A few short months ago, conventional wisdom was poking fun at the Tesla S electric car, with some columnists calling it "a glorified golf cart" (which, in case you don't know, is the N-word analogue for electric vehicles), a NYT auto reporter managing (thanks to an undisclosed combination of stupidity and ill-will) to strand a Model S in rural Connecticut - and most of Wall Street shorting Tesla stock like it's already dead.
That was then. A little while later, in rapid succession, we've learned that
- Tesla (with Toyota's likely help) has gotten the hang of high-volume manufacturing, and is producing 500 Model S a week to its eager waiting list (which is showing no signs of going away any time soon)
- Nearly 5000 Model S were sold in the first quarter, making the Model S the best-selling EV/plug-in year-to-date;
- That same report showed a Q1 profit, and also indicated that if the sales rate is kept up (there's no reason why not), Tesla will see about $1.5 billion in revenue from the S in 2013. Say what you will about Wall Street, they do know basic arithmetic there - so the Tesla stock was sent soaring, leading to the immortal Elon Musk tweet "Seems to be some stormy weather over in Shortville these days"...
- On the same week, Consumer Reports gave the S a 99 out of 100 score, a score achieved only once before (some 6-7 years ago by a Lexus, I think). They stopped just shy of calling the S the "best car ever".
- In May, Tesla announced it is paying off its Federal loan in full, 9 years early. (mind you, it was a regular loan, not a "handout" or "bailout")
Ok, I know my fellow progressives. Some of you are thinking: so? Are we now reduced to cheering one corporation against another? Are we celebrating a hedonistic lifestyle of luxury EVs, instead of doing the hard work of educating the public towards _______ (...fill the blank with whatever the ideal green anti-global-warming lifestyle means to you)?
This is a short diary. So my short answer is that if you don't like EVs anyway, and cannot bear to hear about car sales on Daily Kos, stop reading right now. If you are a mellow person, you will just cause yourself a bit of agony. If you are less mellow (not that there are any of those among us, right?...), you will run the risk of breaking the site's awesome-yet-simple Participating in Someone Else's Diary rules.
A slightly longer answer is that we progressives might be fuzzy sometimes about recognizing our allies - but our enemies on the global-warming front are not. State and national auto-dealership associations are already hard at war with Tesla. Pretty soon Tesla sales might be banned across much of the South. And notorious global-warming denialist Patrick Michaels placed an anti-Tesla, anti-EV hate screed on Forbes, titled "If Tesla Would Stop Selling Cars, We'd All Save Some Money". Mind you, this was written in late May, after all the positive news listed above were known.
So we may not always recognize our friends, but our enemies sure know who they are. As kos (and others) said, the EV is a disruptive technology. It disrupts not just the auto dealer's lazy profit-making machine; the EV disrupts the oil economy itself. It is not the only such disruption - but it's an extremely potent one.
Ok... what is this diary about? The one qualm remaining, what stayed Consumer Reports from handing out that 100th point, and what still keeps the EV-uninitiated crowd from fully embracing the beast (besides, um, its price :) - is this issue, as Consumer Reports states it (emphasis mine):
So is the Tesla Model S the best car ever? We wrestled with that question long and hard. It comes close. And if your needs are confined to the Tesla's driving range, it just may be. But for many people, the very thing that makes cars great is the ability to jump in and drive wherever you want on the map at a moment's notice. And on that measure the Tesla has its limitations. So the Model S may not satisfy every conceivable need, but as we've learned through our testing and living with it, the Model S is truly a remarkable car.At the time of writing, what Consumer Reports knew was that after some 200 miles (for the base model, 250+ miles for the upper model) you will need to stop and recharge the S. The fastest possible recharging (which is free for S drivers) still takes a half-hour or more. Personally, I don't mind stopping for a half-hour on a road trip after 200 miles. But some people might be in a hurry.
