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Caution urged for Prom Night

Emergency services chief resigns post

Four days, three fatal crashes

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South Hill gets in gear to become a TESLA station

South Boston News
A Testa Model S parked in front of South Hill Town Hall, a possible prelude to the town becoming a stop on the electric car maker’s nationwide charging network. / April 02, 2014
In the turning-heads category, it’s hard to top the vehicle that was spotted tooling around South Hill on Monday.

Representatives with Tesla Motors Inc., the luxury electric car company founded by Silicon Valley investor-inventor Elon Musk, visited South Hill to scout for possible locations for a superchanger station that would serve drivers of the high-tech vehicle.

Tesla Motors is seeking to develop a network of no-fee charging stations along the East Coast, and South Hill’s proximity to Interstate 85 makes the town a prime candidate. Right now, Tesla’s nearest supercharger station is in Richmond.

With the Tesla Model S able to drive about 300 miles between charge-ups, a station in South Hill would put motorists in range of Charlotte, N.C. and Baltimore, Md.

The company is in the process of making the network a reality, scouting sites throughout Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Company officials declined to say when the stations might be available.

South Hill Town Manager Kim Callis offered his support for bringing a supercharger station to the area.

“Just let me know what you decide,” Callis told Beau Whiteman, the Tesla Motors representative who was scouting sites, “and we will see what we can do to help.” Callis further suggested a few sites for Whiteman and Tesla Motors to consider.

Tesla already has a network of supercharging stations from Los Angeles to New York and north to Boston. A second network links three major cities in Texas — Dallas, Houston and Ft. Worth — where customers of its battery-powered sedan can recharge their car, for free.

Despite considerable obstacles ahead for the company, Tesla — and its founder, Musk — are media and auto industry darlings.

The Tesla Model S sedan retails for between $69,900 and $89,900 for base models, although amenities can push the tab well north of $100,000. U.S. News & World Report named the 2013 Tesla Model S as its top vehicle in the Super Luxury category, besting models by rivals Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Audi.

Musk, a Canadian-American entrepreneur, is the founder of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX, a private commercial maker of reusable space vehicles. His fortune has been estimated at $2.7 billion.

Tesla is a hot commodity among investors, although some analysts doubt the company’s ability to carve out market space for all-electric vehicles in a gasoline-powered world. Developing sites for its customers to recharge their vehicles is essential to the company’s long-run success.

Existing superchargers are located along major corridors like I-85 and often placed near amenities like restaurants and shopping centers so travelers can stop for a quick meal or shopping trip while their car is charging.

These superchargers, while free to use, are only available to Tesla cars because of the plug connection.

At some point, the company intends to go back and convert some of the stations to solar-powered facilities. Musk also owns a sister company, SolarCity, the largest provider of residential solar power in the United States.

Tesla has more than 40,000 of its custom-made cars on the road, mainly on the West Coast, but is expanding its East Coast footprint, despite heavy resistance from states such as New Jersey.

Tesla sells its cars through direct channels, instead of using the traditional automobile showroom/dealership model.

A fully loaded Tesla Model S sedan, with the performance package, will cost around $110,000. The company has plans for a less expensive model in the next year or two.

Tesla officials concede the upfront price sounds hefty, but argue that once you subtract the cost of gas and servicing over the life of the car (Tesla batteries are fully warrantied for eight years, and the car has no bulky engine or drive train), the Model S actually is less expensive than a BMW 5, which retails around $50,000.

It takes between 30 to 40 minutes to fully charge a Tesla S sedan, which offers the potential of Tesla drivers having time to discover amenities in and around South Hill. One of the vehicle’s on-board dashboard apps provides tourism-related information —restaurants, lodging, historic attractions and other points of interest.

Tesla Motors’ current plan is to make supercharger stations readily accessible to 98 percent of the U.S. population by the end of 2015. If a suitable site is identified in South Hill, a supercharger station could be up and running by late June or early July.

The need for speed (and $110,000): a reporter’s tale

Sun reporter Susan Kyte, on what it’s like to ride in a Tesla Model S sedan, performance package: price, about $110,000.

I drive a 10-year-old Ford Focus. It has 140,000 miles on the odometer and a still-unfixed dent on the side from the deer who got a little too close last winter. It is red.

On Monday, I got to experience the luxury of riding in a Tesla Motors all-electric Model S sedan.

It, too, is red.

And there the similarities end.

I have a vague recollection of my Tesla driver, Beau Whiteman, telling me about the car’s system, but truthfully, I can’t remember a word he said. I was too busy lolling in the plush leather seats, running my hand over the soft suede and marveling at the 17-inch touch screen command center in the dashboard, where I could pull up Google maps, my favorite song or CNN.

I bet Pharrell Williams wrote “Happy” while riding in a Tesla Model S sedan. I was clapping when I saw the panoramic sunroof, which runs the full length of the car’s roof. It is like being in a “room without a roof.”

Whiteman decided to give me the Formula One/Michael Schumacher experience, demonstrating how the car can go from 0 to 60 in only 3.7 seconds — not the 4.4 seconds that Tesla touts in its advertisements. Tapping the brake starts the car sans ignition key. With a slight tap, the Tesla took off with neck-snapping acceleration, and hit its cruising speed of 60 miles per hour before the two cars next to us at the stoplight even realized the signal had changed.

Speed and the nearly $110,000 price tag (with options) are not the only things that set this car apart from other luxury vehicles. It was the reaction of other drivers: Envy is the word that comes to mind.

When we stopped briefly in a Danville Street parking lot across from The Horseshoe Restaurant in South Hill, a passing driver, seeing the car, threw his vehicle into park, nearly in the middle of the street, and rushed over. Gushing about the roadster, the fan told Whiteman, “I follow Tesla on Facebook.”

The whole time he spoke, his hands were caressing the Tesla car door with its aerodynamic retractable door handles, and his eyes were begging Whiteman for a ride.

To emphasize his fandom, he added, “Yeah, I posted a lot berating Christie.” It was a reference to the Facebook campaign to convince New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to reverse his stand against allowing Tesla to sell its cars in that state. New Jersey’s automobile dealers lobby pushed through a law that prohibits manufacturers such as Tesla from directly selling their products in the state — all sales must come through a dealer.

Sitting there, I understood, for the first time, what it must feel like to be in the presence of a rock star.

So what does $110,000 buy? A custom-made, aluminum-bodied, electric car outfitted with the latest in computer technology. The console is a touchscreen that looks like an oversized iPad, replete with Internet radio, maps and navigation tools, Internet search capability, and Bluetooth wireless connectivity.

Want to open the panoramic sunroof? Simply swipe your finger down the touchscreen and the sky appears. Is the road too bumpy? Another swipe of the same touchscreen will raise the car from its standard six-inch clearance to a height of eight inches.

For those who worry about running out of electrical charge: one charge lasts for nearly 300 miles, and one of the apps on the touch screen shows the location of every charging station in the United States.

On the more practical side, the screen allows you to control the car’s climate or see what’s behind you, and it measures your energy use while driving.

All too soon, my ride was over, and “my” Tesla was headed back to its home in Washington, D.C. As I climbed back into my Focus, I made a mental note: this would be good time to pick up a few lottery tickets.

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