I can't recall a car that had more internet hype and publicity surrounding it than the Tesla Model S. As you might expect, when something gains this amount of media attention, you have a lot of people that both like and dislike the car, for an assortment of reasons that may or may not be true.
Part of what makes the facts (or lack thereof) surrounding this car all the more interesting is that the Model S is a vehicle which has cultivated attention from "non-car" people. You have fans who like the car because of the technological achievements, as well people thrilled at the environmental change it represents.
Being a car enthusiast myself, I'm thrilled to see "non-car" people take an interest in the engineering that goes into a fascinating and well-built car like the Tesla. But I've also heard a lot of myths and downright lies about the vehicle, usually from those who couldn't tell you the first thing about a "normal", internal combustion engine automobile. This article will hopefully shed some light, and perhaps correct some of these errors.
The Speed: "It's an Electric Sports Car"
First things first, let's get something out of the way. The Tesla is quick. Blindingly fast. 400+ horsepower, instant torque due to the electric motor... the thing is fast. Without a doubt, it will outrun more than 99% of cars on the road in a straight line.
But that's the key thing to keep in mind here: in a straight line.
The Model S is a luxury vehicle. It is not a sports car. I have heard people compare it to things like the BMW M3 or Chevy Corvette. These comparisons are absurd. While the Model S may win in terms of straight line speed due to its electric motor, on a race track, it would quickly begin to show its flaws. The primary one being its size.
The Model S is a massive car. It's size can be compared to vehicles like the Mercedes S-class and BMW 7-series. Those cars are not sports cars, and neither is the Tesla. And that's okay. It's a luxury automobile with some fascinating technology under the hood, and it's not trying to pretend to be something it isn't. The only people pretending it is a sports car are the uninformed, or the mindless fans. Tesla understands it's a luxury barge, and that is 100% okay.
Here is where you begin to really hear lots of conflicting evidence. Some people claim that you get less than 200 miles out of a full charge, while others claim you will get over 300 miles.
Part of the reason for this massive spread is that you can actually have the car with two different battery sizes: 60 kWh and 85 kWh. Obviously things like driving style and what types of driving you do (city versus highway) will play into the range. However, one thing is almost certainly true: you probably aren't getting more than 300 miles out of a full charge.
Tesla claims that the larger-size 85 kWh battery delivers 270 miles of range. However, this is assuming that you are doing all highway driving at 55 mph. Personally, I don't know anyone who does all highway driving. Furthermore, honestly ask yourself if you do strictly 55 mph all the time while on the highway? Now ask yourself: would you still be doing 55 mph if you had all of that speed and instant torque at the mercy of your right foot?
It seems that 300 miles is a very large stretch to claim. I would place heavy doubt that anyone is getting 30+ more miles than Tesla claims, especially considering the company claim 270 miles at perfect, ideal, 55 mph driving. Also keep in mind that we are examining the standard Model S here. The P85D, which is the far more expensive (and also far faster) version of this car, was not examined.
The Charging Time
As awesome as the idea of electric cars is, charging times are still a major drawback. Say what you will about gasoline: it's simple and it's everywhere. Tesla has talked about bringing Supercharger stations all across the United States. These would allow full battery swaps in as short as 30-45 minutes. Not ideal, but still a pretty amazing feat. However, these stations are still nowhere to be found in the majority of the country, so for all intents and purposes, home charging is where most Tesla owners would be ensuring the continued operation of their cars.
Standard outlets are pretty much out of the question for recharging the Model S. Although they can be used, the charge times are insane. If you work 30 miles from home (60 miles of driving a day) it would take more than 18 hours to recharge your car each day! As you might imagine, that's going to be a bit difficult for making that next morning commute.
Fortunately Tesla has a solution to this: the Wall Connector. It's not cheap ($750) but it will greatly reduce charging times, and is pretty much a necessity. With a Wall Connector, one's 60 mile recharge time is reduced from 18 to 1 hour! A full 265 mile recharge can be done in 4 and a half hours.
While this is great, it still presents the major flaw of electric cars: road trips cannot be done. Let's say you live in New York City and want to take your family on a trip to Orlando, Florida. This is a journey of just over 1,000 miles. In a normal car, it takes 15-16 hours, so it's safe to assume about 2 days of driving.
In a Tesla, assuming 200 miles of range once the car is loaded down with gear and you're cruising at 70 mph down the coast, it would take... 37+ hours to reach Florida. Worse yet, that's assuming you are stopping at places with Wall Connectors along the way. If you had to use normal outlets, it would take an astonishing 420 hours to reach Florida! That comes out to 17.5 days, which will be a problem for most people with 2 weeks vacation.
This article is not meant to bash the Tesla. In fact, I really like the car, both in terms of its real-world attributes, as well as what it represents as far as being a technological achievement goes. However, there are some issues with it (and all electric cars) that need to be resolved until they become feasible for most families to own them.
Luckily, the range, which is currently the biggest drawback to the Model S, is something that is constantly being improved upon. With any luck, 10 years from now it will be perfectly reasonable to drive cross-country in an electric car. At that point, the Tesla will truly start living up to much of the hype it currently possesses.