We Didn't Want a Roadster
My wife and I didn’t want a Tesla Roadster, but we bought one and now intend to keep it. This is a story about how and why that happened.
My wife, Karen, and I weren’t interested in a sports car. We live in the Pacific Northwest. We care about the environment, but we also enjoy driving around the back roads to see it. We’ve got two teenage boys, and it rains occasionally in the Seattle region, so a low-slung convertible race car doesn’t fit our lifestyle, weather, or body types. (We’re healthy, but not 20 anymore.)
We owned a Prius for four years, but getting gas still felt like a weekly enema. Karen never liked the Prius, aside from the savings when gas prices skyrocketed. The car is ugly and sluggish, particularly in bad weather. We dreamed of owning a pure-electric sedan that performed like a BMW and looked like one too.
Unfortunately, the only production electric car at the time was the exotic $400,000 Venturi Fetish. In late 2006, my older son, Alex, noticed Tesla Motors was selling a $100,000 electric sports car. We went online and found The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan. According to the plan, if Tesla Motors could successfully sell enough Roadsters, the next car would be a “sporty four door family car at roughly half the [Roadster] price.”
I immediately showed the Tesla Motors web site to Karen. We didn’t want a Roadster, but it seemed like the best path available to get the electric sedan of our dreams. The Roadster was reassuringly gorgeous. Other Tesla blogs talked about how it was customized for people with our weather conditions and body types (state-of-the-art traction control and wide seats).
We figured an early Roadster would retain its value as a collector’s item, so our plan was to buy a Roadster, keep it until the sedan came out, and then swap it for two sedans (his and hers). We put our money down in February 2007 and waited two years for our Roadster to arrive. (Now the wait is down to 3 months!)
Here she is straight off the truck, our black beauty. (Friends call it the Batmobile.) I drove it home and waited for it to fall apart.
Why? Because I’ve worked for Silicon Valley startups before. Nobody gets it right the first time. Even established outfits like Google, Apple, and Microsoft take multiple tries to get out the kinks. Here was a version 1 automobile from a Silicon Valley startup. It was bound to be a nightmare.
I figured we’d live with the Roadster for a couple of years, sell it, and hope that Tesla learned a few things by the time the sedan shipped. Well, we’ve now had our Roadster for over six months and 5,000 miles. It’s the most worry-free car we’ve ever owned. We’ve had to replace a knob on the dash, that’s it. No oil changes, no tune-ups, and no problems of any kind. Personally, I’m bewildered.
As for driving the Roadster, you probably already know that it’s an amusement park on wheels. I used to curse missing a yellow light—now I get a huge grin and prepare to launch. The car never hesitates or disappoints at any speed. Seattle is famous for the rain, but the days between mid-July and early September are stunning. Driving with the top off along a back road in a near-silent low-flying rocket is heavenly.
Owning a groundbreaking car like the Tesla Roadster has had unexpected benefits. My younger son, Peter, and I were invited to join 52 Model-Ts in their last leg of the re-enactment of the 1909 Ocean to Ocean Endurance Contest from New York to Seattle. Here you see our car front and center next to a replica of the Ford #2 that won the contest 100 years ago.
The crowds parted for us to park right in front of the grandstand. I let various Seattle dignitaries check out the Roadster, while Peter and I talked to the Model T owners. I felt quite privileged and was bombarded for hours with questions. People were inspired by the old alongside the new.
Everywhere Karen and I go people stop and ask about the car. They often want to take pictures for their family and friends. The first day I had the car I was giving rides to my boys and our neighbors. We stopped at a local sub shop for dinner, and two police cruisers surrounded the car while we were eating. I was worried because I had been accelerating pretty quickly around the neighborhood. One of the officers came in while the other blocked off the parking lot. He came up to me and asked if the car was mine. When I admitted it was he said, “Oh cool! It’s the first my friend and I have seen! How is it? Where did you get it? Is it fast?” That was a harbinger of our lives to come.
Our Roadster has been full of pleasant surprises. The seats are comfortable. The heating and air conditioning are effective and almost instantaneous. The navigation system, while small, works well and is easy to use once you get the hang of it. The HomeLink garage door opener is simple and handy, and the trunk holds whatever groceries, blankets, and backpacks we have.
The best surprise for me has been the regenerative braking. On the Prius, regenerative braking can be triggered by the brake pedal depending upon a bunch of factors. In the Roadster, the brake pedal only controls the anti-lock braking system. Electric acceleration and deceleration are both directed by the accelerator. This gives you a wide range of response with one pedal, minimizing the movement of your foot. Because all cars slow somewhat as you release the accelerator, the control is natural and intuitive. The result is pure driving simplicity, especially around turns and merging onto the highway. Plus, I know exactly when I’m burning energy with the brake pads, which I almost never need to do.
Another unexpected pleasure has been socializing with other local Roadster owners. We get together from time to time for fun drives and to compare notes. Recently, Tom and Cathy Saxton organized a three-hour excursion through the Cascade foothills. Here’s a picture of us together at the halfway point. Once again, “EV NV” (say it out loud) is front and center, this time by chance.
The license plate frame reads, “No Gas. No Emissions. No Compromises.” That nicely represents our Tesla Roadster experience. We put our money down with a lot of trepidation, but there have been no compromises. The car is reliable, clean, comfortable, and an absolute joy to drive.
Naturally, we reserved a Model S sedan right away for Karen. However, we didn’t reserve one for me. The Roadster is just too much fun for so little trouble.
I know we could sell the Roadster for more than we paid, but why on earth would we do that? The car is maintenance free. There’s almost nothing to wear out. It thrills every time no matter how many times we ask. It’s the easiest, most economical, most environmentally sustainable, and most fun car in the world to drive. We’re going to keep it.