Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

It Costs $97,000 - But You'll Never Go To A Gas Station

By Jayson Jacoby


The loudest part about driving Richard Haynes' car is latching the seatbelt.

When Haynes mashes the gas pedal to the floor the vehicle scarcely whispers, yet it accelerates at a rate normally associated with jet fighters

(And projectile vomiting, if you're not prepared for the pace.)

Your vision blurs slightly.

And your ears, well, they're even more confused because your brain insists that no car amasses speed so rapidly without making an awful racket.

Haynes drives a Tesla Model S.

And when you drive a Tesla, such references as that "mashes the gas pedal" line a couple paragraphs back become problematic.

The Tesla, strictly speaking, has no gas pedal.

Because it doesn't burn gas.

It burns electrons.

Or, rather, ituseselectrons, since no actual combustion takes place as the Tesla's electric motor hurtles the 4,650-pound four-door sedan along with an alacrity that rivals that of a gas-gulping two-seat Corvette.

"It's pretty amazing," Haynes, 65, says as he pilots the Tesla along Interstate 84 near Baker City.

Pretty expensive, too.

Haynes, who bought his Tesla in Portland in December, paid $97,000.

But he points out that Tesla founder Elon Musk hopes to offer a smaller sedan within a few years with a price range of $30,000 to $40,000.

Although Haynes' primary home is in Portland he's been spending more time recently in Baker City, helping to care for his mother, Marjorie Haynes.

His father, the longtime Baker City businessman Dick Haynes, died in December 2012.

Richard Haynes said he bought the Tesla without even taking it for a test drive.

"I knew I wanted one," he said.

Haynes speaks with passion about the benefits of renewable energy and other technologies that reduce the world's consumption of fossil fuels.

The Tesla, which is perhaps the most noteworthy electric car in the past several decades, naturally piqued his curiosity when it was unveiled about three years ago.

Although the Tesla looks futuristic - in place of a conventional center stack of instruments there's a single high-definition touch screen that resembles an iPad, only bigger - the technology, Haynes emphasizes, is almost as old as the automobile itself.

"In 1898 in New York City there were about 3,000 cars registered," he said. "1,980 of those were electric."

Indeed, in the first couple decades of the automotive era, electric cars challenged internal combustion models - as well as steam-powered cars, which never really caught on - for market supremacy.

The Tesla isn't the only electric car available in U.S. showrooms - Nissan sells the Leaf, for instance - but Musk has managed a level of success that eluded many other start-up companies, most of which tried to find a niche for conventional gas-powered cars.

Haynes' car has the largest-capacity battery pack Tesla offers.

The 85-kilowatt-hour (kwH) battery boasts a range of as much as 306 miles on a single charge, according to Tesla.

(The company also sells a 60-kwH model that has a maximum range of 244 miles and starts at about $70,000.)

Haynes, who has put 2,400 miles on his Tesla, including multiple round trips between Baker City and Portland, said he can go about 275 miles before stopping for a recharge.

(The plug-in, by the way, is hidden behind the driver's side rear taillight.)

That means he can't make it from Baker City to Portland on one charge. He said he usually stays overnight at a motel in Boardman that lets him charge the Tesla.

"The cost of the motel room is still less than I would pay for gas," Haynes said.

Speaking of which, he gets a minor thrill from driving by every gas station now that he doesn't have to worry about finding one that's open.

"It's kind of interesting driving past gas stations," Haynes said. "They look like dinosaurs."

The overnight stops won't be necessary for much longer, though.

Tesla, which has installed more than 80 "Supercharger" stations around the U.S., plans to add stations later this year in Baker City and in Boardman, as well as near Boise and Twin Falls, Idaho.

These stations, which are free for Tesla owners, can add 170 miles of range in 30 minutes.

(A standard 120-volt home circuit, by contrast, gives about 5 miles of range per hour; a 240-volt circuit adds 31 miles of range per hour.)

Once the Boardman supercharger station is open, Haynes figures he'll need to pause for only 20 minutes or so to take on enough juice to finish his trip.

Today there are four Tesla supercharger stations in Oregon: three along Interstate 5 (Grants Pass, Springfield and Woodburn) and one at Detroit along Highway 22 east of Salem.

Climb aboard

So what's it like to drive, or to ride in, a Tesla?

The most obvious difference compared with a gas-powered car, of course, is the serenity.

The Tesla is silent when it's stopped.

And even when it's moving the electric motor is barely audible; wind and road noise are much more prominent, even at freeway speeds.

And then there's that acceleration.

Haynes' Tesla goes from a standstill to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds.

That's quicker than most cars, but if anything the Tesla feels faster that it actually is.

Unlike an internal combustion engine, which has to be revved to produce its peak torque and horsepower, an electric motor makes its maximum torque immediately.

And because the Tesla has no transmission in the traditional sense, it doesn't pause as it accelerates the way a regular car does when it changes gears.

"There's no hesitation," Haynes said. "It's just like, 'boom, there's power.' "

Except for that massive touch screen that dominates the dash, the Tesla's interior is comparable to any luxury sedan's, with supple leather seats and soft-touch, fine-grained surfaces elsewhere.

The Tesla has all the accouterments an owner expects - make that demands - at this price, including automatic climate control, GPS navigation and a stereo.

The touch screen displays not miles per gallon but watts per mile, as well as the number of kilowatt-hours the car has consumed since its last charge.

Of course all those accessories consume electricity, but Haynes said the heater or air conditioner, even if used constantly, doesn't severely reduce the car's range.

The Tesla also replenishes its energy supply every time it decelerates, a process known as regenerative braking. The car also has conventional disc brakes.

Although the Tesla is rear-wheel drive - not ideal for getting around on slippery roads - Haynes said he's been impressed with his car's traction. He credits the low center of gravity that results from the motor and the battery pack being placed below the floor.

That also frees considerable storage space that's taken up by the engine in a conventional car.

The Tesla has spacious trunks front and rear.