Following its launch of the 2012 Tesla Model S, the Silicon Valley startup is now giving test drives to depositors who've put down $5,000--or more--for the all-electric luxury sport sedan.
What Tesla hasn't done, as far as we're aware, is to provide Model S cars to automotive media outlets for multiple-day testing.
Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] will soon offer the same 10-minute drives that it provided at the June 22 launch event to journalists in other cities.
The problem is that a 10-minute drive only gives a few quick impression of what a car is really like.
Positive reviews after 10 minutes
The uniformly positive early reviews, based on those 10-minute drives, came from a drive loop on public roads around Tesla's Fremont, California, assembly plant.
Accelerating away from a few stop signs, some 60-mph runs, and a bit of cornering does not a proper review make.
Thus far, the public has not gotten the kind of multi-day review that follows hundreds of miles in a new car, with auto writers assessing a car's merits, drawbacks, and what it's like to live with under a wide variety of circumstances.
According to Tesla, that won't happen for some time. Company communications manager Shanna Hendriks said that longer drives would not be offered at least until "the end of the August/September time frame, at the earliest."
'I Am Silent, Hear Me Roar'
On Friday, Wall Street Journal writer Dan Neil published his first drive report on the 2012 Tesla Model S (complete with Helen Reddy reference in the headline).
2012 Tesla Model S display screen [Photo: Flickr user jurvetson]
Neil's assessment is based on a drive of "an hour plus." He's one of only three journalists to get even that much time behind the wheel, but Neil notes that he "couldn't discern in an hour-plus test drive" whether "everything works as advertised."
The car itself? Neil pretty much loved it, calling it "one amazing car," saying it "goes like the very stink of hell," and that it's "dreamily quiet" as it "slips silently as a dagger into triple-digit speed."
Neil, who famously lost his bet with Tesla CEO Elon Musk that the Model S wouldn't come out on time, has written an amusing and evocative rave review that's worth reading.
Another writer who got more than 10 minutes was the usually skeptical Frank Markus, of traditional buff book Motor Trend, who said of the Model S, "My eyes are wide and my jaw has dropped."
Depositors: no worries?
Now, the lack of real reviews may be fine for the earliest of the 10,000 or so Model S depositors. They are, presumably, already sold on the merits of the car.
But we suspect there are more recent depositors who may want to read independent reviews by experienced and objective journalists.
2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011
We have little doubt that if Tesla begins to hear that from depositors, cars will magically appear for a carefully selected group of media outlets. Watch for cover stories on the four buff books, perhaps.
But for the moment, Tesla doesn't need independent reviews--and probably doesn't want them.
Uncritical fan support
One of the company's assets is a loud chorus of fans cheering it on and enthusiastically evangelizing for its products. To them, Tesla Motors can do no wrong and the Model S is the most innovative car in auto-industry history.
As comments on Tesla stories indicate, fans feel that any hints of criticism of the Model S are (a) made by writers, analysts, or others who have no idea what they're talking about; (b) an attempt to crush Tesla Motors on behalf of Detroit; (c) funded by oil interests; or (d) contemptibly ignorant of the realities of the world (from their specific vantage points).
Meanwhile, Tesla--we presume--is slowly ramping up Model S production to ensure high-quality vehicles, and continuing to deliver cars to early customers, as it should.
It's impossible for the outside world to know for sure, however, since the company has refused to release monthly sales data as do all other auto companies.