Well? A couple of weeks ago Tesla started sending teasers about a battery-swap demo. This demo was successfully carried out last night, MC'ed by Musk in his typical tongue-in-cheek showmanship. Two Tesla S were battery-swapped at the same service stop, each taking 90-100 seconds, while the split screen showed a guy filling up an Audi in what Musk called "LA's fastest gas pump" in almost 4 minutes (pull-in-to-finish-paying). A rather entertaining video:
Yeah, that Audi filled up some 22 gallons, so a typical fill-up would take only roughly as much time as one Tesla S pack-swap (rather than 2). Either way, the point was made. Musk clearly said that unlike recharging, this service will be for a fee. Not free.
In case you were wondering, on another tweet Musk has indicated that the founder of recently-bust Better Place battery-switching venture actually got his idea from Tesla after visiting their factory. I believe Musk, because Better Place's founder had no prior knowledge about EVs. Tesla also said that setting up a national pack-swapping infrastructure would cost them under $100 million (it was the huge cost of building such an infrastructure before any sales were made that sunk Better Place; not to mention that they chose the wrong country to build it in).
So... is my contention (expressed in this diary) that pack-swapping is only adequate for a sub-niche of the EV market, wrong? I don't think so. As an EV driver I hardly need public charging stations on a daily basis, let alone a fast swap. Over 99% of my charging is done at home. One such niche (suggested in the diary) is taxis and short-haul trucks. But I've just read of another niche: people who live in apartments or who otherwise won't be able to charge at home on a regular basis. Pack-swapping might make sense for them too. And of course, that mythical 1000-miles-a-day road trip is another niche.
More generally, the war over the EV right now is all about psychology and perception. As Musk demonstrated last night, the Tesla S comes with essentially no limitations save for price and the availability of that charge/swap network. Mind you, these are not technological limitations anymore. The S technology is as unconstrained as any gas car. And once the S sales have paid for all the national infrastructure and manufacturing know-how, Tesla should have little trouble in rolling out a more affordable EV that will be able to capitalize on all this support.
While this obviously helps Tesla more than any other EV company, the entire field benefits from any step that makes the public see EVs as real (and better) cars rather than novelty toys for green-obsessed geeks. One of the wisest comments I've read about Tesla, EVs and that Consumer Reports score, went something like this:
After only a decade, and only a couple of manufacturers seriously invested in it, the EV field can already put up a consumer car that matches the very-best results of 100+ years of worldwide production and tech refinement on the internal-combustion engine car. So imagine what the EV future might hold in store for us.
This insight draws us away from silly hero-worship of Musk and Tesla, and suggests (correctly IMHO) that EVs are simply a better and more advanced car technology concept.
That, besides being great against Big Oil and global warming.
One thing for sure: keeping this battery-swap design a secret (make no mistake, it was designed to be swappable) and unveiling it now, is quite a PR stunt.
10:28 AM PT: Wow-the-Wreck-List Mandatory Update: whew, I really didn't think this diary would make the list. Seems like making it about 10% the length of my typical diaries has helped :)
Just wanted to add vis-a-vis oil-economy disruption. The beauty of the EV effect, is that it should be enough to get the EV market share to just a few percents, with good user experience, to start seeing the estimated market value of all those oil deposits start tumbling down to less-inflated levels. Between the pressure of carbon-pollution regulation, and a viable non-oil solution for its most common usage (i.e., cars), the $$ numbers for projects such as Tar Sands will simply stop adding up.
Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!
Another Update (2:30 PM PDT): First, I stand corrected by a couple of commenters, vis-a-vis the potential battery damage from DC fast-charging. They highlighted that 1. The Tesla supercharger system tries to minimize that damage compared with the standard EV fast-chargers, and 2. Tesla covers all this type of damage anyway, so long as it's not intentional.
Second, a big h/t to New Minas, who embedded a video of the demo's second batter-swap, shot by someone in the audience, from a much better angle that shows the actual battery coming down and a new one coming up (some commenters suspected an elaborate hoax... I wouldn't go there...). Also, in this amateur video the sales-pitch narration is mercifully less dominant.