Published on March 14th, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro


Model S Test Drive With Tea Party Conservative

March 14th, 2014 by  

Originally published on Gas 2.


The Tesla Model S is easily one of the most polarizing cars in America. While you and I might be big fans of the thing, the electric sedan has plenty of haters and detractors- most notably among the ultra-conservative Tea Party wing of the GOP, who claim the car is only doing well because it’s a media darling backed by huge government subsidies. That gave me an idea: can a test drive convince a Tea Party radio pundit that there’s more to the Tesla Model S than its celebrity fan base, government loans, and a few road fires?

I wanted to find out, and deliver more than your average “OMG the Tesla Model S is awesome!” review. So, I called my old friend, John Weston, to go on a test drive with me in his native Massachusetts. That’s me up there, by the way. I have no idea what I’m doing.

Still, since you know me already, I’ll tell you a little bit about John. Anyway, I’ve known John for almost a decade, and even though he’s as old as my father and shares largely opposing political views to my own, we’ve formed a strong friendship around our mutual love of cars. John’s been involved with the automotive industry since before I was born, and he can tell you more about most American muscle cars cars than you knew there was to know. He’s also an avowed conservative, a member of a conservative action board and regular attendee at Tea Party events. After hemming and hawing a bit, he agreed that I could apply the Tea Party label to him in this article. John hosts a late-night conservative talk show that reaches much of the Northeast, and suffice to say he has some very strong opinions regarding the current President and administration.

Even so, it didn’t take a lot of convincing to get him to come along for the ride, even if he’d already formed a decidedly negative view of the Model S based on his biased news sources.

It’s probably a good time to note that, while John has an encyclopedic knowledge of cars whose heyday was nearly 50 years ago, John doesn’t know a whole lot about cars built in the current century. I realized that during our first phone conversation leading up to the Tesla drive, where he accused the 33 Fisker Flambé from Hurricane Sandy of being Teslas. “John, that was a different company entirely,” I explained.

“Oh,” he said. “But what about that garage fire in Toronto?”

This was going to be harder than I thought. I’m always up for a challenge however, so I met John at an autoparts store and together we set off to the Natick Mall to see Massachusett’s only Tesla Store. Suffice it to say, the experience wasn’t what either of us were expecting.

tesla-test-2The presentation of the Model S in the Tesla store was definitely neat and tidy.

First and foremost, finding the store proved difficult, as the Natick Mall is massive, and there’s no exterior sign announce what part of the mall the Tesla store is located in. Eventually a mall cop directed us to the right part of the mall, but I have to say it was a fairly frustrating start.

A thing about Tesla test drives; you generally have to call ahead and set an appointment, at which point they’ll ask you if you’re interested in buying a Model S. I said no, and initially that doesn’t appear to have affected my treatment on walking into the store. John sat inside the 60 kWh display Model on the store floor, playing with the seat adjustment, the touchscreen system, and generally getting a feel for the car. Meanwhile, I engaged the very knowledgeable sales staff, trying to gauge how much they knew about their one and only product.

Compared to your average new car dealer, the Tesla folks seemed refreshingly informed about the Model S, ready to answer questions regarding range, performance. Within 15 minutes our test drive co-pilot was ready to go, and it was back out into the mall for another trip.

I know it sounds like needless, #firstworldproblems whining, but it took a solid two or three minutes of walking to get from the storefront to the car itself, including a trip through the JCPenney women’s clothing section that launched John into a tangent regarding his employment there in his youth. The problem, as I see it, was that John wasn’t thinking about the car, even though that’s why he was here. That seemed like one of the potential flaws of Tesla’s unique sales experience. I found the section of the mall garage cordoned off for Tesla’s usage to be a bit underwhelming as well.

Keep in mind, we’re talking about a car with an average transaction price of nearly $100,000, and it’s being kept in a dingy corner of a parking garage that’s a two-minute walk from Tesla’s dealership/storefront. Compared to the immaculately-clean Chevy dealership where I bought my $17,000 Chevy Sonicor the white-glove service you get when you drive an S Class at a Mercedes store, it was hard-to-ignore weirdness.

I know those complaints sounds shallow, but presentation counts for a lot in this business.

Should a $100K Tesla Model S really be in the same shot as a 100K mile Chevy HHR?

Once we got closer to the Tesla Model S itself though, John seemed to perk up a bit. I’ve seen him admire enough cars to know that he thought the Model S was a looker, even if he didn’t come out and say it. Hands in his pockets, he walked his way around the Model S as our salesman explained that the 60 kWh Model S tester had a driving range of about 200 miles and was loaded with nifty features. It wasn’t the most powerful version (the only 85 kWh P+ Model S was out on a test drive already), but there were still plenty of cool features to showcase to John, including my personal favorite. “Watch this,” I said, pressing the flush-mounted door handles and causing them to pop out for usage. “Neat, right?”

