Tesla Model S Interview

A surprising look at who buys the Tesla Model S

If you think you know what type of person buys the Tesla Model S electric super-sedan you may be surprised by this interview with an actual owner. Maybe the experts are wrong.

We recently ran a series of stories about Tesla Motors and its coming Gen III mass-market vehicle. In one of the stories we used the term “very wealthy men” to describe Tesla Model S owners. This was partly because Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, had recently used a similar term. While referring to the Model S, he said “…this could be misinterpreted as Tesla believing that there was a shortage of sports cars for rich people.” Also, Edmunds had recently done an analysis of the Tesla ownership and found that more than 80% were men, and nearly 80% earned over $100K per year.

A reader contacted us to challenge our perpetuation of the stereotype in that prior story. That led to a dialogue between us that we found very exciting and educational. Here is our interview with a Tesla Model S owner, Ms. Charlotte O.

Hello Charlotte. Please tell us a bit about yourself.

In regards to information about me, I earn less than $100k per year. I am a Professor of Biology at Washington State University, Pullman, WA soon to retire. I am over 60 and Japanese American. I know of couple of other professors, i.e. not uber rich guys, who own a Model S, too. I heard of
similar buyers of Model S who previously owned a Prius or Nissan Leaf. So I don’t think I’m unique in not being rich though maybe not fit theprofile of the average Model S owner.

You brought up the other most popular green cars available. Did you have other green cars in the past? Why not a more affordable Volt or Leaf instead of a Tesla?

I guess you can call me an environmentalist. I bought my second Prius in 2009, and last year was considering getting an electric car. Unfortunately, at that time, there were only 3 cars that I could purchase in the state of WA, Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and the Tesla. There are more choices if you lived in CA but that makes me think that companies that limit sales of green cars to CA are doing it just for the ZEV credit, notwith the intention of selling lots of green cars. The problem with the Leaf and Volt is their range. I live in a small town in Eastern WA about 90 miles south of Spokane WA, the largest city in our area. I could not even get to Spokane without charging the Nissan Leaf, and Chevy Volt would have had to kick in its gas engine. Since my whole point was to get off of gas, and the fact that having both electric and gas would make the whole thing more complex, I decided against the two. The only negative about the Tesla was the price. But then I actually saw one in Seattle andgot to test drive it. That sealed the deal. It is so cool looking.

Have you ever owned a performance car or a sporty car before this?

Decades ago, I purchased a used Mazda Miata. Yes a red one and it drove great in the summer with the top down, but in our area, I could only drive it for 3-4 months out of the year. When I got my Prius, I just couldn’t justify the fun car because it got worse gas mileage. The Model S handles like no other car I’ve ever driven. I’ve never driven a sports car or luxury car so for those who have, it may not seem all that great. I don’t know.


