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



Driving the Tesla Model S is like riding a stick of butter across a hot skillet- it just goes. My Tea Party pal, John, had no problem adapting to the car’s electric drivetrain and, by the time we got onto the Massachusetts Turnpike, it was clear to him that driving a Model S is just like driving any other car.  Just, quieter. John didn’t have a lot to say while he was behind the wheel, though he did ask our Tesla specialist about recharging options.

John’s questions about charge times brought up the the topic of the Tesla Supercharger network, which can deliver an 80% charge to the car in just 30 minutes.

“Oh, where are those?” John asked.

“Well, the closest one is in Rhode Island.” the salesman admitted “But there are more coming soon!”

“Ah,” John said. Not the answer either of us were looking for, obviously.

The drive continued without all that much conversation, which gave me a chance to enjoy the amazing quietness of the cabin. Without a big engine under the hood, the Tesla Model S rides like a whisper on the wind, though no car is completely immune from road noise. That said, there was very little residual noise from the drivetrain, though John later told me it “wasn’t as quiet” as he expected.

I’m not sure what a man used to 1,000 horsepower drag cars was expecting, but I thought the Model S was pretty damn quiet and comfortable from my perspective.

When it came time to switch drivers however, John struggled to get out of the driver’s seat. The Model S has several ride height options, and ours was pretty damn low at the time of the test drive. John’s a bigger guy all the way around, and had a marked difficulty getting in and out of the Model S. A sharper salesman (or, one on commission?) might have raised the ride height for the much taller than average pundit, though the seat-adjustment feature wasn’t explained until after our test drive.

In the back seat with me driving, the situation was even worse for John …

tesla-test-7A longer Tesla Model S with more rear seat room is apparently in the works. According to my pal, it’s a much-needed addition to the electric car.

.. and while our salesman mentioned that a new, longer Model S with a more backseat room was in the works, I could tell my friend wasn’t very comfortable riding back there.  That said, I also didn’t care too much, because it was finally my turn to drive the Tesla Model S.

Believe me, I didn’t hold back (Ohboyohboyohboy!).

I’m not sure what the cop at the toll station was thinking as I silently rolled past him onto the turnpike, but I doubt he saw us because (as I quickly found out) the 60 kWh Tesla Model S, even with three embiggened adults inside, gets up to speed quicker than my blood alcohol level on a Friday night. I had no trouble zipping past traffic on the turnpike and effortlessly guiding the 4,500 pound sedan around the many potholes and bad drivers that constitute Massachusetts’ Interstate highway system. With the regenerative braking turned off, the driving experience was remarkably akin to that of any other car, minus the grunt of a large-displacement engine under the hood.

Good as it was, the 60 kWh Tesla Model S simply lacks the neck-snapping acceleration that I was hoping would “wow” John, and a glance in the rearview mirror revealed a bored, unimpressed old man. A 5.9 second 0 to 60 MPH sprint would have left a Corvette in the dust a few generations ago, but it wasn’t enough to impress our drag-racing pundit.

I feel like the 2-seconds quicker-to-60 85 kWh Performance Plus variant would have given John a more exciting ride. Despite what I perceived as boredom, though, John was still asking questions about the car. Every now and then he’d ask about some detail, and, once I had the Model S parked in the garage again, our salesman went in-depth into the touchscreen system. This was the one feature John seemed genuinely taken by.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the car, every function on the Tesla Model S is controlled by the touchscreen. Every function, that is, except for the glove box opener and the emergency hazard indicators (which are mandated to have their own button by federal law). That big screen is how drivers interact with the car. As such, the touchscreen system is easily the most important part of the Tesla driving experience. If it hadn’t been just right, it I don’t think the Model S would have received all the praise heaped upon it.

tesla-test-5 The most impressive part of a $100,000 electric car? The tablet touchscreen, apparently.

Going through the systems and the wide range of adjustable options, from ride height to charging rate to automating the heating system every morning, left perhaps the most favorable impression on John. He was particularly impressed by the responsiveness of the Model S’ touchscreen. “That’s really good,” he admitted, taking more than a few swipes at the touchscreen. Though no technophile, John is fluent enough in modern technology to operate a tablet or send a text message (which is more than I can say for either of my parents). He found it intuitive enough to like it.

Another feature John was fond of was the front trunk, or “frunk” as Tesla Porsche people call it. We did another walk-around of the Model S that included an explanation of the charging feature, and how the Model S battery can be monitored from a fully functional app. “Yup, that’s pretty cool,” John said, his demeanor decidedly warmer since extracting himself from the back seat. We went for a walk back to the store, where John asked for a pamphlet with some more information.

