Why Consumers Still Shy Away From Teslas: Fires, Costs and Range

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Tesla Launches Supercharger Stations On German Highway
Getty Images/Thomas Niedermueller
Tesla Motors (TSLA) did it again. The maker of luxury electric cars posted another blowout quarter on Wednesday.

However, that only entailed selling and delivering 6,892 of its award-winning Model S sedans. That breaks down to less than 2,300 cars a month, among the millions of cars that sold in the United States during the quarter and tens of millions that sold worldwide.

The Model S is cool, but at the end of the day you're probably not going to get one. Let's go over a few of the obvious and not-so-obvious reasons why car shoppers feel that way.

The Model S is Too Expensive

The plug-in sedans start at $69,900 for the basic model, the one with the smaller battery that needs to be recharged every 208 miles. If you want the model with more range and more kick, that starts at $10,000 more. There are plenty of options that push the average transaction price up to roughly $93,000.

A $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles will take some of the sting out of the purchase the next time you file a return, but the price tag still limits the car's market.

Of course, that's also part of its appeal. Tesla is aiming to have a slightly more economical car hit the market in a couple of years. However, for now you really don't have much of a choice.

The Tesla Fires Are Still Raging

When video of a Model S on fire went viral last year,Tesla quickly let it be known that it wasn't an internal issue that caused the sedan flambe. It was a large piece of debris on the road that ruptured its low-lying battery. Then came another fire. And another.

There were at least three fires last quarter, and earlier this month a Model S caught fire in a Toronto garage. The timing was lousy. The incidents began happening shortly after Tesla began touting its stellar safety rating.

The Model S remains one of the safest cars on the market, but the fires aren't helping its image.

Range Anxiety is Real

One of the things that have been keeping electric cars in check -- beyond the stiff price tags where the high costs of the lithium-ion batteries are only partly offset by the federal tax credit -- is the limited range between charges.

Unlike traditional cars, for which gas stations are convenient, quick and everywhere, electric cars need dedicated and lengthy recharging sessions at less ubiquitous sites. Other than the Chevy Volt, these cars need more than traditional power sockets to get juiced up.

For most daily commuting trips, Tesla's range of more than 200 miles is more than enough. However, its limits make road trips or extended outings challenging, if not stressful.

Driving Long Distances Requires Too Many Detours

Tesla's response to range anxiety has been aggressive. It has been building out a network of charging stations. The 79 recharging hubs can restore half of a battery's capacity within 20 minutes. And the charges are complimentary for Model S owners.

To promote these stations, a team of Tesla employees traveled from California to New York City using only Tesla's Supercharger stations. It was framed as a success for electric cars in general, and Tesla in particular. But one aspect of the journey that the car maker probably isn't proud of is that the trek took 3,464.5 miles. The most direct route is closer to 2,790 miles. There's a lot of money to be saved in gas. But time is money for everyone, and perhaps more so for folks who can afford Teslas. Driving an extra 674 miles as Tesla's team did recently probably isn't worth it.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Tesla Motors. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.

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9 Comments

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philf41phil

Here's the record.

Tesla Model S was not the cause of any of the three fires reported. These were High Speed road hazard accidents

All three drivers and their passengers exited their Model S uninjured. All three replaced their fire damaged car with another Model S.

Approximately 200 million Model S miles driven. Zero injuries, zero accidents.

No other car comes close.

LA to NY city with zero emissions, zero fuel cost? Yes.

Highest resale vale of any car guaranteed? Yes

Consumer Reports: Best Car Ever Tested and Best customer satisfaction: 99 of 100 would buy again. Next closest..66.

Motor Trend Magazine 2013 Car of the Year by unanimous decision. Fist time ever.

NHTSA Safest Car tested, 2013, 2014.

We could have cancelled Our Model s ordered September of 2013 and delivered 11/22/13.

We took delivery after investigating the fires, discerning the causes and contemplating the outcomes in a gas vehicle.

