Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Tesla electric cars now seen around town
Section: First Section
Source: Beth Behrendt, [email protected]
Illustration: Photo (2)
File Name: 4333379.xml
Association: Associated Documents
By Beth Behrendt for The News-Sentinel
Don’t expect to get anywhere quickly if you’re driving a Tesla. The electric car isn’t slow, but curious people will stop you everywhere to ask about it.
Fortunately, if time allows, Tesla owners love to talk about their cars – “evangelize” even, as one owner describes it, trying to convert those of us still living in the Dark Ages of automotive technology.
What is a Tesla?
The simple answer is it’s an electric car. No combustible engine. No gas needed. Just plug it in. But there’s much more.
Teslas are firmly in the luxury class category of cars, with the price tags to match (starting at about $70,000). Its aesthetics – a sleek exterior design and beautifully appointed interiors – get high marks from car reviewers. The car’s technological features are cutting edge, exemplified in the striking 17-inch touch screen on the center console. It offers hyper user-friendly access to all the data and control features you can imagine.
Tesla Motors is headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif. The cars are built near there in Fremont. CEO Elon Musk took the capital he made creating PayPal to fund his other realms of interest: sustainable transportation and space exploration. Tesla recently surpassed 50,000 cars sold worldwide. The majority of U.S. sales have occurred on the coasts, where population is denser, charging stations are more accessible and the prestige of owning one perhaps carries more weight than here in the down-to-earth Midwest.
However, Tesla sightings are on the rise all over the country. So who are the people driving around Fort Wayne in Teslas? And why?
Those interviewed may not speak for every Tesla owner, but they offered some insight. Each cited a life-long fascination with technology. They described themselves as “tech guys” who were always “early adopters” of every new technology they found geeky-cool enough for consideration.
Though they drive for different purposes and their daily mileage varies widely, they all agree on the features they love about these cars:
Travis Mayer, a sales rep for Biomet, pointed out the practical aspects of the Tesla design. He needs a spacious vehicle to carry product samples to the hospitals and doctors he works with all over northeastern Indiana. Open the tailgate and there is a large storage space rivaling any full-size sedan’s trunk. And the “engine” space in the front? That’s storage, too.
The interior space is surprisingly roomy. The flat floor (no driveshaft bump down the middle) makes it easy for three adults to fit in the back seat.
Mayer has two young children, so he added the optional two rear-facing child seats that fold up in the tailgate space.
“I told my wife, ‘See? It’s a family car, too!'” The kids get a kick out of riding back there, but curious strangers more than once have stopped the Mayers in parking lots to inquire why are they “putting their children in the trunk.”
Chuck Surack, owner of Sweetwater Sound and SweetCars and a “car guy,” isn’t quite as enthusiastic about the Tesla’s exterior design. As positive as he is about some aspects – “It’s definitely in my top three favorites of the performance vehicles I own” – he confesses that the car’s lines leave him lukewarm.
Surack did say how impressed he is with the car’s audio system. Tesla didn’t just take an existing high-end audio system and put it in the car, he said. It hired recording engineers to sit in the vehicle and design a sound system that worked perfectly for that particular space. He also raved about the user-friendly interface of the touch screen for controlling all aspects of audio entertainment.
Dr. Ashok Kadambi, a local endocrinologist, describes the intuitive design of the car, including that 17-inch touch-screen panel, as “like an iPhone.”
Another cool feature is the Tesla’s strong regenerative braking system (power is sent back to the battery when the car slows). Take your foot off the gas, and the car immediately begins to slow without your foot moving to the brake pedal.
After your ride, the car just turns itself off as you walk away. A bit of a problem, Surack remarked, because he’s beginning to expect all of his cars to turn themselves off when he gets out.
The Tesla Model S does zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. But unlike other fast cars, there is no roar of the engine. There is hardly any sound at all, except a bit of friction noise from the road.
“Of all my performance cars,” Surack joked, “this is the one I most worry about getting a ticket in.”
Mayer, who puts on a lot of miles most days, says the cost savings made it easy for him to justify the initial car price. His previous work vehicle cost him about $1,000 per month in gas. Even though his home electric bill has gone up about $120 per month, the monthly savings are adding up quickly.
The buying experience
None of these men balked at the nontraditional approach. Each of them designed and bought a Model S on the Tesla website, www.teslamotors.com, choosing from customizable features such as battery size, exterior color, interior finishes, and options like sunroofs and fold-up rear child seats.
Mayer did test-drive one first at the showroom in Indianapolis. Kadambi was already confident about Tesla because he previously owned a used Tesla Lotus he bought in California. Surack already was well-read on the car; it was enough to have a Tesla-owning friend say, “just get one!”
Orders can take a couple of months to be completed. Then the car can be delivered right to your house.
Asked if there were any surprises once the car arrived, all the men concurred “only good ones!” Mayer did point out that – while not an issue for him – some owners get worked up that a car of this caliber doesn’t have cup holders for the rear seats.
The newest version of the Model S (deliveries start in February) will have all-wheel drive and offer an “autopilot” package: The car can automatically take evasive actions if a collision is eminent; can park itself in the garage; and its radars and sonar detectors can “see” through snow and fog and detect things as small as a child or dog in danger of being struck. Last but not least, it goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in a smidgen over 3 seconds.
Two of the three men have already placed their orders for the new model.
Q.: How far can you go?
A.: About 260 miles between charges.
Q.: How do you charge it?
A.: For at-home use, the car comes with a mobile connector and adapters for 110-volt or 240-volt outlets. For on the road, the car comes with charging adapters so it can be charged at any electric vehicle charging station. It takes about 30 minutes for a 170-mile charge.
Q.: Where do you get it serviced?
A.: Servicing is infrequent (no oil changes, spark plugs, etc.). Tesla recommends a routine checkup every 12,500 miles. Tesla’s “Service Rangers” will come to you to service the vehicle, or you can go to a Tesla Service Center (“coming soon” to Indianapolis, but for now in Chicago or Columbus, Ohio). You can download software updates yourself using the car’s touchscreen.
Q.: How do you get one?
A.: Design it yourself and buy or lease it at www.teslamotors.com/order or visit the Tesla store at The Fashion Mall at Keystone, 8702 Keystone Crossing, Indianapolis. For a used one, check Internet car sale sites or with local dealers such as Dream Makers Automotive, 6393 Cross Creek Blvd., and SweetCars, 2404 W. Jefferson Blvd.
* S60 (60kWh battery) starts at $69,900.
* S85 (85kWh battery) starts at $79,900.
* P85D (85kWh Performance model) starts at $104,500.
Model X (coming)
* 7-passenger SUV base estimated at $75,000.
Model 3 (coming)
Base price estimated at $35,000.
Owners may qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit; many states (not Indiana, currently) also offer tax incentives on electric vehicle purchases
Caption: Sweetwater Sound founder Chuck Surack enjoys driving his Tesla electric luxury sedan and raves about its sound system. Photos By Beth Behrendt for The News-Sentinel
Caption: Dr. Ashok Kadambi of Fort Wayne says the intuitive design of his Tesla electronic car is like an iPhone