Tesla Tunes Up Model S Warranty, Loaner Cars, Service Plan

2013 Tesla Model S before DC-to-Boston road trip, Feb 2013 [photo: Aaron Schildkraut]

2013 Tesla Model S before DC-to-Boston road trip, Feb 2013 [photo: Aaron Schildkraut]

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On Friday, Tesla held a media call to reveal another in the series of announcements touted in tweets by CEO Elon Musk.

This time, the news covered enhancements to the warranty and service experience on its Tesla Model S electric luxury sport sedan.

Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] is now delivering several hundred Model Ses each week and, Musk said, taking feedback from buyers to heart.

Its goal has always been to create “the world’s best service and warranty program” for any car on the market, he said, with the “overriding principle” being, “I want give people peace of mind” to ensure they have “the happiest possible transport experience.”

The revisions to Tesla’s service and warranty policies include three main points.

The $600-per-year service plan is now optional rather than mandatory.

This had been a source of considerable grumbling among Model S owners forced to pay $600 each year for a service plan on a car that, at least in theory, should need only wiper blades and tires replaced.

“We made a slight mistake,” said Musk in a rare admission, “in making the service fee mandatory.”

And, he revealed, unlike current automakers, his charge to the Tesla service department is “never to make a profit” from owners–just to break even.

That varies from today’s conventional model, in which new cars are sold at relatively little profit by dealerships, which makes the bulk of their profits through service work and the sale of used cars.

Musk even quoted what he termed an adage in the car business: “Sales sells the first car, but service sells all the subsequent ones.”

Any battery failure for any reason (within reason) is covered for the warranty term.

The goal here is not to require Model S buyers to read their owner manuals to understand how best to take care of their battery, Musk said.

“Any product that needs an owner’s manual to work is broken,” he said–a much-repeated Silicon Valley belief not always actually taken to heart by designers of consumer products.

And the company specifically included “user error” in its list of things that are now covered.

“This is to address electric-car concerns like, What if my battery dies?” said Musk.

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on red carpet

‘Revenge of the Electric Car’ premiere: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on red carpet

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“We want to say, don’t worry about the battery, it’s going to be fine.”

Whether that includes leaving the car for long periods without plugging it in was not addressed on the company’s call, but a notorious “bricking” incident with a Tesla Roadster received much coverage a couple of years ago.

Coverage excludes deliberate damage–owners attacking their battery packs with sledgehammers are likely not covered–but it seems a smart move on Tesla’s part.

Loaner cars at Tesla Service Centers will be new top-of-the-line 85-kilowatt-hour Model S Performance versions.

And if owners decide they prefer the driving experience of the loaner to their own Model S, they can buy that car on the spot. Its price will be the new-car price minus 1 percent for each month it’s been in service plus $1 for each mile it’s covered.

Musk said that each service center will have two to 10 such cars, depending on its service volume. The fleet altogether would number about 100 cars.

These loaner cars will also be delivered to whatever destination the Model S owner specifies, by a valet service, and the company will pick up the car to be serviced wherever it’s located.


By John Voelcker

DT Daily: Tesla gets practical, more details on Windows 8, Diablo III delayed again

Germany refuses to sign ACTA

Proponents of Internet freedom received good news today, as Germany’s Foreign Office announced that it will not sign the controversial Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement, known as ACTA. If ratified, the anti-piracy treaty would require countries around the world to adopt stricter intellectual property laws, similar to those found in the US. It would also create an entirely new governing body to oversee the enforcement of copyright law. Critics of ACTA argue that the treaty would restrict free speech, and stifle innovation online. Germany’s refusal to sign ACTA could kill the treaty, which is schedule for a ratification vote by the European Parliament in June. All 27 countries in the European Union must sign the treaty for it to go into effect.

Related article:

  • ACTA bombshell: Germany refuses to sign anti-piracy treaty amid protests

Tesla unveils Model X electric

Tesla has unveiled a prototype of its third electric vehicle, the Model X. The new EV has been designed with families in mind, looking like a crossover between a SUV and a minivan. The X gets its name from its doors, which open upward, much like the Delorean, the iconic, time-traveling car from Back to the Future. Tesla plans to start production of the Model X in 2013. It will retail for just under 50 thousand dollars.

Related article:

  • Tesla Model X revealed, but it is cool enough to fend off the new Rav4 EV?

