Unless you have been living in a cave, you likely have a vague idea of what’s going on with Tesla Motors. The all-electric carmaker has been the darling of the automotive press, and, for a litany of reasons, has managed to stay in headlines nearly every week for the last year.
While other alt-fuel automakers, like Fisker and Coda, have driven off to that great salvage heap in the sky, Tesla has not only survived, but thrived. Building a car from the ground up is no easy task, especially when that car is trying to change how we drive and how we power our daily driver.
The saga of Tesla has played out like TV drama, with its share of twists and turns. Here are five major storylines regarding Tesla in the last year.
Let’s start with the bad: The first recall concerning the Model S was issued in June. It affects 1,228 vehicles, produced between May 10 and June 8, 2013.
According to the release by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the recall involved “an improper method for aligning the left-hand seat back striker to the bracket may have weakened the weld between the bracket frame and the frame of the vehicle.’’ Translation? In the event of a collision, there’s a chance that the left rear seat back may not stay planted.
No complaints or injuries had been reported regarding this problem, but on June 7, an assembly line worker spotted the problem. He reported it to his superiors, who promptly alerted NHTSA, which issued the recall.
The PR Darling
The same day that the recall was issued, Tesla stock rose 1.25 percent, closing at $104.68. The stock price has tripled in the past six months and is just the latest plus in what has amounted to a landfall year for Tesla.
The Model S electric luxury sedan has been named Car of the Year by Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine, and has been named the World Green Car of the Year.
Meanwhile the ever-scrupulous Consumer Reports scored the Model S “99/100,’’ which tied it for the highest score ever awarded by the publication. According to Director of Auto Testing Jake Fisher, “If it could recharge in any gas station in three minutes, this car would score about 110.’’
Battery Replacement Is on the Way
Consumer Reports may have to retest the Model S. On June 20, Tesla CEO Elon Musk held a press conference at the automaker’s Los Angeles Design Studio. He pointed out that currently Tesla’s free supercharging station can add 150 miles of range in just 30 minutes. He continued, “Now, you can have it free, or have it fast,’’ thus introducing Tesla’s battery-swapping station.
In the presentation, a Model S drove on stage, and the entire battery pack was swapped out in 90 seconds. They compared it to filling up an entire tank of gasoline, and Tesla even had time to swap out the battery on a second Model S.
These facilities are being installed at existing supercharging stations in the highest Tesla traffic areas. That includes the I-5 corridor in California and between Washington, DC, and Boston.
A CNN Money report compared Q1 sales of the Model S to other full-size luxury sedans and found that it outsold the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The 4,750 units moved were enough for Tesla to adjust its increase sales projections from 20,000 to 21,000 units.
Perhaps more surprising is why people are buying the Model S. Karl Brauer is the Senior Director of Insights at Kelley Blue Book and the former editor-in-chief of Edmunds.com. He resides in LA, which represents a large portion of the Model S market. He has spoken with plenty of Model S owners, and learned that the drivetrain is not the main draw for many buyers. “The first thing these owners are showing off’’ says Brauer, “is the in-car technology, like the massive touch screen, and that you can browse the web when you’re parked.’’ According to Brauer, the technology, performance, and comfort is what is drawing buyers.
It Is the Real Deal
In an MIT parking garage, five alternative fuel vehicles are hooked up to charging stations. Of the assortment, including Chevy Volts and Nissan LEAFs, the only vehicle that looked like a typical sedan was the Tesla. Not only that, it looked sharper than most cars in the garage.
The Performance version of the Model S will do 0 to 60 in just 3.9 seconds. In an Automobile Magazine test, it beat the BMW M5 to 60 mph. It can now swap its battery out in less time than it takes to fill a tank of gas.
For the Model S to reach mass appeal, it will need to behave and perform like a conventionally powered car. With race car performance, striking design, and impressive technology all as hooks, the Model S is well on its way.