Test Driving A Tesla Model S With A Tea Party Pundit: Part One



The Tesla Model S is easily one of the most polarizing cars in America. While you and I might be big fans of the thing, the electric sedan has plenty of haters and detractors- most notably among the ultra-conservative Tea Party wing of the GOP, who claim the car is only doing well because it’s a media darling backed by huge government subsidies. That gave me an idea: can a test drive convince a Tea Party radio pundit that there’s more to the Tesla Model S than its celebrity fan base, government loans, and a few road fires?

I wanted to find out, and deliver more than your average “OMG the Tesla Model S is awesome!” review. So, I called my old friend, John Weston, to go on a test drive with me in his native Massachusetts. That’s me up there, by the way. I have no idea what I’m doing.

Still, since you know me already, I’ll tell you a little bit about John. Anyway, I’ve known John for almost a decade, and even though he’s as old as my father and shares largely opposing political views to my own, we’ve formed a strong friendship around our mutual love of cars. John’s been involved with the automotive industry since before I was born, and he can tell you more about most American muscle cars cars than you knew there was to know. He’s also an avowed conservative, a member of a conservative action board and regular attendee at Tea Party events. After hemming and hawing a bit, he agreed that I could apply the Tea Party label to him in this article. John hosts a late-night conservative talk show that reaches much of the Northeast, and suffice to say he has some very strong opinions regarding the current President and administration.

Even so, it didn’t take a lot of convincing to get him to come along for the ride, even if he’d already formed a decidedly negative view of the Model S based on his biased news sources.

It’s probably a good time to note that, while John has an encyclopedic knowledge of cars whose heyday was nearly 50 years ago, John doesn’t know a whole lot about cars built in the current century. I realized that during our first phone conversation leading up to the Tesla drive, where he accused the 33 Fisker Flambé from Hurricane Sandy of being Teslas. “John, that was a different company entirely,” I explained.

“Oh,” he said. “But what about that garage fire in Toronto?”

This was going to be harder than I thought. I’m always up for a challenge however, so I met John at an autoparts store and together we set off to the Natick Mall to see Massachusett’s only Tesla Store. Suffice it to say, the experience wasn’t what either of us were expecting.

tesla-test-2 The presentation of the Model S in the Tesla store was definitely neat and tidy.

First and foremost, finding the store proved difficult, as the Natick Mall is massive, and there’s no exterior sign announce what part of the mall the Tesla store is located in. Eventually a mall cop directed us to the right part of the mall, but I have to say it was a fairly frustrating start.

A thing about Tesla test drives; you generally have to call ahead and set an appointment, at which point they’ll ask you if you’re interested in buying a Model S. I said no, and initially that doesn’t appear to have affected my treatment on walking into the store. John sat inside the 60 kWh display Model on the store floor, playing with the seat adjustment, the touchscreen system, and generally getting a feel for the car. Meanwhile, I engaged the very knowledgeable sales staff, trying to gauge how much they knew about their one and only product.

Compared to your average new car dealer, the Tesla folks seemed refreshingly informed about the Model S, ready to answer questions regarding range, performance. Within 15 minutes our test drive co-pilot was ready to go, and it was back out into the mall for another trip.

I know it sounds like needless, #firstworldproblems whining, but it took a solid two or three minutes of walking to get from the storefront to the car itself, including a trip through the JCPenney women’s clothing section that launched John into a tangent regarding his employment there in his youth. The problem, as I see it, was that John wasn’t thinking about the car, even though that’s why he was here. That seemed like one of the potential flaws of Tesla’s unique sales experience. I found the section of the mall garage cordoned off for Tesla’s usage to be a bit underwhelming as well.

Keep in mind, we’re talking about a car with an average transaction price of nearly $100,000, and it’s being kept in a dingy corner of a parking garage that’s a two-minute walk from Tesla’s dealership/storefront. Compared to the immaculately-clean Chevy dealership where I bought my $17,000 Chevy Sonic, or the white-glove service you get when you drive an S Class at a Mercedes store, it was hard-to-ignore weirdness.

I know those complaints sounds shallow, but presentation counts for a lot in this business.

Should a $100K Tesla Model S really be in the same shot as a 100K mile Chevy HHR?

Once we got closer to the Tesla Model S itself though, John seemed to perk up a bit. I’ve seen him admire enough cars to know that he thought the Model S was a looker, even if he didn’t come out and say it. Hands in his pockets, he walked his way around the Model S as our salesman explained that the 60 kWh Model S tester had a driving range of about 200 miles and was loaded with nifty features. It wasn’t the most powerful version (the only 85 kWh P+ Model S was out on a test drive already), but there were still plenty of cool features to showcase to John, including my personal favorite. “Watch this,” I said, pressing the flush-mounted door handles and causing them to pop out for usage. “Neat, right?”

“Very,” John admitted, though he still didn’t seem all that impressed. It was clear he wasn’t yet sold on the modernity of the Model S.

“You go first,” I said when our salesman asked who wanted to drive.

John shrugged and got in the car, and the first thing he asked? “Where’s the ignition.”