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As a fellow Model S owner I can certainly attest to Charlotte's love of the car. But what was really profound in this instance was that Torquenews.com actually cares about its readers and is willing to hear (and air) contrarian viewpoints. Very rare these days. Thanks to both Charlotte and Torquenews.com!
Thanks Jared.
Awesome, Charlotte. Thanks for shattering the usual automotive assumptions people have. It's often easy to forget that about half of all car buyers right now are over 55 and over half of all buyers are women. It's slowly changing, but the automotive press is still very man-centric. Glad to see someone like you who's willing to step forward and say "I own one and I don't fit your mold."
Thanks Charlotte, Great info. I watch NASCAR ,Indycar and Formula One racing. I own a Model S. Look out for Formula E racing in 2014 (electric car racing)
Wow thanks for letting me know about electric car racing! I totally fell for the April Fools joke about Tesla sponsoring cars for NASCAR :-(
I just read that Formula E all use the same engine from McLaren. I think it would be more interesting for different manufacturers to provide their own engines and cars.
I'm not really a race fan. I like WRC, but even that is getting boring for me. It seems to have lost something since Subaru left. I knew nothing about Formula E until this past week. One of the car mags had a whole story on it. I was shocked to learn that the cars can't complete the race due to lack of range. Part way through they actually switch cars to one that is newly charged up. That pretty much wrecked my interest in it.
I totally agree. It would be much more interesting if they set up the race so that a car can do it on a single charge, or allow different manufacturers to do different types of charging up or swapping batteries. This may help develop new technologies, both in battery technology and charging technology. In NASCAR, there's always fuel strategy and cars losing because they run out of fuel at the last lap.
I am also a woman model S owner. I am not rich(retired teacher). While I waited for a car like this to be developed, I saved my money (for 8 years). A "real car" that is all electric was my goal. I guess you could call me an environmentalist as I also have solar panels on the roof. Do I enjoy the power delivery? Oh yes! Even though I have never been interested in learning what NASCAR means.
That is great that there are more non rich guys who own Teslas! They aught to do an article about you!
The urge I have to make a comment about NASCAR is so strong I can barely contain it! But this needs to be about the Tesla, so I will be strong.
Looks like there is a retired teacher, environmentalist, female demographic for Tesla. If there is a better group of potential car buyers to have I can't think of it.
I make lass than 100K a yr. Make choice was easy, I just did the math. I was spending $400/month on gas because a drive 80 miles per day for work. So with my Tesla Model S if you deduct the saving in gas and what I would pay for let us say a Mazda 6, it is a good deal, but ofcorse I get to drive an S. Best decision I made in a long time.
Charlotte, woot! I bet I'm not the only one who'd like to take a spin in your car! I loved this article for more than one reason. You rock!
Thanks Shira! By any chance you are on the faculty at WSU??
I have met at least four women in Houston that have the Tesla Model S as their daily driver. Not only that, I attended the annual Tesla conference (TESLIVE) and there were many woman owners there as well. The statistic John Goreham used from Edmunds could well be wrong. If Edmunds skews to a male readership, then of course their poll numbers would be off.
First of all, I think it's great you met 4 women :) I would love to have more data from Tesla directly, but it is pretty secretive about that stuff. I hope to hear from some snow belt folks that they drive their Teslas in the snow (which really means salt, sand, and risking being out with other drivers who can barely drive in the dry). I'm not afraid to be mistaken.
I now wonder how Edmunds got their data because my Model S is under both my husband's and my name just because we bundle our insurance. In fact, Tesla asked me if my husband was coming with me to pick up the car, and I told them that he was not, and that this is my car. His name is on it just for insurance purposes. I saw TESLIVE video and there was a woman there who got a Model S for a birthday present. I bet that if that was not registered in both their names it was in his.
I now wonder how Edmunds got their data because my Model S is under both my husband's and my name just because we bundle our insurance. In fact, Tesla asked me if my husband was coming with me to pick up the car, and I told them that he was not, and that this is my car. His name is on it just for insurance purposes. I saw TESLIVE video and there was a woman there who got a Model S for a birthday present. I bet that if that was not registered in both their names it was in his.
They might have just done some math based on the ownership requirements. For example; to get a Model S one either needs 1) About $90,000 (I know there is a range, but I still have heard of almost nobody with a base model) 2) The ability to pay off a car loan that is as large as $ 90,000 over about 6 years 3) A trade vehicle and the balance of the two above. Rich is a very relative term. However, they said about 80% of Tesla owners have an income over $100K. What do you think that number should be? Remember, they really mean "family" income. I'm caught here defending Edmunds, who I respect, but I have no idea how they came up with it.
Sound financials would say that a car should not cost more than your annual salary and should, in fact, be less than that. This is the basic assumption, I'm guessing, that Edmund's used. With an EV, those numbers change since the expected fuel and maintenance costs are not there, changing the metrics.
Well said. I am also wondering if the Model S will actually GAIN in value. I was convinced it would, but not so sure now. I am being overwhelmed by owners that say they 1) Drive a ton of miles 2) Drive in all weather, particularly snow 3) Use it to carry dogs and go to the dump etc. Those behaviors wear out a car, EV or not. Which is fine, but it does not point to a car being sold for more than its initial cost (like a Ferrari)
Way to go girl!!
THX Charlotte, excellent info you provided during your interview. My Tesla Test Drive is scheduled in early April here in Scottsdale, Arizona. I'm retired from a thirty-three year career in the Life Insurance - Pension business. I LOVE TO DRIVE and am looking for a classy electric car with which to continue my life adventure. The Tesla might be the ticket. Continued good health and HAPPY DRIVING to you !!
Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed your article. My wife and I are visiting WSU veterinary hospital 10-11 august. We plan to drive our tesla but cannot seem to find any EV charger in Pullman. Can you please advise if there is an EV charger in Pullman we can charge at? Thank you.
I am traveling and won't be back until the evening of Aug 11, otherwise you can use my NEMA 14-50 in Palouse. Palouse has an RV park with full electrical hookup, and that is the only thing I know of in the area. I don't know where you are coming from, but there is a new Supercharger in Ritzville. I have tried very hard for local businesses including hotels and governments and utilities to put in ev charging, but so far without success. You might mention your desire to have ev charging wherever you stay and even the vet school.