THE BLOG

Tesla Spans The Continent

07/18/2014 04:03 EDT | Updated 09/17/2014 05:59 EDT

Tesla Motors, the darling of the electric car world, opened its first Canadian supercharger station in Squamish, B.C. on July 17th. Squamish is between Vancouver and the world-famous ski resort, Whistler. Tesla now has enough charging stations throughout North America to allow Tesla owners to drive from Vancouver to San Diego, from Maine to Miami or from New York to Los Angeles without worrying about battery range.

There will be no fuel cost along the way, because Tesla founder Elon Musk is committed to making superchargers free for all Tesla owners. Superchargers allow Tesla owners to receive a half-charge in 20 minutes, adding about 200 kilometres to their range. To complete the sustainability loop, supercharger stations are powered in part by solar panels.

Named after Nikola Tesla, who patented the components required for AC power in the late 1800s, Tesla Motors was founded in 2003 by Musk, who was born in South Africa. After earning degrees in economics and physics, Musk moved to Silicon Valley in 1995, to capitalize on the dawn of the Internet. Capitalize he did, co-founding Zip2, which was acquired in 1999 by Compaq for $340 million.

Next was PayPal, founded in 1998 and acquired in 2002 by eBay for $1.5 billion. One of the main reasons Musk created Tesla Motors was to combat global warming with affordable electric cars that would transform the auto industry and change the way people think about driving.

Tesla entered the market with a splash in 2006, debuting a luxury sports car called the Roadster. With two seats and an electric motor that propelled the car from zero to sixty in under four seconds, the Roadster made headlines around the world. The $100,000 price tag made the Roadster unaffordable for most people, but with a range of almost 400 kilometres on a single charge, Tesla made great strides towards proving the viability of the modern electric car.

In the five years following the Roadster's 2008 launch, Tesla sold over 2,400 units, which is an impressive statistic given that the car is classified as a supercar, meaning limited production and the extremely high price. Since production was stopped, used Roadsters are in high demand and are already gaining in value, which is very rare in the car business.

The most recent Tesla model is the Model S, a premium sedan priced lower than a Roadster. Tesla launched the Model S sedan in June 2012 to immediate success. The Model S is a low-slung, four-door sedan with an aggressive modern design described by many reviewers as the most beautiful car in the world. Motor Trend magazine named the Model S the 2013 car of the year. It was the first car of the year without an internal combustion engine in the 64-year history of Motor Trend, which declared, "at its core, the Tesla Model S is simply a damned good car you happen to plug in to refuel."

Consumer Reports called the Model S the best car it ever tested and gave it their highest score: 99 out of 100. The base price of the car is C$79,000. In August 2013, the Model S was awarded a five-star safety rating by the National Traffic Safety Administration "not just overall, but in every subcategory without exception." Next will be a small SUV and finally an inexpensive electric car for the mass market. Despite Tesla's success, advocates for fossil fuels and the conventional auto industry insist on naysaying Tesla similar to the neighing of the horse and buggy advocates of a century ago.

The primary objection to electric cars is range anxiety, which is worry about the limited distance an electric vehicle [EV] driver can go on a single charge. It is the main deterrent to buying an EV despite the fact that the vast majority of people drive less than fifty kilometres a day. Also, cars tend to be parked at home 95 per cent of the time, which means they can be recharged with inexpensive night-time electricity.

Public charging stations are popping up all over the world with more than 7,000 in the United States alone. The range for a Tesla Model S is just over 400 kilometres, made possible by its unusually large battery. For those drivers in a rush, swapping their empty battery for a fully charged unit will be an option at the supercharger stations.

In June 2013, Tesla demonstrated how a Model S battery can be swapped in less time than it takes to refuel with gasoline. While supercharger stations will be free for Tesla owners, for owners of other makes of electric car, the battery-swap service will come with a fee roughly equivalent to a tank of gas. The auto industry flourished a half century ago after North America spent billions to construct a network of highways that spanned the continent. There are thousands of gas stations along the way selling fuel subsidized by billions of dollars. Elon Musk had the foresight to build his own continent-wide network of refueling stations which will go a long way towards sending electric cars charging into the mainstream.