“Unfortunately we don’t have those as one of our green initiatives. But you can find all the information on our website!” was what we were told.

That was the first and only time on our test drive John gave me his patented “Is this guy serious?” look. I’ll admit, even I didn’t know that. Considering we had a 15-minute drive back to John’s vehicle, a pamphlet would have been welcome reading material. Maybe Elon Musk’s plan to change the way we buy cars still needs some work, because it was a more negative note to end the experience than I’d hoped for.

In the end, I’ll admit to being clueless as to John’s real feelings on the overall Tesla Model S experience. While we did have a few minutes to talk on the way back to his truck, it wasn’t until a week later I was able to catch up and really get his thoughts on the Tesla Model S.

What he said during that phone conversation surprised me, though not for the reason you may think …

You can read Part 1 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.

  • egogg

    Stoked for part 3, when a tea party pundit sees the error of his thinking (Yeah. Right).

  • Ziv Bnd

    I am a Tea Party fiscal conservative, I lease a Volt and am willing to
    consider an E in 2016 when my lease expires, but I doubt the E will be
    out before late 2016 or early 2017. I will probably end up in a Gen II Volt if it is big enough to fit adults in the back seat. If not, I will get a Ford Fusion Energi.
    I understand why the GOP big wigs chose to tee off on electric cars, but it is penny wise and pound foolish in my view. I disagree with the GOP on a good 25% of their
    positions, but I only agree with the Dems around 25%, so I guess I will
    choose the lesser of two weevils, so to speak.

    • Gene_Frenkle

      As a fellow Tea Party supporter that drives a green car I think a lot of the misinformation about the Volt has to do with timing. I was a Democrat and I have been interested in the Volt since it was a concept car, so I know the Volt has nothing to do with the irresponsible bailouts or Obama. GM made a huge deal about the Volt around the time of the bailout because most liberals should hate GM (and Chrysler) because of their role in popularizing gas guzzling carbon spewing SUVs.

      So, in 2009 to get more free money from the Democrats that controlled the government at the time GM made a big deal about the Volt that had been in development for years…so people think it is a green car designed to get bailout money. GM has awful management so their decision has tainted the Volt which I believe is a superior automobile (the tax credits obviously don’t help but those were started under Bush and a future Tea Party congressman and are common for things like efficient HVACs).

      Anyway, I am looking forward to the 2nd generation Volt and the next Prius, Tesla will have some pretty stiff competition which as a Tea Party supporter is what we want. I honestly believe the 2nd gen Volt will be a big success.

      • Bob_Wallace

        “irresponsible bailouts”

        Yep, better we should have let all three US car manufacturers fail. (Ford has stated that it would have been very hard for them to stay in business had their suppliers failed along with GM and Chrysler.)

        A few million people out of work and on unemployment.

        Due to the lack of properly regulating the financial industry.

        That would have been the responsible thing to do. Yes, sir, don’t tread on me.

        • Gene_Frenkle

          By bailouts I am referring to the time Bush started giving the auto companies blank checks to the time they declared bankruptcy. Romney presciently advised bankruptcy in November of 2008 with the help of government loans. The billions Bush and Obama gave GM and Chrysler prior to the bankruptcy was wasted taxpayer money when bankruptcy was inevitable and the wise course to follow. Most people knew these companies were headed to bankruptcy years ago because of things like too generous retirement benefits and dealer networks that needed slightly different models of the same car!?!

          • Bob_Wallace

            If we take Treasury numbers then the bailout cost US taxpayers $10.5 billion. That sounds like a bad hit.

            An analysis from the Center for Automotive Research found, had GM and Chrysler failed altogether, the result could have been 4.1 million jobs lost across the U.S. economy in 2009 and 2010, with federal transfer payments and $105 billion in lost income and payroll tax revenue for the U.S. Treasury.

            Even if the job loss estimates were off by a factor of four we still made a great investment that saved us a bundle of money.

            Had we followed Mitt’s advise what would almost certainly happened is that GM and Chrysler would have disappeared. And then the vulture capitalists like Mitt would have come in a feasted off the remains.

          • Gene_Frenkle

            Romney was much more instrumental to saving all of those jobs than Obama.

            Romney’s column motivated GM to secretly start planning for bankruptcy, so the bankruptcy plan had little to do with the Obama’s car czar. Romney also advocated for the government to be part of the loan process, you are just spouting misinformation that is a product of a Obama’s billion dollar political campaign that destroyed the public finance system.

