|© courtesy Automobile magazine|
by Jan Schlain
"From everyone's first turn behind the wheel, we were all really blown away," says Automobile Magazine deputy editor Joe DeMatio.
He's speaking of the Ann Arbor-based publication's nervy choice for its highest honor: the Tesla Model S, a battery-powered car from a California startup that, in last fall's presidential debates, Mitt Romney scorned as a "loser."
"To say there's a healthy skepticism regarding Tesla and its new wundercar is an understatement," associate editor David Zenlea acknowledged in the magazine's January issue. "[I]n many industry circles, it borders on outright hostility." Tesla founder Elon Musk rubbed Detroit vets the wrong way by promising to build a better car, irked free marketers by taking a $465 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, and ticked off climate-change deniers by insisting, Zenlea wrote, "to be doing it for our own good." Musk--who earlier co-founded PayPal--told the magazine that he wants to sell electric cars to lower carbon dioxide emissions.
"Tesla has had a rough road," says DeMatio. "Quite frankly, as recently as a year or so ago, I was kinda saying, 'Is anything really happening with them, or are we gonna get a press release someday saying they've gone out of business?' They claimed they were developing a car, but a lot of people claim they're developing cars.
"We started realizing this summer when they gave us a first look at the car that 'Oh, they really have achieved something here.'"
Model S production has been slow to ramp up, and as recently as August, DeMatio says, they weren't sure they'd be able to get their hands on a car in time for their October Automobile of the Year evaluation. It was only after he and Zenlea got a long-sought interview with Musk that the company promised a car--which was duly delivered to west Michigan's GingerMan Raceway.
Editor-in-chief "Jean [Jennings] was a big supporter [of naming the Tesla Automobile of the Year] from her very first time driving it," DeMatio says. "It was the
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