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Tesla Model S – Cost of Ownership vs. Honda Odyssey (teslacost.com)
132 points by United857 on Apr 13, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 162 comments

I have also ran similar calculations in my head. I think what I'd want to be convinced is a thorough analysis from a mechanical/industrial engineer on how much you can expect to save from a fully electric car on maintenance. The claim I've heard from Tesla is that, since there are much fewer moving parts within an electric motor, the car will last substantially longer. While this makes intuitive sense, I would love to see a breakdown of the actual numbers. Gas savings are pretty easy to calculate.

That said, there is one more factor I had considered, for fun. If Tesla continues to deliver more cars and eventually electric cars dominate the new car market in 5-10 years, I would imagine the Model S would be worth an investment as a "classic" car. If you maintained it well, I wonder if the actual value of the car would have a chance of appreciating at a much higher rate past, say, 50 years.

> fewer moving parts

I think auto makers use this to distract potential buyers from what's really going to be replaced: the battery.

Just like laptop batteries, the charge life of the car battery is going to decrease with time.

Tesla did have this on their website, but the link this is quoted from is broken:

"A Battery Replacement Option will be available for purchase soon. The option allows you to pre-purchase a new battery to be installed after eight years for a fixed price: $8,000 for 40 kWh batteries, $10,000 for 60 kWh batteries, and $12,000 for 85 kWh batteries."


The $12k battery placement cost is not included in the spreadsheet, not to mention that this is the cost if purchased 8 years ahead of time and purchasing it later will probably be more expensive.

He's already bought the car and so he should know how his insurance cost has changed, but doesn't mention how much it changed.

The model also does not include property tax. I'm assuming California has a car property tax of some kind.

...so basically this is justifying his purchase to himself, little more than that.

>...so basically this is justifying his purchase to himself, little more than that.

I don't see where he said otherwise.

I think making a domain entirely dedicated to it is evidence that it wasn't intended as just self justification.

edit: On further thought, maybe not. It does seem to be the trend to do websites for a single topic or piece of writing. I would still take it as indication you are presenting it to others though.

As long as he indicates that it's anecdotal (as he did throughout the piece) I don't see an issue with sharing it with the world. It's not like he's selling himself as a car buying consultant; he's just sharing the fruits of his private labors with anyone who it may help. He's a Harvard MBA grad; I'm sure he's proud of his skills. I can see that fostering the desire to make a dedicated website. But then, I tend to see the best in people before considering the worst (which is probably why I'm not a businessman at heart).

The statement that electric motors have fewer moving parts so they last substantially longer is a fallacy that electric car proponents have been spreading for years. There are still many, moving parts which require servicing and can fail at a rate of similarly serviced gas engines. In fact servicing (rewinding) is quite a labor intensive and expensive operation, given the price of copper or other conductive material used in the construction of electric motor.

Should a motor fail. The cost is significant.

I like the idea of an electric car, but the truth is the motors do fail. They require maintenance in the static environment of a factory or they will fail, a car on the open road with harsh environmental factors it will be hard on them.

But the biggest lie about electric car maintenance is that is lower. Its not. 90% of a vehicle's maintenance has nothing to do with its motor. It's tires, brakes, lighting, lubricants(yes electric motors need oil changes too), and power systems. Which I suspect will be more extensive here since there will be countless OS upgrades to both the drive systems and the power control units.

Its not possible at this time to compare gas engine maintenance w/ electric motor maintenance because its not apples to apples. You can however look at replacement cost as an indication of serviceability. A 400hp electric motor costs about $24,000 vs. a 400hp gas engine at about $6000.

The gas engine is still far more economical at this point even factoring in fuel costs.

>400hp electric motor costs about $24,000 vs. a 400hp gas engine at about $6000.

You think the motor in the Telsa costs 24 large? I'd say you are off by an order of magnitude.

What are the big-ticket repair items on an gas car? The engine and the transmission. Electric motors are maintenance-free, and the Telsa doesn't have a transmission. Also, there is minimal vibration and heat compared to a gas engine.

I would guess maintenance costs on an electric car are 1/4th of a gas car. Except the battery pack, of course. That will eventually need to be replaced.

> I'd say you are off by an order of magnitude.

On what basis? I know he didn't cite, and I'm not trying to put the burden of proof on you, but I'm curious why you think this. As in, I'd like to see some data (from either side).

I did some brief searching and he is correct that [45]00 HP brushless motors seem to go in the low five figures (at least on Ebay, which I know is not representative of Tesla's costs). I'm happy to believe Tesla's cost less, but I'm not sure.

On the basis that it is the size of a (very large) watermelon. What's it made of? Copper and steel and aluminum. $1000 of materials and $1000 in labor.

Here's a pic: http://insideevs.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Screen-Shot-...

Then of course there is the cost of the cooling jacket and the electronics. I can't estimate that readily.

This manner of cost estimation is not convincing to me, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone. There are plenty of small things that cost a lot of money, because, perhaps, of the precision or techniques required to manufacture them or their components, or the dearness of the materials that compose the minority of the object.

TL;DR: What is a sub-one ounce object made mostly of silicon that costs more than a thousand dollars. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819116...

>TL;DR: What is a sub-one ounce object made mostly of silicon that costs more than a thousand dollars. (intel i7)

In that case, you are paying for the IP, not the silicon.

The Tesla motor is a simple design, no magnets, no brushes. I assume they are hand-built. Some, but not too much precision machining required.

Think about how much precision goes into a 2TB hard drive that costs $100 retail.

I often come to the wrong conclusion when "just thinking" about it, especially in domains where I am not even a novice. Also, the fact that I don't find listings for 500hp brushless motors for <10k online calls into question the results of your thought experiment.

I can see where you get your belief -- I wasn't questioning that it is a reasonable one to hold. But I am asking for evidence that compels me to a confidence level I'd actually bet on. Data will be required. Thought experiments are not sufficient.

(Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing you for failing to provide data. It may not be publicly available. And it is not your duty to give me this. But that is what I am asking for, and if you don't have it, you don't have what I want, your duty or no.)

You're making an assertion that runs counter to the common wisdom that electric cars will require less maintenance, so the burden of proof is on you.

The fact that you can't find brushless motors online that retail for less than $10k is not convincing, because it's a new use case, a unique design, and they're not selling them outside of cars. You don't know what the pricing is. As far as materials, that amount of copper isn't going to help it get to $10k.

