Don’t drive a Tesla . . . unless you’re prepared to be utterly smitten by its features and performance and sticker-shocked at the $100,000 plus price tag. I drove the Model S recently and experienced both shock and awe.
As a proud, Volvo-driving, tree-hugger living on the retirement income of a community college professor, I confess to coveting a neighbor’s sleek, 2013 black Tesla. So intrigued have I been about this iconic California-designed and made automobile that I contacted its owner, John (not his real name), whom I had just met. I asked him about his satisfaction level regarding his car. An engineer and young father with close-cropped hair, he said he “loved” the vehicle.
Then I asked him why he bought it. John gave four reasons in the following order. First, he saw the vehicle as the best one for purposes of combatting global warming. “There are no emissions because there is no engine.” You don’t even have to deal with leakage of transmission fluid? I asked naively and incredulously. “There’s no transmission,” he answered. Second, John said he bought the car as a step toward reducing our nation’s reliance on Middle East oil. Third, he did not want to contribute another dime toward America’s unsustainable carbon-based economy and oil companies, in particular, which profit hugely from it. Fourth, he wanted to buy a car made in our country. From my own independent inquiries over the past dozen years, all of these reasons resonated with me.
“Would you like to test-drive it?” he asked me. “I’d love to,” I said. A few days later John came by and picked me up at my home. He drove us to the Tesla electric charging station in San Juan Capistrano. En route, John demonstrated the car’s accelerating power (Tesla’s go from 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds) and discussed the breaking system. On a fully charged battery, the car has a driving range of 265 miles. Charging stations are fairly numerous and strategically located in California and elsewhere, with many more anticipated. On arrival at the charging station he had me insert an electricity-transmitting hose into the proper receptacle on the car. During the 20 minutes we charged the battery, he pointed out carrying spaces in both the front and rear of the vehicle. While sitting inside, John demonstrated the highly advanced computerized functions appearing on a sizable screen near the steering wheel. In addition to the standard navigation functions, he pointed out the graph on the screen that indicated the expenditure of electricity during the drive to the charging station. John then handed me his electronic starting device and I drove us back to Laguna Beach. The car handled like a dream: it was responsive, noiseless, and comfortable beyond words. Though I’m not a car guy, the driving experience was exhilarating.
John asked me if I knew about the safety rating of the Tesla. In this instance I was able to say that I had done a little reading on that matter. One press release I came across carried the title: “Tesla Model S Achieves Highest Safety Rating of Any Car Ever Tested.” The article went on to describe the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s independent analysis that concluded in crashes Tesla’s had the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants.
While our family’s two old Volvos will run indefinitely, they are not green by today’s standards, and sadly the new models are not impressive, much less justifiable, environmentally. So my wife and I are counting on Elon Musk, Tesla genius that he is, to produce an electric car that will fit our pocketbook.
Readers’ takeaway: don’t test drive a Tesla unless you’re prepared to be seduced in every way and have the bank account to acquire what will surely become the new object of your heart’s desire.
Tom Osborne authored “Pacific Eldorado: A History of Greater California” (2013) and received Laguna Beach’s Environmental Award for leading the work group that wrote the city’s Climate Protection Action Plan.