10,000 miles later we discovered:

Tesla deserves all the accolades. We haven't had this much fun in years.

Americans cars used to be symbols of our freedom. Americans are now slaves to gas cars.

No more. Model s owners are free again, to drive at no cost. My wife and I hit the road without even thinking about paying $60 to 120.00 every three hundred miles. We go where we like and charge overnight. Maiden Voyage? Seattle to Indio California and back. Side trips to Silver Falls, Oregon, Charged up free at Woodburn, Eugene, Grants Pass Mt. Shasta, went to Mt Lassen, Mendicino, Monterey, Salinas, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree and back..4500 miles, zero cost of fuel, zero emissions.

How good is Tesla and Model S? There is something wonderful about seeing a Maseratti, Ferarri, Mercedes, BMW, Aston Martin, Mini Cooper, knowing you have a better, safer, car at much less expense. Quoting consumer reports: the 2013 Tesla Model S is the best car ever tested.

The next huge business will be converting our gas cars/trucks to electric.

Here's what the conversion looks like: You throw a your 4/6/8/12 cylinder engine into the recycle bin, along with the transmission, radiator, hoses, gas lines, fuel injectors, fuel pumps, fuel lines, differentials, gas tanks, etc. Look at that pile of junk that used to be your car. Now look at your sleek, fast, 436 HP electric car..a motor with one moving part to turn the
wheels, a battery pack, DC to AC converter a forward, reverse, N and P gear box. Plug it into your garage or any of the thousands of charge stations. Zero emissions, low to no fuel cost, freedom to come and go as you like. Quietly.

The Tesla Model S? It;s like the Batmobile without the pollution. Drive it. You will like it.

All this and no hard sell dealers. Like buying a mac.

In 3 years no one will even make gas engine cars or hybrids. Why would they?

March 19 2014 at 1:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
NestT

1) Model S is price competitive with comparable ICE vehicles without any federal or state incentive. Mercedes CLS, BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, Audi A7, and Porsche Panamera.

2) Model E will be HALF the Price of Model S. That is more that just "slightly more economical."

3) Ford Escape had 13 fires last year and a total of 7 recalls.
Tesla is less fire prone that ICE vehicles.
ICE vehicles have been killing at least 30k Americans per year since 1946.
Teslas have been on the road since 2008 and no fatalities or even serious injury.

4) Range anxiety is for dolts. Recharging overnight at home is far more convenient that going to the gas station. Buying a car for 1% of trips ( over 200 miles) instead of 99% of trips( daily driving under 200 miles) is just plain stupid.

5) The number of gas stations fall every year. The number of Supercharger and Public charging stations grows every month. People that can afford a Model S don't drive cost country. 99.9% of the time we fly.

February 25 2014 at 8:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jim5437532

The Tesla model S. has been recalled because of defective charge connectors that are a fire hazard. Nearly 30,000 Tesla's have been recalled, because charge connectors overheat, melt and burn. Tesla and their shills have tried to scapegoat house wiring and wall outlets. The facts prove that Tesla charge connectors have overheated, melted and burned when there was no fault with the house wiring or wall outlets.

Tesla (Elon Musk) promised that replacement adapters would be mailed out within two weeks, over a month ago, yet customers and allegedly service centers have not received the upgraded charge connectors. Tesla has failed to meet its promises, and continues to be reactive and fall short on safety. Customers are complaining that they haven't been warned by mail of the Tesla fire hazards. Tesla has a disregard for safety.

Some liars claim that charging the Tesla with 110 V is sufficient for most people.

Parasitic draw, vampire loss and internal resistance means the battery is losing power when it is not being charged. What most people put in to the battery is much less than what they get out. It's even worse in cold climates where batteries heat is necessary and cabins are preheated. 110 V often isn't even enough to keep up with battery heat and cabin preheat. Most people in cold climates complain that when they try to charge with 110 V, that the charger it cannot keep up with usage.

