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BLOG: One of the perks of this job is getting to do some fun stuff.
And this week, Headline host Howard Green and I had the chance to do just that when we went to the opening of Canada’s first Tesla dealership, the California-based electric car manufacturer with a risky vision for the e-car of the future. It’s located in the latest addition to one of Toronto’s premier malls, Yorkdale Shopping Centre.
Not only did we have a chance to talk to George Blankenship, Tesla's vice-president of worldwide sales and owner experience, Howard got a chance to get behind the wheel of the carmaker’s Model S and take it for a test drive. It’s a car that has being winning accolades, recently bestowed three Car Of The Year awards for 2013 by the likes of Automobile and Motor Trend Magazines.
Well, sitting in the back seat of an all-electric car that’s built for speed with Howard behind the wheel was certainly an experience I’ll never forget. Especially getting to hear "Howie G" as we sometimes call him experience the G-force of the Model S. Complete with the "wee" sound children make when they’re experiencing acceleration.
"It’s like being in a Space Shuttle – not that I’ve ever been in a Space Shuttle," he told Tesla Communications Manager Shanna Hendriks, who was riding shotgun. Howard obviously was having fun accelerating from zero to whatever in a few seconds, though I’ll make it clear right now that he was ever mindful of driving in a 40-km-an-hour zone. (For the record, however, the Tesla Model S can accelerate from 0 to 97 kilometres an hour in four seconds.)
But, while the test drive was a lot of fun, the interview with Tesla’s Blankenship gave a lot more insight into how the Silicon Valley-based auto maker looks at the future of the all-electric car, and what the tipping point is for getting more car buyers to come on board.
For starters, the very fact that the dealership is located at a shopping mall, especially a high-end one such as Yorkdale, is an integral part of the company’s marketing campaign. With the huge foot traffic that an A-list mall provides, Blankenship says people who’ve never even thought of purchasing an all-electric car will have the potential to judge the sleek good looks of the Model S and some of its nifty features. (Howard and I were especially impressed with the front trunk -- or "frunk" -- that gives the Model S owner additional storage space, thanks to the fact that there is no traditional engine taking up room).
"The car has a wide range of desirability to a lot of people who will say: 'That is an incredible car – oh, yeah, it’s electric'," Blankenship quips.
With a price tag starting at $64,000 and ranging up to more than $100,000, it competes with the BMWs, Audis and Mercedes of the car world, and Blankenship clearly wants Tesla and the Model S to have a piece of that world. To compete with those cars, he acknowledges the Model S will have to match or better those vehicles on style and performance, plus prove that its electricity costs are significantly cheaper than its gas-guzzling competitors.
And the word seems to getting out.
Right now, there’s a waiting list of 13,000 for getting the Model S -- and the company is trying to increase its manufacturing capacity to 20,000 a year to meet that demand and whittle down that wait time. Manufacturing and sales of that order would also put Tesla on the black side of the profit picture.
I’ll give the final word on Tesla’s Model S back to Howard, who, after having his fun driving it, comes out of the car and says: "Definitely not your grandpa’s Chevy."