Windows on ARM

Microsoft has revealed more details on its tablet version of Windows 8, codenamed “Windows on ARM.” The software maker now says the tablet version of the OS will come packaged with a classic Windows 7 desktop, much like the laptop and PC version. The company is downplaying the fact that almost no current PC applications will work with Windows on Arm due to the difference between Intel processors, which are common in PCs, and ARM processors, which power most mobile phones and tablets. To help quell complaints, Microsoft will offer its suite of Office apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote for free with the operating system.

Related article:

  • Building Windows for the ARM processor architecture

Diablo III delayed again

Activision Blizzard is testing the patience of Diablo fans. The publisher has announced that the highly anticipated sequel Diablo III will be delayed from its previous “Early 2012” release to sometime between April and June. Commenting on the delay, Director Jay Wilson has said that “no one will remember if the game is late, only if it’s great.” Diablo III has been in development since 2001.

Related article:

  • Activision pushes 2012 Diablo III release to Q2, new Call of Duty coming

By Greg Mombert

Had To Happen: Tesla Model S Spawns ‘Teslacessories’ Startup

Tesla Model S with DISRUPT license plate, March 2013 [photo: Sam Villella]

Tesla Model S with DISRUPT license plate, March 2013 [photo: Sam Villella]

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Accessories are a huge part of the auto business, and for every car, somewhere there’s a business (or a few dozen) offering aftermarket items the manufacturer hasn’t, can’t, or won’t provide.

And so it turns out to be for the Tesla Model S, the all-electric sport sedan from Silicon Valley startup Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA].

Founded by Tesla owner Roger Pressman, who took delivery of a very early Model S with serial number 00184, Teslaccessories.com plans to offer aftermarket add-ons for the Model S.

The company’s first product is the Center Console Insert, which slides into the empty center tray on the floor of the Model S just ahead of the front seats.

The Console Insert has stitched leather sides and a carbon-fiber pattern top surface, and it contained both a cupholder and a closeable compartment with a sliding tambour door.

The pricing is not given on the company’s website, although there’s a signup procedure to get on a priority waiting list for the item (which the company says was released last week).

Signing up on a waiting list is a process Model S owners will be familiar with, since Tesla took deposits for Model S reservations up to three years before it delivered the cars.

With something like 5,000 cars delivered to date (Tesla won’t say), and production at 400 cars a week, the pool of Model S owners is growing every day.

Center Console Insert for Tesla Model S offered by Teslaccessories.com

Center Console Insert for Tesla Model S offered by Teslaccessories.com

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And you can view the arrival of a dedicated aftermarket firm exclusively for the vehicle as another tiny indicator of success for Tesla Motors.

It won’t make any difference to the company’s viability as a global auto business, of course.

But the launch of Teslaccessories.com can be viewed as yet another bit of validation by a member of what have to be some of the most enthusiastic–if occasionally critical, or at inquisitive–owner bodies of any new car in the world.

We look forward to hearing about additional aftermarket accessories for the Tesla Model S.


By John Voelcker

Tesla Model S Scores 99 Rating From Consumer Reports

2013 Tesla Model S CAPTIONS ON | OFF

There have been a lot of questions swirling around the practicality of owning a Tesla Model S. But with booming sales, and a bevy of raving critic reviews, the cherry on top may be a gushing article in Consumer Reports today that scores the Model S a 99 out of possible 100 points – their highest score for any vehicle in eight years. Is this a turning point for the EV leader?

Consumer Reports scores aren’t always taken seriously by the buying public. In 2011, CR scored the 2012 Honda Civic so low that they knocked it off their Recommended Buy list. Outraged customers responded by buying nearly 318,000 of the econoboxes. But the 99 score is still an eye-popping total from the notoriously stingy CR, and only lends more credence to the rapidly rising reputation of the Model S.

For sure, there’s a lot to like about the Tesla Model S. It even got Consumer Reports to liven up their normally dry text with some sass – “There, we said it.” – and a Back To The Future reference. The review makes the case that the Model S doesn’t score well in spite of its EV powertrain, but that it does so because of it. That’s high praise for a vehicle no one could guarantee would make it to market last year.

Consumer Reports does point out the main obstacles of owning a Model S: Price and range. The model they tested was an 85 kWh Model S, retailing at over $89,000. They also loaded it to the gills with options like the third row jumper seat and extra charging equipment. Meanwhile, they noted that while the 280-mile range is impressive, it’s still not as convenient as gas in some cases.

Still, there were no glitches or breakdowns, no defects or frustrations. The Model S came and saw the status quo, and by conquering Consumer Reports, it’s on the way to stardom.