“There isn’t one,” our salesman explained. “The car automatically detects the key fob and turns on when you get in. All you have to do is put the stalk into DRIVE and go.”

“Oh, neat,” was all John said, and then we were off.


Stay tuned for Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he’s running, because he’s one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • Ed

    A great article. Can’t wait to read the verdict.

  • Did you tell him that you’d challenge him to a tailpipe breathing contest of his favorite gas guzzler that he’d breathe in for 1 min vs your favorite Tesla model that you’d have to breathe the emissions of for 1 min? Tell him it’s a manliness contest…he’ll totally go for it.

  • Gene_Frenkle

    I am left of center and a Tea Party supporter, I voted for Obama in 2008 and Romney in 2012.

    First off, Romney deserves more credit for saving Detroit than Obama, Obama and GM wanted to avoid bankruptcy but Romney’s op-ed is what motivated GM to begin planning for bankruptcy. Second, liberals hated GM and Chrysler for building Hummers and Jeeps and we were happy to see Hummer sales decline–for anybody that cares about the environment seeing Obama and Bush throw money at these irresponsible corporate hacks should have induced outrage!! Third, Tesla is not unionized, and the unions do not seem to add value to Detroit as can be seen with the bankruptcies.

    • paulblair

      Mitt Romney’s was right and wrong. his original op-ed argued that the government should not give GM any money and that GM should be allowed to go through a “managed bankruptcy” process. The problem with this is that due to the size of the economic collapse in 2008, there was absolutely no private capital available to help GM restructure. Without the government money the bankruptcy would have been the chapter 7 variety which would have meant liquidation. GM, along with their associated supplier ecosystem would have vanished over night and millions more jobs would have vanished with them. The government bailout was for the purpose of allowing GM to restructure via chapter 11 instead of implode via chapter 7.

      • Gene_Frenkle

        Romney did not oppose government funds…he argued we should not give Detroit a BLANK CHECK and that the companies needed to go through a managed bankruptcy due to years of mismanagent. Romney opposed the blank checks given to GM and a Chrysler by Bush and Obama. Obama’s own car czar stated that the two companies deserved to go bankrupt, Romney just advocated for bankruptcy while GM and the unions were whining for more money with no strings attached.

        I still don’t understand how the party that just pulled an all-nighter advocating climate change action can take pride in throwing money at the two most irresponsible corporate players with regard to carbon emissions…the Hummers, Chevy SUVs, and Jeeps of the 1990s and 2000s were ridiculous automobiles.

        • paulblair

          Your claim that the Obama administration was proposing giving GM a blank check is absolutely ludicrous and as much want to scapegoat unions, the UAW was not responsible for GM’s terrible mismanagement. Things might have not been so bad if they had been run the way German companies are, where the unions actually have a vote in how the company is run.

          • Gene_Frenkle

            Bush gave gave the auto companies a blank check and Obama continued the policy until the inevitable bankruptcy happened. Tesla is not unionized and the German auto companies set up shop in anti-union states like South Carolina and Alabama. Boeing has even opened facilities away from the unions in Washington.

          • You make up a lot of stuff. Do lots of people tell you that? I bet they do.

          • paulblair

            You do realize that VW has vowed never to build another plant in the American South because of the opposition to unionization? VW wanted the UAW in its Tennessee plant because it is required for their preferred business model.

          • Gene_Frenkle

            Honda’s Ohio plant has NEVER been unionized and it has been around since the 1980s. Unions killed the golden goose because of greed, and the only reason they were bailed out in 2009 was because of the Electoral College. GM has had awful management but the unions have also been awfully managed as can be seen by their dwindling numbers.

            That said, I seriously doubt newly unionized workers will be getting the benefits they used to get so VW’s downside is not that big. Healthcare till 65 and defined benefit pensions are the big problem for auto companies, not necessarily unionized workers.

          • paulblair

            Stop making things up. Bush did not give GM a blank check. He gave them a bridge loan with the requirement that they submit a restructuring plan. They did submit a plan but congress refused to act. When that bridge load ran out, Obama refused to give them any more money until they submitted a more credible restructuring plans, which included make tougher decisions. This whole blank-check narrative is a fantasy in your head.

          • Gene_Frenkle

            Romney advocated for bankruptcy in November 2008, GM and Obama made statements at that time that they opposed bankruptcy. Romney was prescient and knew bankruptcy was inevitable and wisely GM’s CEO secretly tasked a person to come up with a bankruptcy plan after Romney wrote his op-ed. We could have saved billions of dollars had bankruptcy been a condition of the initial government funds, but I guess the Democrats wanted one last attempt to save the HUMMER!?! So save the Hummer but stop the Keystone pipeline?!?

        • paulblair

          Your left-Of-Center-Tea-Party-Member-I-voted for-Obama-Once story is perplexing. All that tea party groups and candidates have pushed are tax cuts, deregulation and most of all, abortion restrictions, all things which are decidedly right-wing.

          • Gene_Frenkle

            I voted for Clinton, Gore, and Kerry and Democrats down ballot until 2010. Obama continued the Bush bailouts, extended the Bush tax cuts, and increased the Bush deficits. Romney at least opposed some of the Bush bailouts and successfully implemented health care reform.

