The first questions George O’Connor gets about his all-electric Tesla Model S sedan tend to follow a similar pattern: How far can it go and how fast can it accelerate?
To the former, he responds a good 230 miles before it should be recharged. And the latter?
“I nod my head and go ‘It’s real fast,’” O’Connor, 62, said in a recent interview. “It’ll give a 911 Porsche a run for its money.”
O’Connor is one of several Little Rock residents who have purchased a Tesla S, an emissionless luxury machine that Consumer Reports ranked the best car it’s tested and Motor Trend named the 2013 Car of the Year. The local owners also heap praise on the Teslas, which the company says can go 0-60 in about 5 seconds.
California-based Tesla was founded in 2003 by Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur and innovator who helped create Paypal, launched outer space exploration and rocket manufacturing company SpaceX, and most recently unveiled a plan for the Hyperloop. If it’s ever built, that futuristic mode of transportation would send passengers between destinations at close to the speed of sound through a tube modeled in part after the smaller versions used to deliver paperwork in office buildings or at bank drive-through windows.
Musk released his plans for the Hyperloop last week in the hopes someone else will pick them up and attempt it, saying his work with SpaceX and Tesla keeps him busy enough.
Musk’s reputation for success and innovation — some have compared him to the Tony Stark character in the Iron Man comics and movies — helped O’Connor feel good about his Tesla purchase, he said.
“Is there a bit of a leap of faith? Absolutely,” O’Connor said. “But it’s a pretty simple automobile. Musk is arguably one of the smartest and arguably one of the richest people in the country or the world. And their stock prices, the valuations are pretty incredible. The idea that they are going to be around in five or 10 years from now — I’ve got a pretty good comfort level.”
Depending on the battery and features, the price for the Model S sedans go up from $65,000, but O’Connor and other local owners say the cost of actually driving it comes to dramatically less than traditional automobiles since no gas is required.
And the experience of driving a Tesla vehicle is a unique one.
“Years ago, I drove a Corvette, but ... there’s just no hesitation,” said John Mills, another Tesla S owner who is the manager of power flow modeling for Southwest Power Pool. “An electric motor is just 100 percent there whenever you want it.
“What too makes it fun is the low center of gravity because the batteries are down in the bottom of the car. You can take corners like nobody’s business. Sure, there’s faster cars. But this is just amazing.”
The power of the battery was evident on a recent drive with Mills on North Little Rock’s Riverfront Drive, where a split-second demonstration of the acceleration sent the vehicle zooming ahead in a silent, immediate burst of speed and knocked a passenger back into his seat.
Another local owner, 67-year-old Richard Tripodi, who drives a white Model S with the license plate LEKTRIK, likens it to a “very sophisticated electric golf cart” for its immediate power and its simple setup. It turns on when the doors open, has the equivalent of a “giant iPad” for a center console and has only three gear settings: drive, reverse and park.
“But it goes a little faster” than a golf cart, Tripodi said with a laugh. “And a lot nicer finish too.”
Mills, 62, first test-drove the smaller, two-seated Tesla Roadster in 2011. He liked it but knew the then-forthcoming Model S, which seats five adults comfortably, was a better fit.
A year later, Mills tried it “and that’s kind of all she wrote,” he said.
Like the vehicle itself, the purchasing process isn’t traditional. A Tesla buyer arranges a test drive at one of about 30 galleries around the country but then has to reserve a car online with a deposit and ultimately get it delivered directly to him after it’s built.
Mills remembers the precise day — April 11 — a truck pulled up outside his home. Inside was his Tesla and two other top-line luxury cars — a Bentley and a Porsche — headed for other destinations.
A truck had dropped off another Tesla at Tripodi’s west Little Rock home earlier that month.
Tripodi’s introduction to Tesla came after his 10-year-old grandson called for advice on a class project about the stock market.
He decided to have the boy meet with a financial adviser and actually buy a few shares of stocks in different companies that interested him. It was a way to learn about the process and to build a small portfolio that could maybe one day serve as his college fund. Together, they picked stock in Walt Disney, Regions Bank, Home Depot and a few other firms.
Then the boy wanted to add one more: Tesla.
“He said, ‘You know, Pop Pop, we forgot one thing: There’s nothing there that’s ‘green,’ something that’s good for the environment,’” Tripodi recalled. “My grandson said to me: I’ve been reading about this car called the Tesla. And he said I think we should buy some of their stock.’ I was a little flabbergasted.”
Tripodi bought the stock, read up on Tesla and became so intrigued with the all-electric car that he put down a deposit to buy one before he even test-drove it.
“That led us to say this is a great car, this is a great concept and we should buy one,” Tripodi said. “And we did. And we’re very pleased with the decision.”
(The stock purchase also revealed the 10-year-old boy might have a thing for finance. Tesla was trading at about $34 when they invested. It opened Friday at $141.63.)
The Teslas are perfect for driving around Little Rock, where several electric charging stations are available and the range of a single charge isn’t a problem before returning home to reenergize overnight, the owners agreed. Tesla puts the range of the Model S with an 85 kWh battery at 265 miles on a full charge, though it varies based on how its driven.
Longer trips are do-able, too, with some planning, and they should get even easier as Tesla installs solar-powered, accelerated charging stations around the country. According to information on the company’s website, the stations — which are free for Tesla owners to use and provide 200 more miles of travel in a 30-minute charge — are available now only on each coast and in Chicago.
A long-term map of future stations shows planned additions across the country in the coming years, though Little Rock doesn’t show up until 2015, the very end of the rollout.
But charging can be done on the go. Mills said he used an RV hookup to charge while staying at Devil’s Den State Park and has even driven all the way to Nashville, stopping to charge on the way. Smartphone apps are available to show the locations and types of electric-car chargers and, for some locations, whether it’s free or in use.
O’Connor said he wouldn’t try to drive his Tesla to Florida or on another long trip until the range is improved with a better battery or until more Tesla stations are opened.
But he still thinks the Tesla and other electric cars are likely to attract increased interest from buyers who otherwise face rising gas prices. O’Connor charges his Tesla overnight at home when electricity rates are lower, and he pegs his per-mile cost of driving at just 3 to 5 cents.
“Is the internal combustion engine going to be replaced?” he said. “My guess tells me no. But there’s going to be a lot more people who look up and say, ‘I can save myself energy costs.’”
In the Little Rock area alone, where at least four Teslas are on the roads, the sleek sedans have drawn considerable attention.
O’Connor, who doesn’t consider himself a Facebook enthusiast, was surprised when a friend told him he saw a photo of O’Connor’s Tesla on a page belonging to someone O’Connor didn’t know.
Mills enjoys loading his groceries into the 5.3-cubic-foot front trunk (the “frunk” storage area is in addition to a spacious trunk in the back) and watching “jaws drop” from the other customers.
And, Tripodi said, he likes corresponding with people who seem to be drawn to the Tesla.
“I am not a gearhead or anything like that and this car has fascinated me by the reaction other people have had,” he said. “My wife has been stopped by people wanting to take photos of the car. I’ve been in the car where people have come up and asked to look inside.”
O’Connor has received much of the same attention and even he went to find Mills, whom he didn’t know, one day when he happened upon Mills’ Tesla parked at the train station.
O’Connor said the interest is understandable for the Tesla, which he called the “most interesting, enjoyable” car he’s ever driven.
“If Steve Jobs built a car, this is what it’d look like,” he said. “To say it’s perfect, maybe not. But it comes real close.”
Business, Pages 19 on 08/19/2013
Print Headline: Tesla all-electric cars now in LR