          • Bob_Wallace


            Did you throw your back out stretching for that one?

            Do you not remember who was president when the economy crash?

            That’s some first class revisionist history you’ve got going on. Karl must be so proud.

            But here’s the facts for you….

          • Gene_Frenkle

            That Atlantic article is hilarious. Romney’s op-ed was written the day after Obama went on “60 Minutes” and argued against bankruptcy. The column is primarily advocating bankruptcy and the loan issue is collateral because at the time GM did NOT want to declare bankruptcy regardless of whether the funding was private or government. The private/government loan debate is obsfucation by Obama because GM simply did not want to go bankrupt, in fact the financial crisis was probably seen as an opportunity to avoid bankruptcy because Washington was handing out free money to corporate America–never let a crisis go to waste!!! Romney opposed a BLANK CHECK, he did NOT oppose government involvement in the funding of the bankruptcy.

            George Romney would be proud of his son for saving the jobs of so many auto workers (even if it cost Mitt the presidency).

            Btw, Obama’s car czar stated that GM and Chrysler “deserved” to go bankrupt. Oh, and I voted for Gore, Kerry, and Obama and think Bush is a bottom 5 president.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Well, Gene, if you wish to live in a fantasy world where Mitt made a difference in world history you have a great life.

          • Gene_Frenkle

            If you want to live in a fantasy world in which a constitutional law professor that spent his few years in the senate writing books, giving speeches, and running for president knew more about corporate bankruptcies than the founder of Bain Capital then have a great life! Next time you are looking for a job you should go to the local law school and try to get law professors to hire you at their factory!?!

            Honestly, I do not even give Romney that many bonus points for being RIGHT because I figure somebody that made hundreds of millions of dollars at Bain Capital should know how to improve the company that made the HUMMER–ironically the most anti-American passenger vehicle in history!! I do give Romney bonus points for publicly tackling an issue that he knew could hurt him down the road politically, but he is a good man that cares about the people of his home state that was so good to his family but has been on hard times of late…so he must have felt the need to offer his expertise.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Did you even actually listen to Mitt? He’s not exactly a bright bulb.
            Mitt was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He got into the ‘right’ schools because of who his father was. He was handed a business idea which he was too timid to accept unless he was promised the right to return to his old job, with a salary increase, if he failed. He hired some bright people who did the vulture work.

            Obviously you don’t know Mitt if you give him credit for publicly tackling an issue that he knew could hurt him down the road politically. Mitt took both sides on every issue. He invented the Mitt-flop.

          • Gene_Frenkle

            I believe you are confusing Romney with Bush, Gore, and Kerry.

            Romney and Obama both went to the right schools with help of their parents and actually excelled at them. Obama did better than a Romney at Harvard Law School, but Romney’s priority was business school at which he was at the top of his class and only near the top of his law school class.

            I am glad Obama didn’t oppose the individual mandate before he supported it, oh wait, he vehemently opposed the mandate just like a Tea Party patriot!?! I am glad a Obama always drove green vehicles, oh wait, a staffer had to buy him an Ford hybrid that he probably has NEVER driven during 2007 because Obama’s car was a gas guzzling V-8. I guess global warming is a really important issue for Obama!?!

          • Bob_Wallace

            Gene, you live in a world of your own creation. Your ‘facts’ simply don’t match reality.

            Frankly, I find it boring to interact with people who treat facts as things they can create in order to support their political position.

            It’s a nice day out. I’m going to do something more interesting.

            You have a nice day….

  • swanzinator

    Be careful about painting members of the Tea Party in such broad strokes. I’m a staunch fiscal conservative / libertarian-minded fellow, I’ve attended more than a few Tea Party rallies in recent years and I strongly believe our government is, to be polite, completely out of its mind and on a scary, unsustainable financial track. I’m a big Rand Paul supporter and I’m planning to work with his campaign (assuming he runs) to see that principles of liberty and smaller government start to come in vogue again.

    I’m also a quite happy Tesla Model S owner. I love the car because I believe it’s an absolute engineering marvel. Its mechanical simplicity truly resonates with the nerd in me, particularly when compared to a gasoline-burning car with its myriad of moving parts and fluids, and its inherent inefficiency at converting energy to motion.