            Will you continue to support Tesla if Musk fights unionization? Musk has the same position as the Tea Party with regard to high speed rail in CA…and even though I initially supported the project I have come to side with Musk and the Tea Party.

          • paulblair

            Will I “continue to support Tesla”? When was I claiming any support of them to begin with? I regards to high speed rail, where are you from? I live in Kings County CA, which is the epicenter of anti-high speed rail movement in California. The opposition to High Speed rail is all about local corruption of monied interests. Local plantation owners (aka, “farmers”), who pack the board of supervisors are actually using the County resources to sue the state over high speed rail on their behalf. The opposition to high speed rail has absolutely nothing to do with cost, or supposed benefits or lack thereof. It’s purely about the monied interests’ personal pocket books, which include local water rackets being disrupted, lost farm subsidies for perpetually fallow land and wealthy land owners simply crying “NIMBY”. I couldn’t care less about Elon Musk’s opinion on High Speed rail or unionization.

          • It’s only perplexing because you assume has has some idea of what he’s talking about. I’m guessing he doesn’t, and that includes an understanding of what “bankrupt” means.

          • Gene_Frenkle

            I do not blame Americans for not knowing the facts about GM and Chrysler’s bankruptcy along with Romney’s position on the issue because our president lied to the American people in the aftermath of his awful first debate performance and spent hundreds of millions of dollars trashing Mitt Romney. GM and Chrysler went BANKRUPT despite Obama’s lie that he “refused to let Detroit go bankrupt”. They DESERVED to go bankrupt!

            I think the Tea Party position is to support Tesla and oppose irresponsible bailouts for the the maker of the HUMMER! Liberals like me who care about the environment and hate OPEC have been critical of GM since the 1990s for skirting CAFE regulations, I guess I just don’t change my position so a below average president can win the electoral votes of MI and OH!?!

  • susannaschick

    AAAAAARRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!! I HATE CLIFFHANGERS!!!!!! HOW LONG MUST WE WAIT?!?!?! I’m not sharing this until all chapters are complete. In the meantime, I’ve got a 2014 Zero S review to finish and submit…

  • ha, interesting read. looking forward to parts 2 & 3! 😀

  • hljmesa

    Wow, You should look at Toyota, GM, Ford and others also…..For auto recalls, deaths, etc and give us a comparative analysis, please.

    • Jim5437532

      Quite the contrary. You are angry because I have done my research and the facts are contrary to your agenda.

      GM recalled 370,000 vehicles because eight have caught fire. Of about 30,000 Tesla model Ss three have had traction battery fires, yet Tesla has refused to issue a recall and Elon Musk said there would be no recall. GM’s defect results in a fire risk of one in 46,250. Tesla’s defect results in a fire risk of one in 10,000. Tesla’s design defect is 4.6 times more likely to result in a fire, yet Tesla refuses to issue a recall and the media and government gives Tesla favorable treatment.

      Customers of Nissan Leafs, Chevy Volts & Toyotas Rav4EV are a lot cheaper and allegedly haven’t had any fires from road debris or vehicle accidents; yet Tesla has recently had three. The Tesla is a horrible value.

      If you want to settle for a Tesla, that’s your foolish choice. My standards are much higher.

      You are shilling for a greedy corporation like Tesla that skimps on safety and manufactures overpriced unsafe defective products.

      • hljmesa

        Angry? if I somehow implied that in my post, please forgive me. I was just curious if you had info on the other companies. And you do, so thanks for posting such info!
        And “agenda”, and “shilling”? WTF..I own a 2013 Ford C-Max Energi and have solar panels on my home. I talk the talk and walk the walk. You ? The times they are a changing. lol

        • WeaponZero

          Jim is a troll who goes around posting misinformation everywhere and when anyone says something he calls everyone a shill.

          What he fails to mention is that in the case of the Tesla fires, 2 were after 70mph impact with metal debris and 1 was 110mph impact with a wall and a tree.

          In the case of GM, the fires are due to keeping the car on idling.

          Overall though there are 250M gasoline cars on the road and every year 150k – 250k catch on fire. That is 1 out of 1666 to 1 out of 1000.

          • Jim5437532

            WeaponZero spams lies shilling for Tesla, that skimps on safety and manufactures overpriced unsafe defective products.

          • Jim, you really are nuttier than a squirrel turd. You need to go far, far away, to a land where no one cares about what you do to your goats.

      • Jim, you’re an idiot.

    • RobS

      Comparison have shown that the Tesla is far, far safer then its gasoline counterparts. Guy’s just a paid Koch shill, I’m sure.

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  • Stephen Grande

    Just stop stereotyping tea party people. My wife and I flew 3 times 3000 miles to participate in tea party marches on DC and I am also enjoying my 12000 miles in my model s. Maybe Tesla wouldn’t exist without tax credits, but as long as it does, I want to enjoy the best car on earth.

  • Stephen Grande

    I know a lot of tea party people, but don’t know any that voted for Romney (or McCain in the prior election). Most just sat out the election as neither was a small government fiscal responsibility candidate. With or without govt help a car like Tesla would eventually exist. I just want to own a car of the future, what ever!

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