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Fun, fast and energy efficient: Test driving the Tesla Model S

March 15, 2013

I drove the Tesla Model S. It made me giggle like a teenage girl.

I am not a car person. If a car gets me from Point A to Point B, that’s all I need. (Case in point: I currently drive a 20-year-old Toyota Camry.) The Tesla Model S is so very different. It is a fully electric vehicle and is energy efficient, but—more importantly—it is elegant, fast, responsive and very, very fun to drive. I covet it.

A bit of history: Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA) was co-founded by Elon Musk, who is a co-founder of PayPal and the founder of SpaceX.

Starting a car company—especially one that would build only electric cars—was an exceptionally bold move, but designing and building electric cars capable of competing with existing vehicles was only part of the challenge. Possibly even more daunting was the lack of charging infrastructure, as range anxiety is probably the biggest barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles.

Tesla has been working hard on both challenges. In addition to a super-cool car, they have also rolled out the first six free charging stations in California and have plans to build stations across the United States within two years. These free charging stations aren’t available in Canada yet, but they’re in the works and expected within the coming year or so. These guys move fast! They say they will remain free indefinitely for Model S users. (You can also charge the car at home, and many parking locations in big cities in the US now have built-in charging stations.)

Tesla Factory, courtesy of Motor Trend

My good fortune of being one of the first people in the world to drive the Model S came about because I was at the Clean Tech Investor Summit in Palm Springs (I know, life is tough), which was organized by one of Tesla’s original investors. Given his relationship with the company, he was able to get four cars fresh off the factory floor for a bunch of us to test drive. This was no easy feat—there are people who paid a $5,000 deposit to test drive the car many months ago who are still waiting their turn.

The details

Driving the car is a cool experience from start to finish. Open the hood and you find… nothing. No engine, just extra storage space. The key has to be close to the vehicle to make the retractable handles (which, incidentally, are heated for winter) slide out. When you first sit in the car you notice that a 17-inch touch screen has replaced the usual buttons, dials and knobs on the dash. Software updates can be sent directly to the car so that you always have the latest version.

Acceleration is great: 0 to 60 miles per hour in just over four seconds. It was fun leaving the BMW 5 Series car beside me in the dust! The Model S handles really well, too. Because the battery is underneath the car, its centre of gravity is very low. This makes the car really stable, so you can peel around corners, causing the Tesla employee beside me to gasp and me to giggle with delight. And when you take your foot off the brake, the car slows down automatically. It feels a lot like gearing down in a standard car.

The range is about 440 kilometres with the high-end battery pack (there are three battery options), which beats other electric vehicles by a mile (pardon the pun).

Perhaps the coolest part of the whole experience was how truly psyched the salespeople were to be showing us the car. They were deeply knowledgeable, engaging and enthusiastic, they believe wholeheartedly in both the car and the company and they take immense pride in what has been achieved to date. They didn’t even mind that I kept coming back again and again to sit in the car, play with the touch screen and dream about owning one some day.

Tesla in Canada

Want to see the Tesla Model S up close and personal? Maybe put down a deposit to test drive one? Head to the Tesla store at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto, the first of three Tesla stores planned in Canada (two more stores are in the works, one each in Vancouver and Montreal). If you fall in love with it like I did, it can be yours for less than the price of a Lexus Hybrid Sedan.

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Jane Kearns

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A senior advisor with the MaRS cleantech practice, Jane is a recognized leader in sustainable innovation, and has expertise in growing companies at the intersection of business and sustainability. With an MBA in finance from Columbia University and over 15 years of experience in the environmental finance, cleantech and sustainability sectors, she helps build businesses that matter.

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