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Tesla owners gather at fun-filled rally to compete and swap stories

Consumer Reports News: May 01, 2013 06:08 PM

This past weekend I brought our Tesla Model S to an Electric Vehicle Rally in Westport, Connecticut. The event featured a fun 40-mile scenic drive, guided by scavenger-hunt clues rather than driving directions. It was just the sort of event car enthusiasts of all stripes have long enjoyed, but with a green twist.

My 14-year-old son came along as navigator and photographer at the family-friendly gathering. About a dozen of the 33 participants were driving Tesla Model S's, with the rest of the group showing up with Chevrolet Volts, Ford C-Max Energis, Nissan Leafs, and Toyota Prius Plug-Ins. A couple of Smart EVs, a BMW Active E, Tesla roadster, and a Fisker Karma rounded out the pack. (Read our complete road test of the top-scoring Tesla Model S.)

For the Model S contingency, the rally itself turned out to be almost secondary. The main event was the excitement of seeing so many Teslas in one place and the chance to compare notes with other pioneering customers. When it became known that we were from Consumer Reports, some commented on our earlier blogs regarding the personal delivery, winter driving range, and windshield replacement. (Read our past Tesla posts.)

To learn more about electric cars, visit our alternative-fuel car guide.

EV-Road-Rally-2013-Tesla-line.jpgDiscussions among owners revolved around the car's performance in the snow (which was pretty decent), its winter range, and whether or not we had gotten the 4.4 version of Tesla software pushed through the cloud (we had). It was hard to glean much info about maximum range and charging time, though, since most owners, it seems, have been charging overnight and not pushing the battery to its limits.

Tesla owner Jack Mandlebaum, visiting from Boston (some 150 miles from the rally site), topped off his car at Tesla's free "supercharger" station in nearby Milford the night before. Mentioning that our own winter-weather range had averaged about 180 miles, but now at a balmy 60-something degrees was around 220, Mandlebaum said "that sounds about right."

"I love the fact that this innovative car is all American" was a common theme among owners. Mr. Mandlebaum added that his buying decision was driven by "pure passion." Asked how he felt about going out on a limb with a start-up company, owner John Hennessey of Madison, CT—who replaced a Lexus GS with a Tesla—admitted that he's an early adopter of just about everything.

What were some of the other shared stories of the day? Well, another Model S owner showed me a windshield crack very similar to the one our car had had and added, "you know there are going to be some teething problems with a brand-new car from a brand-new company." One problem, Mr. Mandlebaum volunteered, is that he can't see going back to an internal-combustion car.

The overwhelming takeaway was that Model S owners love their cars and have a strong sense of pride. They particularly revel in the instant power delivery, near-silent gliding, and total freedom from gas stations which, to them, feels like a dirty and anachronistic thing. Driving a conversation piece is just icing on the cake.

For the record, the driver-navigator team in the BMW Active E actually won the rally with a perfect 37.5 miles on the odometer—the only criterion for victory. For Tesla owners, the rally felt more like a show of force and a confirmation that this car might be the tipping point for electric cars in general.

Check back with us in a couple of weeks for our full road test report on the Model S.

Gabe Shenhar

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