Planet Gore

The Tesla Model S: Your Tax Dollars at Work?

So what did your $465 million taxpayer loan to One Percenter Elon Musk get you? Another six-figure toy for President Obama’s rich West Coast friends.

Musk’s Tesla auto company is rolling out its first copies of the Energy Department–financed, $97,700, 300-mile-range Model S electric sedan for journalist review. (Make that $90,200 — you are also paying to give each posh buyer a $7,500 tax credit.)

“This is one amazing car. I mean, hard-core amazing. But first and foremost, gentle reader, it goes like the very stink of hell. Fifty-to-100-mph acceleration in the $97,900 Signature Performance model I drove is positively Lambo-like and. . . .” Okay, okay, easy boy. That’s Dan Neil of the Wall Street Journal fawning over Obama’s Car of the Future. Forgive him, that’s the way auto journalists write about the expensive gee-whiz toys they get to test for free.

And who can doubt the thrill of driving a Tesla, or Lamborghini, or Mercedes, or Porsche? But shouldn’t journalists also be asking why on earth taxpayers should be subsidizing purchases of these rare chariots?

It never occurs to Neil. He’s drunk the green Kool-aid. He’s saving the planet. He’s driving the future.

Actually, he’s driving the past. Electrics have been around for over a century. They’ve always been cool, torquey, and easy to drive. They just aren’t as practical as their gas-engined brethren. Remember that $97,700 price tag?

And, Neil’s hyperventilating aside, this is no Lamborghini. Yes, its 0-60 mph time is an impressive 4.4 seconds compared to a $180,000 Lambo Gallardo’s 3.9. And its speed to 130 mph? Well. the Gallardo gets there in 11 seconds, but the Tesla, well. . . 130 mph is as fast as it will go. Meanwhile, the Lambo keeps unwinding to 200 mph (a number six-figure super-car buyers tend to obsess about) and its svelte 3,200-pound svelte chassis will run circles around the 4,600-pound Model S, and . . .

Not a fair comparison, you say? The Model S is a four-door and the Lambo a two-door? Well, okay (even though Neil picked this fight!) — let’s consider the four-door, gas-powered, 400-mile-range Porsche Panamera, available for the same $95 grand. Acceleration times are the same and the 4,200-pound Porsche will take you to 180 mph.

Rare air, I agree — but if taxpayers are going to finance luxury car companies run by eccentric millionaires, shouldn’t they be competitive?

The Tesla S is a technical marvel, no doubt (“the SP package is equipped with a high-capacity drive inverter and twin 10-kilowatt-hour charging inverters for rapid recharge,” thrills Mr. Neil). But all luxury cars are technical marvels. The question is whether it can compete in the market. And the problem with the Model S is the problem with all Democratic green dreams from Solyndra to Fisker to algae- – they are political products (bought by rich folks for political cache) with no more future in the market than the fabulous, 200-mile-range 1910 Detroit electric Victoria.

Henry Payne — Henry Payne is the auto critic for the Detroit News.

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