The Tesla Model S in Manhattan April 29. (Jim Motavalli photo)
It is 2011, and the Martin family of seven is going on vacation. Do they hop in an SUV? No, instead they board one of the greenest (as well as sexiest) cars on the planet, a Tesla Model S sedan.
It's not much bigger than a Taurus, but the Model S swallows up all of the Martins, plus their luggage. The kids (tucked into two rear-facing jump seats) fight over access to the 17-inch infotainment system between the front seats, which can make cellphone calls, access the Internet and stream music. Their destination is 300 miles away, but the Model S can handle it without stopping. No problem, it has an 85-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack on board. Tailpipe pollution? Zero, it's a battery electric car.
Is this a fantasy? Not at all. The Tesla Model S is very real, and it made its New York debut this week at a gala party in lower Manhattan. Chris Paine, the director of Who Killed the Electric Car? was there; his next film is about the EV's revenge.
The curvaceous Model S, designed in-house by Franz von Holzhausen (ex-GM and Mazda) will be on the market in two years, priced at $49,900 (reflecting a $7,500 federal tax rebate). I got a chance to ride in the car, but not drive it. The trip was short but memorable. The S does not seem quite as blindingly fast as its sister, the Tesla Roadster, but it is eminently more practical. It's also about half the price. What's not to like? Despite the economy, nearly 1,000 people have put down $5,000 deposits.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk (and the Model S) were on Late Night with David Letterman right after the party, and while Musk kept a straight face, Letterman (who had apparently lost his voice) was mugging for all he was worth. At one point he interrupted an important point (Musk was going to say that the lifetime ownership of a battery car like the Model S is low compared to conventional vehicles), but Letterman interrupted him with a broad joke about getting "shocked" by the car. Silly, but you don't earn longevity in late-night TV by coming off like a tenured professor (even though he looks like one). See the Letterman video here.
Speaking of TV, check out this informative video from Shannon Arvizu of EVGrrls. Shannon isn't just bubbly and fun, she's also a serious scholar of electric vehicles -- she's getting a Ph.D. on the subject from Columbia. Also see lots more photos of the NYC Tesla launch over at Electrifying Times.
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