5 things we hope Tesla remembers to include in their ‘budget’ car

Tesla affordability

Tesla continues to sell their swank Model S all-electric luxury cars as fast as their (admittedly very impressive) robot overlords and human minions can put them together. That’s great for Tesla but for EV shoppers who don’t have $60,000 to $100,000 to drop on Elon Musk’s dream machines, a Tesla in the driveway remains just that: a dream that is probably a winning lotto ticket or inheritance away.

Next up is the Model X sedan (above)  – no price yet and likely not cheap – but Tesla has also hinted that an actual affordable and as-yet unnamed model may be in the pipeline and with a 200-mile range to boot.

Considering the Blue Collar Tesla will likely have to contend with fully-electric offerings in the $30,000 range from BMW, Mercedes, VW and others when it hits the streets in, say, 2015, I have a list of features I’d like to see (or not see) before I eBay my vintage motorcycle tail light collection for a down payment or at least a (very) small part of one.

1. For God’s sake, make sure it will actually go 200 miles.

I think Mr. Musk understands the range anxiety thing since the Model S can go 200 miles or better if you can keep yourself from crushing the accelerator whenever opportunity allows. During a recent introduction for the Chevy Spark EV in Portland, the car’s designers stressed how they researched people’s driving habits and that most folks drive less than 40 miles a day during their commute, so an 82-mile range has that covered plus some frosting. I say: bullshit. Yes, I want to poke around town, go to work and so on, but on Saturday, I want to load up the wife, kids, dog and my gear and go to the coast or the lake or the mountains (in Portland, we have all those things fairly close by). 82 miles won’t cut it – but 200 would. The beach is 90 miles away and through a small mountain range or two.  Lacking a charging spot at the coast, where it’s still 1985 in most places, I’d still like to make it home on a single charge. 180 miles? Check. Covered. I know the battery is the most expensive bit in the car, so I’m willing to make some sacrifices to pay for it.

2. Keep the fancy stuff for the fancy cars.

Pursuant to Point 1, I don’t need a giant touchscreen in my Tesla BudgetMaster 3000 like the Model S features. That’s what my phone is for. I also don’t need some fancy stereo except for an amp and speakers (a sub would be nice, however). Put a modular phone dock in the dash that I can spec for an iPhone, Android, Windows Phone or a Motorola brick for all I care. That’s where my music, navigation, messaging and all else lives. I can work it without looking or use Siri for most stuff. The Model S has about two buttons total in it because everything is run on the touch screen. Now just put all that functionality in a phone app and I’m good to go.

3. I have no need for budget speed.

Driving the Model S is a huge treat because it is so eyeball-flattening fast. At the price Tesla charges, it should be. But returning to the peppy Spark EV I drove recently, it was no slouch either – and for $20 large after all the paperwork. Why? 400 foot-pounds of torque, that’s how. In electric cars, the power lives in the twist, not so much the gallop. The Spark EV only puts out about 130hp but it felt plenty fast to me even with three people and all our gear inside. Handled good, too, even when pushed hard thanks in part to the battery weight down low. Again, back to Point 1: I’d trade hot 0-60mph times for 0-200 mile range. Chevy squeezed 82 miles and 60mph in 7.6 seconds out of that little battery under the back seat? I was satisfied. There’s not much need for more than that kind of speed in a budget EV. Besides, I have two-wheeled toys for when I want to go fast. Range is king here.

4. Build some utility into the form factor.

The Model S hauls up to seven humans (as long as two are childrens, labradors or wee adults) or five people with a lot of luggage, so I know they get this point. Those tiny cars from smart are cool and all but if I can’t put my golf sticks in the back or have room for the family, it’s a no go. Don’t do the tiny car thing. Please. They have their place, and someone else has it well covered. Give us some cubic feet in the back for groceries and the all the stuff ‘mericans like to haul around (dogs, R/C airplanes, minibikes, etc.). It need not be a minivan, but I’m pretty sure a low-slung four-seater with a tiny trunk and tinier frunk isn’t the way to go either. How about a wagon as an option? Or a shooting brake coupe? Just give us space to get all the stuff we find at yard sales back to the double-wide.

5. Make it modular and beyond reliable.

OK, that’s sort of two things but the way I see it, they’re kissing cousins. EVs have it all over gas-powered cars as far as complexity goes. Think about it: A Model S has a melon-sized motor with about three moving parts, a differential with a couple more, suspension bits and some stuff to make it turn. That’s it. Contrast that to a car with a gas engine which has about 5,000 parts to break, a transmission with 4,000 more, driveshafts, muffler bearings and whatnot and it’s a wonder they run at all. Keep the Tesla SuperSaver super simple. Cranks for the windows, no motors. Manually adjusted seats covered in long-lasting, cleanable cloth. Cup holders and cubbies. I don’t need much else to get where I’m going gas-free. Well, maybe a lot of those cool LED lights, because they’re super efficient and last forever.

I’ve swapped enough engines in my life to know I really need to be in the mood to do it and there better be a good supply of PBR in the garage fridge once I get started. If I never have to replace another leaking, grenaded V8 again in my life it won’t be too soon. So make the Tesla SlipStream modular in every way possible. I’ve seen that Tesla battery swap video and I swear as much as I hate getting the gubmint involved in anything more than it already is, there oughta be a law that says EV batteries must be quick-swappable. Ten years from now, I want to be able to drop that 200-mile range lump out and plug in a new 1,000-mile range unit that weighs half as much because you know that’s how it’s going to play out. Same with motors. My old ’66 Triumph 650cc twin is blown away by a modern 650 twin that is lighter, way more reliable and has twice the juice. Electric motors will be the same way. In 2025, I should be able to order the new 300hp Tesla Spinner 5000 motor and drop it right into my 2016 SlipStream with some help from my son, a box wrench and my new Tesla OverLord helper bot that I got at Costco.

Now, make it so, Tesla. I’ll be out in the garage.

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