of my interview with David Axelrod on January 27, 2012 re. Solyndra, 2012 Energy Policy and President Obama’s State of the Union speech. Video here

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Hello and welcome to Fresh Dialogues. Today I’ll be talking with David Axelrod. President Obama’s Chief Political Strategist. David, thank you for joining me today on Fresh Dialogues

DAVID AXELROD: Happy to be here.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Good. Now Obama has started his first  (2012) Campaign ad with a defense of his clean energy policy. Why did Obama choose to start with green?

DAVID AXELROD:  The ad that it was responding to was an ad sponsored by a SuperPAC… sponsored by the Koch brothers… two oil billionaires … and it was an attack  particularly on the Solyndra issue but it was really an attack on the whole green energy initiative of the president’s. And we’re proud of that initiative…we’re proud that we’re on par to double renewable energy during the course of his first term. He believes very strongly that we need to command the clean energy technology of the future and that as a country we need to be encouraging the development of clean energy technology or we’re going to see that go to other parts of the world.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: You mention Solyndra specifically. Solyndra seems to be a thorn in the side of Obama. It keeps coming up. How does he intend to remove the thorn?

DAVID AXELROD: All you can do is be open and candid about it. We knew when made investments in clean energy technology that some would do well and others would not. That’s the nature of this…these are speculative investments. And that’s the reason why they needed some nudging from the government in order to blossom…You can look at Solyndra or you can look at the fact that when we started, the US had about 2% of the advanced battery manufacturing for electric cars. We’re on course to get to 40% by the middle of this decade.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: That’s impressive.

DAVID AXELROD: That wouldn’t have happened without the investments we’ve made. We’ve seen real growth in solar and in wind energy and so these are investments that are paying off for the country. I’m very certain that we’re going to look back at the seeds that were planted during this period and we will say that it has made a big difference for the country in a positive way.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: What percentage of the program’s investment went to Solyndra?

DAVID AXELROD: There were forty under this specific program, so it was a small percentage of the entire program. It was a program… that was begun under the Bush Administration and we accelerated that program because we do believe that we are in a real competition for the clean energy technology of the future and we as a country have a great interest in developing alternative energy and home grown domestic energy and renewable energy. These were investments that made sense. Some will pay great dividends, others unfortunately will not.


DAVID AXELROD: Plainly, we have to have our eye on the future and really encourage and develop renewable sources of energy. It’s good for the planet, it’s good for the economy, it’ll create great jobs…high end manufacturing jobs. This is going to continue being a thrust for us. We’re not going to back off.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Thanks for joining us.


The interview took place backstage at Foothill College’s Celebrity Forum on January 27, 2012. Check back soon for more with David Axelrod:

On Michelle Obama’s influence on green policy

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Maureen Dowd: Talks Green

Maureen Dowd: Talks Green

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

This week, we take a look at the Fresh Dialogues archives. Last April, I met with the enchanting Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Maureen Dowd. We had an animated conversation during a green-themed morning in downtown San Jose. Over cups of delicious mint tea, we discussed Maureen’s Irish heritage and how that inspires her fiery prose. We also discussed her belief in America’s green future.

In this excerpt, we discuss fellow New York Times Columnist, Tom Friedman (whom she describes as “her office husband”) and his new book, Hot, Flat & Crowded.

“I try to get advice from Tom Friedman who is Mr. Solar around our office. He’s done a new book which is very involved with energy and his whole house is solar designed… I ask him and he’s trying to coach me in how to be more environmentally correct.”


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“This was the first campaign I’ve ever covered where I’d go and watch Hillary and Obama in the primary and they were both competing to come up with a plan for green jobs and for me it’s very exciting because for the eight years that Bush and Cheney were in it felt like we were going backwards in every way. You know we weren’t coming into the 21st Century and we were kinda like the Flintstones – we were just not moving forward. So I love all that.”


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