Computer and internet whiz Elon Musk joined Tesla Motors in 2004, a year after Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning founded the company. He is generally considered a co-founder of Tesla, as he is of PayPal, Space-X, and Zip2. The South African-born Musk is an American citizen and holds the position of CEO and Chief Product Architect at Tesla, based in Palo Alto, California. Tesla designs and manufactures premium electric vehicles.
I was recently in San Francisco and made arrangements to go by Tesla’s nearby headquarters to pick up a 2014 Model S for testing. Communications specialist Alexis Georgeson was there to meet me and turn over the keys to the solid black four-door sedan with black leather seating. I was pleased to discover the “P85+” badging on the trunk of my test car, emblematic of Tesla’s biggest battery installation and a high performance drive inverter. The 85 kWh battery/motor combination puts 416 horsepower to the rear wheels at between 5,000 and 8,600 rpm. Peak torque on this automobile is 443 lb. ft. at any rpm between zero and 5,100.
Range of the performance Tesla Model S is estimated by the manufacturer to be 300 miles at 55 mph. EPA 5-cycle certified testing results are 265 miles, and such testing is at higher speeds and with operating electric accessories. I drove 214 miles, but stopped at a Tesla Supercharger to top off the battery midway through the test. I wanted to experience the stop at their facility, where a 30 minute charge brought my battery up to 262 miles of range. The procedure was simple, located in Fremont, and a suitable lounge was on hand for motorists, some of which were monitoring charging progress on their smartphones. The company provides the battery charging at no cost to Tesla performance S owners at the facilities, which number 85 in North America and 14 in Europe. Of course, the Tesla can be charged pretty much at any location with 110 or 240 volt AC power, including at home.
I familiarized myself with the test car before heading north on U.S. Highway 101 toward the Inn at the Opera in San Francisco, where Ruth and I were staying. The prodigious power of the Tesla is confidence-inspiring on the freeway, assuring the driver that he can jump into the next lane, merge, or pass with instantaneous response. The car is all-electric, and has no gas tank or gas engine, with a battery that is under the passenger compartment, about 5’ by 8’, and shaped like a graham cracker. Tesla batteries, in two incidents, have been pierced by road debris, causing fires without fatalities. The company has recently added shielding under the Model S to prevent further incidents and is retrofitting owned Teslas upon request at service intervals. The NHTSA looked into the fires, and recently closed its investigation without pushing for a recall.
On the second day with the Tesla Model S, my wife and I drove to Alice’s Restaurant on Skyline Boulevard in Woodside, California. At Alice’s, “you can get anything you want”, according to Arlo Guthrie, and I chose French toast. As I understand it, residents of Woodside can get almost anything they want, with median family income of nearly $200,000.00. So it was no surprise that the locals in the diner were accustomed to cars such as the Tesla Model S making an appearance at Alice’s.
The drive to Woodside is through tall redwoods on a serpentine two-lane road where the Tesla flexed its muscles with a remarkably low center of gravity, Michelin staggered Pilot Sport PS2, Z-rated tires, front double-wishbone/rear multi-link suspension and near 50/50 weight distribution. I had never driven a car with 35-aspect tires, and I was surprised at the acceptable ride of the Tesla – the handling was not a surprise.
Inside the cabin of the Model S resides a 17” touchscreen navigation/stereo system, panoramic moon roof, supple leather buckets, and a console tray perfect for the wife’s purse. The navigation display is replicated on the dash just ahead of the driver, and I liked that for getting through California traffic. Some options are absent on the Tesla such as blind spot monitor and adaptive radar cruise control. The rear camera, however, can be turned on at any time, not just while in reverse.
No gas mileage ratings (no gas) are published for the Tesla Model S, but to drive 25,000 miles, the Tesla will require $778.00 worth of electricity (.11 per kilowatt/hour). So at $3.80 per gallon, a gas-powered vehicle would have to get 122 mpg to go that far for that much money. A Tesla owner could sneak in a few Supercharger refills and lower the cost-per-mile even further. Cost of the car, on the other hand, is high, with a base price of $89,900.00. My test car was loaded with options – seven passenger seating, alcantara headliner, 21” alloy wheels, tech package, high fidelity sound system, et al, and thus the total M.S.R.P. was $127,020.00. Federal and in some cases state tax credits can help mitigate the investment in a Tesla.
By the end of 2014, Tesla will be introducing an SUV called the Model X. It will share a lot of the Model S technology, but offer all-wheel drive with electric motors both front and rear. Falcon doors that swing up and above the vehicle will be a feature of the Model X. Another Tesla, the model E, will be a smaller sedan reportedly available in 2016 and is to be priced under $50,000.00.
I came back from California thoroughly impressed with the Tesla Model S, had a good time driving it, and thought the people at the company were very accommodating to this journalist. It’s hard to bet against this company as they try to bring electric vehicles into the American automotive mainstream.