Plug ’n’ Play
To anyone who has opened up a Christmas present only to be stymied by “batteries not included,” I present the 2010 Tesla Sport roadster. Through the generosity of Tesla Motors on Westlake Avenue, I opened up a Tesla on the Alaskan Way Viaduct the other day. About 6,800 lithium batteries—the kind that power our cell phones and laptops—came along for the ride. More precisely, they took me for a ride. And I liked it.
The Tesla—available in 13 colors—is a mini-rocket. Fun to drive. Easy to look at. Simple to recharge. Not that I’ll be trading up anytime soon. A three-year lease tailored to make the $109,000 roadster more accessible to middle-class motorists like me comes with a monthly payment of $1,658. (I tend to think a $1,600 monthly payment should get you three bedrooms, two baths and a peek-a-boo view of Elle Macpherson sunning on the deck next door.)
The Tesla Sport has only one cupholder. And the glove box is more a suggestion than a functioning piece of auto apparatus—kind of like a vestigial tail. But if this makes the Tesla more fully evolved, who needs a place to store driving gloves? As the first modern all-electric car that can travel on a freeway without being pulled over for going too slow—top speed: 125 mph—the Tesla looks so cool that a guy driving a conventional fossil-fuel drinker pulled up alongside me at a stoplight on Fourth Avenue, opened his passenger-side window and shouted, “Awesome!”
I don’t get that too often—OK, ever—in my black Jetta with the bird poop on the back window. I also didn’t hear it when I drove a Wheego Whip around Seattle. Or a Zenn 2.22 LX, for that matter. These, too, are fully electric cars (though the Zenn is no longer in production), and they’re whisper quiet on the road. But where the Tesla looks like every 16-year-old boy’s set of dream wheels—think a Lotus Elise without the roar—the Wheego and the Zenn look like extras in a Pixar film. The Tesla elicits responses like “sexy,” “cool” and the aforementioned “awesome.” The most you’ll get if you’re in a Wheego or a Zenn is “cute.”
Cute is fine if you’re more interested in environmental awareness than macho posturing. Still, did I mention the Tesla goes from 0 to 60 in less than four seconds? Not bad for a car that you plug in at night.
Seattle is a promising market for electric cars—high end or otherwise—because we are perceived as being greener than, say, St. Louis or Cleveland. Steve Mayeda, general sales manager at MC Electric in Rainier Valley, which sells everything from scooters to Zenns and Wheegos, says that when gasoline was selling for more than $4 a gallon, “people were coming through here in droves.” But when gas is $3 a gallon, Mayeda says, “people have short memories” and the interest in electric vehicles wanes.
That may change later this year, when Nissan starts rolling out its totally electric Leaf, and Chevrolet brings out the electric-and-gas Volt. Ford won’t be far behind with an electric version of the Focus. Like the Tesla, these five-passenger highway cars will have more than twice the 35-mile range of the two-passenger “neighborhood” cars Mayeda sells from MC’s modest showroom on Dearborn Street. Still, Mayeda believes there will always be a market for neighborhood cars in big cities, simply because some folks don’t need a lot of car. “People say, ‘I only drive 10 to 15 miles a day. I don’t go anywhere.’ That’s th