Tesla has had three traction battery fires from running over road debris or accidents after only manufacturing about 30,000 vehicles. How many gasoline tank fires from learning over road debris or having accidents did Ford Pinto have after manufacturing only 30,000? Tesla batteries might be more likely to catch fire after running over road debris or having accidents then Ford Pinto gasoline tanks catching fire after running over road debris. The Tesla might be worse than the Ford Pinto. ;)

February 24 2014 at 8:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dan5

few comments:
1. You don't really require an expensive charging plug or anything. I have mine plugged into a 110 V regular plug right now. You get 3-4 miles per hour charge rate, which is fine for most people, you get 36-40 miles per night charge.
2. With regards to the fires, the fires when running over road debris, keep in mind the car sits very low, so it is more likely to run over road debris than other cars. So the 2 fires with the road debris, how would other cars fared? Maybe the debris would have injured the occupants. The Mexico one, over 100 mph, round about, drunk driver, bashed through a wall and the guy WALKED away. The one with the garage fire... umm... we learned that there was no permit, no inspection- so it would be safe to say that it was not done by the book.
3. Now with the Tesla adapter, there was a software update, the software update fixed many of those problems so the car can detect wild swings. The adapter itself, well, that has a fuse in it, to me, it is completely not needed. Tesla trying to fix a problem that is not their responsibility- bad home wire jobs.
4. How many people actually drive cross country? Most superchargers are located on major highways

February 22 2014 at 4:36 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Chandy Pand

Sloppy article. As far as cost goes, does it make sense if you write Aston Martins or Maseratis are expensive? Do you realize that the technology in the Model S is making a vehicle which can perform under 3 seconds from 0-60 available to people who could never afford a car like that before?

Regarding supercharger deployment, look at the map showing near future expansion. This is an ongoing process and such detour you outlined is just a temporary situation.

Regarding fires, given 22,000 cars gasoline powered, how many fires and deaths do you observe in the same period of time? Answer that before writing uninformed article.

See what incredible times we are now. You and "Jim" writing misguided text. Myself and other educated and honest consumers come and bring up the truth.

February 22 2014 at 12:27 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
mistergg69

The $7,500 tax credit is deducted from the purchase price, the dealer files for the tax credit not the buyer.

February 22 2014 at 9:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jagentmike

How much per day does it cost to charge this car ?

February 21 2014 at 1:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jagentmike's comment
mistergg69

I drive a Nissan Leaf 40-50 miles per day and my electric bill went up about $30 per month.

February 22 2014 at 10:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jim5437532

It seems so far none of the Chevy Volts, Nissan Leafs, or Toyotas Rav4EV sold to customers have had their batteries catch fire after running over road debris or being in accidents. 2 Tesla S have caught fire after hitting road debris and 1 Tesla S caught fire and exploded after an accident.

Tesla has been known for about a year, possibly longer to have faulty charge connectors, yet Tesla chose not to fix the problem. It wasn't until people reported the problems to the media and the government, that a recall was issued. Even though Elon Musk promised that the new adapters would be mailed out in two weeks, over a month later customers have not received the replacement adapters under the recall and they have not received mailings warning of the safety hazards.

Over a year ago Tesla allegedly applied for a patent for improved battery protection. Seemingly Tesla chose not to provide the improved battery protection in the model S. It seems that Tesla decided that they would rather pay out claims than fix the death traps they have created.

Tesla and Tesla fan boys care more about stock prices than safety. Greed.

Tesla is an example of the corporate culture gone amok. If you want to settle for a Tesla, that's your own business. My standards are higher.

Tesla model S, the E-Pinto.

February 21 2014 at 1:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jim5437532's comment
cruising7388

This is the typical rhetoric you hear from whiners who sold TSLA short only to be demolished in a short squeeze.

February 21 2014 at 5:02 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply