Its been a long time coming, but Tesla Motors is finally delivering the Model S, an electric car that can be used as a practical daily driver. And while they were at it, they moved the human interface into the 21st century as well. I've had the opportunity to drive a Model S around town over the last few days and thought I would report on the experience.
First things first. The Achiles heel for electric cars has been the range on a full charge and difficulty of charging. The Model S comes with a selection of three battery sizes, of which the largest capacity will allow for a 300 mile range. Given that its easy to charge on a nightly basis, for daily use this is quite acceptable. Long road trips are still a problem, although Tesla is working quickly to install SuperCharger stations on U.S. interstate highways. These high speed charging stations will provide a relatively quick charge for those on long trips.
The Model S takes full advantage of not having an internal combustion engine on board. Under the hood is now a second "trunk", which when combined with a large rear trunk provides very large storage capacity. The lack of a fuel tank allows for large storage capacity in the rear trunck as well. Since there is no driveshaft, the traditional "hump" in the cabin has been eliminated and replaced with another storage area. This area is very nice for conveniently setting down an item like a purse.
The most interesting part of the Model S is the human interface, which has been substantially changed. There is still a traditional steering wheel and an accelerator. However, the control panel has been totally revamped with a large, center screen. Virtually all car settings are performed on the center screen which is entirely soft-coded. The car is connected via its own cell connection which allows for over the air software updates. Its very cool to see Tesla creating new features and downloading them in realtime. There are a variety of apps that can be loaded into the system, which I'm sure will grow over time. One potential pitfall is that the system displays a full size browser window, which is accessible at any time. Tesla is treating drivers as adults, leaving it up to them to not perform activities that are distracting to driving. We'll see how long this lasts until the first law suit...
The real questions around electric cars still boil down to time to "fill-up" and range on a "full tank". While it is definitely convenient to "fill-up" your car at your house when on the road fill-up time can be an issue. In the future, new battery technology will be developed along with alternative power methods such as hydrogen fuel cell technology. However, for the time being the Tesla Model S is the first break-through electric car that has the potential to actually replace the current crop of gasoline using passenger cars.