Daily driving on battery power | VailDaily.com

Daily driving on battery power

NWS Tesla Model 5 1 DT 2-13-13

VAIL, Colorado – Steve Hawkins drives from Eagle to Vail just about every day, and doesn’t know the price of gasoline.

Hawkins, the general manager of the Vail Mountain Haus, is a longtime electric car enthusiast, and has a garage full of battery-powered cars. His latest acquisition is a Tesla Model S, a four-passenger luxury sedan that can drive 300 miles or more on a single charge of its batteries.

Hawkins moved to the mountains for the environment, and one of the goals in his personal and professional life is to help keep that environment clean any way he can. At the Mountain Haus, that includes initiatives ranging from power-efficient lighting to carboard recycling to buying an electric-powered courtesy vehicles for guests.

Personally, Hawkins has had a number of electric cars, most of which he still owns. In 2011, he was probably the first person in Colorado to buy an electric-only Nissan Leaf subcompact, a car that would go as much as 100 miles on a single charge. That car is now for sale, by the way.

Late last year, he took the serious financial plunge required to buy the Tesla.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

“I wanted the range,” he said.

Green, and fast

In the bargain, he also bought a car with remarkable performance. The batteries in the Tesla are the biggest he could get, capable of delivering 85 kilowatt-hours of power, more than triple the power of the Leaf. Those big batteries mean more than range, though – Tesla claims the big-battery Model S will zip from 0 to 60 in just 4.4 seconds.

That’s supercar-level acceleration. A not-all-the-way-to-the-floor prod at the throttle merging onto Interstate 70 at the Main Vail interchange shoves passengers into the seat thanks to the strong, invisible hand of instant torque and 400-plus horsepower. The tires squirm, fighting the computerized traction control, and the car is past the legal speed limit well before the end of the acceleration lane.

That kind of acceleration is usually accompanied by a mechanical symphony of rapidly-burning hydrocarbons. In the Tesla, there’s only the faint sound of wind and the tires. It’s eerie, but thrilling.

In the first two weeks Hawkins had the car, he put on nearly 3,000 miles, all while just charging at home and, sometimes, the Mountain Haus, at which Tesla installed a small brace of chargers a few years ago.

“I can go to Denver and back, or to Grand Junction and back, and not worry,” Hawkins said.

While Hawkins is probably the first Model S owner in Vail, two Boulder-based Mountain Haus condo owners have similar cars, and have been able to drive to Vail and back without recharging, Hawkins said.

It’s a real car

As opposed to the first Tesla, the diminutive two-seat Roadster – famed for its handling and power, but pretty much the opposite of four-wheeled practicality – the Model S is a real car in nearly every way. It will comfortably seat four, and because there’s no engine under the hood, there’s a bunch of room for cargo there, as well as in back. With a range of 300 miles and the option for slow-speed charging from a wall outlet – something an owner had better plan an overnight stop for if heading where there aren’t any Tesla-installed “supercharger” stations – fairly ambitious road trips are possible.

That’s why Hawkins has put the Leaf up for sale, and is using the Tesla as his daily driver, rain, shine or snow. For Hawkins, the Tesla is the ideal car, and fulfills desires he’s harbored since his teen years.

Hawkins was a high schooler in 1974, when gas supplies were tight in the United States. He remembers that his dad had to fill the tanks on the family business’s trucks in the wee small hours of the morning. The family friend who owned the local gas station would open up then, since the sight of anyone filling up would create an instant, horn-blowing line.

Since then, Hawkins has tried to find ways to get around with as little gasoline as possible.

Until the Tesla, though, electric cars have often been small, range-limited by battery capacity, or both. None of those earlier cars had the Tesla’s techno-prowess, either. The instrument panel is a display screen, and the center part of the dash is, essentially, a big iPad screen, with access to everything from adjusting the car’s ride height to the internet.

Hawkins acknowledged that buying the Tesla required a big financial commitment. But he counters that part of the equation with “fuel” that costs about 3 cents per mile, and the fact that he’s likely to have the Tesla for many years.

“This is my contribution” to both the environment and pushing technology forward, he said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

Support Local Journalism