Steve Lunetta | My Electric Car Adventure, Part 1

I recently went through a job change and those of you who have experienced such a thing know what a joy it is. Fortunately, we had about a year’s notice for our facility closure and I was able to get a couple job offers fairly rapidly.

I spent a grand total of two weeks unemployed, which allowed us the time to put in a yard and take a fun train trip to Seattle.

Unfortunately, the awesome new job I have is now located in Pomona. Yes, that Pomona. From Santa Clarita, that’s about a 60-mile trip one way. I’m traveling against traffic most of the way so the time in the car is about an hour or hour 15 without an immense amount of clogged freeways.

The gas, though, is something else. Even in my Toyota RAV4 that gets 30 miles to the gallon, that is still 4 gallons a day or $16 at four bucks a gallon. With the gas tax going up, I knew that I was in for trouble. That’s when I began to think about it. 

Yes, an electric car.

What is a good moderate conservative to do? For years, I have trusted that the oil industry would give us a wonderful and cheap source of energy that would propel me to work and back. Oil is what built America. Was I wrong? Apparently so.

I began my search with simple criteria. I had to be able to go 120 miles round-trip to work daily with energy left over for emergencies. Figure about 150-160 miles on a single charge. Also, only full plug-ins are now allowed in the diamond lanes. Stinks if you bought a hybrid.

I thought about buying a hybrid but I wanted to be free of gas forever. Show that I’m a real tree-hugger. With our solar system, I can out-environmentalist the most radical left-wing Democrat. Yep, a green Republican.

I looked at what is currently on the market. I started by looking at Toyota and their Prius plug-in. That wasn’t going to work for me. I needed a more comfortable car for living in two hours a day. I wanted a Camry plug-in but they only offer it in Japan. I wonder why?

GM’s offering, the Volt, is really a hybrid and has a range of about 50 miles under pure electric. The best-seller in the category, Nissan’s Leaf, has a range of about 140-150 miles. This is great for ordinary commutes but not for mine.

That left me with Mitsubishi, KIA and Tesla. All three have battery capacities above 200 miles with the Tesla dual-motor Model 3 having a range of 310 miles. The Tesla product has a range that can approximate my Toyota, so it became the favorite.

As crazy as you might think Elon Musk is, he has created a practical electric car that common middle-class folks can own. The higher-end Model S is still a bit too pricey for ordinary people ($60K+).

With the current rebates running about $6,200 from federal, state, and Edison sources with projected fuel savings, the price of a Model 3 is very close to equivalent sedans (mid $30’s).

So, I bought one.

And it has revolutionized my thinking. Worried about performance? The Model 3 dual motor goes zero to 60 in 4.2 seconds. Yep, you read that right. Why is that? In a gas-powered car, the gas motor has to increase revolutions, which transfers power to a transmission, which transfers energy to the drive shaft, which goes to a differential, then finally the tires.

In electric cars, the motor is typically mounted right on the wheel or axle. When you hit the accelerator, it goes. And man, do you go.

The Model 3 has also revolutionized the cockpit. There is no dashboard. Everything is controlled on a computer screen. Every function is controllable and programmable on the computer.

Worried about where to charge when on the road? The Tesla tells you where the next supercharger is located and how busy it is. I never worry about charging — the system has me covered.

But the biggest change in the car is the auto-drive mode. Currently, the system can only be used on the freeway and you must stay in one lane. But, yes, it drives itself. You have to keep a hand on the steering wheel so it knows you are there but, beyond that, it does not need you.

Tesla will shortly release the full auto-drive system that can drive on city streets and take you wherever you need to go. For many in our society, this will be a godsend. It will mean freedom for folks who cannot drive or have marginal driving skills.

Does this make you nervous? It made me nervous at first as well. But, now that I have been living with it, I am beginning to realize that, like it or not, automated driving systems are much better at driving than humans. And, they are here to stay as other car companies are copying Tesla and integrating them into their offerings.

Next column, we will discuss what this means for our economy and society in general. Because the impact will be huge.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and the 210 freeway, where he lives many hours of the week. He can be reached at [email protected]

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