“Very,” John admitted, though he still didn’t seem all that impressed. It was clear he wasn’t yet sold on the modernity of the Model S.

“You go first,” I said when our salesman asked who wanted to drive.

John shrugged and got in the car, and the first thing he asked? “Where’s the ignition.”

“There isn’t one,” our salesman explained. “The car automatically detects the key fob and turns on when you get in. All you have to do is put the stalk into DRIVE and go.”

“Oh, neat,” was all John said, and then we were off.

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 later this week

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • TedKidd

    It’s amazing how little rigour people apply before coming to rigid and firm conclusions.

    I like to go see for myself. Is that because I’m skeptical of what the media feeds me, or afraid to look narrow and stupid? Maybe both.

    Surprises me how often others don’t care how narrow or stupid they look…

  • wattleberry

    How many of us have been stupid enough to look at Gas 2 to see if parts 2 and 3 are already on there?

    Because they’re not.

  • Benjamin Nead

    Recently, we were treated to a Cleantechnica article about a much-monied conservative Republican who was won over to EVs by trying out a friend’s Cadillac ELR.

    Presently, we’re hearing about a Tea Partier test driving a Tesla S (and, honestly, does it really HAVE to be a 3-part series?)

    So, here’s hoping we’re not soon to be treated to a vignette of the racist Nazi skinhead and his surprisingly pleasant encounter with the all-electric Nissan Leaf.
    Then again, April Fool’s Day isn’t too far off and maybe this could pass under the banner of far-flung levity.

    But seriously . . . I suppose the point I’m trying to make here is that little is accomplished in finding one or two people who have political views sharply divergent of those typically expressed by the environmentally aware and socially conscious early adopters of EVs, who are suddenly won over by luxurious interior amenities and/or quick throttle response in a car that is out of the price range for most.

    In the end, the people profiled in these articles remain fundamentally unchanged. Would they have been won over by a more spartan EV with limited range or lesser performance for more altruistic reasons? Would they have made even the most minor modifications of lifestyle to adapt to the technology? It’s almost certain they wouldn’t. No, it’s still comes down to leather seats, glitzy dash displays and balls-to-the-walls acceleration. They are oblivious to the power source and how potentially clean it can be. That’s more of a tragedy than a triumph.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Look if we have to give them kangaroo leather seats as long as it gets them out of their gasmobiles and into a clean vehicle, so be it.

      The Georgia Tea Party is now campaigning for solar panels. Because it will save them money.

      Governors of right wing, red states are campaigning for the wind industry. Because it brings in tax revenue and creates jobs in their states.

      Solar on their roof, turbines in their fields, and batteries under their feet won’t make them into compassionate human beings but it will at least cut their fossil fuel use.

      • Benjamin Nead

        Fair enough, Bob. But you’ll excuse me if I don’t hang on the edge of my seat for parts 2 and 3 of the present article in order to find out what Tea Bag Guy really ends up thinking of Elon Musk’s car (possible spoiler: he actually ends up liking the luxury EV, but won’t be trading in his Hummer anytime soon, since the latter can accommodate a bigger gun rack.)

        For every red state green energy victory you cite, there are still multiple examples of entrenched right wing idiocy elsewhere. Here in Arizona, for instance, the Republican-dominated Corporation Commission is doing its damnedest to eliminate net metering incentives for homeowners with rooftop solar. That, and the cultural faux pas masquerading as “religious freedom,” recently proposed by our own draconianly conservative State Legislature but thankfully defeated further up the food chain at the last minute (ie: SB 1062,) will probably make us look like lesser contenders in the eyes of Tesla, when it comes time for them to choose a location for their proposed new battery factory.

        So, yeah, I’m getting a bit burnt out reading articles that profile otherwise politically despicable or merely clueless people who happen to stumble across a slice of green technology and adopt it for their own. Instead, lets celebrate the individuals who have been working towards those goals all along. When clean/renewable energy technologies reach a certain tipping point and simply become affordable or more cost effective than the dirtier alternatives, any and all – regardless of political affiliation or level of enlightenment in understanding the world’s perils – buys in and becomes an adopter. That’s simply an evolutionary trend, not really news.

  • ColoradoMan

    Interesting experiment: Will a tea partier continue to deny the facts when their face is rubbed in them? Since that is what they do in general, it seems a likely scenario. Witness the “climate deniers” and “creationists” who generally align with the tea party. None-the-less, the dialog is important. I look forward to reading the remainder of this story.