Visit theautoMedia.comTesla Research Centerfor quick access to reviews, pricing, photos, mpg and more. Make sure to followautoMedia.comonTwitterandFacebook.


By Ryan ZumMallen

Is Tesla the next Apple?

tesla model s electric car

The only moment in last Wednesday’s presidential debate that grabbed my attention was when Mitt Romney called Tesla a loser, and implied that the government’s $450 million loan to the automaker was the worst government investment since the days of $11,000 toilet seats.

Romney’s remarks come as Tesla is rolling out its Model S, a car that Dan Neil described in the Wall Street Journal this way, “This Tesla Model S thing you’ve heard so much about? You know, all-electric sedan, Silicon Valley, that guy from SpaceX? This is one amazing car. I mean, hard-core amazing. But first and foremost, gentle reader, it goes like the very stink of hell.”

Heck, that’s never going to catch on.

Kim Reynolds, writing in Motor Trend, observed, “There just might be a revenge of the electric car after all, courtesy of the only major electric car builder producing EVs without being forced to: Tesla.”

Reynolds’ review ended this way, “Tesla — like Apple in the electronic device realm — is the sort of ambitious and fearlessly innovative company this country needs a thousand more of.”

That’s what I was thinking just after Romney dumped on Tesla. If I had to name the next Apple, the next company capable of utterly redefining the customer experience, it would be Tesla.

This potential is all the more remarkable when you consider that the car industry has been around for more than a century. It is an industry that almost by necessity moves slowly and that demands huge amounts of capital. Quick — name the last truly revolutionary car.

The electric Model S has no engine. None. The Signature Performance version can go from zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds. (Competing electrics like Ford’s Focus EV are more like 9 seconds.) The entire car is built on top a giant battery that stretches the length and width of the car, giving it an unprecedented 300-mile range between charges. Nissan’s frugal Leaf, by comparison, is lucky to make it 138 miles under perfect circumstances.

On nearly every important metric, the Model S not only leads, it laps the competition. This graph from Motor Trend puts it into perspective.

electric car graph

Each measurement corner of the graph represents a metric, such as range or acceleration. The closer to the outer edges, the better. The Model S stats are in dark blue, at the outer edges of the chart. No other electric car comes close.

tesla s model electric car 17 inch screen

To top it all off, the car comes with a 17-inch touchscreen. Anton Wahlman, writing for The Street, put it this way. “Forget all other cars you’ve experienced to date — this 17-inch screen feels like a 100-year jump in automotive technology.”

The last time I saw as many positive reviews as the Model S has received was, well, when Apple released a new phone.

This might be a good time for a reality check. The Model S is expensive, with a base price of $49,900 that leaps upwards when you increase power and range. Tesla expects to deliver just 3,225 of these cars this year. The firm isn’t going to be mass market anytime soon.

But that’s the path Apple followed, too. Its products have long been more expensive than the competition’s. When the Apple Lisa launched in 1983, it sold for $9,995. In 1983 dollars. Of course, it was also the first personal computer to offer a graphical user interface, a quantum leap forward in design that we’re still using today.

When Apple started to open retail stores, lots of people — myself included — wondered how the hell Apple could hope to use so much floor space when all they sold was a few digital devices. Last week I walked through an Apple store near Hartford, CT and it was jammed. This is no surprise; Apple stores are always jammed.

tesla store electric carsGuess what? Tesla isn’t opening traditional parking lot-style auto dealerships. Instead it’s opening sleek retail stores that bring to mind, yep, Apple.

Justin Hyde, the first journalist to test-drive a Model S, observed that the “last successful American startup automaker was Chrysler, founded 87 years ago. Every genius, huckster, and combination thereof who’s tried since has been ground into a fine powder by massive up-front costs combined with meager profits and ruthless competition.”

Tesla has already beat them all. It’s a far smarter company than most, and I’d gladly bet on them. Now if I can only convince my wife to let me sell our SUV and minivan…

Bruce Kasanoff is a speaker, author and innovation strategist who tracks sensor-driven innovation at Sense of the Future. Kasanoff and co-author Michael Hinshaw teamed up to explore more of the opportunities unearthed by disruptive forces in Smart Customers, Stupid Companies.

By Bruce Kasanoff

Tesla Reports 2012 Losses, Expects Positive Q1 2013

Tesla Reports 2012 Losses, Expects Positive Q1 2013

Starting a new car company is hard. Tesla has been finding that out, and it has reported larger losses in 2012 than it did in 2013. It’s not all bad, though – the company is now building 400 Model S cars per day and is on track to produce 20,000 of them this year.

