Is it possible that an automobile Motor Trend calls a “rocket ship” can also be handed “the best safety rating of any car ever tested” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration? Sure looks that way. Tesla Motors’ 2014 Model S sedan is fast. Really fast. Carmel restaurateur Rich Pèpe, no stranger to high-speeds, is awestruck by the performance of his Model S P85.
“If this car had wings, it would most certainly fly,” he says. But is it safe? In 2013, the game-changing vehicle received five stars in every NHTSA test category, enabling Elon Musk, the manufacturer’s never-understated founder, to issue this statement: “…the Model S is safer in an accident than any other vehicle without exception.”
Is that why these sleek sedans are showing up in ever-increasing numbers on Peninsula streets? Well, yes. But there are other reasons, including the fact that the Tesla plug-in electric vehicle (EV) puts out zero emissions. “I’ve always had an interest in green tech,” says local Ron Eastman, who owns a Model S with his wife Pat. “Our home is green. When we built it, we assumed we would have an electric car at some point and installed the infrastructure in our garage.” The Eastman’s Santa Lucia Preserve home is fitted with solar panels, “so it really costs nothing to power our vehicle.”
However, owning a Tesla isn’t entirely about being green. “In some ways, our carbon footprint isn’t as admirable as you’d think,” Eastman confesses. “There’s an upscale Italian car in our garage as well. Its brand name starts with an ‘M.’ That car is perhaps more well-appointed. But by every performance measure, the Tesla beats it—handling, acceleration, comfort… it’s just a really fun car to drive. And it’s safer, which is a big plus.”
Then there’s the technology. George Jetson would feel at home in a Model S cockpit. No buttons, knobs or levers clutter up the dashboard, just an integral 17-inch touch screen that controls nearly all its systems. “Everything you need is right there on the screen,” says Pebble Beach Tesla owner Clint Jones. “It’s like driving an iPad.” Well, maybe, if your iPad happens to go from 0-60 MPH in 4.2 seconds, as does the P85.
“You really should be driving a Tesla.” Those words were spoken to Rich Pèpe more than a half-dozen times before he sat up and took notice. Known around town as a Ferrari man, Pèpe came under the Tesla spell when a friend arrived for last year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance driving a Model S.
“He put me behind the wheel,” he says, “and I was astounded by the performance, comfort and quality of the car. I was hooked.” Pèpe’s story is typical. Perhaps Tesla’s best sales people are its customers. Karen Hargrove of Carmel Valley owns a Model S as well as a Roadster, the first production Tesla. “My husband Rick and I are always driving them,” Hargrove says. “We’ve sold so many just by taking friends for rides.”
The Hargroves jumped on the Tesla bandwagon early, purchasing the company’s first offering, the two seat Roadster. “We’re both engineers,” Karen relates. “We knew people at the company and were highly impressed by the engineering they were doing.” She is an enthusiastic and eloquent Tesla spokesperson. “They’re really changing the way cars are made. Elon set out to make a great car, not just a great electric car.”
In many minds, that’s exactly what Elon Musk has done. At 42, the South African-born entrepreneur has accomplished more than most people double his years. He ran online giant PayPal and then created SpaceX in 2002. That firm snagged the $10 million Ansari X Prize by launching a reusable spacecraft into space twice within two weeks and is currently working on multi-billion dollar NASA contracts. Not one to let moss grow under his feet, Musk co-founded Tesla Motors, Inc. the following year. The Roadster, first delivered in 2008, sold for north of $100,000. “Our first product was going to be expensive no matter what it looked like,” Musk wrote in a November, 2013 letter to Tesla owners, “so we decided to build a sports car, as that seemed like it had the best chance of being competitive with its gasoline alternatives.”
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, 2,500 Roadsters were sold through 2011. Several of those can be seen silently whizzing around the Peninsula, including the beautiful bluish-silver example owned by the Hargroves. “It’s so much fun to drive,” Karen says. “The range is about 270 miles and it’s like a little rocket.”
At the top of any electric vehicle FAQs list is: “how far can I go on a charge?” “That depends on how you drive it,” says Pèpe. “As with a gasoline car, the more aggressively you drive it, the lower the mileage.”
Then there’s “how do I charge it?” Pèpe uses his Tesla mostly to get around town, and has installed a charger in his home garage. “I plug it in at night and it’s fully charged and ready to go in the morning.” Plugshare.com lists nearly 20 charging stations on the Monterey Peninsula, including one in the parking lot of Sunset Center at San Carlos Street and 9th Avenue in Carmel. Pèpe would prefer more EV charging points in the city—and not for his own use.
“I really want to see Carmel get out in front of this,” he says. “It would be a great calling card for visitors from the Bay Area and beyond if there were charging stations around town.” With Tesla planning to roll out the Model X SUV this year, chances are that we’re likely to be seeing more examples of this marque around car-crazy Carmel— especially if the hosannas delivered by current owners continue. ”I love my other cars, a Lexus and Range Rover Evoque,” enthuses Jones, “but put them up against this Model S is like comparing a magic carpet to a covered wagon.”
“How much more could you ask for in a car?” adds Karen. “There’s nothing that comes close to our Teslas.”
Eastman chimes in: “It’s by far the most comfortable, most fun, most attractive and best-performing car we own.”
What does Rich Pèpe say? “You really should be driving a Tesla.” Of course.