    • VulpineMac

      There are those who say that the real Tea Party was hijacked by extremists who have subsequently ruined their reputation.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I’m sure that the big money guys and media types who founded the Tea Party feel that way.

        It’s a little hard to say that the Koch brothers’ and Fox News’ reputations have been damaged by others. That’s a self-inflicted wound.

        • VulpineMac

          As I understand it, the ones you mentioned are among the hijackers, not the hijacked.

          • From what I’ve read, they created the Tea Party.

          • VulpineMac


          • Bob_Wallace

            Back, rather than founded…

            “In an August 30, 2010, article in *The New Yorker *, Jane Mayer said
            that the billionaire brothers David H. Koch
            and Charles G. Koch and Koch Industries are providing financial and organizational support to the Tea Party movement throughAmericans for Prosperity , which David founded.[180] [181] The
            AFP’s “Hot Air Tour” was organized to fight against taxes on carbon use and the activation of a cap and trade program.[182] In
            1984, David Koch also founded Citizens for a Sound Economy ,[183] part of which became FreedomWorks in a 2004 split, another group that organized and supports the movement.[184] Koch
            Industries issued a press release stating that the Kochs have “no ties to and have never given money to FreedomWorks”.[185] Former
            ambassador Christopher Meyer wrote
            in the *Daily Mail * that the Tea Party movement is a mix of “grassroots populism, professional conservative politics, and big money”, the last supplied in part by the Kochs.[186] Mayer
            says that the Koch brothers’ political involvement with the Tea Party has been so secretive that she labels it “covert”.[187] ”


          • VulpineMac

            “In an August 30, 2010, article in *The New Yorker, Jane Mayer said that the billionaire brothers David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch and Koch Industries are providing financial and organizational support to the Tea Party movement through Americans for Prosperity , which David founded.”

            “The AFP’s “Hot Air Tour” was organized to fight against taxes on carbon use and the activation of a cap and trade program. In 1984, David Koch also founded Citizens for a Sound Economy part of which became FreedomWorks in a 2004 split, another group that organized and supports the movement.

            “Koch Industries issued a press release stating that the Kochs have “no ties to and have never given money to FreedomWorks”

            “Former ambassador Christopher Meyer wrote in the *Daily Mail * that the Tea Party movement is a mix of “grassroots populism, professional conservative politics, and big money”, the last supplied in part by the Kochs. Mayer says that the Koch brothers’ political involvement with the Tea Party has been so secretive that she labels it “covert”.”

            First off, let me thank you for forcing me to strip out all of that html coding which seriously masks the actual statements made. I might point out that your choice of source–wikipedia–is not necessarily the most legitimate source of such data, but I will let that pass as I am sure the New Yorker article can be verified independently. Please note however, that the article is dated 2010 specifically states first that David Koch founded “Americans for Prosperity”, not the Tea Party itself–at least at that point–which actively funds the Tea Party, however.

            The more relevant date is the 1984 one which certainly pre-dates any publicized mention of a “Tea Party in politics, so you could well be correct.

            What is more interesting to me is that these so-called “public” PACs were founded by wealthy individuals during a time when the Republican Party was essentially in control of American politics and that these were the times when many, if not most blue-collar work was outsourced to foreign countries where labor costs were far lower. This gives rise to the suggestion that this has been a long-term strategy to create and expand upon political division to the point that only a select group could even afford to enter politics and as such totally control politics. Current conditions and the fact that corporations are now considered “legal entities” for political donations who can vastly out-spend the typical blue-collar worker both individually and en-mass has given that group almost the full control they desire.

            So, while some of what the Tea Party “grass roots” people tout the demand for less government and lower taxes, they simply don’t realize that they are being duped by the very people they oppose.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yep, I forgot how you can’t C&P using email. Sorry.

          • VulpineMac

            See? We can agree on something.

  • halslater

    Too cute by half. You could have just said he was a Tea Partier and gotten to the point of the story. Actually, I have lost all interest in what Tea Partiers think about anything, as they have never had the slightest interest in what Progressives think.

    • VulpineMac

      I’m going to argue that seeing and driving the Tesla for himself might just change his view on the brand which may also mean that basing a political opinion on what others say may be just as misplaced.

    • A Real Libertarian

      “Actually, I have lost all interest in what Tea Partiers think about anything, as they have never had the slightest interest in what Progressives think.”

      Then how are you supposed to figure out a strategy for dealing with them?