Indeed, the automaker says much of its red ink stems directly from ramping up production of the Model S, the company’s sole product at this point in time. The company says it is now churning out 400 units a day, and is allegedly on track to build roughly 20,000 copies by the end of 2013.

2013 Tesla Model S rear three quarter 1 300x187 imageThe negative numbers don’t seem to have placed a damper on Tesla’s outlook.  CEO Elon Musk stated during the company’s earnings call on Wednesday, “We really have a very high confidence that we will have a profitable first quarter, and this is the very first quarter that we have been at our target production rate.” It’s because Tesla has only just got up and running with its 400-unit-per-day rate that we don’t have full sales numbers yet; the company is still working through a backlog of orders on the Model S – unsurprising, given how impressed we were when we named the Model S our Car of the Year. That said, it still reported sales of 2400 cars in the fourth quarter of 2012 and has grown its international store total to 32. A total of 2650 Model S cars were sold in 2012.

Tesla is aiming to increase its global retail footprint to 52 stores by the end of this year, and also hopes to roll out a leasing program for the Model S and to continue expanding its Supercharger network. Musk stated that the expansion plans will only help to propel the company’s growth, as it currently has “over 15,000″ reservations for the Model S and expect to post a quarterly profit for Q1 of 2013. Ambitious goals, and we’ll have to wait and see how they shake out over the course of 2013.

Sources: Telsa, Automotive News (Subscription required)

By Donny Nordlicht

Nine Road Trip-Ready Vehicles – Rumor Central

Nine Road Trip-Ready Vehicles

Memorial Day weekend means many things to many people, but it universally signals the start of one summer tradition: road trips. Regardless of if you’re heading to see family, escape into the great outdoors, or simply crisscross the country, we’ve rounded up some ideal road trip vehicles for those seeking to hit the road this summer.

Volkswagen Passat TDI front three quarters view 2 300x199 imageI want to…go there and back on a single tank.

Volkswagen Passat TDI

Base Price: $26,225
EPA mileage: 30 mpg city/ 40 highway

There are a number of thrifty, diesel-burning vehicles offered in North America – and plenty from the Volkswagen Group, at that – but few strike us as ideal for long-distance road tripping when compared to the Passat TDI. Volkswagen’s diesel-sipping midsize sedan is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-diesel, which cranks out 140 hp. What it lacks in sheer power, however, it delivers in impressive fuel economy. Fitted with the optional six-speed automatic transmission, a 2013 Passat is rated at 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway.

These numbers are incredible when you consider the size of the Passat. Yes, it’s deemed a midsize sedan, but at 191.6 inches long, it’s on the larger end of that spectrum. That extra size results in plus-sized interior, with enough space for large adults to sit in both the front and rear seats. Think you sacrifice on cargo space? Wrong again – there’s 15.9 cubic feet with the rear seats up, allowing the trunk to resemble Mammoth Cave – albeit with a bit more plastic trim and carpeting.

Mercedes Benz Sprinter passenger van front three quarters view 300x199 imageI want to…bring the entire family. And I do mean the ENTIRE family.

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Base price: $41,315

EPA mileage: not tested by EPA

If the tired stereotype of precocious in-laws and annoying extended family members applies to you, skip this section. If not – and you’d actually like to travel with your large family using as few vehicles as possible – there’s really only one option shy of picking up a used transit bus at public auction: the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. In its passenger form, the Sprinter seats up to twelve fairly comfortably, and even more comfortably if equipped with the cathedral-spec, 107.5-inch tall “high roof” option. The 140-inch wheelbase provides plenty of space (23.7 cubic feet) aft of that rear bench, but the elongated 170-inch model provides up to 31.2 cubic feet. We’ve seen (and lived) in urban apartment dwellings with less usable space than a Sprinter.

Yes, the sliding door rattles a bit over bumps; no, interior materials aren’t the fanciest; and yes, the price tag – especially if you go crazy with stand-alone options – isn’t inexpensive – but that’s beside the point. For such a gargantuan people mover, the Sprinter is surprisingly easy to drive – and it’s also incredibly efficient. Its weight class allows it to sidestep EPA testing, but we’ve frequently seen combined averages around the 19-20-mpg mark. For a vehicle that has the aerodynamic profile of a two-story house, that’s impressive.

Tesla Model S front view on road 300x199 imageI want to…use no gasoline, diesel, or combustible fuel at all.

