To buy or not to buy the all-electric Tesla car

  • Rajiv Makhni, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 28, 2016 17:09 IST
The Tesla 3 is the first mass produced all-electric Tesla. But does it make sense to invest in a Tesla 3 in India?

The tweet by Elon Musk was short and to the point. Tesla Model 3 bookings were open. Many new countries had been added where it would be sold and India was one of them. Bang!

The headlines in Indian media the next day exploded. Tesla now in India and booked by (depending upon the publication or media house) so and so. The names given were either of the new rock stars of the start-up world or of old-school businessmen. These people were already very famous.

Ever since the Musk tweet, my phone wilted under the number of calls. Had I booked one? Was it worth buying? When would it be available in India? What would the price be and most importantly, did it make sense to buy a Tesla in Indian driving conditions? Here are all the answers.

What’s the big deal?

The Tesla 3 is the first mass produced all-electric Tesla. After seducing the world with the Tesla S (very expensive) and the all new Tesla X (still very expensive), version 3 is priced better at about $35,000 (approximately Rs 23 lakh). It goes about 215 miles when fully-charged, has very less range anxiety (that’s a real term and denotes the level of stress you feel when driving an electric car that is steadily ticking off the number of miles it will go before dying out on you) and looks like a cross between car porn and a four-wheel wet dream.

Tesla as a company changed many things in the automotive industry. First true all-electric car that delivered; sold directly to the customer; unique showrooms that encourage you to probe and poke and super charger stations dotted all over the world where you can charge your car to 80 per cent within minutes. The Tesla has become a coveted brand and is on the bucket list of almost every car and ‘save the world’ enthusiast.

How does it feel to drive one?

I’ve driven a Tesla S once on one of my trips abroad. It’s a unique experience but slightly unlike what I thought it would be. It all began with me struggling to get into the car as it seemed to have no door handles at all. Finally, I realised that they were flush with the car and needed a gentle push to come motoring out.

The interiors were stunning with a huge central control screen. But for a car that goes for about $100,000, the luxury elements were Spartan and the fitment just about okay. The car is set up to have the air conditioners on, music set to play and the car already on by the time you sit down in your seat (just about okay in terms of comfort) and are all belted up to go. No ‘start’ or ‘shutdown’ button, it all just happens on its own.

And then one gets the slightly disappointing feeling that comes with driving all electric cars – but is more pronounced in a Tesla. Shift into gear, press the accelerator and off you go. The acceleration is immediate, almost insane. The car handles very well, the control is precise and it takes corners and handles bumps beautifully. But the absence of any engine roar, coupled with zero vibration, is very alien and only becomes more amplified as you go further. It’s more video game than real.

Should one book a Tesla 3 here?

It costs $1,000 (around Rs 66,000) to book one. Tesla accepts Indian credit cards and you can cancel and get a refund if you eventually don’t want one. Thus it seems like a no-brainer to book one if you have the budget and have always fancied buying a Tesla. The answer is yes and no. It’s not as if the car launch in India is round the corner. We are talking about booking one now and then waiting about two years before it’s made available. After customs duty and other add-on features, this may well be a super-expensive small car (I expect it to be priced at Rs 55 lakh by the time it lands in India).

The BMW i8 is also an electric car

But my biggest problem comes from how the Tesla’s greatest feature could become its Achilles’ heel in our wonderful country: the Tesla’s all-electric awesomeness. Most people in the US have got special 220V installation home chargers (110V takes forever to charge up the car). Yet most rely on the super charger technology where they do a quick top-up while they go shopping or get a coffee. That needs a good network of super chargers at just about every single place you can park your car at and leave it for a while. Somehow other than a few mall parking lots, I don’t see places safe enough to leave your car charging in India.

Ford Focus Electric is the electric version of Ford's popular small car

I think 2017 is when car makers will stop fooling around with experimental and frankly, crappy hybrids and electric cars – and come out with a serious electric car or two each. Between government incentives where such cars will be subsidised, odd-even schemes where an electric car will own the road and the very survival of the automobile industry, we’ll see some amazing electric car technology in the next year. These may well do a better job in Indian conditions at a much lower price than the Tesla 3.

No, I haven’t booked a Tesla 3 as I am still torn between the appeal of owning a Tesla and the nightmare of booking one and waiting almost two years for it. Let me qualify that statement further. I haven’t booked a Tesla 3 yet! That may well change as I get more information and specific delivery and price details.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, April 10

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