WASHINGTON – The recently launched Tesla Model S is the first, and most impressive, US made all electric sedan. This Electric Vehicle, (EV), is produced by Tesla Motors, the company that is already producing a smaller roadster. All of them are part of (South African born) entrepreneur Elon Musk’s effort to demonstrate that electric vehicles are commercially viable in America.
Innovators are welcome
I am all in favor of innovation and of all original dreamers who have the courage and the drive to push the envelope trying something new.
For these reasons I admire Elon Musk; who by the way is also behind SpaceX, the company that just managed to send an unmanned space vehicle full of supplies to link up with the International Space Station. A first for any private business.
The Tesla Model S just had a glowing review in The Wall Street Journal Off Duty Section, (July 7-8, 2012). A huge, enticing headline, (I Am Silent Hear Me Roar), plus a nice big picture and a long piece. That said, and with full recognition that this is a beautiful piece of engineering, that this is a car that proves that it is possible to have an EV that drives like a Ferrari, minus the engine noise, (yes, electric engines are silent), this is not a game changer.
…But too expensive
This is another fancy, if sophisticated, toy that goes just a bit beyond “proof of concept”. The problem is that the car is too expensive. The model used by the WSJ reviewer costs almost $ 100,000. The rock bottom version of the same Model S goes for $ 50,000 minimum, (after a tax rebate). While not prohibitively expensive, a motor vehicle in the $ 50,000 to 100,000 range has a limited market.
Gas savings not enough
And, most certainly, the people who will buy it are not driven by the desire to save on the cost of gasoline. Somehow I don’t think that anybody who can shell 70,000 for a new car is that concerned about the price of fuel.
And yet the main selling point for even thinking about EVs as an alternative to internal combustion cars is that an electric charge is much cheaper than gasoline.
However, if the EV is too expensive to begin with, all your fuel savings are offset by the higher price of the car, a cost difference that the average EV driver will never recover through lower operating costs, assuming current or even higher gasoline prices.
From “cute” to transformative
I think that it is Bill Gates who said that solar panels are mostly “cute”. Indeed, at this stage of the technology, while they may make the rich people who install them on their roofs feel good about their green credentials, they are not game changers, because they are still too expensive.
By the same token, a souped up, beautiful electric sedan may be a sensation among California millionaires who want to be green and trendy, but it is not a game changer.
Waiting for affordable EVs
This does not mean that Tesla or may be other companies will not come up at some point with an affordable all electric car that costs only $ 20,000 to $25,000.
That would be a game changer.
However, until then, most of us will continue to think that fuel efficient cars are vehicles that have improved internal combustion engines, so that they can give us more miles per gallon of gasoline.
Yes, it sounds so yesterday compared to the futuristic wonders of a high performance EV. But, alas, most of us cannot get one.