Craig Morganson's new vehicle just earned Motor Trend magazine's coveted Car of the Year honors.
The sleek black sedan zips effortlessly from zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds and offers more cargo room than his Mercedes sport utility vehicle. He can surf the Internet or home in on a new destination using Google Maps from the dash-mounted 17-inch touch screen. To enter the vehicle, flush door handles power out like something from the latest James Bond movie.
It's all very cool stuff.
But to Morganson, the coolest thing about his Tesla Model S, reservation No. 197, the 263rd car made (some early models were used for testing) and delivered to his Las Vegas home on Nov. 8, is that the innovative technology behind his all-electric sedan is helping push other automakers to create cars that are more fuel-efficient and better for the environment.
"I don't look at electric cars as replacing internal combustion engine cars. I look at electric cars as one of the cleaner energy alternatives, not to replace ICEs, but to raise the bar so that ICEs that are going to remain valid or relevant are going to be providing something better to the consumer," said Morganson, chief executive officer of a local company.
"When you look at what's happening with hybrids and when you look at the government mandates for miles per gallon, without those mandates they're just going to continue to bleed the life out of us. But with the mandates, we're seeing technology improvements that impact our pocketbooks and impact our environment. And the success of Tesla is important for all of us to set the standards higher on the ICEs and that's important to us economically and environmentally," he said. "I think there are always going to be choices, but electric cars are here to stay."
"For any person looking for a car, the Model S will blow you away in every imaginable category having nothing to do with the fact that it's electric, and then when you factor in that you've got all these benefits from the fact that it's 100 percent electric, the cool factor just goes off the charts," Morganson said
A FAMILIAR RIDE
He's no stranger to the Tesla brand. He first drove Tesla's initial offering, the Roadster Sport, at an event held in 2010 at the Las Vegas Speedway.
"For me, it was all about performance and the green aspect. The idea that I could get a high-performance sports car that was electric - I couldn't believe it was true."
Morganson bought one of the roadsters, which start at north of $100,00, two-and-a-half years ago.
"I've got about 30,000 on this one, and I've never had a problem of any kind," he said, noting over that period of time he's saved 734 gallons of gasoline and 38.6 barrels of oil (a button on the Roadster tracks the saved fuel information).
"After having this for two and a half years I knew the technology was sound, that the Tesla power train (a combination of the computer, the motor, the delivery system and the wheels), was really reliable, so when I heard they were coming out with the Model S, it was just a no brainer for me."
He estimated there are about 10 Roadster owners in the Las Vegas area.
Having been an early purchaser of the Roadster Sport, Morganson also was able to get in on the Tesla initial public offering. Today that stock (Ticker: TSLA, Nasdaq Global Select Market) has appreciated more than 60 percent, and many analysts are rating it much higher than the $32.47 trading price it closed at Wednesday - some above $49, he said.
"All stockholders are pretty excited," at the stock's performance and the reception the Model S is receiving from the automotive press.
Morganson puts faith in Tesla CEO Elon Musk, a South African-born American entrepreneur and inventor best known for founding SpaceX and co-founding PayPal and Tesla, and the team Musk has put together at Tesla.
"Elon Musk has a pretty impressive track record. He's not somebody I would bet against," he said.
Another important reason why Morganson switched to Tesla's electric vehicles is his desire to be free from dependence on gasoline and oil.
"I don't like being controlled by the price of oil. I don't like being controlled by oil companies. You could say every gallon of gas is more money in the pocket of countries that are not necessarily our allies," he said. "And then when you look at tailpipe emissions, it's kind of a no-brainer. This is why I say the Model S is amazing in every imaginable way, but if you add those factors to it, it becomes something beyond a car. It becomes something more in tune with the planet."
Morganson said he plans to sell his gasoline-powered Mercedes SUV and stick to 100 percent electric cars. Another positive is the ease of ownership - fewer moving parts means fewer mechanical things to go wrong, and charging is a breeze, he said.
"Every night I plug in my cars just like my cellphone; it's nothing that inconveniences me in any way," Morganson said, noting the cars can plug into any outlet from a standard 110 outlet up to a supercharger.
Just two days after he got his Model S, Morganson drove it to Los Angeles and, along the way, stopped at one of the new, solar-powered electric car supercharger stations Tesla is setting up across the country.
"Driving to California is actually very easy. You plug into the supercharger at Barstow, and while you're eating lunch, your car gets another 150 miles added to it," he said, noting the supercharger can add that many miles in about 30 minutes.
Now for the automotive industry accolades, "At its core, the Tesla Model S is simply a damned good car you happen to plug in to refuel," Motor Trend magazine said in its January cover story.
"The mere fact the Tesla Model S exists at all is a testament to innovation and entrepreneurship, the very qualities that once made the American automobile industry the largest, richest, and most powerful in the world," Motor Trend's editors wrote in the magazine's January issue. "That the 11 judges unanimously voted the first vehicle designed from the wheels up by a fledgling automaker the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year should be cause for celebration. America can still make things. Great things."
Tesla calls the Model S, which is assembled at its Fremont, Calif., plant, the "world's first premium electric sedan." Its sticker price runs from about $49,900 to $97,900, based on battery options and upgrades and counting a $7,500 tax credit.
The Model S won all six categories for Car of the Year: Advancement in Design, Efficiency, Engineering Excellence, Performance of Intended Function, Safety and Value. The car boasts a range of 265 miles, which is the longest of any production electric car in the world. Tesla is expected to roll out 20,000 Model S vehicles is year and an equal amount in 2013.
Tesla Motors reportedly is working on a new electric vehicle similar to a van/sport utility crossover, Morganson said.
No one should be too surprised if that vehicle one day finds a parking space and an electrical outlet near the Model S and the Roadster Sport in Morganson's garage.