    As content as I am with the car, I’ll admit I’m a bit conflicted about the government subsidies for it (and EVs in general). In this particular case it appears to have been a successful investment, but by the same token if I throw a hundred paper wads at the trash can 50 feet away I’m probably going to get one or two to hit the target. For every Tesla success there are countless flops in which millions or billions have been squandered.

    Speaking on principle, I don’t believe the government should be using its substantial financial heft (albeit from money it’s printing or borrowing on a massive scale) to pick winners and losers in the private sector. I much prefer natural market forces, meaning TRUE capitalist market forces, not markets the government mangles with ham-handed regulation and crony-capital imbalances.

    Government subsidies have a natural potential to make otherwise unsustainable business ventures appear financially viable due to the artificial cash supply they receive. In many cases it’s all an illusion and the company dies when the money dries up. In the case of Tesla I think they’ll be fine when the government money spigot (in the form of tax subsidies to its buyers) is shut off, but this is certainly not the norm. For every Elon Musk there are countless others out there who can’t find the right balance between business acumen and trail-blazing new product drive.

    All that said, relative to the insane multiple hundred billions the government wastes every year on countless other things, having an arm of the government working as a venture capitalist, as it did with Tesla, is among the least of my concerns dollar-wise. I’m not a big proponent of it, as like everything else with government it’s ripe for abuse and corruption and distorts market forces, but at least this particular type of spending has some potential for payback (unlike most other things for which our tax money is squandered).

    Tesla is clearly a success story in the making and I wish them well (I not only own the car but invested in the stock as well). But speaking as a fiscal hawk, I sincerely hope they can quickly uncouple themselves from government subsidies. I think it’s pretty likely they will get there pretty soon. The only remaining hurdle to their success will likely come from artificial government obstacles, such as certain states prohibiting them from selling cars because they don’t have dealerships — another classic case of Big Government and crony capitalism at play.

    • egogg

      Tesla has paid back their gov’t loans and the ev subsidy ends after 200K examples are sold. It’s not really up to them on when they can “uncouple” from the subsidy, that’s up to buyer’s demand.

    • Gene_Frenkle

      The tax credits originated from a 2005 bill that was introduced by now Tea Party caucus congressman Joe Barton, I don’t know if they were his idea but Bush signed the bill and the Congress was controlled by Republicans at the time. Bush also signed the bill that allowed Fisker and Solydra to get loans, although at that time Congress was controlled by Democrats.

      My point is only that the government funds are not uncommon for industries and probably many industries have benefited from government funds. Remember, the Republican Party was founded by men that wanted to subsidize the transcontinental railroad and pass protectionist tariffs. I also believe the fact that our navy patrols the Strait of Hormuz is a subsidy for the petroleum industry…so even though I am a Tea Party supporter I don’t think the EV subsidies should be repealed although long term I agree that EVs must compete without subsides…and hopefully our Navy will be able to reduce its presence in Bahrain if EVs are successful.

      • swanzinator

        More cow bell!! Those are valid points. My issue is that I simply don’t trust our leviathan government to be making the best capital investment decisions with our taxpayer dollars, so subsidies like this make me uncomfortable. Not saying they need to end this practice entirely, but I do believe we have good reason to seek restraint on this type of thing as the fed hasn’t exactly been a model of financial stewardship for quite some time. The potential for graft and corruption when the guv is handing out money — particularly in the case of grants or guaranteed loans, a la Solyndra — is something we need to be extra vigilant about monitoring and controlling. While introducing tax credits to “juice” the new market seem like the lesser of potential evils, the libertarian in me still cringes at the potential distortion these incentives may have on the proverbial “invisible hand” of the free market.

        Thankfully with Tesla things appears to be working out pretty well at the moment, assuming the subsidies do indeed phase out as scheduled and they don’t just keep throwing money at it, as our government has quite the track record for doing. We’ll see what happens…

        • Gene_Frenkle

          I agree 100%, I voted Democrat prior to 2010 and one thing that troubled my greatly was Obama’s use of taxpayer funds for blatant political purposes–the Tampa to Orlando high speed rail line was simply offensive to a person like me that values the environment and green alternatives. Obama wanted to spend billions to build a useless line in the most important swing district in the country!?! How convenient! Btw, the private sector has now stepped in to build a useful line from Orlando to Miami!

          The other use of money to buy votes was the auto bailout that favored the union voters that live in the swing states of MI and OH. The Volt was the sacrificial lamb of that bargain due to liberals hatred of GM and Jeep SUVs.

