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November 11, 2010

Interview With an EV Owner: From PV to EV

by Brian Foley


Tom Fuller, a financer from Santa Monica, is the proud owner of the electric Tesla. Moreover, his car is powered by solar panels that have sat on his home's roof for 10 years. This is the last of three interviews with EV owners. Read the others here and here. For more information on how to become an EV owner, visit PlugInAmerica.org.

Tell me about the Tesla Roadster.

It's a lot like a traditional Roadster. It's very light, tight, with less suspension. It bounces around like crazy. It's incredibly fast. In terms of trying to change the world and create a movement, they designed a high-performance, albeit fairly expensive, electric car to get past people's resistance and perception that electric cars are slow, clunky, and kind of not cool. So they went for the cool factor and I bought into it. It was kind of a fun thing to do. Tesla has been very instrumental in changing people's perception.

Why did you get it?

I'm not a hardcore environmentalist. I don't spend a lot of time being an activist although we act locally and think globally. Putting panels on my house and getting this car seemed like the right thing to do.

You touched up on the fact that the Tesla is a bit pricey. That's one thing critics focus on.

Clearly it's an expensive car to make because of the technology. And they have no volume so the unit costs are quite high. With limited production it's hard to make a car that's cheaper. But they did an interesting thing. They positioned it as, "Yeah, it's expensive." It's about $105,000. But for a car like that, it's not more expensive. A Mercedes 500 probably sells for more than that. Though it's not nearly as fancy as a Mercedes or a Porsche. It's faster though.

They did a phenomenal job at marketing it to people like me. It was convincing that -- yeah, it's expensive but by buying this car, you're keeping it in business -- by immediate cash flow and sales, but also by being a driving advertisement. I wasn't really price-sensitive anyway and I thought it was important to do. They created a following around the company.

What's the range?

They say it's 200 miles, but if you drive it aggressively it's probably less. But the dealer told me someone drove it to San Diego and back to L.A.

You get looks from people?

All the time. Some recognize it, some don't and are curious about it. You get the thumbs up. I'm not an attention grabbing kind of guy, but longterm I think we got to get rid of SUVs and in that sense I'm a big promoter.

Can you describe the added satisfaction of knowing that you're charging your car on clean energy? It's a closed system from PV panels to EV. No gas from the Middle East and no power from coal.

I'm realistic and I know that my little contribution means nothing in the big scheme of things. But yes, I get lots of satisfaction knowing that I, on a personal level, am leaving a smaller footprint. Beyond that, I am at the forefront of a movement to educate, and excite, people about the possibilities of electric vehicles and solar power. It's cool to think I'm creating zero greenhouse gases and charging my car with the sun.

What are some of the misconceptions of the car?

The GM's EV1 had a big following but the performance wasn't very good. It didn't look great. And range obviously. It was hard for them to get any crossover appeal. I think Tesla's strategy was to eliminate the range and looks pieces by making it sexy with high performance. The problem now is perceptions of range. For the vast majority of people, 300 miles is more than adequate. There's a strange belief that you need more than that.

I just spent $30 the other day filling my Civic. I wonder how your car compares.

I believe electricity is about 13 cents per kilowatt hour. So taking numbers from the Tesla website, one mile of driving costs about $.042 per mile. For a car at say 25 mpg at $3 a gallon, it cost 12 cents a mile, or roughly three times the cost using electricity. But hey, I'm charging with solar power so the electricity cost me -- and the world -- nothing!

Do you ever pay attention to gas prices anymore?

To be honest, I never did anyway. But you don't get the Tesla to save money on gas -- you get it because it's electric and it's the right thing to do.


Photo is courtesy Zan Dubin Scott.


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