August 13, 2013

Are Electric Vehicles better?

Yes.  The Tesla Model S is much better, and much cheaper than it's luxury competitors.

For $70k you get 0-60 in 4.2 seconds, and better handling and luxury.

And, the gas savings can reduce the effective price of the car from $70k to well below the $30k price tag for all new cars.  That's because most luxury cars get terrible MPG - one owner profiled below is saving $5k  per year.

The new status car: Tesla

It's happening in the parking structures at Gold Coast high-rises, in front of the Lycee Francais school in Buena Park, in suburban garages and in the reserved spaces at hospital parking lots: The usual suspects—BMW, Audi and Lexus—are being replaced by the Tesla Model S.

The Model S, which began delivery late last year and lists for about $70,000, comparable with other luxury sports cars, is a sleek, all-electric sedan that blends sports car zip (0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds) with a luxury car feel. The motor is three times as efficient as a gasoline engine and produces zero emissions.

This isn't your father's midlife crisis car. “It's a game-changer,” says Joel Baer, a 44-year-old commodities trader from Deerfield. “Forget that it's electric, it's still the best car I've ever driven—the best handling, the fastest, the quietest and with the most storage.”

Local owners—Tesla says there are about 100—say it lives up to the hype. Many have become evangelists for the brand.

“It isn't just for the nutty environmentalist like me,” says Ron Saslow, 47, chairman and CEO of Chicago-based dental instrument manufacturer Hu-Friedy Mfg. Co. LLC. He's a Model S owner and an early adopter—he bought Tesla's debut car, the Roadster, for $100,000 in 2008.

“This car can substitute for virtually any car in (the luxury) category,” he says. “The people who have BMWs or Audis or Mercedes sedans are the ones who are starting to switch over.”

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, bought the car “totally based on the fact that there are no emissions,” he says. For him, the luxury styling was a bonus.

“It's the fastest golf cart I've ever driven,” says Gold Coast resident Mark Ladd, 43, CEO of Chicago-based mobile-gaming startup LyteShot LLC. “You depress the accelerator and it automatically speeds up. You don't have to wait for a passing gear or for the engine to catch up. Within the first 10 days of owning the car, I managed to get myself a ticket.”


Environmental concern motivated Jason Ebel, 41, co-owner of Warrenville-based Two Brothers Brewing Co., to buy the car. He received his Model S, No. 88, in October. Vehicle identification numbers are low for this relatively new company, and there's a sense of pride among owners with low numbers. “It is certainly the best all-around car I have ever owned,” says Mr. Ebel, who installed a free public charging station at the brewery.

Robert Tseitlin, 31, vice president of operations at Chicago's Zeit Fine Jewelry and a city resident with two small children, uses the Tesla as a recreational vehicle. “It's definitely a head-turner,” he says. “It kind of looks like a Maserati.”

The elimination of the combustion engine and transmission tunnel means more cargo space, including a second trunk under the hood, and an oversized back seat without the hump.

A 17-inch dashboard touch screen controls navigation and Web browsing—there are almost no buttons in the car. It allows Tesla to push software upgrades to the vehicle without a visit to the shop. “It's like a car that keeps evolving,” Mr. Ladd says.

Mr. Baer drives downtown from Deerfield every weekday and shuttles his kids to activities. He did the math on his Model S, which cost $78,000 with the options he chose. After the $7,500 federal tax credit and the $4,000 tax credit from the state, the car was $67,500.

“I had a (Porsche) Cayenne before this that got maybe 15 miles to the gallon—so I'll save myself about $6,000 a year in gas,” he says. “It will cost me about $3,000 to charge the car for six years. It's not really as expensive as people think it is.”

Tesla, based in Palo Alto, Calif., reported an operating profit in the second quarter and revenue of $405 million, up from $26.6 million a year ago.

The Model S starts at $69,900, with a $10,000 price difference between two battery options—a 60 kilowatt-hour battery earns 208 miles to the charge and an 85 kwh battery earns about 265 miles.
“It's like a phone,” says Mr. Saslow, who commutes from Highland Park to his Avondale office. “If you really don't pay attention to it you can run out of charge, but you don't because when you have a chance you plug it in.”

Like many Tesla owners, Mr. Baer had a 220-volt outlet installed in his garage, which offers about 30 miles per hour of charge. The battery takes about seven hours to charge fully. The car also can charge, more slowly, on a regular 110-volt plug. But that's adequate for city dwellers like Mr. Tseitlin, who uses the Tesla as a second car.

In any case, superchargers, which can juice up a battery halfway in 30 minutes, are becoming more common. In late June, Tesla put the first Midwest supercharger in downstate Normal, unveiled with a press conference featuring Mr. Cullerton and his Tesla.

A second supercharger will open in northern Illinois later this year, and by the fall, Tesla plans to have nearly a dozen Midwest stations. By the end of the year, the company says it will have enough free superchargers for Tesla owners to drive cross-country.

Tesla sells direct to consumers rather than through dealerships, much to the chagrin of traditional car dealers, who have sued the company in some states. Showrooms with just a few models on display are in Old Orchard Mall and Oakbrook Mall; a service center is on Grand Avenue in West Town. “It's kind of like going into an Apple store and buying an iPhone or iPad,” says Mr. Tseitlin, who ordered his in March.

Every car is made to order in Fremont, Calif., with buyers customizing everything from paint color to sound system upgrades. The cars are delivered about 60 days later, either to the customer's house, to a Tesla showroom or to the service center, where an employee spends up to three hours going over features with the owner.

The service center also offers house calls, but since electric cars have fewer parts, this translates into less maintenance. There's no carburetor, muffler, fan belt, spark plug or oil changes.

Mr. Saslow already has put down a deposit on the Model X, an SUV making its debut in 2014. It has third-row seating that can be accessed through the back and falcon-wing doors that, unlike the DeLorean—whose doors opened out and up—open up and then stretch out like a wing. That allows drivers to park in tight spots and still open the door.

The Model X price tag has not yet been released, but Tesla’s plans to debut a sedan at $30,000 by 2016 might just push the electric car into the mainstream. Mr. Saslow hopes so. “I want everyone in the world to have a car similar to this,” he says. “It's mind-boggling how great the performance is, and it eliminated my gas usage.”