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Car Man for Tesla

Car Man for Tesla

Designation of the electric Tesla S as “Car of the Year” heralds the dawning of the Age of the Electric Car. Motor Trend is the most widely read car magazine in the world, and its annual “Car of the Year” award is the automotive equivalent of the Academy Award for movies and the Pulitzer Prize for print media. Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney had called the Tesla S a “loser,” and consistently cited the Tesla as an example of government waste in pursuing its environmental agenda. Although the “Car of the Year” award does not mean that the electric car has become mainstream, it does indicate that the electric car is definitely part of the American automotive future.

The Tesla S was the unanimous choice of the panel of auto writers. The Tesla S has won rave reviews in the automotive press for its exceptional handling quality, rapid acceleration, attractive styling, quality of manufacture, and potential driving range, quite apart from its environment-friendly potential to reduce carbon emissions and use of fossil fuel. In other words, the automotive professional press, in applying all of its standard criteria, has found the Tesla S an exceptional car, even without its “green” credentials. That is revolutionary

Depending on the size of the battery pack ordered in the Tesla S, the potential driving range can exceed 300 miles. Obviously, the size of the battery pack is a major component of the price of the car, which varies from approximately $50,000 to just over $100,000. The Tesla S will mostly be sold initially in California, where charging stations are being built to accommodate Tesla owners who might wish to take a journey of several hours. The first such charging station will enable a Tesla owner to drive from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe, Nevada and back. Most Tesla owners will drive their cars, however, only for the local trips which characterize most American driving. Depending on how one constructs a home re-charging station and the owner’s driving habits, the normal Tesla owner will comfortably make all day trips without re-charging, plugging in only at night, when rates and electric usage are lowest.

Although a number of manufacturers are producing electric cars, the Tesla S is the first to win such accolades as a car. More typical is the Nissan Leaf, which is strictly a city car, with a limited driving range, little appeal to “car people,” and almost no appeal beyond its “green” credentials. The Leaf understandably has sold poorly, far worse in sales than Nissan had projected.

Up until now, the hybrid Toyota Prius has been the environmental standard, with increasing mileage statistics and market sales. Plug-in hybrids, like the Chevy Volt and one of the current Prius models, are becoming more common, and more widely offered by automotive manufacturers. The plug-ins seemingly offer the best of both worlds. They are hybrids, enjoying standard hybrid economy. But they promise the possibility of operating purely on battery power, recharged every evening at home. However, the purely electric range of the plug-in hybrids is generally quite short. Only if one’s commute is short, only if one has a charging station at work, only if there are more and more charging stations in shopping centers and office buildings, only if one doesn’t make long trips, only if.., does the plug-in hybrid promise a serious environmental and economic savings which justifies its price.

One of the key problems in developing the potential for electric cars is the lack of practical infrastructure which might encourage the committed environmentalist to buy an electric car, or even a plug-in hybrid as his or her next car. I know of one case in a Florida condominium in which a man who purchased a Chevy Volt had to sell it, because his condominium refused to let him build a charging station in the condo he owned. The association was concerned that charging his Volt would adversely impact their community’s electric grid.

Obviously, laws need to be passed which encourage the development of an infrastructure which makes purchase of electric cars or plug-in hybrids attractive. Laws which permit hybrids and electrics to drive in HOV lanes with single occupancy have been passed in some localities in the US. In London, hybrids and electrics are exempt from “congestion charging,” the significant tolls which are charged for private automobiles driving in the center of London. Some London boroughs are now providing free parking at charging stations for electric vehicles both on the street and in parking garages. Registration taxes are significantly lower for electric and hybrid vehicles in Great Britain. These are example of the kinds of government action which would encourage the purchase of electric cars.

For many, car ownership is much more than the provision of transportation from Point A to Point B. It connotes status and image and other ego intangibles. I have confessed in an earlier blog for “We Consume Too Much” of my environmentally sinful car fanaticism. There are hopeful signs that younger generations are becoming less infatuated with cars. Smart phones and other electronic paraphernalia in some population segments appear to be overtaking cars as personal status symbols.

However, for those of us still infatuated with automobiles, the Motor Trend 2013 “Car of the Year” award for Tesla is promising. We can have our cake and eat it too. We can be environmentalists and still love cars maybe. We can drive our personal automotive dreams and still claim green virtue. Tesla will become the “must-have” car of Hollywood fashionistas and other trend setters, in ways that the Prius and the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf would never achieve. Even more promising for the future is that BMW will next year produce two different purely electric models. The “Ultimate Driving Machine” may yet be parked in an environmental activist’s driveway. BMW, probably the most popular luxury “car guy” car in the world, will go electric, at least in two new models for 2014. Electric cars are here to stay.

Image by By Tesla_Model_S_Indoors.jpg: jurvetson (Steve Jurvetson) derivative work: Mariordo (Mario R. Duran Ortiz) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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