Whether we welcome it or not, the era of the electric vehicle (EV) is upon us. Around the globe, at auto shows large and small, the new-car buzz is about exciting new models that don’t go vroom vroom from a throaty gas engine but instead make the faint whir of powerful electric motors.
Without a doubt the EV automaker that has garnered the most public attention is Elon Musk’s Tesla enterprise. The California-based company has been building electric cars since 2008 and top guy Musk has taken the company from a little known start-up to becoming the best seller of EVs in the world. Musk became a billionaire as a co-founder of PayPal, and in recent years has become known as an industry visionary with his many projects. He has not only dipped his toe into the realm of electric transportation with a number of Tesla projects (cars, semi-trucks, autonomous vehicles) but has made a big splash with his SpaceX endeavor (launching and retrieving rockets) and is making waves with The Boring Company (designing a machine to drill underground rapid transportation “tubes,”) SolarCity (solar roof tiles,) Neuralink and OpenAI. Like the late Steve Jobs at Apple, Musk seems to have the Midas touch and his high energy and creative thinking has enabled him to earn quite a following of true-believers.
My recent search for an owner of an EV came to a successful conclusion when my yoga class friend Gretta Van Bree informed me that her St. Joseph High School classmate Jonathan Fisk had recently purchased a 2019 Tesla Model 3 sedan. With contact info in hand, I gave Jonathan a ring and we arranged to get together over a cup of coffee and have a nice discussion. I thought I knew quite a lot about the Tesla phenomenon, but Jonathan’s astounding knowledge about both Tesla the auto company and about all the amazing features installed in a modern, very high tech EV like his Model 3 simply blew me away. I now GET why savvy, high-tech people (Jonathan calls them “power users”) are buying Teslas and enjoying them so much.
I asked Jonathan why he bought a Tesla. An avid environmentalist, he walks the talk and has done things to conserve energy and do what is right for our planet. Things like adding extra home insulation, putting in a heat pump, installing more efficient windows and placing solar panels on his garage roof to help conserve energy. The garage solar panels produce enough energy that some months he has zero electric bills. All these actions are important to Jonathan because he wants to reduce his environmental footprint. It is pretty obvious why adding an EV to his fleet of vehicles was a priority. Jonathan has always been intrigued with EVs. Several years back he attended a St. Joseph rally organized by regional Tesla owners and took his first ride in an EV. He was given a ride in a Tesla Model S P90 (high performance version) sedan. He used three words to describe the experience: Quiet, quick and smooth. He seriously wanted his next car to be an EV. I attended that rally as well. I may have ridden in the same Tesla P90. The acceleration qualities of that car reminded me of what it must feel like being a jet fighter pilot being catapulted off a Navy aircraft carrier. The car’s stunning performance impressed us both.
The premium Tesla Model S and X are pretty expensive, some costing more than $100,000. Being a little price sensitive Jonathan waited until April 2016 when the entry-level Tesla Model 3 was announced, to plunk down a $1,000 refundable reservation for the smaller sedan. He took delivery of his 2019 Long Range Dual Motor Tesla Model 3 this past March 25 and has driven it 1,100 miles since delivery. His Model 3’s two electric motors produce an estimated 365 horsepower. A performance model is available that has bigger brakes, track mode options and goes extra fast with an additional 100 horsepower. On a full charge Jonathan’s 3 can go 310 miles (EPA rating.) The entry level Model 3 can travel 240 miles on a full charge. The base price for a Model 3 is under $40,000. Total Tesla sales topped 200,000 late last year so, unfortunately for the automaker (and buyers), the full $7,000 federal tax rebate to EV buyers is being phased out.
Tesla cars are loaded with standard features but optional upgrades like longer-range batteries, dual motors, sport wheels, paint choices (only black is standard) and self-driving capability are available and can push the price of a Model 3 into the $50,000-60,000 plus range very quickly.
Tesla has sold more than 200,000 EVs without a traditional dealer network. In states that allow them, the automaker has storefront facilities, and even the number of those stores are dwindling because the company has embraced the power of the internet and most sales are brokered online.
Teslas are sold with a 100,000 mile warranty on battery and drive system. The company offers two types of service. The most commonly used service is the mobile service, in which a technician makes a house call to the owner. Cars can be serviced at centers sparsely located throughout the country as well (which also function as sales offices). There is no service center in Michigan but they are located in Chicago, Indianapolis, Toledo and Cleveland. EVs are not as mechanically complex as internal combustion cars, so often a problem is only a software issue and can be repaired either online or by a visit from a trained technician in the owner’s garage or driveway.
I asked Jonathan if he had to pick one headache owning an EV, what would it be. Not surprisingly his answer was, “It would be nice to have a nationwide charging network. ... Charging issues vary depending on EV use.” Jonathan also noted that for local daily driving a home charger will work. However, taking a trip in an EV requires public charging. Presently, Tesla has installed more than 1441 Supercharger charging stations nationwide, like the one in the Panera Bread strip mall at exit 27 on I-94. I think I can make the assumption that all of the Tesla Supercharger stations are located near a public facility that has food/drink options and public toilets. Here in Michigan many are located in Meijer parking lots.
Initially, Tesla did not charge owners for a fill-up at the company’s stations. That policy ended with the introduction of the Model 3 and a by-the-minute rate is now charged. The fast rate charge is 28 cents a minute, the slow rate is 14 cents. This can vary somewhat by location. Owners can keep their credit card in their pocket because the amount due for an electrical charge is automatically billed to the owner’s account. Unfortunately, Tesla charging stations can not be used by owners of EVs like Nissan’s Leaf and Chevy’s Bolt. The good news is that thousands of non-Tesla charging stations are being installed throughout the country that are designed to meet the various charging needs of all EV vehicles, including Tesla vehicles.
For around town and short distance driving, owning a Tesla makes a lot of sense. An owner can charge their EV in their garage by plugging into to a 110 volt household outlet and have a full charge in up to 50 hours. Using a 240 volt outlet or a Tesla Wall Connector can shorten the charging time dramatically. The Tesla Superchargers takes about half an hour or more depending how full the battery pack is and how cold the outside temperature is. Jonathan noted that charging time slows as the battery begins to fill. Also, the time required can be determined by the number of Teslas being charged at the site. One electrical circuit provides power to every three charging stations. Michigan has 17 Tesla Supercharger locations (with seven more under constructions.) In the southwest corner of Michigan there is the St. Joseph site, two in Grand Rapids and one near Muskegon. Inexplicably, there in not one in Kalamazoo.
Next week: Tesla up close: Part II
Dar Davis founded the Lake Bluff Concours and chaired the event for many years. He has been writing this column since 1999. He can be reached at email@example.com.