Several so-called “cars of the future” — the Tucker 48, the DeLorean DMC-12, the Edsel — haunt the memory of the American automotive industry.
Each, in some way, had advancements in technology ahead of its time, from the Tucker 48’s steering headlights to the Edsel’s push-button automatic transmission, to the gull-wing doors on the DeLorean. Each was, to put it mildly, a bust to some degree.
But the electric Tesla Model S, produced by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla Motors, is no Edsel. It may not have gull-wing doors, but to get in a Tesla’s driver’s seat is to go back to the future of driving, in a car that marries technology in ways that Henry Ford and Nikola Tesla, for whom the company is named, couldn’t have imagined.
WAG met up with Will Nicholas, the northeast regional sales manager for Tesla Motors, at the Tesla Motors store at The Westchester in White Plains, which was Tesla’s first store on the East Coast, having opened in 2012.
“Here in the tristate area, we already have over 1,000 owners,” Nicholas says. Currently, the company markets the Model S sedan, with the Model X coming out in 2015. “We’re looking at expanding our model selection. We’re hoping to put out a Model 3 in 2017.”
Each Model S, which is custom built after a customer orders a car from a Tesla storefront, can get between 250 and 400 miles per charge, depending on conditions, highway or city traffic, and whether or not certain features are used.
“We want to compare ourselves to the leaders in the market, and I think in the luxury performance space you have BMW, Audi, Mercedes,” Nicholas says. “I think this car is very comparable in all categories – performance, appointments and from a safety perspective.”
Striking in external appearance with the smooth, rounded lines of comparable modern luxury sedans, the first secret of the Tesla Model S is not the battery capacity, the range or how much it will save you in the gas you don’t have to buy but the door handles. When you approach the vehicle with the car-shaped key fob in your pocket, the sleek stainless-steel handles extend from inside the door.
The car has ample trunk space, with nearly 60 cubic feet in the back, and when you open the hood expecting to see an engine, you find more storage space – which actually is an added safety feature.
“It provides the most amount of crash structure of any sedan,” Nicholas says. “If you were to get into a front-end collision, this car is the safest because the aluminum crash structure will crumple like an accordion.”
To refer to the car as merely being safe would be an understatement, considering in 2013 the Model S received the highest safety rating ever awarded based on independent testing from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, earning five stars in every subcategory.
There’s a stigma about performance tied to both safe cars and electric cars, and the Model S destroys that stigma as soon as you take the wheel. When Nicholas pulled out onto the highway, the Model S smoothly – and powerfully – accelerated with 416 horsepower to highway speed when he put his foot on the gas.
Because there is no engine or transmission, there is no vibration when the car is turned on or hesitation while the car shifts through gears – it just goes.
“When I take my foot off the accelerator, we’re going to slow down quite a bit, and I’m not putting my foot on the brake at all,” Nicholas says. On the instrument panel, the car showed energy being returned to the battery through what is called “regenerative braking.”
“An electric motor can push or receive energy almost instantly,” Nicholas says. Regenerative braking turns the motor into a generator that charges the battery, and since the driver can use regenerative braking to slow the car, it also saves wear and tear on the car’s brakes.
Inside the cabin, a large touch screen controls everything – from the driving features to the seat warmers to the stereo – and the car can update through a 3G connection, so unlike other cars, where new features mean buying a new car, with a Tesla, new features mean downloading and installing an update.
There are no oil changes, just a once-a-year safety check-up at a Tesla service center. Nor will you ever have to go to a gas station again. A Tesla owner can plug the car in to charge at home, most often through a 220 volt outlet of the kind used to power an electric dryer. And Tesla’s network of superchargers, which can recharge a Model S battery in as little as 20 minutes, is free.
Led by PayPal founder Elon Musk, Tesla Motors’ simple focus starts at the top, Nicholas told WAG.
“Elon didn’t just want Tesla to make the best electric car,” Nicholas says. “He wanted to make the best car. Period.”