Test Driving the Tesla

If you haven’t driven a Tesla yet, you should.

This month, the electric car company is partaking in a ping-pong match.  Five states (Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and California)  are vying for the next Tesla factory, where the manufacturer will produce lithium-ion batteries for its Tesla S model, and subsequently, 6,500 jobs for the local economy.

Everyone wants Tesla to succeed.

California is even offering to waive regulatory procedures, which in true government fashion can lag on for years, to ensure thatTesla’s new plant is up and running within the next two years.

Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla, is leaning towards Nevada.  But no official decision has been announced yet.

Musk has recently become the poster child of innovation.  Though based in Silicon Valley, he’s not dappling in just another tech startup.  He’s already sent rockets to outer space (for NASA), is experimenting with reusable rockets now (ones that land gently back on the Earth and can be launched again), and is developing a 35-minute, 760 mph ride from Los Angeles to San Francisco on the “hyperloop.”   Oh, he also created Paypal, the money transfer platform, which he sold to eBay for $1 billion.

He’s making science cool.  More so, he’s using technology for some serious problems, namely our havoc on the environment.

That’s why this week, when dear friend and Tesla owner, Curtis Kodama, offered me a chance to drive his car, I was thrilled.  Kodama is not a fan of speedy race cars; he drove a pickup truck and a sedan for decades, till he wore them down, before investing in the Tesla.  He wanted to experiment with a new, cleaner option.  And he’s thrilled with the results.

The Tesla S does 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds.  It’s considered to be one of the safest cars (watch the video of it navigating an obstacle course in the snow).  It’s impeccably styled and beautifully quiet.  It can be driven for 240 miles on one charge, enough coverage for daily drives to work and school.

But, most of all, Kodama says, I was surprised by how it’s sold. “It’s like buying a computer.”  Tesla sells the car online. Its stores (in Santa Monica and Topanga Canyon) are merely for window shopping.

When I decided to buy the car, Kodama says, the Tesla rep just sat me down and walked me through the options online and even told me the ones that would have been a waste of money.

Money is not at the heart of the company.  Yes, Musk may be a rich man today.  But, his ambitions go beyond wealth.  He’s made the Tesla design public, available for other car manufactures to copy.  In fact, he wants them to.

He was recently on the Colbert show, where he rationalized this decision:  “If we’re all on a ship, and the ship is sinking, and we’re bailing out water, and we have a good design for a bucket, we should share that.  Because, well, we’re all sinking.“

That’s why he wants the next line of Tesla’s to be priced at $35,000, making it an affordable option for everyone.  But, Tesla’s next model, he says, will be more like the S, less like a hybrid – not boxy, unattractive, and golf-cart like.

Despite all the public love for Tesla, everyone isn’t a fan of electric cars.  Some Silicon Valley venture capitalists have been quick to point out that the batteries are not bio-degradable.  So, what will happen to the batteries at the end of the car’s life?  And yes, they’re plugged into a socket for charging, that uses “dirty” energy to power it.  Rather, these VC’s are rallying for (and putting money into) alternative fuel sources, such as fuels made from agricultural waste.

Musk, the inventor, is already working on a solution: solar-powered charging stations free for Tesla’s and other electric vehicles.  As for the batteries that’s yet to be determined.

Till date, though, Tesla has clearly emerged as the best alternative vehicle to our gas guzzlers.   A quick ride around town is likely to get nay-sayers to think otherwise.  The car drives beautifully, is spacious, with an attractive dashboard that’s connected to your smartphone, displaying maps, stats, mileage and more on a large screen.

It certainly doesn’t feel like a compromise, in any way.  See for yourself.


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