Electric vehicles have been around longer than you'd think. The first electric cars were built in the 1830s, about 40 years before the four-stroke gas engine. Even after internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles started edging into the market, electric cars were keeping pace with the best of them. Electric cars reached early milestones, like the electric race car that broke the 100 kilometers per hour speed barrier by reaching an unprecedented 105.9 kph (65.8 mph) in 1899.
A little more than a decade later, though, electric cars were all but run off the road. The limited range and leisurely top speed of consumer models made them less thrilling than the gas-powered alternatives, which could travel between cities on the interstate auto trails and numbered U.S. highways.
Gas took over and remained on top for almost 100 years. In 2013, though, Automobile Magazine named the surprising Tesla Model S its Car of the Year. Could electric vehicles be about to regain the crown?
First of all, it's fast. The Signature Performance build has 416 hp under the hood, giving it 443 lb-ft of torque and a blistering 4.3 seconds to 60 from a standing start. In an informal drag race between the Model S and the BMW M5 -- somewhat unfair considering the M5's 560 horses of internal combustion -- the Model S won two out of three starts.
Also gone are the woeful range restrictions that dampened the enthusiasm of travelers on the old auto trails. A chart on Tesla's website shows that Tesla Model S drivers with the 85 kWh battery package can expect anywhere from 240 to 335 single-charge miles when driving between 50 and 70 mph on the highway.
It's understandable that critics were surprised by the high performance numbers of the Model S, mainly because other electric vehicles don't even come close. The nearest competitor in the range department, for example, Nissan's relatively popular Leaf, goes just 75 miles on a full battery.
EVs in charge at the garage?
Short answer? Not yet.
Company founder Elon Musk says that Tesla will be producing just a few thousand Model S cars in its first production year. The company took out a big federal loan to get its first factory up and running and they'll have to start turning considerable profit before adding facilities to the production chain.
Also, as with most of the new EV and hybrid cars, there are no professional certifications for repair on the Tesla Model S. National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) does not have certifications for either hybrids or EVs, and will not be producing any soon since the majority of these cars are covered under the dealer's warranty. The Model S might have implications for the distant future of auto mechanics -- 10 to 15 years down the road, say -- but the block-and-piston skills you have now will probably still be relevant for quite a while.
Keep an eye out, though. If ASE starts to consider a certification for electric vehicle auto mechanics, it's probably worth looking into.
- "Model S Efficiency and Range," Tesla Motors Blog, Elon Musk and JB Straubel, May 9, 2012, http://www.teslamotors.com/blog/model-s-efficiency-and-range
- "Tesla: Why Everyone Should Be Rooting For America's New Car Company," Henry Blodgett, Yahoo! Finance, May 9, 2013, http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-ticker/tesla-why-everyone-rooting-america-car-company-152712023.html
- "Drag Race: Tesla Model S vs BMW M5 0-100mph," Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture, Ritholtz.com, November 6, 2012, http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2012/11/drag-race-tesla-model-s-vs-bmw-m5-0-100mph/
- "Q and A: Elon Musk, CEO, Tesla," Automobile Magazine, August 16, 2012, http://www.automobilemag.com/features/news/1208_q_and_a_elon_musk_ceo_tesla/
- "2013 Automobile of the Year: Tesla Model S," A.J. Mueller, Automobile Magazine, January 2013, http://www.automobilemag.com/features/awards/1301_2013_automobile_of_the_year_tesla_model_s/
- "2013 Nissan Leaf Gets Fuel Economy, Range Improvement, Says EPA," Car News, Edmunds.com, May 3, 2013, http://www.edmunds.com/car-news/2013-nissan-leaf-gets-fuel-econom-range-improvement-says-epa.html