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Tesla Model S buyer’s guide

The Tesla Model S is settling down into its new status as a regular production car rather than just the darling of auto shows and model introductions. If you have the means, it might be time to consider putting one in your garage. So here are the basics you should know.

The Model S lineup

First, there are three models, each basically defined by its respective battery size: 40, 60 or 85 kilowatt-hours. Depending on your driving habits, all Model S cars are worth considering — but the battery defines your range. The 40 yields 160 miles, the 60 gets 230 miles, and the 85 a whopping 265 miles. That’s about the best you can expect from a consumer-ready electric car these days.

They’re priced accordingly: $59,900, $69,900 and $79,900 (a federal tax credit shaves $7,500 off these prices, and other incentives may also apply). If you really want to go top dollar, something a high percentage of Model S buyers have done so far, you can opt for the 85-kilowatt-hour Performance model ($94,900 before incentives), which upgrades the suspension, interior and drivetrain, yielding a 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds.

Tesla Model S reservations, which are refundable, are $5,000.

The buying experience

Tesla can’t match the dealer network of established automakers. Its stores and service centers are mostly on the east and west coasts, though there are outlets in Texas, Florida, Colorado and Skokie, Ill. New locations are coming in Austin, Texas and Century City, Calif. By the end of 2012, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said more than 85 percent of its reservation holders were within 50 miles of a service center, and 92 percent were within 100 miles. “Tesla Rangers” also make house calls to resolve problems on the spot. “Service is a top priority at Tesla and always will be,” Musk said.

Ownership

What you get from any Tesla S is a car that’s blisteringly fast, very stylish and quite exclusive: Though the company isn’t saying exactly how many cars it has sold to date, the short-term goal is 20,000 a year.

The car is also very economical to operate, though that will vary based on electricity costs in your state. A per-mile charge that runs 1.69 cents in Idaho will cost 3.82 cents in California. On the other hand, California provides a $2,500 rebate for electric-car buyers, enough to cover increased charging costs for a long time.

Who’s buying the Model S? An informal survey, based on a relatively small number of customers, finds owners concentrated in the 50-60 age group, with household incomes over $100,000. This isn’t entirely unexpected: Sad to say, the Model S is not a starter car for recent college grads, unless they have trust funds.
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