The Old Man and the Tesla
My father is a pretty low-key guy. He’s the type of person who makes a loaf of plain peanut butter sandwiches on Sunday evenings so he can grab one from the freezer on his way out the door each morning. This way, it will be perfectly defrosted by the time he eats it on his way from one patient’s room to the next. Unlike many other doctors, he doesn’t have any expensive cars and he doesn’t take fancy vacations abroad—or any vacations, really, for that matter. To put it bluntly, my dad only gives a shit about three things: church, family, and work. And he only cares about work because without it he wouldn’t be able to support his family or his church like he wants to.
My dad was one of the first people to buy a Prius. It’s hard to believe it now that every Uber driver has one, but there was a time in the not-so-distant past when people made fun of Priuses! It’s true! Cultural lodestones of 2007, including the “White & Nerdy” music video and “Achmed the Dead Terrorist”, cemented the image of the Prius as a car for wimps in the mind of the public. But my dad as always been, uh, fashionably unfashionable. To him, the Prius was the perfect car: Toyota-made, meaning low maintenance (important to my father), enivornmentally-friendly (very important to my father), and economical (very very important to my father).
After putting somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 miles on a 2007 Prius over the span of ~10 years, my dad finally accepted that the time had come to look for a new car. While times might have changed, my dad hasn’t. When it came time to look for a new car, he wanted a Prius, but this time, an all-electric one. Why fix it if ain’t broke? But my father had a really, really hard time finding one at a dealership. So my brother and I siezed the moment and casually suggestedy that he take a look at Tesla. Thus, one fateful Saturday my dad decided to drive down to the closest dealership in Raleigh and take one for a spin. It blew his mind.
My dad operates tends to operate a lot on his gut feelings, especially in infrequently-encountered situations like purchasing a new car. For that reason, he was deeply impressed by all the “common sense” things unique to the Tesla purchase process:
- 2 week trial where you can return the car, no questions asked.
- Transparent pricing, no haggling at the dealership.
- He could watch GPS tracking of vehicle as it was delivered the Fremont factory to the Raleigh dealership.
- Over-the-air software updates.
And that’s not even talking about the driving experience itself, which was revelatory (especially since he was coming from a Prius):
- Unreal acceleration due to the electric motors.
- Hands-free driving on the Interstate.
- Individual driver profiles that remember things like seat positioning and mirror adjustments.
- Spacious back seats.
- All the little “gee whiz” UX features on the touchscreen (for example, how you control the AC which is obviously more involved than traditional tactile buttons).
I have a hard time explaining the appeal of Tesla cars to people outside the Bay Area. Some friends are preoccupied by arguments over whether or not Tesla’s stock price is rooted in reality. Others have never experienced the Southern suburban lifestyle where you spend all of your time in a car driving around (which is differentiated from the LA lifestyle where you spend all of your time in a car sitting still). My dad is, definitively, not a car guy. And yet, he absolutely loves his Model 3, almost to the point of parody. For the first 6 months, he talked about it in every conversation. I’m serious, I would call home and right before I would hang up he would say, “Steven, I just have to tell you how much I’m enjoying my Tesla.”
One time, my dad invited a doctor friend over for dinner and wouldn’t shut up until the friend took the Model 3 out for a test drive. After dinner, that friend went home, opened up his laptop, and bought a Model 3. When I asked my dad to confirm the veracity of this story, he told me “It’s true but it wasn’t my doing! The car sells itself.” And it’s true! Our family has a bona fide fleet of vehicles, especially since all my siblings are back at home due to COVID. Yet, when anyone has to go out, we always opt for the Tesla.
One thing people don’t realize is that when you buy a Tesla, you aren’t just purchasing a product. You’re joining a community. The culture reminds me most of Apple fanboys from the early 2000s. There’s obviously a subset online that obsessively tracks all the latest features and annoucments coming out of HQ, just like MacRumors used to do back in the day. But there’s also a fraternal aspect that comes with being an early adopter. One big concern that kept my dad from EVs for a long time was range anxiety. He has a small cabin up in the mountains, which is a ~300 mile round trip. This is a stretch for even the “extended range” Model 3. One day, me and my pops were up driving the Tesla up to the mountain house. We were almost there, driving on one of the residential roads before you reach the cabin. “Stop the car!” he said to me suddenly, “And pull over to that house.” It turns out my dad had previously seen a Model 3 parked at this house…charging! As we passed by on this occasion, my dad had spotted the owner outside. He walked up and asked him about his car. They proceeded to chat about their Model 3s for, no exaggeration, 30 minutes. And the conversation concluded with an offer from our neighbor to charge our car at his house any time, which of course was what my father was angling for the entire time. “That’s just Tesla owners for ya,” he said as he stepped back into the car. “We look out for each other.” He had only owned the car for 3 months.
Right now, especially in the South, Tesla owners are a small group of quirky people who all had, at one point or another, the same revelation: that electric cars are just plain better than their internal combustion counterparts. Most of my friend are techies and therefore closely associate Tesla with Elon Musk. But most Tesla owners around town are people like my dad: they aren’t great with technology and aren’t car people. For these folks, their first time behind the wheel of a Tesla was one of those moments where you immediately recognize that you’re experiencing the future.
I have no idea whether Tesla’s stock is fairly priced. I don’t even know if the company will still exist in 10 years. But one time I asked my dad, “When you drive your Tesla, do you feel better than everyone else on the road?”
“I do,” replied my deeply-Catholic father. If a car is worth committing one of the seven deadly sins for, I’d be pretty bullish about it.