James Fallows is the author of the newsletter Breaking the News. He is also a contributing writer for The Atlantic, where he previously served as a national correspondent and staff writer. The author of 12 books, he has won the National Magazine Award, American Book Award, and an Emmy. He was also a chief speechwriter for President Carter. Read MoreRead More
I Hate What Elon Musk Did to Twitter. I Bought a Tesla Anyway.
I shopped around, but nothing came close to the Model Y.
My wife Deb and I had been thinking forever about what electric car to get.
We followed the news about electric models from Hyundai, and Kia, and Cadillac, and Polestar, and all the others. We noted every ad on TV and every story about upcoming releases. We asked Uber and Lyft drivers who had electric cars what they liked and disliked. One time a friend let us test drive his Polestar for a few days. (It was great.)
And we decided on Tesla.
We made our choice even though I consider Elon Musk’s role at Twitter to be wholly destructive, and even though I have followed the cautionary stories about Tesla as a company and about its “self-driving” technology and other systems.
So why the Tesla Model Y? Here was our check list:
1. Scale. Tesla is for now the market leader in the U.S. and some other parts of the world. When we were in the Bay Area of California earlier this summer, a huge share of the cars we saw on highways 101, 80, and 280 were Teslas. During the first quarter of this year, Tesla’s Model Y, the same kind we got, was California’s best selling vehicle of any sort — cars, trucks, hybrids, gas-powered, whatever. In second place was another Tesla, the Model 3.
I have a long track record of going against the grain in consumer selections. Time and again I’ve chosen the “interesting,” “elegant,” “actually, better value” alternative to the market leader. When first the Apple II and then the early IBM PC were coming onto the computer market, I proudly stuck with gorgeous-but-doomed outliers like the Processor Technology SOL-20 and the Victor 9000. I used the “technically superior” operating system OS/2 when the world was switching to Windows. I wrote several books with DeScribe as a word processor, rather than Word. Now I use Scrivener.
This is to say, I’ve explored the road less traveled.
This time we decided to go with the herd. There are real advantages of industry-standard scale. The most obvious is Tesla’s nationwide network of charging stations, which other companies are now joining.
2. Availability. Many articles about electric cars talk about multi-month waiting lists, or models that will come onto the market in a year or two.
We decided: The future is now. For better or worse, Tesla has a lot of inventory on hand for fast delivery. We brought ours home less than two weeks after we took a test drive and listed the specs for the model we wanted.
3. Price. This was a surprise. Usually I have terrible timing as a consumer. For instance, we bought our house when mortgage rates were around 20%. But we happened to be shopping just after Tesla had cut prices significantly to build sales volume, and to stay below a price ceiling that qualifies for federal tax credits. Prices went up again slightly a few weeks after we’d placed our order, but not nearly as much as they’d previously gone down.
This leads to…
4. Taxes. According to Tesla, our car was manufactured in Austin and shipped for delivery to where I live in Washington, D.C. This and other factors qualify the car for the current $7,500 federal tax credit for domestically produced electric vehicles.
This provision does not apply to cars from Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes, Polestar, and so on. Therefore it gives Tesla (plus GM, Ford, Jeep, etc.) a big edge.
After tax credits, the final cost to us was well under the average price for a new car in the U.S. And, inflation-adjusted, it was actually less than the price of my last beloved car, an Audi A4 I purchased back in 1999.
5. Vibe. This will mainly be my wife’s vehicle — I’m sticking with the Audi as long as D.C. inspection allows. For her it has just the layout, size, and space she had been looking for.
More importantly, she likes it — the look, the feel, the ride. I like it too.
There you have it! But then…
6. The Elon Factor. I believe that Elon Musk has damaged public discourse with his dismantling of Twitter and his related forays into politics. Naturally this makes me wonder about everything else he has been associated with.
What if there had been a comparably attractive choice — on price, availability, scale — from a company he didn’t run? We would have taken that. But there wasn’t.
The reality is that Tesla has transformed the electric-vehicle market in the U.S. We’re aware of the man but chose the car.
Some day, the beloved A4 will no longer pass D.C. inspections, or no longer get by on its aging, hard-to-replace parts. When that day comes, I’ll see what new EV models have appeared.
For now, we’re Tesla people.
Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the author’s newsletter, Breaking the News, and has been repurposed for Heatmap.