EDIT: Oh sorry, I mistook you for the originator of this thread, jesusmichael. He asserted that, not you.

So your logic tells you that Tesla has "invented" an electric motor, so rugged that it can withstand that riggers of being inside a consumer vehicle on the open road with a novice operator, in various environmental conditions, that is a fraction of the cost of similarly powered electric motors that operate in static environments, such as a factory floor, with experienced operators and fixed maintenance schedules? Wow.. I have a bridge to sell you... you're not the guy to be discussing "common wisdom"...

You're bringing up a lot of irrelevant stuff.

Novice operator - the operator of the motor itself is the control electronics, not the driver. If the operator can do something to damage the motor, the design is faulty.

Industrial electrical motors and control electronics like those in robots have completely different tolerance requirements, and are made in relatively low volumes, and so there are fewer units to support development costs.

relatively low volumes? Nearly every machine in every factory in the world has an electric motor of some ilk.. Have you ever been in a factory?

The novice operator and put the machine itself in a situation in which it will not operate correctly, extreme cold, flood, etc. Steep grade + Lead Foot = burnt coil. While I do agree with you to some extent... there is some user input... but motors in Tesla... are still pretty complex..

I meant that the individual models of industrial motors are made in low volumes relative to the motors in a mass manufactured product like the Model S, not that there weren't many electric motors in industry. There obviously are quite a lot of them involved in industry, but they come in many types, each of which has to pay back its own development budget.

I never made that assertion. I'm only asking questions.

"Common wisdom" does not create a burden of proof for detractors, especially if the common wisdom is never, that I can find, backed up with evidence. That is absurd. It would be like saying that the burden is on non religious people to prove that Jesus is not god because billions of people think he is.

Yeah, sorry about that, I got you mixed up with another poster.

But I do think that it's backed by evidence. There's no multi-gear transmission, and while there are moving parts, and other than the wheels/brakes, they aren't bathed in liquids that need regular changes and they aren't subjected to combustion and various other destructive forces that an ICE is constantly subjected to. There's relatively little force transmission hardware needed. The motors themselves should be relatively low-friction, and mechanically are much, much simpler than internal combustion engines (compare a breakdown of the parts of an ICE vs. electric motor, they're in completely different leagues). Air-fuel mixture control, turbochargers, and all manner of other chemical energy management systems are replaced by solid state electronics.

As to your i7 costs, lets conveniently ignore the costs of the FAB, the equipment to make that small little piece of silicon is enormously expensive

What about volumes of scale?

It doesn't cost $1000. What you're paying for is R&D. Just like a Windows 8 DVD doesn't cost hundred of dollars to make

The implicit claim being that Tesla does not factor in R&D when they charge consumers for replacements?

No, just pointing out that processed silicon does not cost Intel anything close to $1000.

Also I doubt R&D cost for an electric motor is high because the technology is mature.

Given how vertically integrated Tesla is, this is the right approach. Include a factor for time on capital equipment (number which can be produced per year per machine, cost of machine, cheap cost of capital, wear on machines, depreciation over lifetime) and you'd probably be good (maybe $3k total for the part?)

If it's a commodity item (like most electric motors, but maybe not the one in the Tesla), with a competitive market, you might be able to estimate cost by looking at open market pricing, but for something like SpaceX, that clearly doesn't work.

Tesla is closer to SpaceX in thinking than it is to most car companies, especially startup car companies.

The entire car is only about twice that, and we know the battery is very expensive. There's no way the electric motor costs $24k.

Here's one on Ebay for $10k.. Ebay! http://www.ebay.com/bhp/300-hp-electric-motor

General Purpose 350HP motor. $25K http://www.globalindustrial.com/p/motors/ac-motors-2-phase/3...

In general these motors have tight tolerances and aren't the motors in your electric shaver

The entire car cost $70K...

Referring to your 350 hp example:

1. That motor is a low speed motor, as such it is massive. It weighs 3044 pounds. The Tesla motor runs at nearly 10 times the speed, and ought to be roughly a factor of 10 lighter. 2. See how the price drops by almost 10% when you buy more than 5 of these motors? Now imagine you are buying 20,000+... 3. You can bet the manufacturer of the motor (Baldor) did not get $25k for it. I imagine the markup for the reseller is of the order of 30-50%, on top of other costs such as transport. These do not apply to Tesla.

I am pretty sure even $6000/unit is an over-estimate.

I have some information from an occasionally reliable source that the entire car costs around $20,000 to make. This is the "incremental cost", after tooling, R&D etc has been paid for. This is apparently about the same as a top level mass produced luxury Benz - for the Benz, the much higher inherent production cost is offset by the scale and efficiency of their production line.

The comparison is retail to retail... Not wholesale cost. I'm sure if you need a motor, because yours failed after 6 years, they aren't going to sell it to you for wholesale. And if they are marking up the cost of the car by 400% than if their motor is $5000... you'll be paying $20k

Analysis estimates of the cost of the car are about $56K


That $20k motor is much less advanced than what's in a Tesla... So @ $24k I think its a bargin... what is the rest of the car? Aluminum and Plastic and a couple of computers...

In that range the price usually includes the controller and associated power electronics, which is a significant fraction of the cost.

> yes electric motors need oil changes too

"Oil change" for an electric motor is fundamentally nothing like the oil change you do for an internal combustion engine. A piston engine operates at much higher temperatures, and cannot fully isolate leakage from oil compartment, causing a tiny amount of oil to get burned with fuel as it operates.

"Oil change" in an electric motor is much more like lubricating other moving parts of the car or other machinery, not the engine of a gasoline car.

In addition to that, an electric car (at least the Model S), is much much simpler in design. The motor is basically connected directly to the wheels, removing a ton of parts in the process. It's simpler to start and simpler to cool. Yes, it can still break, but it's much more similar to your hard drive failing than your traditional car.

The roadster has a single speed transmission that connects the axels to the wheels. It would be unwise to connect a motor directly to the wheel. The axles are basically the same as with the Prius or any other car for that matter with wheel bearings and CV joints.

For all the parts that are removed there are a couple added, in the recombinant braking system, power control systems and programmable suspension.

The grease in the sealed bearings will break down at some point. A spinning motor especially one in a magnetic field has a very low tolerance for vibration and balance. There is also a great deal of heat generated at high torque. I hear the S is going to have liquid cooling. So there is another system that will need to be addressed.

