You may not be aware, but for the past six months Tesla Motors has been very busy in Washington, D.C. As with our consumer marketing efforts, we’ve been trying to get the word out to key influencers in the nation’s capital that there is a company in California that’s applying good-old-American ingenuity to address the twin crises of global warming and foreign oil dependence.
Even before last November’s election, we were getting a great reception. In the new Congress, the reception has been overwhelming. Legislators and policymakers alike are really taken by the Tesla Motors story. I’ve spent enough time in Washington to be genuinely surprised by the bi-partisan support that our company, our ideas, and our car has received. It’s pretty cool. But nothing succeeds in exciting the imagination like seeing and experiencing the car in person. That’s why I was so excited to get the Tesla Roadster to Washington during our recent Spring Tour 2007. We had the opportunity to make the concept a reality for as many people as possible.
Senator Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the
Senate Energy & Natural Resources
Committee, checks out the Tesla Roadster
We wrapped up our visit to New York City on Sunday afternoon, put the car in the trailer, and all set out for Washington DC in a combination of planes, trains and automobiles – literally. (See On Tour with the Tesla Roadster for a recap of our stops in Detroit and New York.) Marketing Associate Aaron Platshon and I left early in order to scout everything out for the following week. He and I made it down the New Jersey Turnpike with no issues. But when hours later, the truck and trailer were nowhere to be seen, I placed a concerned phone call to our California-native driving crew (who by the way have done an amazing job on this trip).
When I asked them for an ETA, they told me that they were more than four-and-one-half-hours out. I responded by asking them if they realized that Washington was south of New York City. Those of you who know this route will realize that, on average, it’s a four-hour drive. As it turned out, they had developed such confidence in the TomTom navigator that they weren’t overly alarmed by signs that indicated they were getting close to Pennsylvania – more or less directly west. I can’t blame them, we were all tired. But it does point out the utility of good old Rand McNally maps.
Monday was another member/customer ride event. It went off without a hitch. We again enjoyed the hospitality of the Hyatt Corporation, holding a reception at the Park Hyatt and taking folks for a scenic and exhilarating ride up Rock Creek Parkway. It turns out that we were there on the second real day of spring, and the natives were enjoying the brief annual respite between the cold and damp of winter and the super-heated humidity of summer. Everyone was in a good mood and the folks from Nightline showed up to pick up some footage for an upcoming segment.
Tuesday was when it got really interesting for me, the guy who’s wearing out shoe leather walking the hallways of power in D.C. We started the day at the Department of Energy (DoE). We’ve been spending a lot of time meeting with the good folks in the Department’s office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. In fact, the Assistant Secretary, Andy Karsner, visited our San Carlos, Calif., headquarters last September and took a ride in the Tesla Roadster. This visit was an opportunity to make the car real for some of the other folks we work with in his office as well as the folks in the FreedomCAR group. We gave about a dozen rides and agreed that we would come back a little later this year and do a bigger event for a wider audience.
Then we proceeded over to the Department of Transportation (DoT). As you know, we are producing vehicles that conform to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). So we’ve begun the process of working with the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA). Happily, DoT was having their Earth Day celebration and they had invited a number of “advanced technology” vehicles to be displayed on the plaza at DoT headquarters. It would be an understatement to say the Tesla Roadster stole the show. And it was great because all of the folks who knew the car and company only by our dry technical submissions had a chance to see the car and witness the excitement. We also had a brief 15 minute meeting and ride scheduled with the NHTSA Administrator, Nicole Nason. An hour later, the Administrator’s staffers were tugging at her sleeve imploring her to get back on schedule. She was kind (impressed?) enough to invite the Deputy Secretary down to see and experience the car as well. We left DoT several hours later than planned and headed to Georgetown to grab a beer and a bite – talked out, but energized.
We began Wednesday morning with a visit to the screening station at the foot of the Capitol and, following the vehicular equivalent of an MRI, we proceeded to the security check point on the House side of Capitol Hill. We took a prime parking spot between the Rayburn and Longworth Congressional office buildings and reaped the whirlwind of foot traffic generated by hearings on the Iraq supplemental, the Attorney General’s hearings, and a variety of other events. It was a busy day for legislators and staffers alike, but we were amazed how many of them took the time to stop and learn more about the Tesla Roadster, Tesla Motors, and the things we care about on the Capitol Hill – namely, an income tax credit for Electric Cars, tradable CAFE credits and forward progress on the DoE’s Loan Guarantee Program.
Ten hours, and a serious sunburn later for yours truly, we packed up and went over to the Senate side of the Hill to prep for the next and final day’s event. There we got a little taste for our next day's receptions when a couple of staffers we know came down and insisted on showing us the best driving routes around the Capitol – from the passengers seat. Who were we to say no? By that time we were wondering why it never rained on the East Coast.
And then Thursday dawned gray and threatening. Hoping for the best, we set out really early. We wanted to be in position to capture the morning commuter traffic from Union Station to the Senate. We succeeded with the assistance of Senator Coburn, an early riser who offered his prime parking spot. Part of our team set out to leaflet the Senate offices and the rest of us stood by to receive a parade of Senators and staffers. Over the course of the day we received, among others, Senators Domenici, Boxer, Corker, Bayh, Bingaman, and Sanders – a truly bi-partisan group. Senator Domenici, a ranking member of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, also posted some video (free Real Player required to view video) from the event on his website.
Many key energy staffers also joined us during the day. This provided us with an excellent opportunity to reinforce our legislative and policy agenda. I’m pretty confident that we left them with a strong and positive impression of our vision, car and technology. Finally, as the sky darkened and the rain began to fall, we packed the car into the trailer and pointed west to Chicago, where we had time to hold one private event for our customers before the car was scheduled to head back to California.