With the Tesla Model 3 releasing last month at a starting rate of $35,000, a future of gasoline-free cars has become a tangible reality.
Tangible enough that a handful of locals are jumping along for the ride.
Then there are those, like videographer Tim Maly and I, who use “media badges” as an excuse to ride in a Tesla — I mean, create informative content on the cars of the future. (It’s for the fans.)
It didn’t take much to convince us that we should drive out to Jamestown last Friday to meet with Scott Bintz, founder of RealTruck.com and now the proud owner of a 2016 Tesla Model X P90D.
A little background on this model: it’s incredibly powerful, with a stated outpout at 762 horsepower (259 from the front electric motor, 503 from the rear) and 713 lb-ft of torque. It’s notorious for causing Elon Musk, Tesla Motors co-founder and CEO, a massive headache for all its special features. Early deliveries of the car began in September 2015, with around 2,700 units sold by April 2016. This car is rarity.
We saw it before we even knew what it was. Tim and I were placing bets on how many trucks we’d passed on the highway, and after four in a row we saw a sleek black object in the distance.
“Is that a truck?” I said. “I’m betting it is.”
But as it got closer, it became apparent that this was no truck – nay, no ordinary car, either. The front windshield seemed to stretch all the way up the roof of the car. As it came closer we saw the distinct silver “T” glistening on the nose of the car.
“THAT’S A TESLA,” said Tim, in all caps.
Making an educated guess that there are likely not that many Teslas in Jamestown, North Dakota, we were certain it had to be Scott. Sure enough, the sleek SUV turned and followed us into the RealTruck parking lot. Turns out Scott was out giving a co-worker a spin.
Except that in a Tesla Model X, a “spin” involves going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds.
It’s called Ludicrous mode, and it’s the factor that boosts the Model X from a car to a supercar. It’s also the primary reason Scott, who is a total speed junkie and race car driver, bought this model, he later told us.
To get technical for a second – Ludicrous mode is made possible by a tiny lithium ion battery and electronic fuse developed by Tesla, for Tesla. Prior to this Model, Tesla’s power was capped by how much power could be drawn from the battery before the fuse melted, roughly 1,300 amps. The new battery and fuse can draw more power and detect when it will melt, allowing the battery to safely fire out 1,500 amps of power. A ludicrous amount of power, if you will.
But before we experienced the Luda mode (not sure if people have started calling it that yet, but it’s inevitable), we had a moment that I think Tim will remember for the rest of his life.
Scott greeted us, sporting a Ferrari jacket that complemented his shoulder-length hair, and said this: “Well, I have a meeting for the next 20 minutes so- here,” he dug into his pocket, and handed us a small black object that looked like a Hot Wheels toy.
It was the key.
“Go have fun,” he said.
Trembling, we took the miniature Tesla in our hands and looked at each other, dumbly.
Naturally, we began hitting all the buttons. We found that pressing the back end of the silver streak on the key opened the doors of the car, which open upwards like bat wings.
As I walked up to the car to look in, the front door sensed the keys presence and automatically opened for me as well. When I walked away, it shut on its own.
Bear in mind, for context, that each of these things happening were followed by squeals and jumping up and down from Tim and I (mostly Tim). No shame. This thing was freakin’ awesome.
After scoping out all sides of the car, we slid into the driver and passenger seats and inspected everything thoroughly.
One of the first things you notice is that the dashboard is just a giant screen, with no gas tank meter. In its place is a small battery, like one you’d see on your smartphone. It shows the battery life of the car with how many miles you have left. The Model X can hold up to 257 miles worth of charge, and takes around 8 hours using 220 systems to be fully charged.
Poking around the console, which is basically a giant iPad, revealed a variety of features; an option to create driver profiles, to customize the features to whoever is driving; a plug-in to connect your garage door with the car so that it will open upon your arrival; even an option to turn on “creep” mode, so that it feels like your car has an engine. (Meaning that the car will move slowly while in drive.)