Tesla Model S

Base price: $71,070

EPA rating: 88 mpge city/ 90 highway
Yeah, we get it – electric cars aren’t necessarily road-trip vehicles, or if they are, they’re only so when paired with a range-extending internal combustion engine. Still, if you insist on using a battery-powered vehicle for a road trip, it’s hard to best the Tesla Model S. Why? Space, for starters. There’s room for five passengers within the Model S, although that number grows to seven if you opt for the small, rear-facing jump seat. We’d skip that, as it frees up the rear cargo area for your luggage and other belongings. Between that area and the “frunk” beneath the hood, there’s nearly 31.6 cubic feet of storage available.

Range? That’s still a hot-button topic, but the top-tier Model S Performance comes with a 85-kWh battery that theoretically provides as much as 265 miles on a single charge. Of course, your distance will vary based on temperature, terrain, and your own temperament – but compared to the EPA-rated range of, say, a Ford Focus Electric, it’s fairly sizable. Depending on your journey, we’d still recommend ensuring your planned drive regularly passes charging stations, and that you do budget time for a recharge or two along the way.

Mercedes Benz S350 Bluetec front three quarters view 300x199 imageI want to…travel as far as possible in the lap of luxury.

Mercedes-Benz S350 Bluetec 4Matic

Base price: $93.905

EPA rating: 21/31 mpg

Diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz sedans have long been sold in North America, but until the launch of the S350 Bluetec in 2012, Mercedes always shied away from selling a diesel-powered flagship here. We’re just glad the S350 finally made the trek from Germany, as it blends first-world luxuries with first-rate fuel economy.  Despite tipping the scales at 4784 pounds and being paired with an all-wheel-drive system, its 3.0-liter, turbo-diesel V-6 and seven-speed automatic help the S350 attain an EPA rating of 21 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway. With a full 23.8- gallon tank of diesel, the S350 can cruise over 730 miles without refueling.

That cruise will be quite comfortable, given the S Class is arguably one of the most refined, comfortable, and luxurious sedans this side of a Rolls-Royce. Benz’s premium leather interior boasts attractive hand-stitched accents on virtually every surface, including the dash and door panels. Rear seat occupants are already gifted with 42.3 inches of legroom, but an optional package allows those in the outboard seats to heat, cool, and recline their seats. Add power sunshades, a DVD entertainment system, and a Bang & Olufsen audio system, and you’ll be cruising in unimpeached comfort.

Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT front three quarters view1 300x199 imageI want to…haul the family, cargo, and ass.

Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT

Base price: $63,990

EPA rating: 13 mpg city/ 19 highway

We wanted to throw a muscle car on this list, but last we tried, packing a family of four and their cargo into a Camaro or Mustang is essentially impossible. Or if it is possible, it doesn’t make for a very comfortable (or tolerable) four-hour drive. But what if there were a way to blend the power of a muscle car with the packaging of a family vehicle? Enter Jeep’s SRT-tuned Grand Cherokee. Seating for five? 35.1 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up? 470 hp on tap? 0-60 mph in about five seconds? Check, check, check, and check.

Unlike the first generation model, today’s Grand Cherokee SRT is a comfortable chimera that walks the line between performance and civility with few qualms. Adaptive Bilstein dampers at all four corners provide a surprisingly compliant ride quality for long hauls, but stiffen up to snuff out body roll on twisty back roads. The 6.1-liter V-8 slams passengers into seatbacks like a Mercury Redstone rocket, but idles four cylinders under light loads to reduce fuel consumption. Better yet, this latest iteration of SRT Grand Cherokee can tow up to 7200 pounds – perfect for dragging a speedboat behind your speed wagon.

Audi S5 Cabriolet front three quarters view static 300x199 imageI want to…soak up the sun.

Audi S5 Cabriolet

Base Price $60,195

EPA Rating 17 mpg city/ 26 highway

Nothing says summer like soaking up UV rays while behind the wheel of a convertible. Several drop-top models are on sale in the United States, but the Audi S5 is one of the most well-rounded choices available. There’s room for four, with rear seats that are larger than the glorified parcel shelves found in many convertibles. There’s adequate trunk space – 12.2 cubic feet, with the top up, or 10.2 with the top down. There’s the sophisticated interior (note the rear-seat reading lamps integrated into the convertible top) and handsome exterior styling. And, for those who might want to plan a road trip to a ski resort come winter, the S5 is one of the few convertibles offered with all-wheel-drive.

