In the spirit of “everything old is new again,” we present La Jamais Contente and the Tesla Model S. In 1899, the former became the first “automobile” to achieve more than 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph). It was an electric car. Not long ago, we floored the accelerator of an 85-kWh 2014 Tesla Model S and were at the same speed in around 4 seconds. It is also an electric car.
Understand they are very different machines. La Jamais Contente’s driver, Camille Jenatzy, looked to be seated in a torpedo-shaped kayak fitted with four wheels. Tesla’s Model S is a handsome 4-door sedan that would fit in the Jaguar or Aston Martin lineup.
At the turn into the 20th century, electric automobiles were viable products until mass production, ever-better gasoline engines and stalled battery technology killed them. We’ll let Jay Leno give some background into electric cars then and now: www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRwEXaHTwsY
We had a chance to spend a day with a Model S, starting at the company’s headquarters in Palo Alto, not far from The Revs Program at Stanford. Our test car had the 85-kWh battery, the Performance Plus option and an EPA mileage range of 265. There is also a version with a 60-kWh battery and potential range of 208 miles.
From the start we suffered range anxiety. Down Highway 101, we stopped at the Testa Supercharger station in Gilroy (garlic capital of the world) to “top up.” These 120-kW charging locations can add 170 miles of range in 30 minutes and are situated at stopovers that offer places where you can have lunch or, no surprise, shop. We met a Model S-driving fireman who lives in Los Angeles but works in San Mateo near San Francisco. He makes the commute every week, linking with Supercharger stations, and claims to never suffer range anxiety.
We did, not knowing the system, as we drove south to the Monterey Peninsula, home each August to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Down to the beach then out twisty Carmel Valley Road to try the big car’s handling. Back to Gilroy for another quick charge, then up to Palo Alto. Turned out our concerns were unfounded as we had plenty of range the entire trip.
We also had fun. The Model S is a big car, and at 196 inches long is just 10 inches shorter than the Mercedes S Class sedan and weighs roughly the same 4650 pounds even with the electric car’s aluminum body. There is seating for five adults and, as an option, two kids facing rearward in back. The interior is as visually appealing as the exterior and feels spacious. It’s great fun to work with the reconfigurable 17-inch iPad-like touchscreen that contains most all the vehicle controls. Nice place to be.
Then you creep onto an on-ramp and floor it. Motor Trend puts the Model S85’s 0-60 time at 3.9 seconds and we have no problem believing that…all with impressive quietness. As we found out on winding roads, that performance works in more than a straight line, the magazine managing 0.92 g in “lateral grip.” In fact, Motor Trend magazine was so impressed with the Model S it gave the sedan its 2013 Car of the Year award. Here are the results of the magazine’s in-depth test of a Model S P85: http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/alternative/1208_2012_tesla_model_s_test_and_range_verification/
Teslas are assembled in an ex-General Motors/Toyota factory in Fremont, California, near San Francisco. That plant has been expanding to build more Model S and, next year, start producing the Model X SUV. In the near future is a two-motor Model S called P85D. The D is for dual motors, one with 221-horsepower for the front wheels, the rear motor having 470 horsepower. The official 0-60 time drops to 3.2 seconds, you have the advantage of 4-wheel drive and, because of the efficiency of linking the two motors when needed, range increases to 285 miles. Also included is new safety equipment, including automatic lane changes with the click of the turn signal lever.
One way to get a good idea of Tesla’s current and future marketing plans–and to ease range anxiety–is to link to the company’s interactive map of Supercharger stations: www.teslarati.com/interactive-tesla-supercharger-map/
At this point there are 129 such plug-in points in the U.S., Telsa claiming they accommodate 80 percent of the lower-48’s population and parts of Canada. That should rise to 98 percent in 2015. There are currently 88 Supercharger stations in Europe and 34 in Asia.
As an alternative to charging at home or a Supercharger station, Tesla will at some point provide the possibility of a quick (but not free) battery change-out at one of its upcoming battery stations. Here, Tesla CEO Elon Musk explains that swap: www.teslamotors.com/batteryswap
One thing we discovered during our California drive in the Model S is that Tesla fans aren’t wallflowers. The announcement of the P85D on Tesla’s blog was just two typewritten pages, but followed by 420 comments filling 92 pages. At Supercharger stations, owners are delighted to talk about their cars. After we mentioned the Model S is now available in China, one owner commented, “I didn’t know we were selling in China.” Something of a royal “we.” As a group, Tesla owners can talk with all the fervor and commitment of a group of MG, Porsche or Mazda MX-5 Miata club members.
It isn’t difficult to understand why a driver who can easily plot his/her driving patterns might buy a Tesla Model S. It’s quick, quiet, commodious and handsome. Makes one wonder why some automakers insist on styling their electric vehicles to look like oddballs. As for the long-term future of Tesla, we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?