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

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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.

 

Christopher DeMorro

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.