Taking The Tesla For A Test Spin


From the outside, it doesn't look like your ordinary car lot, and in fact it isn't.  A showroom in Easton features the battery-powered Tesla Model S.  It is one of the world’s fastest and quietest luxury cars.  And one of the most controversial.

"A lot of things have been written and said about us and not all true," said Diarmuid O'Connell, Tesla Motors Vice President.  "So this first job we have when we come to town is, ‘hey, listen, hear our story from us.’"

That story has to do - in part - with Tesla's remarkable growth.

From its California factory - where supply can't keep up with demand - to its battle with traditional car dealerships and law makers across the country, including Ohio.

O'Connell says his company's number one priority now is educating the public.

"We're really pleased to be in Ohio with Tesla motors," said O'Connell to 10TV’s Jim Heath.  "The mission of the company is to mass market electric vehicles.  We have developed novel technology and we're packaging it in a beautiful car."

And that beautiful car - with a starting price tag at $70,000 - may be like something you've never seen before.

When you open the hood, there's nothing there.  The car is propelled by a single electric motor in the back.

And there's no tank.  The car is recharged by simply plugging it in.

As you walk up to the Tesla, a smartphone app automatically unlocks the door.  No more worrying about it locking behind you either.

It takes a second to get used to some things.

Without an engine, the car is silent.  When you press on the accelerator, the car can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about four seconds.

And there's a 17 inch flat screen monitor where you have constant access to the internet, a rear camera to see who's behind you, and a GPS map to show you where the nearest recharging stations are located.

"The history of electric vehicles is sort of a tortured one where they were bumped up golf carts for a long time," said O'Connell.  "They were limited by batteries in terms of range and no one actually thought to build a performance car."

The Tesla S goes a long way in answering questions about whether an electric car can compete in the future.

But there are still limitations.

One charge, the company says, can last about 300 miles at 55 miles per hour.

Recharging stations are limited across the country.

And a recharge can take anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours.

And there are safety issues.

Three Model S have caught fire: two after hitting debris and one after the driver hit a concrete wall.

No one was injured in any of the accidents.  Still, Tesla has just added a triple under-body shield to all Model S.

O'Connell points out that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given the car its highest safety rating ever.

"We're not against Tesla.  My understanding is they have a very good product," said Joe Cannon from the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association.  "It's more of the decision by the state to issue them a license."

In Ohio, the issue for Tesla is their retail model - direct sales to the consumer.

Cannon says a compromise worked out by Ohio lawmakers last month that will keep Tesla from opening showrooms anywhere but Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland, is fair.

"Nothing prohibits them from expanding in the future, only under the same rules everyone else has," said Cannon.

For now, Tesla - which only sold about 200 of the Model S in Ohio last year - says that's okay.

"When an industry sector has had a monopoly like a dealership had on distribution, it’s understandable why they want to protect it," said O'Connell.  "But that doesn't make it right."