Over $70. Well, more than that, actually. In 3 minutes, I kissed away $70 of my hard-earned money to fill up the gas tank of my wife’s car. That comes to over $1400/hr. There are people that make that kind of money (a trifling $3 mil a year), but I’m not one of them. I bet even the people who do pull down that kind of green feel a little grumpy when filling up their cars. On the flip side, I spent less than double that to provide electricity and other utilities to my home for the entire month: one full month of cooling and powering a modest home for less than double the price to fill up a minivan once. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the many reasons why the Tesla Model S is such a big deal.
Those who live under a rock when it comes to cars may not have heard of the Model S. It’s a fully-electric car (like a glorified RC car), unlike a Prius that uses a gas motor to help it along once the battery runs out. Therefore, it is the first legitimate chance an electric car has in more markets than the A-segment. There have been other attempts at EVs in the past that have met little to no success. Some of you may remember the first gen Rav-4 EV, or the Ariel atom-based car that was shown on YouTube spanking Carrera GTs, but there’s a new generation. This generation of electrics has been defined by the Nissan Leaf(ves?), Ford Foci, Fusions, and all other electric versions of regular cars.
This generation of new EVs has a problem though: they’re too expensive for the features they offer. Let’s take the Ford Focus as an example.
The Focus is a car that has grown-up a lot in this most recent revision and is a legitimate contender in its respective segment. Not to mention, with a starting base price of $16,200, it isn’t priced poorly either. The full electric Focus, however, has an MSRP of $39,200. I admit, you won’t pay anywhere near that amount right now. Ford’s website has nearly a $12k discount under “available incentives” that expire after the first week of July, but what about after July 8 th ? After I ticked off one option (leather seats) my Focus was over the $40k mark. That’s crazy money for a Focus. I’ve already admitted that the Focus is a great car in its segment, but save a little longer and you’re pretty close to the BMW 3-series hybrid territory. It’s a similar story for the other full-electrics. The Leaf starts at just shy of $30k. You’re paying WRX money for something that is basically a fully-electric Versa.
The point is, even though serious contenders like Toyota, Ford, Nissan and BMW are all producing electric cars, if you ever drove one off the lot, you’d be able to feel good about yourself from a tree-hugging stand point, but not a ‘green-loving’ standpoint.
Enter the Obama administration and Fisker.
Fisker was a government backed EV car program that never got its legs under it. Every time it looked like they were going to make some progress, something awful happened and their PR team had another crisis to spin. The vehicle they produced was beautiful and also about the greenest car ever made. Even the wood paneling on the inside came from naturally fallen trees. All of the attention to detail in the world wasn’t enough to head-off battery-fires, problems with suppliers or the fact that some people had already been waiting over three years to receive a car for which they’ve paid a deposit. While they’re not technically out of business, they’re definitely on the ropes.
This all brings us right back to the Tesla S. Why is it such a big deal? There are a few reasons. Firstly it has a starting price of around $58k. While this is BMW money, the car actually sizes up well against cars in the same price range, but more on that later. The Tesla S is a user-friendly car; in a pinch it will seat 7 people and has a huge touch-screen up front to help you navigate the car’s systems. The S is also efficient. When Car and Driver magazine tested it, they got 74MPGes, and they have a heavy right foot. The Model S has a usable range; you can expect to get well over 250 miles per charge from this car, in comparison to the Nissan Leaf which may or may not get you 80 miles. Lastly, it’s reliable. This is something no one saw coming, but the Tesla S just received Consumer Reports highest reliability to a vehicle. Ever.
Recently, the Tesla has also enjoyed additional great press by not only passing the NTHSA with flying colors, but doing so well on it, the car broke the machine used for testing. Elon Musk was justifiably very proud of this and mentioned it in the press release he sent out to the world.
While all of these reasons are significant, let’s look at the price to performance comparison. When I compare this car to the 2013 BMW 535i, I don’t know which one I would take. The BMW has a base price just over $50k, but add a few options and, poof, you’re at $58,000 before you know what hit you. Sure, the BMW will beat the S to 60, but what happens after that? The BMW is only good for .86g on the skid pad where the Tesla pulls .91g. That is correct: the big, heavy electric car will out corner a BMW 5-series. Here’s the kicker though: Car and Driver averaged 22mpg in the 5-series, that’s premium fuel too. The Tesla S is hugely efficient and, although, like the other all-electric cars available takes 7-10 hours to fully charge, at least with this one you get enough range to actually use it like a regular car. My daily commute into work is about 60 miles round-trip, in the winter time the Leaf would be a terrifying vehicle to drive if my parking garage didn’t have an electric car charging station in it. With the Tesla, these worries are taken care of with a 250+ usable range. So, for the price of the 5-Series, you’re spanking the Leaf’s (with 3-series pricing) range, and the 5-series’ cornering ability and you can do all of this with seven total seat belts.
The last thing I really want to drive home is the reliability of this car. Consumer Reports has been around for a long time. They’ve made and broken the reputations of many consumer goods and with very few exceptions, they get it right. In a recent report about the Model S, it scored 98 out of 100 available points for reliability. If you’re failing to understand how reliable that is, take a look at the car you’re driving. Go ahead. Look. The Tesla is more reliable than your car. Period. That score gives it the highest score Consumer Reports has ever given. Camrys, Accords, Civics, Volvo Wagons, you name it or any other car and it isn’t as reliable as the Tesla. The other reason why this is such a big deal is because when Toyota and Honda first came to our shores, their cars didn’t enjoy the reputation they do now. It took them years to actually have a car that deserved the reputation they now enjoy. Believe it or not, Toyota used to be less reliable than an Impala when its equivalent first arrived here. No automotive company has ever enjoyed this kind of reliability from their first true attempt at selling a volume car. When cars like the Tesla gain traction and start selling, the market forces the competition around it to follow suit and focus on the strong suits of the Tesla. German cars, although beautiful and engaging to drive, haven’t really had great scores from Consumer Reports. In fact, if they’re right, and they always are, it’ll cost you almost as much over its tenure in your garage as a child will. The Tesla’s reliability is a big deal.
It’s been a long held belief that in the automotive world you have to pick two things from the list of three: Fast, Cheap and Reliable. I want to be clear here, I’m not calling the Tesla cheap, $60-100k is big bucks for most of us, but this is the first real vehicle that can allow someone to nearly have their cake and eat it too.