          So although I do not regret my opposition to Bush I now realize Democrats are just as bad as Republicans and the Tea Party appeals to me…unless the government wants to fund a project that promotes teaching the youth of America to play and appreciate the cow bell!!

        • Bob_Wallace

          The DOE program that backed Solyndra has a 94% success rate.

          50% of all US startups fail within 4 years.

          When one considers that the DOE was backing longshots that private money didn’t want to finance it looks like the DOE did a damned fine job of picking winners.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Government support of business goes all the way back to the founding of the nation. It’s not something recently dreamed up.

        Because we, the taxpayers, have supported business, research and education we have built a strong, prosperous country.

        Failure to invest will turn us into a backwater country.

    • J_JamesM

      “For every Tesla success there are countless flops in which millions or billions have been squandered.”

      Not really. Though the failures are far more publicized, the ratio is actually pretty much the reverse of this. For example, of the government portfolio Tesla investments were a part of, there were something like 20 other successful investments and only a handful of failures.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Just for fun, let’s look at how the DOE program has worked, shall we?

        DOE Loan Programs Status as of May 2013

        Number of Projects – More than 30

        Total Loan / Loan Guarantee Amount – $34.4 Billion

        Disbursed – $18.5 Billion

        Estimate Losses – Up to $799.7 Million. (May be less, pending additional recoveries.)

        Loan Loss Reserve – $10 Billion

        Losses as Percent of Loan Loss Reserve – 8%

        Losses as Percent of Amount Disbursed – 4.3%

        Losses as Percent of Total Loan Amount – 2.3%

        Total Economic Investment Leveraged – More than $55 Billion

        Estimated loss values are based on principal disbursed less any repayments. Actual losses will likely be lower, however, as the government may have additional recoveries on the disbursed loan amounts.

        Details on Specific Businesses

        “Losses to date in the Department’s loan programs represent about 2 percent of the $34 billion portfolio and less than 10 percent of the $10 billion loan loss reserve that Congress set aside to cover expected losses in the programs.

        Many of the nation’s largest and most innovative energy and transportation projects are supported by the Department of Energy’s loan programs, including:

        Several of the world’s largest solar generation facilities and thermal energy storage systems (Ivanpah, Agua Caliente, Desert Sunlight, Abengoa Solana, and Solar Reserve Tonopah)

        One of the world’s largest wind farms (Shepherds Flat)

        The first two all-electric vehicle manufacturing facilities in the U.S. (Tesla and Nissan)

        The first nuclear power plant to be built in the U.S. in the last 30 years (Vogtle)

        In the auto industry specifically, these investments have made an enormous impact. In June 2009, for example, the Department offered more than $8 billion in conditional loan commitments to three companies — Ford, Nissan and Tesla – to help retool, refurbish, and reopen American auto plants to produce the cars of the future. The results have been impressive:

        The Department provided a $5.9 billion loan to Ford Motor Company to upgrade and modernize thirteen factories across six states and to introduce new technologies to raise the fuel efficiency of more than a dozen popular vehicles, including C-Max Hybrid, Focus, Escape, Fusion, Taurus, and F-150 trucks, representing approximately two million new vehicles annually. This investment is supporting approximately 33,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs across the United States.

        In Smyrna, Tennessee, the first advanced battery packs produced in the United States are coming off the production line of Nissan North America’s production plant. These advanced batteries are powering U.S.-made all electric Nissan LEAF cars. The construction of the 1.3-million-square-foot, state of the art battery facility was made possible through a $1.4 billion loan from the Department of Energy.

        Tesla’s $465 million loan enabled it to reopen a shuttered auto manufacturing plant in Fremont, California and to produce battery packs, electric motors, and other powertrain components. Tesla vehicles have won wide acclaim, including the 2013 Car of the Year from both Motor Trend and Automotive Magazine, and Consumer Reports recently rated Tesla’s Model S as tied for the best car ever rated. Tesla has created more than 3,000 full-time jobs in California – far more than the company initially estimated – and is building out a supply chain that supports numerous additional jobs and technologies, and is bringing advanced manufacturing technology back to America“


        • J_JamesM

          So, in summary, while waste, fraud and abuse certainly do exist, especially in an entity as immense as the U.S. Government, there are definite bright spots, and it would be healthy for our sense of perspective to acknowledge them where they occur.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I think we’ve spent far too much time talking about our infrequent failures and far too little talking about our successes.

            We need to acknowledge failures, study them and see if we can learn something that will help lower our failure rate.

            But when we act as if failure is the majority and success almost does not exist we delude ourselves and damage our country.

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