It was time for my lease to expire so I decided to lease a Tesla. I was intrigued by the technology, Tesla’s founder and innovator Elon Musk, and the possibility of reducing fossil fuel consumption. There were other electric car options but Tesla appeared to be at the forefront of much of the technology. And Elon Musk had made the daring commitment to releasing his patents to all takers.

My first impressions of the car was that I was intimidated by the large screen in the middle of the dashboard. I was most concerned about the potential distractions while driving. Phone, GPS, Music, Internet, Energy usage. All touch screen and interactive. Not driving conducive. I’ve actually missed exits twice now because of some of that. Fortunately no accidents. And the car drives as beautifully as anything I have driven.

Also immediately I began to realize that all of the gas stations alongside the road were of no use to me. Totally obsolete. I began to picture the bygone days of gas stations much the way we see drive-in movie theatres. But where were the charging stations? I had done some research before choosing the Tesla and there appeared to be numerous charging stations in my neighborhood. I did a walk around to see where they were and a few were not where they were supposed to be but there were still enough to make this work.

The Dealer explained to me that there was a difference in charging stations. This is important because whereas the Super-charging stations take less than an hour to get a full charge, most of the others will take 10-12 hours. There are no Super-charging stations in New York City. The nearest ones are in Paramus, New Jersey or White Plains, New York or JFK airport.

After having the car for a few days, I brought the car to a charging station in a garage in my neighborhood and decided to leave it there during the day while I worked. The station was busy but the garage attendant promised to connect my car when the other car was done charging. Later that day I called to confirm that they were charging my car. They told me I needed a charging card to connect the charger. This new, omitted detail got me scrambling. I discovered that Charge Pointe (formerly Beam charging), the charging station company not related to the garage, uses a pass that you first have to buy online and that would take two weeks to arrive. Did I mention that the cost of the garage would be a separate charge (no pun intended)?

This was not going to do it for me. My frustration meter was rising. The weekend was coming so I decided to take the opportunity to go to Paramus, run some errands, and go to the Super-charging station. I had heard that having lunch while waiting for the charge would be a good way to kill two birds with one stone. Other opportunities occurred to me here but I’ll get to that later. I backed the car up to the charger and the charger door opened automatically sensing the charger. Pretty cool feature. I was a little more at ease again.

Driving home I was beginning to feel like being on the frontier. I had to have some resolution to charging the car closer to home because I couldn’t continue to make long drives just to charge the car. I opened up to Alex, the Tesla dealer about my frustration. He was very sympathetic to the lack of Super-charging stations in New York and that the local charging stations were either inoperative, nonexistent, or busy. Plus I needed a charging pass at others. Not at all what I envisioned when I did my research.

I was going to need another charge soon. I needed the car for several errands and appointments during the week. Alex sent me up to Columbus Circle where there was supposed to be a charging station. I thought he said it was a Tesla station. But this turned out to be a garage that charged. But not the Super-charge so this would only give me a brief charge for the hour or so that I could leave the car. I would have to do something else before the end of the week.

I saw an opportunity to drive up to Westchester to run an errand the next day. I made the mistake thinking that all Tesla stations were Super-charging stations. The Tesla dealer that I drove to in Mt. Kisco turned out to be a regular charging station. The one I needed was at the other end of Westchester an hour away. Once again I needed to open up to a Tesla dealer about my frustrations over the charging stations. Once again the Tesla engineer I spoke to was committed to finding a solution. Since I was in need of running errands he gave me a Tesla off the lot to run errands while my car charged. It would give me enough of a charge to get back home with about 30 miles to spare.

This brings me to another point to address being the actual mileage that the car gets on a charge. Although it is advertised as getting 280 or so miles on a full charge it really depends on the type of driving you do. City driving is really about half that on the highway. And how you drive also affects your distance. If you are heavy on the pedal you get less mileage. I happen to like to speed a bit so that doesn’t really work when I am worrying about where to charge. The car actually has a feature that tells you to drive slowly if you want to reach your destination with the current charge. Going up to Mt. Kisco I got that message.

I was now at a point that if I couldn’t come up with a solution to the charging station frustration I was experiencing I would consider returning the car to the dealer. That night I decided to go back to the garage near my home and see if Charge Pointe would accept a credit card. I arrived at the garage and the space was empty. Good sign. American Express logo on the charger. Another good sign. No place to swipe the card. I decided to call the number on the charger since the garage attendants really don’t know anything about this. The Charge Pointe operator knew exactly what to do. After giving them the code on the charger, they were able to take my credit card on the phone and remotely activate the charger for my use. Finally, I could breathe a bit easier knowing that I had a local solution.

Now that I have an experience of having an electric car in New York City I am able to begin to formulate my opinion about the future of electric cars, Tesla, and an industry in its infancy. Electric cars today range from $23,845 for the Mitsubishi MiEV to about $160,000 for the BMW i8. There is actually a European concept car called the Rimac that goes for over $1 million, if you are interested. If you own a home, the cost of installing your own charging station ranges from about $1000 to $2000, plus the cost of the electrician. If you live in New York City as I do, the cost of unlimited monthly charge is about $100 per month at Charge Pointe, plus the cost of parking your car. Otherwise they cost about $3 per Kilowatt hour.

Where does that leave the electric car industry? Is it a fad? An extravagance? Pretty much every auto manufacturer is coming out with an electric car these days. So I don’t think that would happen if electric cars were just a fad. The technology is constantly improving. Tesla has added all-wheel drive to more of their vehicles. The updates to the technology that run the Tesla are downloaded just like an iPhone or any other software download. Just don’t download while driving.

Although the infrastructure is insufficient for mass amounts of electric cars at this time, the possibilities of where to have charging stations is enormous. Shopping centers and malls, Costco or Walmart, or other retailers where you could shop while charging. Or restaurants. Recently I read that a local Dunkin Donuts had a charging station. And globally, Tesla has committed to installing many more charging stations in China to support the sales of electric vehicles.

I believe that despite some frustrations and hiccups with the electric car infrastructure and technology, we are witnessing the birth of a new and exciting transition in the auto industry. We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology and one that will impact our fossil fuel usage. All signs are pointing to the electric car industry taking a greater share of the overall car market. It may be time for all of us to change our thinking.


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