Better yet, the S5 is a blast to drive. Audi’s supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 serves up 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, and emits a delectable growl at wide open throttle. Although S5 coupes are offered with a six-speed manual transmission, S5 cabriolets feature Audi’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic as standard equipment.  No matter – it’s still happy to snap off lightning-quick gearchanges in either sport or manual mode. Do make sure to opt for the so-called “sports differential,” which replaces the standard rear diff with a torque-vectoring unit that helps the car rotate into corners.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited front view in woods 300x199 imageI want to…stray from the beaten path.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

Base Price: $26,790

EPA rating: 16 mpg city/ 20-21 mpg highway

Road trips are great, but what if your destination isn’t exactly on a road? For those who want to journey far outside the beaten path, we can’t think of a better choice than Jeep’s eternal Wrangler. By modern SUV and crossover standards, the Wrangler may seem like a bit of a crude anachronism, but in truth, it’s better than ever. A new instrument panel design is more attractive than ever, but the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 tucked underhood finally delivers adequate power – something the JK Wrangler previously lacked.

Although it is possible to squeeze four into a two-door Wrangler, don’t count on bringing all their belongings along for the ride. For that reason – and to give rear-seat passengers legroom for long hauls – we’d go with the four-door Wrangler Unlimited, which still offers the same off-road prowess and open-air sensations but with additional versatility. That said, you’d better act quickly if you’re in the market for one – demand for four-door Wranglers is nearly double that of the two-door model, and dealer inventory is presently at 68 days supply.

Nissan NV Roadtrek NAV 6 front three quarters view 300x199 imageI want to…stay overnight, but not in a hotel.

Nissan NV Roadtrek N6 Active

Base price: $65,260

EPA rating: not rated by EPA

Remember the days when minivans could easily double as mobile camp sites? Decades ago, such vehicles ran rampant across this country, but ever since the Volkswagen Eurovan died in 2003 the good old pop-top camper was virtually extinct. Thanks to Roadtrek, an Ontario-based motorhome manufacturer, that’s no longer the case. The new N6 Active – which is also sold as the NAV-6 – converts a Nissan NV passenger van into a multipurpose camper.

In its van configuration, the N6 Active/ NAV-6 seats six. That’s roughly half that of a standard NV passenger wagon, but understandable when you see Roadtrek packs in everything including the kitchen sink. Cabinetry installed next to the two-passenger third-row bench houses a refrigerator, sink, microwave, and cupboards. Second-row captains chairs swivel to face the rear seat and a pop-up table. The optional pop-top roof increases headroom and provides an extra two berths for sleeping, yet still allows the NV to fit in most garages.


Mazda MX 5 Miata side view on road 300x199 imageI want to…take a road trip only using back roads.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Base Price: $24,515

EPA Rating: 21-22 mpg city/ 28 mpg highway

Another convertible on this list? Yep. The Miata’s top – either made of fabric or metal — does fold and stow for top-down fun, but that’s not why we chose it for this group of cars. We revel in road trips that trade the hustle, bustle, and malaise of the interstate system in favor of winding, scenic, two-lane, back county roads. And for that, there’s virtually no way to best the MX-5. We should know – we adopted a MX-5 for a summer two years ago, and frequently sought the curvaceous road less taken instead of the quickest route between points A and B.

Yes, we know the Miata’s cabin is a bit tight, and that packing for a long trip may require you to invest in those vacuum space-saving bags seen on late-night infomercials. Still, if you’re looking to plan a long trip full of entertaining roads – i.e. PCH, Tail of the Dragon, OH-555, etc. – there’s not a better choice. As road test editor Chris Nelson wrote back in 2011, “you can find a lot of little things to complain about, but if you do, you’re missing the point. The Miata is, has been, and always will be a purpose-built automobile. That purpose is to be one of the purest, most enjoyable sports cars on the market. Give it a smooth road, good company, and great scenery, and the Miata takes care of the rest.”

By Evan McCausland

Software Update Will Allow Tesla Model S to ‘Creep’

People who are used to driving a car with an automatic gearbox are also used to it ‘creeping’ when stationary, in drive, when the brake is released. Creeping is the norm among conventionally-powered vehicles with self-shifting transmissions, yet there is no need for it in EVs.

However, after receiving numerous requests from some Model S owners, Tesla will be adding this function to all owners who wish to have it, via a simple software update, which doesn’t even require a trip to the garage, as the Model S features wireless connectivity.

