Our car-buying way (for both my parents and Lori's parents) has been to buy modest, sensible cars, buy them used, and drive them until they are no longer drivable. We even take pride in doing it that way; we remind ourselves that a car takes a substantial hit in depreciation when it's first driven off the lot, for example.
We've done the "drive until no longer drivable" part, at least. Lori's car (a 2002 Honda Accord, bought in 2004) got rear-ended in August by a kid distracted by his cell phone. Lori's father advised us to take the insurance check and apply that to a new car instead of repairing that car. Then, in the month that we were shopping for a car to replace that, the transmission on my car (a 2001 Honda Accord, bought in 2003) went bad, and Lori's father advised us again that we should replace that car instead of repairing it.
My coworker Ryan suggested a Tesla as we started to shop for a car for Lori, because he has one and loves it. But it didn't work for us while we were replacing only one car. We want Lori's car to be higher off the ground, to give her every visibility advantage that we can. We want to have a car we can take road trips in, and the Tesla supercharger network is not yet built out enough to make it convenient to use it for the road trips we've done recently. And we want our road trip car to be a great car for Lori to drive, so if we're buying only one car, it should be a high road-trip car with great visibility.
In 2003, I'd been tempted by a hybrid car, but I didn't feel that the technology was quite ready yet. So when we were shopping in 2015, I had hoped to buy a hybrid – but the hybrid SUVs we found had very small benefits in gas mileage, such that they would take decades to pay for the increased cost of a hybrid drivetrain. We looked at a Honda Accord Hybrid which I rather liked, particularly because it had a right-side camera. But there is no 2016 Honda Accord Hybrid out, and supply of the 2015 model was pretty small. Lori ended up choosing a Subaru Forester, and we're pretty confident it will be a happy choice for her.
So when my car conked out, I was even more eager to try to buy an energy-efficient car. Throughout this, Ryan had been telling me about Tesla and other electric vehicles. (When I mentioned that the transmission had failed, he cheerfully pointed out that the Tesla had no transmission at all.)
The Tesla is very sporty, which is not at all what I've imagined myself driving. In an early conversation with Ryan, I quipped, "does the Tesla come with its own midlife crisis, or do I need to provide that myself?"
But the Tesla has a range of 240 miles, and no other electric car I found has a range above 100 miles or so. I don't have a long commute, so most of my days burn only 10-20 miles – but a range of 100 miles feels pretty limited to the Pittsburgh area, and Tesla's range (plus the network of superchargers, which can charge a Tesla halfway in 20-30 minutes) makes me feel that although it might not yet cover all of our road trip goals, it could take us quite a ways.
And despite being so sporty, the Tesla has a lot of features that are attractive to my staid, boring driving persona:
• I've come to care a lot about not using fossil fuels. This was exacerbated even more because the news of Volkswagen's clean-diesel deception broke while we were shopping. I've become convinced that the future equilibrium point has the world using only a trickle of fossil fuels, and the sooner we can get to that equilibrium, the happier we will be. Now that we've switched our home electricity generation to renewable energy, all of my miles can be powered by renewable energy. That's worth paying a premium to me.
• The Tesla has pretty nice cargo space. The seats fold down for a lot of cargo, and there's a front trunk where an engine would be that holds more stuff.
• I really like the traffic-aware cruise control. It happens often on our road trips that we'll be driving ever so slightly faster than the car in front of us, and we're not really eager to pass but we have to make some sort of manual adjustment. The traffic-aware cruise control can handle that automatically. (This is not Tesla-only, of course; Lori's Subaru has this too.)
• The Model S is very low-maintenance. There's no need to check oil or transmission fluid; the only fluid to add is windshield-wiper fluid.
• Tesla has gotten glowing scores for safety. In addition to complete five-star NHTSA ratings, there are stories like this: The Tesla Model S Is So Safe It Broke the Crash-Testing Gear. There have been some reports of the batteries catching fire, but the ones I've followed through on have been stories like this: "I drove over an L-shaped trailer hitch that stabbed up into the front of the car. The Tesla warned me that there were severe problems and that I should pull over and might not be able to start the car again. So I pulled off to the side of the road and got out. Five minutes later, the batteries caught fire, but I never lost control of the vehicle and the flames never reached the passenger compartment. Tesla then modified the design to add armor to the underside to prevent this from happening again." If you think about what could have happened to an internal-combustion engine in an accident that started with that first sentence, this story is really boring – splendidly, delightfully boring. I am willing to pay something for my accidents to be that boring.
• I like Tesla's reputation for software development. After reading Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway—With Me in It ..., I got concerned about how hackable vehicle computers might be, and I have read that many car manufacturers have an adversarial relationship with security researchers. According to what I've heard, Tesla invites security researchers to probe and pays a bounty for bugs found – and although that might sometimes lead to embarrassment, it's much better for the cybersecurity of the car.
But you and I should wonder whether I'm downplaying the appeal of the Tesla's raw performance. I'm not aware of that being a major attraction for me, but I am certainly capable of lying to myself about such things. I've certainly enjoyed reading stories of the Tesla effortlessly passing muscle cars. And on the day we ordered the Tesla, the showroom loaned us a Model S. The ostensible reason was to make sure that the suspension wouldn't bottom out in our driveway, but they loaned it to us for the whole afternoon. That car was equipped with "Insane Mode", a fierce acceleration that does 0-60mph in 3.1 seconds – and I made sure to try that out a few times. The first time I floored it, Lori said that it made her neck hurt from being snapped back. I'm glad to have tried it, but I ordered the less-powerful model. (Two other anecdotes from that afternoon: (1) In testing the traffic-aware cruise control, I was able to drive from the Parkway near our house almost to Ross Park Mall only using the pedals once. (2) While we were driving up to McConnells Mill State Park, I learned that when AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" plays, it is very hard to keep to a speed that's reasonable for country roads.)
For the staid driver I usually am, the better choice might be the Model 3 that Tesla has in the works. It's targeted at a price point much more in line with the Hondas and Subarus we were looking at. But it's not scheduled to come out until 2017, and that delay is a dealbreaker for that option.
So we've ordered a Model S. I chose a deep blue color that has the sleek sexiness of a movie actor wearing a well-tailored suit. (I said that I wanted a color that was a 6 on a 1-10 scale of eye-catching-ness, and I think I got exactly what I asked for.) It's scheduled for delivery in late November; I just learned yesterday that it's started production.
Lori's mother said that I seemed very happy to order it. I wasn't clear enough on my own feelings to be aware of such happiness, but I trust her judgment on such matters.
There's one more topic about the Tesla that I tiptoe around: the price. There's no denying that a Tesla costs much more than the other cars we would have considered. (There are three other Tesla owners in our office, and all of us are in the same situation of being habituated to a much cheaper car.) We are lucky enough that we can afford it, though we certainly can't afford such an expense often. But I know that many people, including many friends of ours, are not so wealthy, and I don't want to upset them. So far, that has not been an issue; people that I've worried might feel envious have just been excited for us. I hope that that continues.