I would hardly call a Tesla a simple design. Its in fact very complex.

I agree, people should think of an electric motor oil change more like changing transmission fluid or gear oil than a 3k mile oil change.

Tesla doesn't seem to think their motors require oil changes. Are you saying that they're just letting their owners destroy the motors by going without necessary maintenance?

Also, do you have a source on the $24,000 for their motor? That seems awfully high given that the thing is about the size of a loaf of bread. Hard to see what could make it so expensive.


In addition to the motor, the schematic diagrams above seems to many moving parts that typically need work by 120,000 miles. Eg: steering (likely) differentials (likely) and in various parts of the suspension (internal). Whilst the specifics may be debatable, most of these items are wear items and require fluid changes and/or replacement internals. Things also like wheel bearings will need some preventive maintenance. If this spreadsheet was for a 50,000 mile interval or a lease perhaps you'd overlook these. A chassis for $30K+ with 120k on the clock would bring customers looking at the cost of these services, I would venture. One way luxury brands (at least in the past have) maintained the price premium of their new vehicles is to make the 100K and up maintence quite expensive.

That's nice, but I'm specifically wondering about the motor "oil changes" and the cost of the motor itself, and this doesn't address that at all.

Why are you specifically wondering about th motor oil? Do you think that getting some to admit teslas don't need oil changes will some how prove that the power windows won't fail; rocks will never crack the windshield; one headlight won't mysteriously stop working after 6 months; tires won't lose tread etc.

Because that's the actual maintainance cost of a car. Modulo nobody's engines need replacing in 10 years. Oil changes are 30 bucks once a year at a Walmart/jiffy lube.

The post that kicked this particular thread off even said as much but everyone seems more interested in arguing about the possible cost of the worst case than considering the actual costs of the probable cases: all the little shit.

Because I saw the statement that "electric motors need oil changes too" and I wondered what exactly that meant. Please don't assume that every single person in a discussion must have some kind of ulterior motive. I'm not trying to prove anything about the overall maintenance cost of a Tesla. I just want to know what kind of "oil changes" its motor needs and how that fits in with the official maintenance schedule, because I like to know things and that one piqued my curiosity.

What's your theory on how they lubricate the spinning parts?

I'm sure it involves some sort of oil or grease or something of that nature.

But that alone doesn't tell me much. There's a pretty wide gulf between a gas motor that needs regular preventive lubricant changes every few thousand miles and other parts, e.g. wheel bearings, that are sealed and lubricated for the life of the part and can be expected to last a couple hundred thousand miles.

"Electric motors need oil changes too" implies something closer to the former than the latter.

I think it's just sealed bearings. The tesla motor is essentially the same as the spindle in a CNC, and those do not require lubrication but do need bearing replacement.

My source is an industrial electric motor supplier. Google "400hp electric motor"

I'm not saying tesla's require oil changes as a gas engine does... oil will last quite a long time when not contaminated by hydrocarbons.

But even sealed bearings need to be repacked after so much wear. To parts can't move against on another without generating heat, which will degrade a lubricant and allow wear.

The mistake you're making is assuming that the single unit price of a low volume device like an industrial electric motor in any way reflects its component costs. High tech low volume engineering is dominated by R&D costs, one off manufacturing costs and margin. You could apply your logic (it would cost me $25,000 to buy one so therefore it costs Tesla that as well) to almost any item of consumer electronics and you'd find that your cost estimation was an order of magnitude (at least) above the retail price of a completed device. Try pricing a washing machine based on the cost of its component parts online - you won't be able to do it for anywhere near the cost in store.

When you build large numbers of integrated devices (be they washing machines, cars or cell phones), individual unit costs of components are always much lower. That's why we mass produce things.

The "mistake" you are making is that you assume Tesla has "invented" an electric motor, so rugged that it can withstand that riggers of being inside a consumer vehicle on the open road with a novice operator, in various environmental conditions, that is a fraction of the cost of similarly powered electric motors that operate in static environments, such as a factory floor, with experienced operators and fixed maintenance schedules? Wow.. I have a bridge to sell you...

And then you factor in that Tesla produces the majority of the motor in house from raw materials.

Have you tried looking for motors that aren't designed for 60 Hz operation? I think you might be in for a surprise...

Tesla uses a induction motor... which is AC and they use a frequency control unit to modulate the speed of the motor. So frequency isn't really a consideration...

disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about.

I'd kind of like to see an elaboration of this, though:

> oil will last quite a long time when not contaminated by hydrocarbons

as I was under the impression that oil consists 100% of hydrocarbons.

You are correct... I should have said "the product of combusted hydrocarbons"

Here's a perfectly written comment, downvoted. I don't agree with the conclusion, I question several of the premises, but I can't understand downvoting based on agreement. The comment is good, well written, and adds to the discussion. It should be upvoted.

Are there voting guidelines for HN? Am I in the wrong here?

That comment has so much bullshit in it - here is a sampling:

>The statement that electric motors have fewer moving parts so they last substantially longer is a fallacy

No, it is true on all counts. I'd explain in detail, but this is so weird I dont really know where to start.

>90% of a vehicle's maintenance has nothing to do with its motor

Rubbish. In a gasoline (or diesel) powered car, the majority of maintenance is to do with the engine and its auxiliary systems such as fuel delivery, ignition, cooling, starting etc.

>electric motors need oil changes too

This is the best one of the lot. Not sure if a moron or a troll.

I should have stated "electric vehicles" vs "electric cars".

However you really don't have the slightest idea about the motor that's in the Tesla. Which is a 3 phase induction motor. There's a lot that goes into converting DC battery power to AC and then controlling the torque. Heat is another issue that will have to be dealt with as well and the latest announcement from Tesla is that they will be adding a water cooled system to the induction motors in the future.

A property serviced gas motor doesn't need much more beyond oil and spark plug changes and can last for several hundreds of thousands of miles. The majority of the consumables are in the wheel systems, tires, brakes, suspension, bearings, heating and cooling the cabin, etc.

I'm sure you're an idealistic kid that thinks green is good... and knows that ignition=starting, but the fact remains that gas engines have a 100 years of service history and electric car motors don't which means...