Once the software update is installed, drivers will have the option to activate or deactivate it any time, via some sort of sub-menu available on the car’s gigantic 17-inch touch screen control unit. We still say that it is a useless feature to have on an EV, but since Tesla’s interest is to sell cars and keep the owners happy, they had no option but to comply.

Story via greencarreports.com

By Andrei Nedelea

Tesla Supercharger Coming To Midwest Too, Not Just Coasts

Tesla Road Trip from MD to CT, Feb 2013 - Tesla Model S cars at Delaware SuperCharger location

Tesla Road Trip from MD to CT, Feb 2013 – Tesla Model S cars at Delaware SuperCharger location

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The long-promised announcement from Tesla Motors on expansion of its Supercharger network has been delayed by the company’s billion-dollar fundraising, and this week’s payoff of its entire Department of Energy loan.

But Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] still plans a rapid expansion of the network of fast-charging stations for its Model S electric cars.

Currently there are just nine Supercharger stations, six in California and three along the Northeast Corridor from Boston through New York City to Washington, D.C.

Now we’ve learned that the network will expand into the Midwest.

At least four stations will be installed in Normal, Illinois, the electric-car friendly town known for its dozens of Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric minicars. (There’s a Mitsubishi plant in Normal.)

According to Pantagraph, up to 10 Supercharger stations will be located in the municipal parking deck.

On Monday, May 6, the Normal City Council voted 5-2 to approve a five-year lease with Tesla Motors, with two five-year extensions possible.

Tesla will pay all costs of installing and maintaining its charging stations.

Under its EV Town initiative, Normal is moving aggressively to install infrastructure for electric cars, offer purchase incentives, promote their advantages, and otherwise demonstrate what a community can do to integrate plug-in electric cars into its everyday life.

Rumors about Tesla’s upcoming Supercharger announcement–postponed from last week, per a tweet from CEO Elon Musk–indicate that the company may announce that up to 100 stations will be opened before the end of this year.

Other locations known to be slated for installations include more in the Northeast, plus new stations in the Pacific Northwest, Texas, and Florida.


By John Voelcker

Tesla Testifies In Texas, Takes On State’s Auto Dealers Over Stores

Tesla owners & supporters gather in Statehouse in Austin to support company [photo: John Griswell]

Tesla owners & supporters gather in Statehouse in Austin to support company [photo: John Griswell]

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Texas is tough, and Texas car dealers are no exception.

But electric-car startup Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA], in the person of its CEO Elon Musk, testified yesterday at a hearing in the Texas legislature on a bill that would allow it to sell its cars directly to Texas buyers.

That’s presently illegal in Texas, where legislation long backed by state dealer groups requires all new cars to be sold by an independently-owned third party.

That is to say, a car dealer.

No touching the new car

There are now two Tesla Stores in the state, in Austin and in Houston, among the 16 stores in 12 states run by the company.

But under the current law, the Tesla employees may not offer rides or drives in a Model S, mention any kind of pricing information, or even point customers to where that information is available–on the company’s website.

Because Tesla has no franchised dealers, any Texan who wants to buy a Tesla Model S has to do so through a Tesla Store in some other state.

The truck that delivers the cars to their Texas homes may not bear Tesla markings, and buyers must even unwrap their cars themselves, because Tesla employees may not say anything or touch any car related to sales activity.

Narrow exception

The bill being debated is narrowly crafted and, at the moment, would benefit only Tesla.

It applies solely to carmakers who sell “only all electric-powered or all battery-powered motor vehicles.”

Those makers must have had locations open in the state before March 1, and have no franchised dealers.

Strong opposition by dealers

You can read the entire bill–it’s remarkably short–here.

Tesla owners & supporters gather in Statehouse in Austin to support company [photo: John Griswell]

Tesla owners & supporters gather in Statehouse in Austin to support company [photo: John Griswell]

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(For the record, the two versions are Senate Bill 1659, sponsored by Senator Craig Estes, a Wichita Falls Republican, and House Bill 3351, sponsored by Representative Eddie Rodriguez, an Austin Democrat.)

While the bill’s supporters include Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, the Texas Automobile Dealers’ Association has strongly and forcefully opposed the bill.

In various comments over the past several weeks, the association has predicted that the bill would not pass.

It also calls Tesla’s desire for an exemption “arrogant,” and consistently claims that the existing traditional franchised-dealership model offers the best way to sell and service cars and by far the most protection for consumers.

Other auto dealers’ associations have done the same in their states.

