While the phrase “luxury car” still invokes images of a Lexus, Ferrari or Jaguar in much of the country, for California residents, a new player has emerged on the scene: Tesla. The Tesla Model S outsold all other luxury brands in the Golden State except for the Mercedes Benz E-Class and the BMW 5 series, according to the California New Car Dealers Association. The Tesla Model S is the most successful all-electric car—it has no auxiliary gas engine like the Toyota Prius or the Chevy Volt. As a high tech symbol of the future, the Tesla looks like the next big thing in California. Whether it catches on in the rest of the country remains to be seen.
California, with many affluent residents and a strong environmental streak, has taken to the Tesla. It’s no big surprise: the hybrid Toyota Prius is California’s favorite car. Californians registered just under 34,000 Priuses (Prii?) in the first half of 2013, edging out the Honda Civic as the most purchased car. With a 265 mile range, the Tesla Model S provides proof of concept that the electric car can make sense for most drivers. The car can easily handle commutes and most journeys. A cross-country road trip would still be a challenge, but even that would be possible if one knew where to plug in and recharge at regular intervals.
Tesla, if it can lower its price from $60,000 plus and expand its range beyond 265 miles, is well-positioned to expand beyond California and become the next Prius. If it does so, expect every major car company to accelerate its efforts to develop an affordable electric car. So far, that task has proven too difficult, but the success of Tesla and CEO (and model for Iron Man) Elon Musk continues to push the market toward electric cars.