MILFORD, Conn. -- A group of Tesla Model S sedan owners, recreating a trip that led to a critical story by a New York Times reporter who ran out of power short of a charging station, cruised through part of Connecticut Saturday on their way to their final destination, Groton.
While their cars juiced up at a Tesla charging station on Interstate 95, about a dozen of these proud automobile owners refueled themselves at a Red Robin in Milford's Westfield mall.
Sitting around cleared plates and the remains of onion rings, the group pointed a finger at Aaron Schildkraut as the man behind the "Tesla Road Trip," that began at Tesla's Rockville, Maryland service center. Most of the people at the table were members of Tesla's web forum, and, while Schildkraut said he didn't start the thread that inspired the trip, he was the first to say, "Let's do it."
"Several other people said, "I'm in,— Schildkraut said. "Many of us owners were so incensed by the article."
So incensed, that they dropped what they were doing to book hotel rooms in Groton and try New York Times reporter John Broder's trip for themselves. They said they felt Broder misused his vehicle by not charging it fully at Tesla's charging stations; that he didn't manage his speed properly; and that, by leaving his car out in the cold, he allowed its batteries to run down.
A more detailed account of the spat Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the New York Times can be found here at The New York Time's website: http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/that-tesla-data-what-it-says-and-what-it-doesnt/.
To the folks at the Red Robin, the reasons for owning an electric car were varied. Bryan Murtha, of Owings, Maryland, drove 50 miles to meet up with the group at Rockville. He's owned all electric vehicles for more than a decade.
Dante Richardson, of Berlin, Maryland, bought his Tesla to cut down on the costs of his morning commute. While the base model Tesla sedan starts at about $50,000 after tax rebates, with high end models going for as much as $100,000, Richardson says the amount he saves on his 100 mile commute makes it worth it.
As for convenience, Richardson remarked, to a round of laughter, "I charge at home and plug into a 110 at work. It's a little bit inconvenient actually, because I have to drive around people trying to get into gas stations."
Rich Knausenberger, of Washington, DC, put a deposit down on a Model S nine months before it was available. He said he didn't miss the Porsche he sold for it one bit.
Knausenberger's wife, Lauren, joked that the couple's first child was this car -- the nine month wait not lost to them. She said her husband couldn't sleep for three days before the car was delivered. Lauren described its arrival as Christmas morning.
Clearly, the crowd at the Red Robin were the superfans of Tesla Motors (TSLA). They frequent the company's forum, they preach the supremacy of their electric automobiles, and they were dedicated enough a product to drop their lives for a day to drive hundreds of miles because a newspaper reporter ran out of electricity on the road and wrote about it. Forgetting the vehicle for a second, these are the kind of customers any company would kill for.
"Companies all around the world would be so fortunate to have just one customer like this in their portfolio," said George Blankenship, vice president of worldwide sales and ownership experience at Tesla Motors. "And we have lots of customers who believe in what we do and support what we do. I think that what they're doing today is incredible evidence of how people are supporting us as we try to do things that are going to change the world. I think what they're doing is just awesome.
Blankenship said Tesla watched the road trip develop on the forums, but in no way did Tesla organize or support the venture.
"It is all customer driven," Blankenship said, pun intended.
Michael Bellmore can be reached at 203-789-5282. Follow him on Twitter @bandango