>I'm sure you're an idealistic kid that thinks green is good

I am the engineering manager for the Australian branch of one of the world's largest oil and gas contractors. I graduated with 1st class honours in mechanical engineering, and have 25 years of work experience. Idealistic - yes, thinks green is good - yes, my career notwithstanding. Kid - I wish...

>However you really don't have the slightest idea about the motor that's in the Tesla ... ... There's a lot that goes into converting DC battery power to AC

Actually, I have a pretty good idea about both of these things. A really very good idea in fact, helped a bit by my visit last week to the factories that make high speed AC motors and inverters that drive them.

>knows that ignition=starting

Dude, just stop already.

well hey... I thought the ignition/starting thing was funny. I like the idea of green too. I don't see tesla as green. the tech isn't there yet. and if you've been on this planet as long as I have... you know there is NOTHING revolutionary about induction motors (circa 1889) or lithium batteries(circa 1979)... I don't like the idea of highly subsidized innovation. If products can't stand on their own... forcing them down the consumers throat doesn't make them better.

I know all that. I don't agree with the original comment, and was not defending it. I was defending the right of its author to have his comment seen and discussed.

I disagree on the downvoting response to the comment. The answer to a flawed argument shouldn't be downvoting. The answer should be a dismantling of the assumptions and the argument.

Downvoting is a tool for silencing a comment. Some comments should be silenced. Trolls, childish behaviours, one-liners should all be silenced. Generically, stuff that does not lead to a productive discussion.

I know many people genuinely believe the stuff written on the comment I was referring to. This is not a comment that should be silenced. Better than silencing the guy through downvotes would be to correct him and enlighten all those who believe electric motors require oil changes.

A sufficiently bad argument becomes a troll. There's no clear dividing line.

> Are there voting guidelines for HN? Am I in the wrong here?

There aren't formal guidelines. The informal practice has always been that downvoting for disagreement is ok, but when people see a comment that has been downvoted unfairly, they upvote it back to par.

We're open to changing that, but we look at the data pretty closely and the current balance strikes me as about right. We can't read all the comments, though. If you see a comment that has clearly been unfairly downvoted (i.e. is faded out when it shouldn't be), please tell us about it at hn@ycombinator.com. If there get to be very many of these, we'll start thinking about how to change that.

The spreadsheet seems light on maintenance numbers. The car is sold in year 8 but hasn't been serviced in several years previous (seems odd). Most people correct for this come the residual. Also, the tires on this car wear out quickly. 120k miles would see at least 6x sets of tires in the back (some are going in under 10k miles), and likely 4 in the front (20x$400=8,000). Also, the Battery is expensive and shoudl be replaced around 100K most likely ($8,000+). These costs would be substantial in total, but the author also forgets Insurance. We've seen Tesla re-design the underbody most likely for insurance rather than pure safety reasons. This is likely ($15-20K) of omitted cost. Lastly, brakes are typically replaced @ 30K miles and on a car of this caliber would be ($4,000) over this timeframe. That is another $40,000 out of pocket on the back of a napkin. It could be more or less, but the spreadsheet shows <$4,000 which seems off by an order of magnitude.

Tesla offers the option to purchase 4y of maintenance for $1900, which I included in the model, vs. $600/yr. The options are nearly economical neutral, but I plan to do at least the 1st 4y option. Maintenance also includes brake pad replacement.

I did not include tires or insurance - either for the Tesla or for the other vehicles (Ody, BMW, Volvo). I also didn't include the financial value of safety (though Travis attempted to on the cash flow model), HOV lane access, cargo space, etc.

On the battery, based on the research I've read from existing EV owners, and from my experience as an EV owner for 3y, I'm expecting around 85% of my battery to be available in 8-10y. If a battery swap option is available, I plan to do it around year 15 or so (i.e., ~2030).

Why didn't you include tires or insurance? Tires for a Tesla (especially with the larger-wheel packages) will be enormously more expensive than those for an Odyssey, and the car will wear them out much more quickly.

On a low maintenance gasoline engine (i.e. not VW/Audi), consumables like tires, brake pads+rotors, dampers, wheel bearings, ball joints, and so on outweigh the ICE specific costs like oil filter and change, spark plugs, serpentine belts, timing belts, and water pumps by a decent margin, doubly so if the engine has a well engineered timing chain system and thus doesn't require an involved timing-belt service.

Plus, an electric car still has plenty of moving powertrain parts like water pumps and valves that could fail, and we don't know if that will happen yet.

Tesla are at a huge advantage in this department, though, because they've accustomed their clients to being tracked at all times and their cars are all serviced at Tesla-owned service centers. That means that if any failure patterns become evident, Tesla can summon their owners to have the issue fixed proactively before it becomes a problem. I love this model and do think it adds a lot of value to the Tesla, but whether or not they can sustain such a program at scale remains to be seen.

Tesla brakes last practically forever because they're almost never used. Regenerative braking is used for normal driving and the mechanical brakes are just there for hard braking, emergencies, and possibly at very low speeds. So I think you can take that back out of your numbers. Leaving out insurance seems really bizarre though.

To help some understand why the Model S could be "cheaper" to own vs a Honda Odyssey it's important to understand a few factors:

1. Low fuel costs - electricity is way cheaper than gas and when you factor in gas savings over 8 years, you get substantial savings (ie., $20k over 8 years if driving 15k miles a year, of course depends on gas prices and electricity prices).

2. Low maintenance costs - there's no oil changes, timing belt, etc. It's basically tires. Even brakes you don't need to change often because of regenerative braking.

3. High residual value due to upgradeability - the battery pack is swappable, so after 8 years (or longer) you can swap out battery packs to a bigger pack (ie., 400+ mile range). This is a great feature and will add residual value to the Model S. Also, over-the-air updates keeps the software always up to date.

4. High residual value due to battery pack - the battery pack for the Model S is holding up well with customers so far, and after 8 years it should show minimal degradation (ie., 10-15% likely, max 20%). In other words, the battery will still hold substantial value and when a person buys a 8-year-old Model S in the future, they are not only buying the car but they are buying the battery pack (ie., fuel savings) as well. This is why the residual value of a Model S (or another EV with a large battery pack) will be substantially higher than a comparable ICE car.

It's wrong to think that the majority of service costs as vehicles age is in the engine and oil changes. Most new cars engines/tranmsmissions will go very large distances with no mechanical failure if serviced properly. Exceptions exist, but for the most part, engines are durable and have minimal service requirements.

