My son is on the wait list for a Tesla Model 3, an electric car that is supposed to be available by the end of 2017 with a base price of $35,000 and a range over 200 miles. If you apply a to-be-determined federal tax credit to that, along with the cost savings on fuel and maintenance, it becomes a very affordable mainstream vehicle.
That got me looking at the Tesla more closely, and what’s available today. It turns out that even today, an electric car with more than double the horsepower of my Prius (3151 vs 145 hp) and a range over 200 miles (EPA) competes with comparable luxury sedans. The well-appointed Tesla Model S 60 has a base price of $66,000 before a $7,500 federal tax credit, and an estimated fuel savings of $5,000 over 5 years. 3 There’s also an incentive program that drops another $1,000 from the price, valid until October 15, 2016.
Those fuel savings (based on the cost of gasoline vs. electricity) may underestimate actual savings, because you can get free charging for the Tesla. Tesla has 613 “Supercharger” stations at strategic locations across the country along the Interstate Highway System. The number of stations is slated to double by 2017. Charging at one of them is free for the driver, and you can get enough charge to go 170 miles in 20-30 minutes. There are numerous accounts on the Internet of coast-to-coast trips.
There about 66,000 Tesla cars in the US as of this past May, with production of about 2,000 per week.2
Is it practical? There are no Tesla dealers or service centers in South Carolina, but there is one in Charlotte. From where I live, you can drive to Charlotte and back, and to Columbia and back on a charge. Atlanta requires a stop at the Atlanta Supercharger. (There’s also one in Charlotte, and one coming soon to Columbia, SC.) If your vehicle breaks down, they come fix it under warranty (within 500 miles of the service center). There is a Supercharger about 20 mines down the Interstate from me in Greenville. Most Tesla owners install a special charging outlet in their home, but if one has a lot of time to wait, it can be charged from a regular 110 V outlet. The basic warranty is 4 years, 50,000 miles, plus an 8-year warranty on the battery and the power train.
Here’s the totally empty charging station in Greenville, SC:
The Tesla Model S is a very safe car, earning a perfect NHTSA 5 star rating. Only 1% of cars tested get 5 stars in every subcategory. It has 8 air bags, and collision avoidance features. Tesla aims to reduce traffic accidents 10-fold through the use of it’s Autopilot technology. What the current Autopilot can do is to keep you from running up on the car ahead of you when traveling on a restricted access road, and it will keep you from wandering out of your lane. It also has the ability to brake before you run into something to reduce the severity of the collision.
I wrote this article just to say that the status of electric cars in the world changed while I wasn’t paying attention.
1Other versions of the Tesla Model S have up to 532 hp and a range just under 300 miles (EPA).
2 The Tesla, however, is not the only plug-in electric vehicle for sale, only the best-selling so far this year. There are many, including entries from Nissan, Chevrolet, BMW, Ford, Fiat, VW, Toyota, Porsche, Cadillac, Kia, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Volvo, Honda, Audi and Mercedes. (Some of these are plug-in hybrids or have gasoline backup.) This list from an electric vehicle information site includes some cars that are either not yet available, or that may soon become unavailable. The Mercedes will cost $200,000. The Cadillac is available, but very few have been sold. The all-electric Chevrolet Volt will be out the end of 2016 with a decent range and price point.
3 If you drive a Prius, get 50 mpg, live in South Carolina with its cheap gas and average electric rates, you’d only save a negligible amount with the Tesla.
I did a test drive in Charlotte, and I fully agree that the tech seems almost like Magic to someone who’s driving a 9 1/12 year old car (which was pretty good tech for its time). You can get out of a Tesla and it will open the garage door, park itself and close the door behind it. Whether it will ever be able to drive itself, I can’t say.
I tried the automatic lane change, and I did not like it. It changed lanes, but it did so pretty close to a car that was moving up from behind, and after the change the car was right on my bumper. Of course a turn signal was involved. The car did something that I would never do intentionally.