When Rick and Cathy Stephenson of Kingsville bought their Model 3 Tesla two years ago they read the online owner’s manual from start to finish.
There was one issue the manual, however, did not address: How to deal with aggressive drivers who want to test how fast their high-torque Tesla can go.“I’m going to the tennis club,” Rick Stephenson said. “I’m on Division Street, doing the speed limit and somebody will get right behind you, then whip out and just floor it … it happens all the time.” And then there’s the threat of vandalism. The Internet is full of examples of cars being keyed or deliberately crashed into by malicious motorists. “Someone was driving along, the car ahead stops, the driver throws the car into reverse and backs into the Tesla,” Stephenson said, citing one example.“Then the guy calls the cops that the Tesla hit his car.”
Fortunately for Tesla owners, unfortunately for the other driver, the examples of road rage are captured digitally by one of the eight cameras imbedded around the car.
The Tesla owner takes the footage to police, the police track down the culprit, charges are laid and the guilty party is given a court order to pay damages.
Tesla charging stations have also been deliberately damaged. And then there is coal rolling, involving a driver in a diesel pickup truck driving in front of a Tesla or hybrid, turning off the emission controls, then spewing out plumes of thick, dark smoke. It’s dangerous and it’s illegal.
“A lot of people feel threatened by green cars because it’s a threat to their way of life, it goes way beyond just a Tesla,” said Daniel Breton, president of Electric Mobility Canada, which promotes electric-powered transportation.
Rick Stephenson, who owned a detailing business in Orillia before retiring to Kingsville with his wife, said some of the damage done to Teslas is not always done with nasty intent.
He said passersby have seen a dog in a Tesla during a hot summer day, smashed a window, only to be greeted with a cooling waft of refrigerated air.
Teslas and the air-conditioning unit still run, even in park.
Cathy Stephenson, a retired bank manager, said they’ve never had any major problems driving in Canada, but they will not drive in the United States, where wearing a mask or driving an electric vehicle can often be viewed as a political act.
“We did not take our Tesla to Florida the last two winters because of that,” she said.
Mike Martinez, an automotive reporter who covers Tesla for the Detroit-based Automotive News, said the vandalism directed toward Tesla cars does exist, but is not widespread.
“Tesla is polarizing because (founder) Elon Musk is polarizing and I think there are some people who do not like him as a person and what Tesla stands for and they take it out on the owners,” he said.
“It’s just a few fanatics who take it too far.”
Martinez said Tesla CEO Musk has a way of irritating people and provoking criticism.
“He’s achieved celebrity status and among his fans he can do no wrong. But some of his outlandish claims and wild twitting habits annoy a lot of people. It really seems like there is no middle ground.”
The Kingsville Observer made an interview request to Tesla, but received no reply.
The Stephensons say the pluses of owning a Tesla far outweigh any negatives.
Committed environmentalists, they actively promote electric vehicles, allowing others to test drive their car — even a 16-year-old who had just earned her driving permit.
“When she gets enough money, she will be buying a Tesla. That’s the whole thing, you want everyone on your street to have one,” Rick said.
Tesla is a technological marvel. Everything — heating, cooling, the navigation system, the steering wheel, seat adjustments — is controlled by a dashboard-mounted computer or voice commands. Many mechanical issues can be corrected by phoning the company. A few computer keys are punched, problem solved.
The Stephensons also like Musk’s hands-on approach. They said he actively encourages suggestions to improve the car and the Tesla driving experience.
One Tesla driver suggested Musk install a karaoke app so drivers could keep themselves occupied while stuck in traffic.
Great idea, Musk said.
Now an idled driver stuck in Toronto traffic can belt out a few bars of Jimi Hendrix’s Crosstown Traffic to keep themselves busy and amused.
The Stephensons admit it: they are converts spreading the faith.
Cathy said the move to electric vehicles is unstoppable and points to a significant trend — the electrification of classic cars.
“There’s a company in the States that’s taking classic cars … using Tesla parts and installing them. The engine under the hood, the batteries, everything is all Tesla. They’re electric cars on the inside but classic car on the outside.”
The Stephensons said the only other negative reactions they receive are from people who ask about the provincial subsidy they received to defray part of the cost of buying the $72,000 car and the assumption they “must be rich.”
They’re not rich and they point to many conventional cars, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s gas guzzling Cadillac Escalade, that cost more.
The Ford government has slashed the Drive Clean subsidy and the Stephensons would no longer qualify for the $14,000 subsidy they received two years ago.
While the car is expensive, it’s not expensive to run. The Stephensons can drive 530 kilometres on a $14 charge from a charging station, less when the Tesla is charged at home, when the cost is a negligible $5 a month on their hydro bill.
“If you can’t afford an electric car, buy a hybrid, save a lot of money and help the environment at least a little bit,” Cathy said.
Musk a game changer in the EV market
Mike Martinez, a reporter with the Detroit based Automotive News, says Tesla founder Elon Musk has forced automakers like Ford and GM to up their game and accelerate the development of their own electric vehicles.
“Whatever you think of him, Elon Musk has forced the auto industry to evolve. Before Tesla, electric cars were seen as boring green vehicles for environmentalists. He showed people EVs can look good and perform better than many sports cars.”
He said the car is not perfect and has been dogged by quality issues.
“Customers have often looked past those issues because of its first-mover status.”
Martinez said it’s still too early to say whether Tesla will retain its crown as the dominant maker of electric vehicles.
“Will (buyers) stick with Tesla when there are more comparable products from companies who have been perfecting the art of building cars for a century? That remains an open question,” he said.