Cars must have suspension replacements, plus fixed for lots of little car systems that can start failing with age. An example is windscreen washer systems. Usually required for safety inspections, they can stop working, and it's expensive to remove and replace them because they wind their way around multiple components. Same for hvac systems and lighting systems and on it goes.

I bring this up because the worth of a tesla will not just hinge on the ability to fit a new battery pack and go. It will also hinge of the ability of the basic vehicle and non-propulsion systems to continue to work and become economically serviceable. Most cars can get a substantial mechanical refresh for the current cost of a new tesla battery - but this is not usually done because the car itself develops many other failings and a new one is faster and easier to purchase.

So the resale value will swing on not only the battery replacement cost, but may other things besides. Only then will we know what the used value looks like.

I think the parent poster is making an "all things being equal" comparison, where all of the things you mentioned should be equal when comparing to a car with an ICE.

For example, both the Tesla Model S and a Honda Oyssey will, presumably, require suspension replacement after a similar term when driven on the same roads by the same person. Likewise for windscreen washers and other sub-systems. Given the level of engineering and attention to detail in the design of the Model S, we should expect these systems to be of equal or greater quality than their traditional motorcar equivalents.

The point is that it appears the EV components won't negatively impact residual value as many EV-naysayers have been touting all along. "Just wait till that expensive battery pack only takes half a charge in 3 years!" That's the kind of sentiment that the parent poster was refuting.

I've heard the "low maintenance costs" point made often by Tesla themselves, but based on my research from their website it doesn't hold up. Tesla encourages you to buy their $600 a year service inspections[1], and their $1,000 a year extended service agreement. And God forbid anything breaks outside of the warranty, because you'll be in for some costly repairs[2].

[1] http://www.teslamotors.com/service

[2] http://insideevs.com/dont-wreck-your-tesla-model-s-because-r...

Re: 3 & 4

Or, battery packs will degrade and people would not value them at all.

And, more importantly it's very unlikely that Model S will hold any residual at all, especially in 8 years - it's essentially version 1 of technology (with Roadster being beta version). In 8 years Tesla itself will have version 3, or may be even 4, and version 1 will be just obsolete. Notice how people buy new Camrys instead of 8 year-old 740s.

How much is a replacement battery?

EDIT: found the answer below. Seems like that contradicts your post a little.

"A Battery Replacement Option will be available for purchase soon. The option allows you to pre-purchase a new battery to be installed after eight years for a fixed price: $8,000 for 40 kWh batteries, $10,000 for 60 kWh batteries, and $12,000 for 85 kWh batteries."


Note that this 'option' has never actually been available for purchase and relies heavily on projected future cost reductions.

The battery replacement price as of December 2013 is $44,564 for the 85 kWh battery and $37,102 for the 60 kWh battery. http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1089183_life-with-tesla-...

What about ruggedness? Up here in (eastern) Canada we have stretches of weeks even months where the temp doesn't go above ... 10F? 15F? (-10 to -15 C) and frequently goes down to -20C or lower (below zero F). How does this affect battery range? Also I don't live in a big city, so who in the hell do I call when there's something wrong with my Tesla and how long do I wait?

If it's good enough for Norway it should work in Canada too, right? Well, one in every ten cars sold (10.8%) in Norway in March was a Tesla... http://cleantechnica.com/2014/04/04/7-tesla-norway-facts-wil...

Canada is a "Big Country" nation, and Norway isn't. Short or shortening range will have less of an effect on purchaser decisions.

1. Norway, like Canada, is sparsely populated country.

2. I saw a Norwegian registered Model S in Zurich last week.

The distance between Oslo and Bergen is smaller than the distance between Toronto and Montreal - which are fairly close to each other in Canadian terms. Look at your population density maps of the two - Norway has most of its people clustered around Oslo, whereas Canada has a wide spray across the southeast. The distance from Hamilton to Halifax is basically equal to the length of Norway, and it's only a quarter of the way across the country.

In any case, if you speak to travelled "Big Country" drivers, you'll find a vein of amused stories at what plenty of Europeans consider to be 'long drives'. And did your Norwegian cover that distance in a day or two? Because it's a meaningless statement without knowing how long it took to get there - it could even have been shipped up there (in theory, of course).

I have a driving endurance of about eight hours and I consider myself a 'middle-distance' driver here in Australia. Plenty of folks here can drive 12-16 hours, though more are like me. The 16-hour people aren't all that common, but neither is it particularly remarkable.

Whatever. Let's focus on the real facts instead of these anectodes about "Big Country" "small country". I find this stuff fully meaningless.

Here's the full review with English subs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZ5PqPeOPT0

Apparently country size and population centres are anecdotal, dismissed with a hand-wave? Besides, your 'real facts' video tells us pretty much nothing about the differences between Canadian and Norwegian driving habits, and whether the vehicle is as suitable for Canadian conditions as for Norwegian. "Suitable for Canada" is not just "the vehicle can drive in snow".

A 300km range with a long refueling time is a considerable factor for Canadians, something the video says little about. The distance between Toronto and Montreal is about 6 hours of driving, which in turn is two times the cold-weather range of the Model S. Given that you generally want to refuel before you hit rock-bottom empty, and that battery performance will degrade over time, that means two recharging stops in the Tesla, where you'll have to wait for half an hour while the car charges. That adds an hour to your journey, and means getting out of your car (in the cold) twice when you can get cars where you don't have to do that at all.

I don't know why you're apparently put off by the idea that people in big countries with good roads have better driving endurance than people in small countries. It's no different to saying that the Norwegian public have a stronger maritime tradition and are better sailors. Far more Norwegians own or operate boats per capita than any of the 'big country' places. Should I post a video of Canadian fisherman to 'prove with facts' that there's no difference between the Canadian and Norwegian public when it comes to maritime choices?

It will do pretty bad sitting if it is left out in the cold for a long time without being plugged in. As I understand it, it must heat its batteries to keep them from freezing, and if this power use completely runs down the battery or it freezes it has to be replaced at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars.

also NPV is nice and all, but if you have $5k for a downpayment and you need to finance the rest, there aren't many people who can afford a $95k car loan. Not to mention the interest cost.

Hey don't get me wrong, I think Tesla is the future and I would love to own one... but it seems like a "not ready yet" proposition

I think he's taking as given that he can afford the car. Which is fine, if he can afford the car. A decision model is not necessarily meant for all possible audiences. Sometimes it's particular to a person in a particular situation.


