I’ve been very happy with my Tahoe for a whole lot of years, so I never went in to the Tesla showroom on Newtown Lane in East Hampton. I know that Tesla is the very latest in automobiles and I know it has many innovations that other new cars don’t. So finally, last week, I went in. The showroom used to be a small women’s boutique. My Tahoe, if allowed in there, would take up practically the whole space, with only a few feet on either side available for salesmen and mechanics and customers.
There are no cars in the Tesla showroom, someone told me, although there is one out back, where the trash bins and store utility units are located. But you can’t look at the car. It has a cover over it. And you’re not even allowed to peek inside.
I entered the store. Maybe there was a driving experience you could do with a front seat, a steering wheel and a wraparound TV screen like a kid’s video game. But there wasn’t that, either. There were big blown-up photographs of Teslas hanging on the walls all around. And there was a young, smiling woman named Katie.
“Hi,” she said, holding out a graceful hand. “I’m Katie. I can tell you all about Tesla,” she said. She handed me her card. It said she was a Customer Experience Specialist.
“Where’s the Tesla?” I asked.
She agreed there was one, and it was out back. I could walk down an alley to get to where it was, but I wouldn’t be allowed to lift the tarp. Not even a peek.
“I thought this was a showroom,” I said.
“The town has all these restrictions,” she said. “All these rules. We have a permit here to be an art gallery.” She gave a sweeping motion with her arm to the photos on the wall. “That’s about it. We can’t display the cars. And I’m not allowed to be a salesperson. But I can tell you about it.”
“So why have the car?”
“It’s for test drives. If you like, I can drive it to your home and you can drive it around. You live around here?”
“I live in Springs,” I said. “Three Mile Harbor Hog Creek Road. You from around here?”
“No. But I know everything about Tesla.”
“Well, let’s build one together. Would you like a sedan or an SUV?” She pointed to a flat screen on a wall, the only ornament not a photograph. She took me over to it and tapped it. A snazzy three-quarters view appeared showing two Teslas side-by-side, one an SUV, the other a sedan.
“The SUV,” I said.
She tapped the screen again. The sedan vanished. Wheels appeared. “You have to select the wheels,” she said.
“So it’s from the ground up.”
“Sorta. We have 22-inch and we have 20-inch. You can see the 22-inch tires are thicker while the rims are thinner. They are best for country driving where the bumps are bigger. The 20-inch wheels are thinner with showy, bigger rims. Very sporty. Best in the city. You live in the city?”
“I live here but have a place in the city.”
“A lot of people leave their Teslas in the country and come back and forth on the Jitney.”
“That’s what I do.”
I was beginning to think Katie and I were going to buy a Tesla.
The sedan was the Model S. My SUV was their Model X. Base price $82,500. We picked out the interior—ash wood, tan leather and white pearl. Everything I picked added anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 to the base price. We picked out the batteries. They have two, one in the front and one in the back. There are also two electric motors. They each come in three sizes, the larger ones being more powerful, longer lasting and going longer distances between charges. With the standard configuration you get 237 miles. With the biggest one you get 295 miles.
“We have battery charging stations all up and down Long Island. And you can get a hook up at your home.”
“What if I run out of battery power between stations?” I asked.
“You won’t. We have two in Southampton, lots more everywhere to New York along the way.” She punched the screen and a map of Long Island appeared with lots of dots on it. “And the navigation system will automatically guide you to the nearest one when you get low.”
“Can I override it?” I asked.
She hesitated. “Yes. And we also have roadside assistance.”
On the screen were transmission choices. One said SUPER, the other said LUDICROUS. Ludicrous speed was from the movie Spaceballs. You could take it up to Ludicrous Speed.
“Zero to 60 in 2.9 seconds” Katie said.
What the hell. “I’ll take it,” I said. She punched Ludicrous.
I chose HEPA air filtration systems, soft ambient light, LCD fog lights, Alcatura Suede touches here and there, 17 music speakers, the sub-zero weather package, the onboard charger, the heat everything button.
“Is an Alcatura an animal?” I asked. I was thinking the mountains of Nepal.
“No. It’s just the name.”
I noticed my car was now up to $148,500. “But you get an $8,000 tax credit, $7,500 from the federal government, $500 from the State,” she said.
“That’s a relief,” I said.
I asked if there was a Tesla dealership nearby if things went wrong. She looked like she was about to say things don’t go wrong. But she didn’t say that. Instead she answered my question.
“There’s a service center on Long Island in Syosset. That’s the nearest.”
“Or they could pick it up?”
“You’d have to arrange it with Syosset. They do want you to come in once a year to go over it.”
The car, Katie told me, is completely set up with all the latest self-driving features, but they are turned off. Once laws are in place regarding self-driving cars, the features can be switched on and then the car will take you wherever you want to go just by you telling it where it should take you.
I saw that on the corner of the screen there was an item called Test Drive you could press.
“You said there was no test drive on the screen.”
“That’s turned off.”
“Is there a steering wheel if you turn it on?”
“I can turn it on, but it doesn’t do a test drive so there is no steering wheel. It’s a test drive scheduler. When it’s hooked up, it gives the appointments we have. Sometimes there are referrals from other locations where the customer wants the test drive here.”
“Oh,” I said.
I had, by this time, told Katie I was writing a story for Dan’s Papers. So she knew from whence I was coming.
“Didn’t you guys have a trailer set up on the corner of Hampton Road and Montauk Highway in Southampton a couple of summers ago?” I asked.
“That was our Container Popup. Now we’re here. Would you like me to schedule a test drive for you?” she asked.
“I’ll think about it,” I said. “Right now the Tahoe is okay. It goes on the beach. I don’t think a Tesla should or would do that. You know, maybe I’ll test drive it when the self-driving is approved. I’d just have my telephone robot order it to drive itself over.”
But I liked the image. No human interface at all. Just snap my fingers. Everything activates in back of Newtown Lane. Here we go.