Word got out this weekend, when I picked up the car itself. I have become the very pleased owner of a Tesla Model S.
And the key point for this blog is, my books are buying it. (Thank you, thank you, thank you!)
I was slow to share the news, because I felt a little awkward about it. First off, I’m from the Midwest and we aren’t supposed to talk about accomplishments or money, period. Second, I have a lot of author friends, as you might guess, some very successful and others less so. The ancient Greeks had a concept called aidos, an awareness that difference in wealth or success is not always by merit. (Today that concept might be translated “privilege,” though that term may carry more political baggage or emotion than the original.) The Greek aidos has been described as a kind of shame, and while I certainly wasn’t ashamed of my books or my reasoned decision to purchase (see below), I was worried about what others might think. Would they think me a braggart? An irresponsible playgirl? A stinking one-percenter-wannabe striving for conspicuous consumption?
But when I finally told a small group of writers I’d met at a retreat this summer, I felt pretty much like this:
As I told a sales manager once, I am the best and worst of customers. I may take a while to make a decision, but once I’ve made it, I could defend it to the UN. That’s true here, too; there are several reasons behind the Tesla purchase:
- It’s fun. (Not gonna lie, of course that’s a reason. It has to be. The greatest product in the world won’t get traction if no one is interested in it.)
- Value. (No, really.)
- Environmental benefits.
- Humanitarian benefits.
Mention a Tesla, and if anyone nearby is car-oriented enough to know the brand, they’re going to talk about its technology and speed. Yes, at 0-60 (that’s 0-100 km/h in metric!) in as little as 2.8 seconds depending on specs, it’s one of the zippiest street-legal cars on the market. Yes, it’s also crash-rated the safest. Yes, it’s got a unique look. And yes, it’s got an amazing amount of cutting edge technology, from the electric drive and battery to the legit Autopilot feature set. (Which really does safely drive the car and has, after only a few weeks of general operation, already been caught on a number of dash-cam videos avoiding accidents even before human drivers could react. Whoa.)
A few minutes into my very first drive, a man honked at me and gave me a huge enthusiastic thumbs up. As I parked, another man came to ask about it, and we spent about five minutes talking about it. I came back to the parking spot and found a guy taking pictures of it. I’m beginning to think that driving a Tesla is a lot like taking a service dog in training — it’s a good thing, but I’ll need to allot extra time for the conversations!
Tesla is value.
That sounds like an odd thing to say about a pricey car, but it’s true. Most of the cost of ownership is built into the front end of a Tesla purchase. Energy cost thereafter is minimal (electricity is especially cheap in my area, Tesla Superchargers are free for life, and there are a number of drivers on the TMC forums who recharge their Teslas entirely by solar, making their mileage totally free at home too), and maintenance is far less frequent and less costly than for a combustion engine vehicle. No oil changes, no belts, very few moving parts, and the regenerative braking means minimal brake wear, so those last much longer than typical. You’re going to keep paying for insurance and registration, but that’s about it.
I’ll see a cost benefit sooner than most, as I drive roughly three times the American average. That’s still a lot of cost to make up, admittedly, but not all of the value is purely by accounting. There’s also value to me in supporting the philosophies behind the car.
Tesla is good for us.
Most of the time, when people see an expensive car, they assume “a rich person” is driving it. We associate pricey cars with a particular income bracket and conspicuous consumption.
Tesla seems to be the exception brand, however. A Jeffries survey determined that 70% of Tesla owners had never owned a car in that price category before. (That definitely includes me.) When asked what car they would have purchased if they had not in the end opted for Tesla, most answered with a cheaper model, including a Nissan at about one-fifth the Tesla’s mid-range price.
Their conclusion was that more moderate-income owners are sacrificing or borrowing to upgrade their purchase because they want that car specifically. I can agree with that; the Tesla isn’t typical. I had little interest in other high-end cars; it’s fun to see a BMW or Porsche or Ferrari in the wild, but I never once thought of owning one. For many, Tesla is less about its brand cachet (though it’s certainly got that now, too) and more about supporting the ideals that go along with it.
