Tesla’s ‘gallery’ in Aspen part of big push in ski country of the West
by Allen Best
ASPEN, Colo. – The news out of Aspen recently was that Tesla will open a gallery there this winter – yes, a gallery, not a showroom – to display its all-electric cars.
Aspen obviously has the silver-heeled demographics that can afford the automaker’s high-end prices. There are several dozen billionaires with homes in the community. But do electric cars make sense for people other than billionaires who live in ski and other mountain towns?
The answer increasingly is yes. Prices are edging down even as their range is expanding. As the Aspen Daily News notes, Tesla’s Model 3 comes in at $35,000 and has a range of 215 miles. It also comes equipped with self-driving software.
Sales of electric vehicles in the United States flattened in 2015 after a couple of double-digit growth years. Some wondered if low gas prices had dented the growth curve. But this year sales of plug-in hybrids have increased nearly 67 percent and all-electric vehicle sales have gone up 16.5 percent, according to HybridCars.com.
“The future (of electric vehicles) is almost unstoppable at this point,” says Michael Ogburn, director of operations at EdgePower, an Aspen-based company of cloud-based energy management systems for larger commercial users. “This is all happening in the middle of low gas prices.”
Technological improvements, improved charging infrastructure, and federal and state incentives may continue to accelerate sales.
“Batteries keep getting much cheaper and more energy dense,” points out Will Toor, director of transportation programs for the Boulder, Colo.-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, or SWEEP.
“That means the day of the affordable, long-range vehicles is coming. The Chevy Bolt will be a 250-mile range vehicle but at a price level that, after the federal tax credit, is comparable to the average new car—and after our tax credits in Colorado, will be cheaper than our average new cars.”
The charging infrastructure is rapidly being expanded, and the settlement with Volkswagen will give states additional money that could be earmarked for new stations, reports Toor. He calls it a “potentially huge opportunity.”
Tesla had already been aggressively expanding its charging infrastructure. The theme has been to find places like Aspen to create a high-profile presence. Tesla has then tried to fill in the blank spaces between, which is why it installed a charging station in the cow country of eastern Wyoming in Lusk, the county seat for the lowest population county in the United States. The charging station was not provided for local Tesla drivers, but rather as part of a coast-to-coast network of charging stations.
Jackson Hole, with its great affluence, already has three Tesla charging stations plus several more for any make of electric or plug-in electric car. Now, it is has eight more at the Jackson Whole Grocer. The Tesla fast-charging stations will fuel a car in 45 minutes to an hour. That’s about $3 in electricity, but the grocery manager tells the Jackson Hole News&Guide that it will foot the bill for now as a courtesy for its customers.
The three existing Tesla charging stations in Jackson Hole all cater to very high-end customers. The Four Season Hotel, for example, is at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and exudes luxury—with prices to match. The lowest-priced unit available for two adults during Christmas week (minimum seven nights) as of Halloween was $13,703.
At nearby Wilson, about six miles from downtown Jackson, the Bentwood Inn comes in at a lower room rate of $375 a night at Christmas, but is more exclusive in this sense: It’s just one of three U.S. lodges among National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World. The charging station has had only a handful of users, says Bob Schrader, the general manager.
Teton County, which is more or less the same as Jackson Hole, has few electric vehicles among the 67,000 registered vehicles there. Jonathan Schechter, a local economist, expects that to change as automakers come out with all-electric SUVs. Teslas, he notes, aren’t necessarily a common-sense vehicle for snowy environments. But he does find Tesla’s strategy for gaining market penetration admirable. “They’re very clever people,” says Schechter.
Lake Tahoe News says that there are 16 Tesla-only fast-charging stations in the Truckee-Tahoe area, but just one fast-charging station for other models of electric vehicles. That’s at Heavenly, the ski area at South Lake Tahoe.You’d think that Lake Tahoe and Truckee would be full of charging stations? After all, Reno, just down the road, is the home for Tesla’s big, new battery factory. Too, it’s the weekend spot for lots of the technocrats from the Silicon Valley. Tesla is headquartered there.
But even more remote valleys are getting electric charging infrastructure. Consider the Devil’s Thumb Ranch, a high-end resort about 10 miles from Winter Park that caters to cross-country skiers during winter. It now has two Tesla charging stations and one universal charging station that will work for Chevrolet, Honda, and other models of electric vehicles. (Does it get used? People answering the phone at Devil’s Thumb said they didn’t think very much, but the maintenance supervisor would have to say for sure. He didn’t return phone calls.)
As for Tesla’s “gallery” in Aspen, it’s not unique. The company’s website identifies dozens of “stores and galleries” in the United States. The one in Aspen will not be one where you can plunk down your $70,000 in cash and drive it home. though. The Daily News explains that to get the cars in and out of the business space will require removing plate-glass windows.