The Tesla Goes Mainstream: An Electric Revolution

Tesla S. Photo courtesy of Robert Cornell.

This year, Automobile Magazine and Motor Trend’s Car of the Year may be more noticed for the features it lacks rather than those it has. The Tesla Model S has no exhaust pipe. There’s no drive shaft, fuel tank, or transmission. Lift the hood, and there’s no engine either (perhaps its one flaw is that this is called the “frunk”).

The Tesla S is an all-electric vehicle powered by an array of batteries and a motor the size of a watermelon underneath the car, and it’s showing the world that an electric vehicle can not just scrape by but astound. A comfortable family sedan that can seat up to seven—the two rear-facing child seats are optional—the Tesla S can scoot from 0 to 60 in four seconds and cover up to 300 miles on a charge; it’s so aerodynamic that the door handles recede into the body (they extend when the owner approaches). Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk is no stranger to entrepreneurship (ever used PayPal?) and he has a clear vision for the future.

“We should not play Russian roulette with the atmosphere,” Musk has stated. He’s picturing an electric car revolution, where you can walk down your street or even a freeway and smell no exhaust, hear no road noise.

Granted, it’s not cheap: the base model starts at around $60k. There’s a $7k tax credit, though—and in a couple of years the economy version will come out. There’s also a Telsa Roadster, in case 416 horsepower isn’t enough.

Here in Corvallis, you may already have seen a Tesla—there are at least two in town. Roger Tracy had his delivered Jan. 2; Rob Cornell’s arrived the day after. A vegan and an owner at First Alternative Co-Op, Cornell has already adopted a green lifestyle into which the Tesla S slips comfortably. The solar panels on his home cover the electric costs of the vehicle. The former yoga instructor at Timberhill Athletic Club and math teacher for 28 years at Corvallis High School also just loves the car’s speed and silence. He’d test driven a three-wheeled electric Zap in the past but decided to wait for “a real car.”

Tesla S. Photo courtesy of Robert Cornell.

“That other electric car didn’t have much energy,” he says. “They limit the speed on those—I wanted a car that could travel at a good speed.”

The car’s roomy interior was another deciding factor.

“We can put our dogs in the back,” he said. Not chihuahuas, either: a Great Pyrenees and a Belgian Shepherd-Border Collie mix.

Inside, everything’s sleek to the nth degree. The controls are two small buttons, the 17-inch touchscreen, and your smartphone—you turn on the car by touching your foot to the brake. The ability to surf the Web, experience regenerative breaking, voice recognition, and an adjustable suspension (the car lowers itself over 50 mph for better mileage) round out the high tech.

“If you produce a good enough electric car, people will buy it,” said Cornell. “One of the nice things is maintenance: no radiator fluid, no spark plugs. You don’t have to do oil changes. I just plug it in when I come back from a trip.”

Both Cornell and Tracy bought the bigger battery pack, which means they can charge for free at Tesla Supercharger stations that provide 150 miles of charge in half an hour. Or plug into an RV outlet such as those at KOA for 30 miles per hour of charging time.

Cornell has taken his to Portland and back on a single charge (190 miles) and is planning a trip to Arizona.

“One of the reasons I want to go down to Arizona is just to show people you can travel with it,” he said. “To make the world a better place, we all have to do what we can.”

Tesla S. Photo courtesy of Robert Cornell.

Perhaps best of all, the car is silent. The electric motor generates no road noise. This makes for relaxing driving. Between that and knowing you’re not damaging the planet, perhaps the era of leisure driving will return with the electric car.

“If I could buy any car in the world, this is the one I want,” said Cornell. “With this thing when I travel I don’t feel like I’ve traveled very much; it’s just so quiet and comfortable.

“There’s things that we didn’t do before,” he added. “I didn’t like driving that much, just thinking about using gas and pollution. With this, it’s guilt-free travel. Every weekend we’ll just go to Eugene for breakfast or dinner.”

Still, it might take a change in mindset to incorporate charging time into our rushed lifestyles. Cornell is content to throw his yoga mat in the back and stop every so often to charge his car and do some yoga, but it might not be something that suits everyone. The hype against electric cars doesn’t help.

“The gasoline people seem much more desperate; there’s a lot of real true lunacy out there about why electric cars can’t be any good and why people shouldn’t buy them,” commented Tracy. “They’re losing. Slowly.”

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Tesla S. Photo courtesy of Robert Cornell.

The New York Times recently published a scathing review of the Tesla S based on their reporter’s experience of running out of charge on a 200-mile stretch of I-95 on the East Coast. The headline perhaps says it all: “Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway.”

Locally, owners have had no trouble with the car’s range.

“You can really go 300 miles if you don’t drive too fast,” said Tracy. “I’ve driven it up to Portland and back and had about 70 miles [remaining]. You won’t go as far if it’s raining because it’s harder to drive through water than air; every little thing makes a difference.”

“I think it is simply a matter of the writer of the article being unprepared,” noted Cornell. “You cannot treat this car, at least at this time, like an internal combustion engine car. Someday charging stations will be more numerous and easier to find.

“The author made some huge mistakes,” he added. “A full battery and proper driving techniques should have easily gotten him to his destination.”

The reporter’s account of events also deviated from the trip log provided by the car’s computer; but why are we surprised that someone has a bone to pick with an electric car?

by Jen Matteis

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