With more than 1,800 Roadsters circling the globe, and at least one in almost every state of the union, the Tesla fanbase that seems to surprise most people is Texas. Home to the oil industry and criss-crossed with long empty stretches of highway, it doesn’t seem like an automatic fit for electric cars. But the dozens of Tesla owners who live there beg to differ -- and will prove it to you if they need to.
Often found caravanning with their fellow Roadster owners, zooming through their daily commutes or tearing up nearby tracks, Tesla’s Texas community couldn’t be more enthusiastic and diverse.
This week, Tesla opens a gallery to showcase its technology in Houston. Located at the intersection of the energy industry and American muscle car culture, its sure to raise a few eyebrows and attract an even broader mix of people passionate about performance cars, the environment, energy security and more. We’re excited to see what happens, especially as Model S -- Tesla’s first mass-produced car and the world’s first electric premium sedan -- nears delivery in mid-2012.
For a window into the Texas Tesla experience, see what current Roadster owners (and a Model S reservation holder!) had to say about driving electric in the Lone Star State.
The Trackmasters: Dave & Susan Fiorelli
There are performance car buffs, and then there are experts. Dave Fiorelli, the 2003 and 2004 SCCA Southwest Division T-1 Champion, falls into the latter category. With his wife, Susan, Dave (pictured with his Sterling Silver Roadster) operates specialty service and supply shop Performance Speedtech at the MotorSport Ranch between Fort Worth and Granbury, Texas, where he also lives trackside. A well-seasoned racer with experience behind the wheel of Dodge Vipers and other muscular internal combustion cars, he’s been silently circling the track in a Roadster since August 2009.
Q: As a confirmed Dodge Viper enthusiast, what got you interested in Tesla?
A: I’m a performance car junkie and I wanted to push the technology envelope. I’m in the electricity production business and the Roadster is about the coolest product of any kind available. We even put solar panels on our roof when we got the Tesla. They produce enough electricity each year to drive the Roadster about 30,000 miles.
Q: What was the reaction to the Roadster at Motorsport Ranch?
A: Everybody loves the Tesla -- I spend a lot of time giving rides. I’m really amazed about how many kids and early teens already know about the car, in great detail too. One 12-year-old rode with me and we got up to maybe 70 mph. Unbeknownst to me, he saw the 174 miles of battery charge remaining on the dash and later put on his Facebook page that he went 174 mph in a Tesla. His mother was not amused.
The True Believer: Ken Berliner
Ken Berliner (right, with some curious onlookers) is no stranger to high stakes and big decisions. After starting his career in medicine, he decided to go back to law school to better advise his patients. All the while, he was dominating in World Series of Poker tournaments. In 2010, the Houston resident took an educated bet on the Tesla Roadster, and quickly became one of the company’s biggest advocates -- especially once he realized how much time he was saving by skipping gas stops, oil changes and smog checks. Now hooked on EV technology, he and his wife have a Model S sedan on the way.
Q: Before you bought your Roadster, you were attached to your Mercedes SL55. Why the swap?
A: I heard about Tesla around 2004 or 2005. Before that, I believed that EVs had limited range and drove like golf carts. But what I was reading about Tesla in the press at the time seemed to indicate otherwise. At first, I was interested but not sold because I had concerns about this new company and its new technology. I took the “wait and see” approach. When I finally test drove the Roadster in September 2009, I was impressed. Until then, the Mercedes SL55AMG was the fastest car I had ever driven.
Q: What is it like to drive an electric car in Texas? Does it bring out more fans or skeptics?
A: People in Texas seem to come in two varieties. A few have heard of Tesla but never seen one in person, and most have never heard of it. Many people here work in the oil industry and can’t imagine a world without gasoline. They say I’m crazy and throwing my money away. When that happens, I gladly offer rides and I take the passenger seat. It doesn’t take long -- the car sells itself. Everyone who has taken a spin in my car has been very impressed.
Q: You’ve said your goal is to fill your garage with EVs -- and you have the Model S reservation to prove it. What converted you into an EV enthusiast?
