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The time's not right for Tesla

May 20, 2013, at 7:58 AM

I hadn't seen a Tesla Model S electric car up close until this weekend, and when I did, we fell in love. Alas, even if i could afford the sticker price, a hefty $62,400 or so for a base model, I wouldn't be able to leave the lot smugly satisfied that I was doing my part as a good liberal to combat global climate change.

There really isn't anything wrong with the car itself. In some ways, it's perfect. Incredibly roomy. Styled but not styleized. Powerful. Quiet. Hugs the road. Very safe. The dashboard is like a modern glass airline cockpit. The interior is.. well, you get the picture. And the Tesla is flying out of the 40 or so showrooms across America. (There are no real dealerships per se.)

So: charging the thing. That's the big question I had, and I wasn't satisfied. In L.A., a lot of people who might otherwise be able to afford a Tesla don't live in houses. We (or they, because I'm not in that category) live in apartment complexes. We can easily purchase the adapter module that would allow us to charge the car overnight, but we cannot adapt it to our garages. I asked my super if we could, out of curiosity, and she said it would require a significant re-wiring of our community garage. 300 miles a day requires about 4 hours and 4:45 minutes per charge using the special adapter, and that's awesome. A 240kw connection, something that does exist in my garage but is tied into other things (like the electronic gate that opens and closes it), would charge a battery fully in about 9 hours. A basic 120 volt outlet, something that I could connect to the Tesla with an extension cord, would charge my car in 52 hours.

What about trips longer than 300 miles? A trip to and from Las Vegas, say? I called up a a high-end luxury hotel this weekend and said that I would be bringing my Tesla. Did they have a special place for me to park and recharge? It took about 15 minutes and several supervisors to get an answer: "Maybe. We don't really know."

Tesla is building an infrastructure to address this. A series of charging stations across America will allow you to "refill" in about an hour, or so, while you wait in a lounge and read Fast Company. Tesla founder Elon Musk acknowledges that there aren't as many of these stations as possible, and that public outlets aren't sufficient. His answer is more competition, which would initially stress his profit margins but in the end would increase demand by reducing the non-financial costs and burdens to owning an electric car. He's absolutely right.

Until you can be reasonably certain that you'll be able to recharge your car in the same way you'd be able to refill it with gasoline, a lot of would-be could-be buyers will balk.

But given how fast the Tesla IS selling, I think we're almost there.

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