In Colorado, the state dealer association got the state’s law changed in early 2010 to forbid any direct sales of any car at all after Tesla opened a single store there.

Fear of unfair competition

Tesla owners & supporters gather in Statehouse in Austin to support company [photo: John Griswell]

Tesla owners & supporters gather in Statehouse in Austin to support company [photo: John Griswell]

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Like many such laws, the Texas rule grew out of a post-World War II fear that automakers would set up their own dealerships and give them preferential treatment to the franchised dealers.

Most states have some variation of a law that says automakers cannot open wholly-owned dealers that compete with franchises selling the same brand.

Tesla Motors, of course, has no franchised dealers.

And it also seems to have friends among Texas consumers and, more importantly, at least some state legislators.

More buyers in Texas

Yesterday, CEO Musk testified after 5 pm on Tuesday, several hours into the hearing of the House Business and Industry Committee held in the statehouse in Austin.

At a news conference yesterday, Musk said the current law is hurting Tesla’s business in the state.

Tesla owners & supporters gather in Statehouse in Austin to support company [photo: John Griswell]

Tesla owners & supporters gather in Statehouse in Austin to support company [photo: John Griswell]

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Today, 6 percent of Tesla Model S luxury sport sedan buyers come from Texas, he said.

But the company feels that number could be 15 to 20 percent if buyers could purchase online directly from the company as they do now in other states, including California, which is Tesla’s largest market.

“What we’re asking for from the Texas Legislature is really simple,” Musk said. “Let us sell our cars directly to the people of Texas [as] we’re able to do in most of the country.”

Local Model S owners lined up outside the Statehouse, with their all-electric sport sedans parked in a neat row at the curb, to attend the hearing and show their support for Tesla.

‘Get our ass kicked’?

At his press conference, Musk acknowledged the great political power of state auto dealers.

“Everyone warned us”, he said, telling the CEO that “if you are going to do this, you’re going to get your ass kicked.”

The battle, Musk concluded, has to be fought anyway: “I guess there’s a good chance we’ll get our ass kicked. But we’ll try.”

No love lost

There’s no love lost between Musk and auto dealers in general.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk

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He has urged his Twitter followers to support Tesla’s fight in Texas, and in a memo to employees leaked to Forbes last week, he wrote:

It is crazy that Texas, which prides itself on individual freedom, has the most restrictive laws in the country protecting the big auto dealer groups from competition.

If the people of Texas knew how bad this was, they would be up in arms, because they are getting ripped off by the auto dealers as a result (not saying they are all bad – there a few good ones, but many are extremely heinous).

“For everyone in Texas that ever got screwed by an auto dealer,” Musk concludes, “this is your opportunity for payback.”

For the record, Musk was rather more measured in his words in a follow-up interview with Forbes.

The general counsel for TADA, Karen Phillips, called Musk’s leaked e-mail “inappropriate” in an article in trade journal Automotive News.

The legislators of her state should be able to “see beyond the number of people at a hearing,” she said, and simply focus on the existing law and its merits.

The e-mail, she sniffed, “shows the type of person we’re dealing with.”

Texas Tesla plant?

Musk also dangled the possibility that Tesla would consider the state for a second manufacturing plant, at whatever point it decided it needed such a facility.

The company’s current facility in Fremont, California, is largely empty outside of the single Model S assembly line.

When the Fremont plant was jointly operated by General Motors and Toyota, it produced several hundred thousand vehicles a year; Tesla is targeting 20,000 to 25,000 cars this year.

In other words, any second Tesla plant seems likely to be many years in the future.

Musk suggested, however, that such a plant might be a suitable home for his vision of a future all-electric pickup truck with the “performance of a sports car” but higher cargo capacity and towing ability than a similar truck powered by a gasoline or diesel engine.

Skeptical legislators

Tesla owners & supporters gather in Statehouse in Austin to support company [photo: John Griswell]

Tesla owners & supporters gather in Statehouse in Austin to support company [photo: John Griswell]

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Meanwhile, the act requires a vote of two-thirds of the members of each house to become law.

While more than 40 people testified for the bill, in support of Tesla, committee members questioned whether there might be ways to further restrict the bill.

Among suggestions was the idea that Tesla would have to convert over to franchised dealers once it reached a certain level of sales.

After the hearing, Musk seemed to acknowledge that the bill might not succeed, telling the Texas Tribune that if it didn’t, the company would return next session.

[Sincere thanks to Tesla owner and photographer John Griswell, who allowed us to use his photos from the hearings.]


By John Voelcker

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