Would you buy an eight year used Tesla for 30k? I'm a fan of Tesla and hope to be an owner some day, but I think the author is being overly optimistic here.

Well we know that Elon Musk has promised a buyback guarantee, indexed to the buyback cost of a similarly old Mercedes S class[1]. So that sets a floor on the depreciation value.

Also, as btian notes below, the electric drivetrain is also much simpler than a gasoline one, so it should be in much better shape relative to non-electric cars. I'm relatively optimistic because the part that depreciates the most is the battery: and if the rest of the car holds up well, then switching the battery at a lower cost (taking into account 8 years of battery tech advancement) should make for a pretty high resale value.

[1]: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2013/04/02/elon-mus...

Electric motor fail on average on par with similarly serviced gas engines.

Failure of motor bearings is usually the result of improper mechanical installation causing undesirable forces acting on the bearings, or simply poor maintenance. Bearings should be inspected regularly for lubrication and uncharacteristic noises. Their life expectancy depends on factors previously cited. Most motor vendors typically recommend bearing replacement every two years, which I think will put a cramp in the Tesla maintenance scheme

What really is off-putting is that even if the car is well maintained and even parked. It will brick as from the degradation of the batteries. At some point the owner will have to invest in a new power pack. Not true of gas motors. I have a 66' galaxie in my driveway with its original motor its never had more than an oil and spark plug change and it has a life of nearly 50 years. I'd have bought at least 3 tesla power packs in the same time frame, even if the car just sat there.

How much does a new electric motor for a Tesla cost versus a new gas motor for a similar car? I'd guess it would be significantly cheaper, but I certainly could be wrong. I don't know that much about cars.

Downvoted an honest question stated in a reasonable manner? Come on.

$10-20,000 for a 400hp electric motor. A gas engine would cost a couple hundred bucks.

$200 for a 400HP car engine... They hyperbole is strong with this one.

The last time I had an engine rebuilt (mid 1980s) it was over $1100, and this was for a 67 HP VW Beetle engine.

Where can you get a new 400hp gas engine for a couple hundred bucks?

What you have here is a fairly atypical fuel engine lifetime that you are treating as typical.

a 2006 base model Mercedes S class in 'very good' condition, with a hundred thousand miles on it, is like twelve grand, private-party value. (interestingly, a 2004 car is around six grand, both according to KBB)

I find it... unlikely that you will be able to sell a 2014 Tesla model S for $30K in 2022.

Part of the problem is that many people can't own an electric vehicle because neither their apartment/condo or work has a place to charge it.

You basically have to be a home owner in order to own an electric vehicle.

That's not an easy situation to solve either.

I live in London and this is an issue that a lot of potential EV owners.

Having seen how the councils have added "club car" spaces for car rental schemes I could see them adding charge parking spaces, potentially with free electricity.

Hopefully this will be a non issue in a few years.

I live in Amsterdam, we have Electric Charge parking spots all over the city, but I believe you have to subscribe to something to use them and they probably only make up 1 in 20 spaces (which are already in very high demand in this city) so you probably also need a parking permit for the area as well.

I could see you getting free charge or subsidised in order to ramp up interest.

Could be a good incentive if you got free parking, or prime locations because you had an EV.

It's not that easy in the US, the residential areas are much less dense and parking lots are huge.

Less dense increased the chances of off street parking doesn't it?

Also I don't see how the size of a parking lot changes things, if anything it means you could incentivise by having the EV slots closer to the attraction, plus have solar roofs to harness some cheap power.

This is definitely an important factor in the model. The frame of mind I tried to use is, what would I pay today, in 2014, for a luxury car of Tesla caliber that is, say, Model Year 2006?

Then I took a few other things into account: - Quantitatively, given the paucity of data on Model S resales (I've looked at this and I think prices are high because supply is low), what does depreciation history on the Roadster imply for the Model S looking forward? - Qualitatively, what is the impact of a battery swap say 8 or 10 years down the line, if the cost of the battery is approximately $12K (based on Tesla's earlier comments and the Roadster battery swap program) or less (if the Gigafactory succeeds)?

What range did your imagined 2006 model have?

I put the info on the depreciation worksheet. I used a range of 11.5-13% per annum based on observed values for the Roadster, and to be conservative, used 13%.

I might if we knew how long battery packs lasted and it was available now and not 7+ years from now when there'll be better cheaper options. So, I guess I agree. Optimistic.

Tesla has promised the ability to swap out battery packs in the future. So, after 8 years the Model S should hold very good resale value because at that time you could probably swap in a 120+kwh battery (that goes 400+ miles). 30k residual value after 8 years on a well-options S 85kwh sounds about right IMO.

10 year old Tesla will be considered an ancient, inefficient design nobody will want to buy. Cool factor will be long gone. There will be much better cars and prices will be significantly lower than Tesla's today.

Yes because an electric car lasts much longer than ICE ones

Not necessarily true. However the bigger concern is technology. The tech behind the batteries in a current generation Tesla will be probably one or two generations removed. Meaning, your going to get soaked on first generation buys.

Now Tesla does have swappable packs but the unknown is, how much will a replacement pack of second or third generation cost and will you be able to install it in the first generation car; I will assume you can.

The Tesla lower depreciation is factor of limited supply and the author is taking a mighty big bet that demand will remain as high as it is. Given Tesla's stated goals for manufacture and the models coming this is not a good bet.

Toss in that California may cap tax incentives to EVs costing 60k or less; I would push that to 40K or less. The rich should never have been given help to buy a car in a price range they already purchase in. This car certainly did not need the incentive.

You're not understanding the point of the rebate. Part of the purpose of the rebate is to finance car companies selling viable electric cars so that they can later on down the road make more affordable cars.

Yes... I agree, there is a great deal of over estimation longevity of the drive systems and maintenance of the Tesla.

Electric motors are much less serviceable than gas engines at this point. There are still a lot of moving parts.

I think a tesla will lose value much faster than this person thinks as battery technology improves and the life of the existing battery pack declines.

Model S battery packs can be upgraded in a few minutes at robotic service stations...

You mean like the stations that A Better Place was going to build but never did?

Or the ones where Tesla purposes to charge you $100 to swap it out?

