Midtown Raleigh News

Local owners revel in their Tesla sedans

Gearheads may find pleasure in the roar of powerful gas engines. But car enthusiast David Falk’s dream machine can silently tear up the road with the heftiest of muscle cars – and it only needs an occasional plug-in.

Falk is one of a handful of Triangle residents who own Tesla Motors’ Model S, a high-range, all-electric luxury sedan manufactured in California and slowly trickling into North Carolina.

“I like it even more than I thought I would,” said Falk, one of about 80 owners in the state.

To Falk, a director at a Raleigh property management firm, it would be a shame to deny others such a driving experience.

While his dream of owning a Tesla was realized when the company delivered his car six weeks ago, others in North Carolina may not be able to use Tesla’s online-only purchasing model thanks to legislation recently approved in the state Senate.

The law would effectively block sales of the car in North Carolina because the company does not use a dealership model of sales. N.C. dealers say a manufacturer selling to consumers sets a bad precedent.

Republican lawmaker Thomas Apodaca sponsored the bill. Records show Apodaca’s campaign received $8,000 from the N.C. Automobile Dealers Association in 2012 – the highest single contribution from the group that year. Since 2004, the association has pumped more than $825,000 into both Democratic and Republican political campaigns for state lawmakers.

While other states have similar laws protecting dealers, North Carolina’s law would be the strictest, prohibiting any online car purchases not made through a dealer. The dealers association says it’s trying to protect consumers. Tesla supporters believe the move is out of fear of a radical new business model.

“If I were a dealer – just from having this car a short time – I guess I’d be scared too,” Falk said. “As a consumer, I don’t think what they’re doing is right It was such a wonderful experience for me. I sat at home and ordered a car, and they delivered it to my house. It was like using Amazon to purchase something – just that easy.”

Fellow Tesla owner Munther Qubain, who has some friends who are dealers, said he sympathizes with them. But he thinks the demand for Tesla’s brand of electric cars will drive people to find a way to work around the law, such as purchasing in another state and driving the car home themselves.

“Once people drive these things, they’ll do anything to get their hands on one,” Qubain said. “I don’t think it will affect Tesla sales in the least.”

Tesla is coming off of one of its best quarters yet, turning a profit for the first time and getting some rave reviews. Consumer Reports rated the Model S a 99 out of 100. It surpassed sales of the electric hybrid Chevrolet Volt and other luxury sedans in its class.

Different driving experience

From the outside, the Tesla shares features with other high-end luxury cars. Falk has been asked whether it’s a Maserati or a Jaguar. But the ultra-sleek exterior is where the similarities end.

The Model S sports some groundbreaking functional features. The door handles recede to become flush with the door after exiting. As Falk approaches the vehicle, his car-shaped “key” sends a signal and the handles pop out for entry. Once he sits down, the car is on. There is no ignition switch and no “on” button.

Inside Falk’s Model S, he talks about features with the same excitement as someone talking about their prized classic car. A 17-inch touch screen dominates the dash. He can adjust many of the controls and set automatic updates from his smart phone app. He can command the car to charge at only off-peak hours, saving money. A full charge, he says, costs about $9. The car has a range of about 290 miles, though Falk says practical city driving gets him about 240-260 miles per charge.

Perhaps even more intriguing is the list of what the car doesn’t have. There’s no awkward bump in the middle of the car – without a transaxle, there’s simply no need. That translates into more interior space. There’s no engine block, just a storage space under the hood and a traditional trunk in the rear.

Then there’s the actual driving. As Falk hits the accelerator, the car zips through city streets at a whisper – only the sound of tires hitting pavement and a little air conditioning blowing through the vents are noticeable. From a dead stop, the car zooms to speed without the need to switch gears. It has no gears. The most expensive sports cars in the world can’t boast full torque from a dead stop.

The experience doesn’t exactly come cheap. Model S prices range from $69,000 to more than $100,000 depending on options. But buyers can use some federal tax credits to offset the cost.

For Qubain, nothing compares to the electric car experience. The CEO of Akea, a health and wellness company, was one of the first Tesla owners. He ordered his Tesla Roadster back in 2007 and waited two years for his delivery. It was Qubain who introduced the Tesla to Falk.

In fact, Qubain introduced the car to the state of North Carolina. When he went to register the car, the Department of Motor Vehicles told him the company didn’t exist. They thought it was a self-built kit car. Computer technicians had to add the company to the state’s database so Qubain could get a title. But he brushed off the minor hassle.

“Once you drive this car, you don’t want anything else,” he said.

Falk is already eyeing the next Tesla Motors product, a crossover SUV. “I really hope my wife wants one,” he said with a grin.

The future

Qubain never considered himself an environmentalist, but ownership of a green machine has made him examine his lifestyle and impact on the environment, he said.

“Imagine a world where we not only cut our dependence on oil, but a world with less noise from traffic,” Qubain said. “When you get into all these details, you begin to realize how good these vehicles are to the environment. I went from not paying attention to caring a lot more.”

He envisions a battery-powered world where cars help maintain the nation’s power grid – giving as much power as they receive while charging.

“I really believe Tesla is not a fad,” he said. “This is the future.”

In North Carolina, at least, that future remains uncertain. The state House will vote on the new law, and if passed, buying a Tesla will become much more difficult.