Most people talk about the environmental benefits, which I of course really dig (even recharging with coal-generated electricity, our dirtiest flavor, produces much less pollution than driving an internal combustion vehicle). And it’s fairly well documented that our addiction to combustion is making us ill, with significant human health benefits to electric vehicles over internal combustion.
But significantly (and very timely given the recent spate of domestic and international terrorist attacks), an electric car reduces the market for petroleum. And skipping a gas station is just one more way to counter Daesh, aka ISIS, which is currently generating about six million dollars a day, much of it through black market oil sales. (Black market because we can’t admit to funding terrorism, oil sales because we can’t imagine doing without a steady supply.) Reduce the demand for oil, reduce the financial support for terrorism. As a friend said, “That’s reason enough right there, forget the rest.”
(Yes, I know not all oil-producing areas are involved with terrorism! But a black market exists only where demand exceeds legal supply. Reduce demand, and black market oil will be less profitable and weaker, no matter what other prices are doing.)
I used to joke that when ethanol took off, the corn-producing Midwest would become the new Middle East, a rural and previously-ignored population which suddenly controlled the world, but that never quite happened. Another intriguing missed opportunity was the early rise and then abandonment of electric vehicles, which were really ahead of their time — but cheap, reliable electric power wasn’t yet readily available. But if electric motors had taken root the way combustion engines did, the automotive industry would have progressed differently, shaping an entirely different political and economic landscape both domestically and globally. The Middle East would have developed very, very differently than it has, and quite a few of our major wars and conflicts would have progressed differently or perhaps even not happened at all.
It’s one of the few things liberals and conservatives can agree on, that we are hobbled by our dependence on foreign oil and some oil is funding things we don’t want to admit to knowing about. I know not everyone can make a vehicle change, but I can. And my purchase can support a market to make other changes more possible for more people. (The coming Tesla Model 3 is predicted to sell in the $30,000 range, and more electric cars in general mean more electric car options and support in general.) And if we all do what we can, much more gets done than if we all wait for someone else to do something big.
And of course there are lots of small things we can all do, too, as simple as drinking from a glass instead of through a plastic straw when out to eat or bringing your own grocery bags to reduce the need for more plastic bags. Less trash and less need for oil. If we all do what we can, we all benefit!
My husband chatted at a charging stop with a local Tesla owner who is very near to having his home and car powered entirely by wind and solar, zero emissions for both his housing and transportation. I think that’s pretty cool. Some people have expressed surprise at so much environmental support in a hick town like Indianapolis. To that I say, don’t believe the NYC-LA hype. Indianapolis is much more than a flyover, and we’re more progressive than you’ve been led to believe.
The Indianapolis International Airport has been called “the granddaddy of green airports” and was the first ever to win LEED certification for a complete terminal. Now it boasts the world’s largest airport solar farm, selling green electricity to Indianapolis Power and Light. Oh, and it’s also successful:
In a J.D. Power and Associates survey, the Indianapolis Airport received the highest customer satisfaction score of any North American airport. Airports Council International named it the best airport in North America in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014. In 2013, Travel + Leisure rated it one of America’s best airports. (Hok)
We also have the Indiana Pacers Bikeshare, where you can grab a bike for a day or use an annual pass to borrow a bike at any of 25 downtown racks and return it at any other. It hasn’t quite taken us to Copenhagen levels of bicycle use, but it does help downtown workers commute quickly for lunch or meetings and stay fit simultaneously. I have a friend with an annual membership who loves it.
And if you aren’t into bikes, the BlueIndy electric car sharing service may be for you. Check out a car, unplug it, and drive off. Return it to any BlueIndy station. Or get a membership and pay $2/hour to charge your own electric car — with a reserved downtown parking space, which makes that two bucks a pretty sweet deal.
Let Me Sum Up
So that’s my Tesla and how she came to be here. Oh, and her name is The Flying Squirrel, a reference to the red vehicle which joins to form the head of the Teslatron (think any sentai show ever, or Power Rangers for the US adaptation) in a hilarious parody RPG called Advanced Dimensional Green Ninja Educational Preparatory Super Elementary Fortress 555. It seemed geekily appropriate.