The infrastructure doesn't exist and building a "swap garage" is just a pipe dream unless it can service a large market... so having a propriety battery system doesn't lend itself to that...

Its cheaper to fill up my tank...

Wow, you are really anti electric cars.

Better Place built quite a few battery swap locations, but due to their limited market (~1000 cars, compared more than 23,000 cars for Tesla already) they obviously failed.

The Tesla battery swaps are listed at between $60 and $80 which for a similar sedan (size, engine power, etc) is about the same as a full tank of gas.

The cost and serviceability of electric motors vs internal combustion engines reeks of BS and until you provide actual sources most of your arguments will have lost all credibility in my eyes.

Well the core insight is in there, but it's not highlighted enough:

"The model is very sensitive to the rate of depreciation."

Every TCO model for cars is very sensitive to rate of depreciation, and this rate is very hard to predict. You can rely on historical data only so much - how much in demand will petrol cars be 8 years from now? Diesel? What kind of tax incentives will we get over the next few years? And a single percent difference in depreciation rate can put one car ahead of another.

Within the last 10% or so, it's a crap shoot. And 10% basically puts all cars in the same class within a single bucket. So yeah.

The Model S is a great deal compared to similar cars, but this list is just silly. He is an economist that just goes through and picks the highest trim level of 9 different cars, and then decides to compare them based solely on cost to the Model S.

I contend that a $22,195 Subaru would win this contest hands down. If you want this comparison to be believable compare like vehicles. Don't just compare the car you want to theMostExpensiveHondaICouldSpecOut.

Can some one explain NPV to me? This is the first I am hearing of this term and wikipedia does not offer an explanation that is intuitive enough. Its odd that the NPV is listed as $40K+ when the actual cost of the car is $90K+.

Net present value is a way of measuring future flows of money and comparing them to each other. For instance, which is worth more:

- Getting $100 now

- Getting $200 3 years from now

The answer is, "it depends on your assumptions about interest rates".

In the blog poster's spreadsheet, the "net" line is the cost of owning that car in that year in that year's dollars. The PV is the cost of owning that car in that year in THIS year's dollars (a figure obviously depending on assumptions about interest rates). The NPV line is the cost of owning that car for 8 years in this year's dollars.

The underlying idea is that a dollar today is worth more to you than a dollar tomorrow (all else equal).

The NPV is how much a thing is worth/costs now after taking that into account and discounting future cashflows appropriately.

I'm the author of this website/article, and I have an important update. I added this Epilogue to the website tonight:


I created this website two days ago, and during that time, have witnessed 100s of comments on Hacker News, TMC, Twitter, and more. In the middle of all that, electriclove on Hacker News found an important bug in the model: The Ody PV line was adding in fuel costs from another car. (This, IMHO, highlights how valuable the Internet is for discourse and fact checking.)

I updated the model and the result is as follows: - Tesla Model S: $40,151 - Honda Odyssey: $37,235

The end result is greater parity between the depreciation and cash flow models; and the edge goes to the Honda Odyssey by $3K, or about $375/yr over eight years. If I had more time, I might try to quantify the value of the safety edge for the Tesla (Travis calculated this to be about $500/yr), HOV lane access, or other features. In the meantime, I double-checked the formulas on the other cars - they appear to be correct. However, I continue to invite folks to continue to look at and provide feedback on the model.

Out of curiosity - what does it cost to have an electrician install a 240VAC outlet in your garage? Has anyone out there done it and can give an idea?

Teslas can charge off a 110 outlet, but they recommend using the 240 volt faster-charging unit. But most houses don't run 2-phase power out to the garage.

And what if you don't own a house? What do apartment and/or house renters do for charging?

My electrician in the Seattle area quoted me $700, including parts and permit, to install a weather-shielded 240V outlet with separate breaker on the outside of my house directly above the electric meter, next to where a car is parked, and on the opposite side of the wall where my breaker panel lives for another purpose. (I don't have a garage so it would have to go outside if I did want to charge a car.) The cost probably goes up another hour of time if a person wants something like this and the breaker panel isn't also located in the garage since wire will need to be pulled.

Apartment dwellers and renters of houses are going to be charging from 120V stations. Considering the uproar just over satellite dishes, I can't see landlords being any more forgiving about tapping into the electrical system of a unit. (And I write this as a former long-time renter.)

For what it's worth, at least renters have some protection from the FCC (on paper, at least) when it comes to antennas:

"The OTARD rule allows local governments, community associations and landlords to enforce restrictions that do not impair the installation, maintenance or use of the types of antennas described above [...]"


Given that many areas mandate minimum parking requirements for development, I don't find it too hard to imagine the same for charging. (And as a long-term renter, I'm sure it'll still be a pain in the ass for years to come.)

I've used OTARD against a condo board where I lived, back when satellite dishes were still new. OTARD could primarily exist because unit owners could install dishes in areas that were "common" by the legal definition, such as the exterior of a building, but "semi-private" by virtue of the unit owner being the only one to have access to it, such as a balcony.

OTARD let you install a dish on your balcony, but not on the roof of the building or the front lawn since that area was common to all owners.

I can't imagine a similar rule letting Tesla owners dig up parking lots and install charging stations for their own private use. A parking lot is the prime example of a common area that everyone can use and nobody can control on an individual basis. And the outlets on the outside of a building or in a parking lot are usually for the benefit of common-area maintenance workers, not individual unit owners.

It's quite common in many buildings to be assigned a single parking space for your use. If you have one such parking space that is "yours," you could install a high-power charger.

Not without tearing through "common" areas to install the wiring and connect to the utility. And unless you plan to connect all the way back to your unit's power meter, you will also need a meter installed in the common area that's exclusively for your use.

$700 sounds about right. You'll want to add another $5-700 or so for the service equipment, but that's about it. Generally, permanent outdoor installations should be hard-wired in, rather than using a weather-shielded outlet.

Cost me $125

The Model S was highly rated by Consumer Reports, but the predicted reliability is only average. Specifically, the 2013 had a much worse than average rating for Squeaks and Rattles and Body Hardware. This will certainly affect the price. Personally, I never buy a car unless it's rated better than average by CR.

I was curious about the RAV4 EV comment so some googling turned up this: http://www.caranddriver.com/features/throwing-money-at-elect...

