Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Uh-Oh Spaghetti-Os!

Apparently if you leave your fancy Tesla Roadster unplugged long enough that the battery drains to zero, it turns into an undrivable brick until you replace the entire battery. Which, as it turns out, costs a cool $40 grand. The phrase 'brick' is a term of art, meaning the car apparently can't be started or even pushed down the road. 'Unplugged' is also a term of art, which can also include having an extension cord that's too long, and thus providing insufficient charge.

Unsurprisingly, Tesla is not exactly upfront about this risk. They've (correctly!) identified that this probably won't attract a lot of buyers. Whether they've correctly identified the likely PR disaster of this information slowly leaking out and being covered up is another question entirely.

While I'm not pleased that this happens,it doesn't surprise me that the Tesla has hidden costs. The whole marketing strategy is based on hidden costs, since they advertise that the car has zero emissions. This is true only as long as your electricity comes entirely from renewable resources. Which is to say, it's broadly false, unless you happen to be driving it entirely in the Pacific Northwest, which has a fair amount of hydro power. Otherwise there's emissions - they're just coming out of someone else's property, not yours. Amazingly, the environment cares not one jot whether you burn coal and oil in a power plant or in an engine. But people that fetishize visible, variable costs flip out for this kind of pea-and-shell game. At least they're not my emissions!

Over and above the environmental dubiousness of the whole affair, the process is designed to appeal to people who like the upfront investment of lots of money to offset smaller gasoline purchases. Let's just say that the $50K to buy the model S roadster would pay for a lot trips to refill the Hummer. Or equivalently, it would for a gigantic number of refills of your Nissan Micra. Which uses the old-fashioned technology of a lawnmower-sized engine to reduce emissions. Apparently that doesn't excite people nearly as much.

LOL, I can park my car at the airport without it dying.

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