On Tuesday, I had my first chance to get behind the wheel of the Tesla Model S.
A few hours after my drive, the automaker issued a less than perfect earnings report, driving its stock down more than 12%.
I couldn’t care less about what the stock does. It doesn’t matter. As long as Tesla keeps making cars this amazing, it will succeed, because lots of people a) want the best car on the market, and b) can afford it.
Why I Loved It
The best part of my job is that I get to drive all sorts of excellent new cars. Regrettably, I’ve become a bit jaded. It takes nicer features and more horsepower to impress me than it did when I started out.
But when traffic finally moved out of my way on the West Side Highway and I hit the pedal on the Model S, the acceleration knocked an involuntary smile onto my face. It was a short drive, but thrilling.
The car I tested came with the P85 battery pack, the most powerful available. It had basically every option you can order, for a total price of $108,770 (before a $7,500 federal tax credit).
The Model S is silent and comfortable in traffic. It’s a beast on the open road. It seats seven. It looks great, inside and out (though it could use cup holders in the backseat). The massive center console screen, while not quite on par with the iPad and possibly distracting, may be the best of its kind in the auto industry today.
The car is safe, scoring top marks from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It can catch on fire if you crash it through a concrete wall and into a tree, but the driver in Mexico who did that walked away without serious injury.
I’m not alone in my praise. Consumer Reports called the Model S the best car it has ever tested. Motor Trend, Automobile Magazine, and Yahoo! Autos named it the car of the year in 2012. I’ve never met an auto journalist who didn’t love driving it.
I have heard only two real criticisms of the Model S. Let’s address them.
1. It’s too expensive.
There’s no doubt about it, the Model S is a luxury car. Elon Musk promises to build an “affordable” $35,000 car in a few years. I hope he does. But that doesn’t impact the Model S.
Its base price ranges from $62,500 to $83,570 (after a $7,500 federal tax credit), so it’s not a car everyone can buy. Not everyone can afford cars from Mercedes-Benz or BMW, either. That doesn’t mean those automakers aren’t successful.
It’s expensive, but worth every penny.
2. It runs out of battery.
It’s true, you can’t just hop in the Model S and drive across the country, or even from Boston to Washington, D.C. Tesla’s supercharger stations take half an hour to recharge a battery, still less convenient than filling a gas tank in a few minutes. For the foreseeable future, limited range will be an issue for electric cars.
But when I look at all the upsides of the electric sedan, it’s a small sacrifice. If you really need to drive from LA to New York, rent a car. You can pay for it with the money you’ll save on gas (filling up the battery at a supercharger station is free for Tesla owners, forever).
The Bottom Line
Tesla has built a car that is more innovative and exciting than anything I’ve ever driven. The price is high but totally fair.
Forget the ups and downs of the stock market: If a company builds something this good and is competently run (and it is), it will succeed.