Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tesla’s Big Win Proves EVs Are Ready for Primetime

Tesla’s Big Win Proves EVs Are Ready for Primetime:

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

Electric vehicles have hit the tipping point of mainstream acceptance, and you naysayers just lost your last reason for hating the technology.
MotorTrend magazine’s unanimous decision to name the Tesla Model S its car of the year is more than a big moment for Tesla Motors. It’s a big moment for electric vehicles and, more importantly, internal combustion. The award follows similar nods from Automobile and Yahoo. (Yes, Yahoo does cars.) That only underscores just how good the Model S is, and how solid its underlying technology is.
When an all-electric sedan from an upstart Silicon Valley firm can convince dyed-in-the-wool gearheads to unreservedly declare it the best car on the planet, a paradigm has shifted. No one’s saying we’ll all be driving cars with cords tomorrow, but this is the first big fissure in the internal combustion wall. One by one, the criticisms — electric cars are glorified golf cars, they lack adequate range, they’ll never be as practical as whatever — have been proven wrong.
“We’re going to look back and see this as a point at which the gears of history really turned,” company CEO Elon Musk said at the awards presentation Monday.
He’s right.
It’s worth noting the praise didn’t come from big ad spending, lush journo junkets to exotic locales or the typical wining and dining perpetrated by the major automakers. In other words, Tesla didn’t buy this award. The Model S won on merit alone, and that’s significant.
Look over the judging criteria behind these awards. They favor innovation and functionality. They’re focused on performance and practicality. And they put a premium on day-to-day livability as much as fit, finish and sex appeal. The Model S won on all those fronts, and that marks a shift in both the nature of the awards and the larger view of electric vehicles.
“If the Model S had a gas engine it still would have won,” Jonny Lieberman, MotorTrend Senior Editor and COTY judge told Wired. “It was, without question, the best car in this year’s competition.”
And competition was fierce.
The spate of awards came at a high point for auto enthusiasts. There’s a new Porsche 911 – the benchmark for attainable supercars – and Boxster (a personal favorite), the new Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ (a clear appeal to gearheads that want a simple, fun and inexpensive sports car). The all-new BMW 3 Series was also in the running, as was Cadillac’s surprisingly fantastic ATS.
The Model S beat them all, with an unprecedented unanimous vote by the judges at MotorTrend.
We’ve been praising the virtues of electric vehicles for years. But the Model S is the departure from dinky, uninspiring econoboxes we’ve been forced to endure. It’s drop-dead gorgeous (if a bit safe). It’s an easy fit for five. It’s got more cargo capacity than most minivans. And those are just the high points on the functionality front.
Loads of pavement-rippling torque available at any speed matched with smooth delivery and Rolls-Royce levels of isolation are just part of the fun. EVs don’t have to worry about fitting a massive engine, bulging transmission and all the assorted ancillary components to make it go. The chassis is essentially a skateboard, with a battery mounted in the middle, allowing unlimited body and interior configurations that were completely unheard of just 10 years ago. The Model S’ platform is set to underpin the Model X SUV, further bolstering both Tesla’s flexibility and economies of scale, and the next few models in the automaker’s pipeline will use the lessons learned from the Model S to further hone the execution of a full line of EVs that will appeal to every price point and performance metric. Musk is even talking about a pickup truck.
And as for the big question – range – the Model S delivered in spades.
“The Models S is the cure for range anxiety,” Lieberman said. It can be driven normally, be it commuting to work or bombing a twisty mountain road, and with an EPA-rated range of 265 miles (MT managed a best run of 285 miles), it’s more than enough for the average driver. “Be honest with yourself and think about how many days per year you actually drive more than 200 miles,” Lieberman goes on. “Very, very few.”
Yes, we’re still in the early days, both for the S and its groundbreaking technology. Like any all-new car, it’s long-term reliability remains in question, especially since Tesla is new to the game.
“[The Model S is a] huge accomplishment from a brand new company in the big picture of the industry,” says Chelsea Sexton of the Lightning Rod Foundation. “It’s also an expensive car and an infant program, so it will undoubtedly have early technical issues and things that wouldn’t necessarily apply to other contenders – which makes the ‘engineering excellence’ and ‘value’ categories somewhat debatable.”
But for now, the Model S sits atop the heap, an innovative outlier that pleases on every level, and vindicates what we’ve been saying all along: EVs are the future and the future is now.

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