Tesla Runs on Green Stuff

When I rode my bike into the light rail station this morning, the lot was almost empty, but my eyes flashed to the Tesla logo on a sporty white car at one of the two charging stations. After buying my ticket, I walked over to have a look. It was a new all-wheel drive Model S 70D, with temporary paper tags from Washington DC. The EV was plugged in to the charger from the adjacent space, which suggests that the owner wasn’t able to make the first one work.

The Model S is a beautiful vehicle with many streamlining touches, such as recessed door handles and a rounded, plastic nose instead of the usual air-catching front grille. The 70D claims a 240-mile range and a base price of $75,000, replacing the “entry-level” rear-wheel drive 60, which had a stated range of 208 miles and listed for just under $70K. Above the 70D are the rear-wheel drive 85, at $80K, all-wheel drive 85D and “performance” versions P85 and P85D. As with horsepower numbers in Beach Boys songs, those two digit numbers represent the kWh that each model can deliver, which is a measure of energy expended over time. (For comparison, an electric bike’s wattage might convert to between 1/2 to 1 kWh, with a range of 15 to 30 miles.) But Model S versions have impressive horsepower numbers too, and much more comforting ranges than the 70 to 100 miles you’d expect in a Nissan Leaf:

60: 306 hp, 208 miles
70D: 329 hp, 240 miles
85: 362 hp, 265 miles
85D: 422hp, 270 miles
P85: 470 hp, 270 miles
P85D: 691 hp, 300 miles

Recharging at home every night, you could probably drive one of these for months before needing to recharge at a public station. Tesla has installed a series of fast-charging stations along highways, and other charging stations will work, though more slowly. Nevertheless, my office space neighbor complained about being stuck behind a Tesla doing 45 on the beltway – the driver probably trying to make it to a charge station after letting the range get too low.

Teslas seem to be a greener choice than a Mercedes or BMW – which is probably why David Crosby drives one – but as described in the LA Times, Elon Musk’s growing empire is fueled by $4.9 billion in government subsidies.

Los Angeles entrepreneur Elon Musk has built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space.

And he’s built those companies with the help of billions in government subsidies.

Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, according to data compiled by The Times. The figure underscores a common theme running through his emerging empire: a public-private financing model underpinning long-shot start-ups. …

Musk and his investors have also put large sums of private capital into the companies.

But public subsidies for Musk’s companies stand out both for the amount, relative to the size of the companies, and for their dependence on them.

So like ethanol and some wind power projects, Tesla cars may only be around until the government money dries up, which may explain why Elon Musk is diversifying into other battery ventures like Solar City photovoltaic systems and Hyperloop public transit.

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