      Find out their differences with the corporate Republicans and drive a wedge in there to keep the Republican civil war going.

  • climatehawk3

    Have been in this dealership.found the salespeople to be sort of “car” people,as opposed to “green” people- clueless as to what the arguements or implications might be of driving an electric car in Natick.clueless as to what the electric grid is here,clueless and uninformed as to whether and how residential solar might interact.I already am disinclined to be sympathetic to this mass. TP person,given that he is a “car” five years my calculus might incline me to buy a Tesla but it will be based upon multiple factors- my short average commute,?substitute bike for car?,any local dealer support-maintenance that is,since not in natick but northern maine.the last factor will be the “cool” factor since I hate an investment that immediately loses value.

    • VulpineMac

      It seems you know less about Tesla’s service reputation than you should, given how much you appear to know about the vehicle itself. Many of your hesitations are already addressed, though those situations will improve as Tesla is allowed to expand.

      • climatehawk3

        Was dragged to this mall by wife to buy shoes or something,and tesla was a distraction.granted did not schedule any test ride given that this expensive a vehicle,to go from point a to b,would be a silly extravagance while paying full tuition at nyu.

        • VulpineMac

          The question arises: How much gasoline can you afford to buy no matter how inexpensive the car you’re having to fill may be? Many modern cars demand Plus grade or High grade gasoline priced on average $0.15 and $0.30 more than Regular grade per gallon. While I’m aware that regular in northern NJ runs about $3.25/gal, Southern NJ, the Philly area and Delaware are running closer to $3.50/gallon and up. Diesel is running very near $4.00 per gallon. To match the “fuel cost” of running a Tesla, you would need to get a MINIMUM of 80 mpg and sacrifice ALL ‘playful’ performance that less expensive car might offer.

          Yes, I agree that the Tesla is a bit expensive–especially if you’re going through college. Then again, I see kids driving everything from Scions to Mercedes at the local college in Delaware. If they can afford a new Mercedes, maybe YOU can afford a new Tesla–they’re priced very similarly.

          • climatehawk3

            What?The kid is going to NYU,I’m paying 55k per year.My car’s mileage per year is ~4-6,000,thus @40mpg (cold here)total gas price is ~only $450 or so.If I want to decrease my carbon consumption makes more sense to retrofit a small house with mini-split heater and solar.Maybe trade this 2011 Prius in for a phev or a volt,but have 2 other kids who are not launched particularly either,one with health issues at the moment.Playful car performance not high on my bucket list.

          • VulpineMac

            Per the data you just provided, you are totally correct. Most people average 12K-15K/year and some go significantly higher.
            A Prius’ strong point is the relatively low in-town-style gas mileage, which is where almost all straight gasoline engines operate at their worst economy. Even with “auto-stop/start’, you’re only saving at idle and not really gaining any improvement on acceleration, where the thirst comes in. An AEV has the strongest advantage here in that it uses no gasoline whatsoever, but shows its greatest savings in mixed driving on both street and highway in the “typical” 40-mile/day commuter driving.
            And I’m not just discussing carbon consumption here, I’m talking realistic savings on everyday driving. At that 40-mile/day rate, you’re putting a minimum of 10K miles in and even at 40mpg that’s 260 gallons. Using recent upper New Jersey prices of $3.25/gal that comes out to $845 per year on gasoline alone.
            But you’re also not looking at a family sedan with any comfort at 40mpg either. The Prius is nice, but even at 60 years old I don’t drive like an “old man”. I like a little performance and my typical Prius driving would cost me almost 1/4 of the car’s economy and still come across as slow. The Tesla performs much like a muscle car without the noise and expense of fuel and maintenance on a roughly typical fill-up equivalent of $7 per TANK. In other words, a full week of 40-mile commutes for a mere $7. That totals to a “fuel” cost of a mere $364/year. For you, at 5K miles that would be less than $200/year where you’re currently paying $450. The Tesla is also considered the single safest car on the roads right now, which should be some consideration for your children, no matter what their ages.
            BUT, because of your personal situation, it’s obvious the advantages of a Tesla aren’t as great for you as they would for me or most other drivers. It still offers an advantage, but simply not as much advantage due to your highly restricted driving circumstances.

  • J_JamesM

    Tea Partiers may consider Tesla a “loser,” and on the receiving end of government largesse, but they’re still people, and people can distinguish between politics and automobiles. The fact that the writer’s friend might be a bit more misinformed about the Tesla shouldn’t really away him that much once he actually drives it for himself.

    • VulpineMac

      We can only hope that the test drive shows him that his viewpoint was all based on hearsay and politics.

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