A: A combination of factors, really. The first is national security. Our government’s fiscal security depends on limiting our discretionary spending, and we are spending way too much money policing the Middle East. We’re there to protect our access to oil. I also object to the personal toll families pay when our servicemen die overseas to protect our access to oil. I decided if I can’t fix the situation, then I will refuse to be a part of the problem. I sleep better knowing that I did what I could to end our dependence on oil.
Too many aspects of our day-to-day life are tied to the volatile price of oil and gasoline. It seems like almost every headline raises the prices of oil and therefore the price of gas and food. When gas broke $4 a gallon in 2008, I believed it would come down again. I also believed it would go back up in the future and stay there. I’m old enough to remember when I was a kid, my parents were shocked when gas broke 30 cents a gallon. A few years later in the early 1970s, it broke $1 a gallon. Many people think gas will break $5 a gallon this year. My wife’s current car is a gas guzzler, but hopefully soon it will be a Model S.
Q: What’s it like driving an EV in a state where everyone drives everywhere?
A: Owning an electric vehicle is easier than I ever thought it could be. I wake up to a full charge every day. My commute is 20 miles round trip. I find that I can do a week’s worth of driving before I have to recharge, but in most cases, I simply charge every night. It’s easy. Park and plug -- it takes four seconds.
I can’t image any life too busy for an EV. I don’t have to stop for gas ever, so I save time there. There is less maintenance required, so I save time there. I don’t have to change the oil, so I save time there.
Q: You’re a bit of a renaissance man, a doctor-lawyer turned poker champion. What makes Tesla a sure bet for you?
A: As most poker players will tell you, poker isn’t gambling -- it’s mathematically analyzing risk. Gamblers think about the possibilities while I limit my thinking to probabilities. I test drove my Tesla and put a deposit down in September 2009, but my analysis of the risk was too high to sign a contract. Tesla made headlines many times before I locked in my purchase in August 2010. Daimler and Toyota invested in the company and it secured financing. At that point, I felt like it was safe to proceed.
Now that I have been driving an EV regularly, I definitely see a successful future. Once you drive one, you see that it is such a better machine. I would never want the fumes, noise, vibration, inconvenience and hassle associated with a gas-burning car ever again. I think that EVs will be the long-term winner, and Tesla has a jump on the competition by being first to market and having superior technology. That’s why I put my bet down on Tesla.
The Tech Mogul: Josh Baer
Josh Baer (zooming in his Very Orange Roadster) is a fixture in the growing Austin technology scene. As a college student, he founded early email marketing company SKYLIST. Today he is founder and CEO of email management service OtherInbox, organizer of the Ignite Austin conference that brings together top minds in tech, art, business and government, and a mentor to young entrepreneurs. Quick to spot and act on new ideas, he was sold on Tesla from the start.
Q: Was there a turning point where you knew you had to have a Roadster?
A: I was one of the first 100 Roadster owners, so it was really like buying a dream. No cars had been built yet and all there was to see were drawings and technical specs. I think the turning point for me was watching the movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” I actually ordered the Tesla the next day. While people may debate the claims made in that film, there is no question that it got a lot of people thinking about how they can live responsibly and have a more positive impact on the environment.
Q: As a member of the Austin tech crowd, you’re pretty vocal about your Roadster online. Are people curious?
A: I actually get most questions about the car in person. About 50% of the time I return to my car to find someone standing nearby taking pictures and waiting to ask questions. The most frequent question I get is just, “How do you like it?” But most people also ask about how far it can drive and how fast it accelerates.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about owning a Roadster? Any anecdotes to share?
A: I’m still blown away by the general good will invoked by the Roadster. People walking down the sidewalk wave and give me thumbs up. Frequently, someone will stick their head out of a passing vehicle to shout out how they love the car. I must admit that I get a somewhat self-righteous feeling when I pull up behind some gas guzzler and smell the fumes pouring out of the exhaust pipe. The Roadster is the first car where I can have my cake and eat it too -- a beautiful, powerful machine that is friendly to the environment.
My favorite story? A lady walked by my Very Orange Roadster while I was nearby and I overhead her say, “He must have gotten a discount because of the color.”