The RAV4 EV is Toyota's California compliance car -- that is to say, in the state of CA, any auto manufacturer must sell a certain % of their sales as zero emission cars. For Toyota, that meant 2300 or so cars. They ended up putting a RAV4 body/interior on top of Tesla-sourced frame, motor and battery back: the $50k RAV4 EV.

It's been a lousy seller. Toyota only sold 26 vehicles in December, so they've got huge incentives. Currently the incentive is $16,000 IIRC. You can lease the RAV4 EV for $299 per month with $3500 due at signing.

I drive a Fiat 500e, which is a fantastic electric car ($199 lease!) but anytime I'm loading up kids and groceries I wish I had one of those cheap pseudo Teslas.

Wow, why are the big automotive companies so bad at making a good looking electric vehicle? Or are we just spoiled with the looks of the Model S?

From the article you linked to: "GM is reportedly losing more than $40,000 on each Volt" WHAT?

Also, "Not even Tesla has made money from building its slick Model S." Smells like funny accounting.

I just stumbled across that same info, came to post it, and saw your reply.

Stuff like this really makes me wonder about the authors of articles like this. Are they actually so stupid that they think it's reasonable to allocate the entire R&D effort to 20,000 cars sold to date? Do they know better, but are trying to make GM look bad for some reason, and think their readers are that stupid? It's just so weird.

The model seems flawed. The financing/opportunity costs are not included (AFAICT...). A better way to construct the model would be to avoid trying to account for year-by-year depreciation, and only include the initial purchase cost and eventual sale cost in the cash flow.

Unfortunately (you might be able to tell I'm a Tesla fan), this makes the Tesla S less attractive in comparison to other cars due to its higher up-front price.

They're target market initially is those with cash / who can afford it upfront, though they do offer leasing.

Once they have the $30k version then it will be attractive to most everyone, including with leasing options.

Your proposal is essentially what my friend, Travis, did on the 2nd tab of the worksheet, which is a cash flow model.

I don't understand how the '14 model S is "AWD equivalent".

Scroll down to "Cold Weather Performance" on this page:


I forgot to write about this on www.teslacost.com, but one reason I didn't consider the Model S early on is b/c it's RWD and I wanted AWD for Tahoe and the like. Then I saw the above video.

There is no way a car with only the ability to power the rear wheels can compare to an AWD drivetrain.

Even with the ability to pulse/modulate the brakes and keep the car from spinning, it will only prevent sliding off a cliff by taking you around that corner at 8mph (notional absurdly low speed here). That is because it will only be able to use the braking + lateral portion of the front tires available grip. If there is no need for braking, just lateral grip which isn't going to be much on a poor snowy road, anyhow. The rear tires have to work doubly as hard in this scenario as well - they have to maintain lateral grip while accelerating (or simply putting power down enough to maintain speed).

A true AWD (or 4x4) would be able to use the acceleration and lateral grip, meaning, the tire can be accelerating and turning. This takes the load off the rear wheels for putting down engine power. Thus, to move at the same speed, the rear tires only have to use much less of their available grip for acceleration and can concentrate on lateral grip (not fishtailing/oversteer situation as above RWD would). An intelligent AWD system will transfer power to whatever wheel has the most grip as well.

You need to factor a set of good winter tires in the Tesla sizes into your cost model, then.

The stock tires on the Tesla and even most all-season options are woefully insufficient to make the Tesla safe in the snow, although its favorable weight distribution vs. other RWD cars does help some.

His use case for the Odyssey must be atypical from what I've seen, that is, it's used mostly for short local trips. What most people I know use their minivans for is that, plus family road trips. Not really an option with the Tesla.

There are a fair number of people who don't do road trips. It's not a universal thing.

For those who do, how often do they take them? If it's a once-a-year thing, you can rent something more suitable for fairly low cost. I see a lot of people basing their car buying decisions on activities they do once or twice a year and it puzzles me.

Finally, not all road trips are created equal. If you're regularly driving across Montana, the Tesla is probably not for you. For me, where my road trips consist of occasional trips from DC to NYC or Virginia Beach, the supercharger network means the Tesla would be fine.

Feel free to play with the annual mileage figures on the model. For my family's situation, I played around with it with mostly either 12K or 15K annual miles.

I think it's priceless to be able to look your kids in the eyes and say we bought a car for our family that helps make the planet better for you when you grow up. And supporting a company that is trying to do that is well worth spending more.

If it makes you feel better, then great. But realize that any amount of individual actions isn't going to make a difference. We need action taken by governments.

Did he factor in the cost of replacing the batteries eventually? Something like $10k.

If electric cars are already a good deal do we still need to have tax incentives?

I'd say so. It provides long term benefit to the society as a whole if larger numbers of these cars are purchased (less emissions, lower demand for gas, better safety, raises the bar for other manufacturers, etc)

Your Net values for the Ody Touring Elite don't add up.

How is the Net for Year 1 for the Ody Elite $16,184? It lists Maintenance at $300, Fuel at $2727, and Depreciation at $10,500. That totals $13,527.

Good eye, electriclove - there was an error in the spreadsheet that was adding in fuel costs from another row. I updated the spreadsheet. It results in a pretty big change. I'm going to update the website.

Thanks for replying and looking into it!

Does anyone know why the Net Present Value in the cash flow model is so much different?

Depreciation Model: $39,889 Cash Flow Model: $62,874

Travis (who forked my model to create the cash flow model) and I chatted about this. It's primarily due to the effect of time value on money, when you finance the car. If you were to purchase the car outright, you would want to use the 1st tab; vs. financing, the 2nd tab.

Ah I missed that payments were being made on a loan, thanks for clarifying that.

What's with the article's font? Very annoying to read. Looks like a printer running out of ink.

Are you running it in Chrome/Windows?

If so: Chrome's font rendering uses GDI rather than DirectWrite and it leads to some very ugly rendering with certain web fonts. This is a known issue and they are working on changing this: https://code.google.com/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=137692#c...

Yup, I am. Thanks for the info.

Haha, thanks for pointing that out. I'll play around with it after dinner and try to find something less annoying.

Yeah, I agree. Extremely pure choice of <p> color, given the white background.

zoom you browser in 10% (ctrl+). i get this issue on a lot of personal blogs and this always fixes it to some degree

what the heck is the PAX column? Feeling stupid, never heard of that, and Googling doesn't help.

Pax tires? as in run-flats?

PAX = Passengers


Tesla P85 $44,948

Honda Odyssey $56,094

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