The back of the car looks crammed with seats, but is surprisingly roomy. It can fit up to seven people. Each seat has individual weather control, able to heat and cool as needed. To get in the back, one need simply press a button and the front seats automatically lower. No more of trying to find those darn handles and clambering over clunky seats.
Speaking of handles, the car itself doesn’t..really..have any. The handles are just silver strips along the car, just like on the key. You push on them to open the door, if it hasn’t already opened automatically.
By the time Scott had returned we were so wrapped up in the car that we had almost lost track of time. He showed us a few other features, explaining how they will likely expand as the car gets software updates.
Oh. Of course. Just like a smartphone gets software updates, these ones come directly to your car. Future.
The windshield, for instance, could easily be updated to complement solar power – something that Tesla owner Elon Musk has spoken about integrating into the Teslas, Scott said. It really does stretch up to the roof, giving the driver’s seat the feeling of being in a cockpit of a plane.
“I thought it was going to be too bright,” Scott said. “But it’s tinted enough that it hasn’t been a problem.”
Even Scott seemed slightly bewildered by how many options the car offered. For instance, there’s a whole slew of autopilot capabilities that he has yet to install, if he should so choose. (We’ll write about autonomy with the Teslas later!)
“I’ve only had this a week,” he said, fiddling with the different settings. But there was one setting he definitely knew how to work.
Things get ludicrous
We hit the road. By which I mean, Scott pressed the gas pedal and the car turned on. No twist of a key or push of a button. Scott showed how he only need press on the gas to go faster, or release to go slower. The brake pedal, really, is not needed at all.
Scott, however, drives it like a race car driver with one foot on each pedal. The car consistently kept dinging, notifying him that he was pressing both pedals at once.
“Sheesh, I never knew how much I dragged a normal car until I got this,” he said, laughing. We were on our way to a long stretch of highway by the airport, where he could prove the supercar powers.
On the way he talked about Tesla life, how he plugs it in each night to his double chargers in his garage to charge it up. How, no, Jamestown is not quite at the level where there are chargers at public places throughout the city. In fact not everyone even recognizes the car.
But with the release of the Model 3, it’s likely more and more people will opt electric over the thousands of dollars that go to gasoline each year, he said. At its lowest cost, the Tesla Model 3 will easily make up for the cost of gasoline in less than 5 years.
“At $2 a gallon, about $3,000 a year, in five years that $15 grand that you would spend on gas that you’re not spending on a Tesla,” he said. And that’s not even accounting for maintenance like oil changes, all of which are not needed with an electric car.
In fact, Scott is toying with a long term plan to fully sustain his car through solar power.
“If I solar’d up my house, you could have a car that would never cost you anything to drive,” he said. “No oil changes, no gas, ever.”
Of course, adding options to the Tesla does make it more pricey than the average gasoline run car. The Tesla Model X, plus Ludicrous mode (which is an extra $10,000), costs upwards of $140,000. You might not guess it from looking at the outside; it’s not flashy like a sports car. It really looks like an SUV. A really sleek SUV.
But not when you sit inside, and watch this happen:
I remember when a rollercoaster at an amusement park near my hometown first opened, boasting that when it launched it went from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about 3 seconds. That experience feels like you are thrown against the seat, hurtling into the wind.
This, however, felt almost alarmingly smooth. Scott simply switched a tab that said “Ludicrous mode” to ON. He hit the pedal.
You feel yourself push back in your seat, and instinct tells you to hold on to something. A whirring sound fills the air, similar to the sound a jet makes on the runway. Suddenly the world outside is moving by very, very fast. But the overall affect is silent, swift, a bullet from a gun.
The only thing that could make it better is if this started playing every time you went into Ludicrous mode.
Needless to say, having to actually open the doors to my Mazda and watch my gas tank slowly dwindle down on the road back to Fargo, felt so primitive after experiencing the future.
Check out a video of the experience, here:
Courtesy of Shepherd Videography.
Photos courtesy of Emerging Prairie and Scott Bintz.