A Revolutionary Car in an Evolving Community

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Williamsburg resident Margaret Fowler was raised to appreciate cars. Her father repaired automobiles for a living and taught his family to keep their cars in tip-top shape.

“Even as an adult, when I’d go visit my father, the first thing he would say as I got out of the car was, ‘When’s the last time you washed that car? Has that car been waxed this year?’” Fowler said.

Margaret Fowler owns one of a few Teslas in the Williamsburg area. (Courtesy of Aine Cain)
Margaret Fowler owns one of a few Teslas in the Williamsburg area. (Courtesy of Aine Cain)

Fowler’s lifelong love of cars prompted her to purchase a Tesla Model S three years ago. The Tesla runs on electricity alone, instead of a gas engine or an electric motor-gas engine hybrid.

Today, she is one of a few Tesla owners in the Williamsburg area. At first, the electric car turned some heads in town. People would approach Fowler to ask her about the car or even pull out their phones to snap a picture.

“One day, a James City County police officer pulled up behind me and was taking photographs of the car, not writing me up for a ticket,” Fowler said.

As Tesla Motors has gained traction around the country, some of the interest in Fowler’s car has died down. Still, the Tesla’s unconventional layout still attracts attention.

Fowler described a recent trip to Lowe’s, where she purchased several large plants and numerous bags of soil for spring. She loaded the items into her sedan, which has 62 cubic feet of space and can seat up to 7 — the spatial equivalent of a small sport utility vehicle. Passersby noticed Fowler loading her purchases into the car’s “frunk” — the trunk space beneath the hood of her engine-less car.

“I had two guys come up to me and say, ‘Ma’am, you popped your hood,’” Fowler said. “I just said thank you, I didn’t explain it to them. And then later they saw me putting things in there. I saw them looking around going, ‘What is she doing?’”

Fowler said she did not purchase the battery-powered car simply because it was green.

“I’m a techy geek,” Fowler said. “I typically would have never spent this kind of money on a car but I was intrigued by it.”

An article in PC Magazine about Tesla CEO Elon Musk sparked this interest three years ago. At that time, Fowler was considering replacing her 10-year-old Toyota Highlander with a hybrid vehicle, only to become drawn to the technology and story of Tesla Motors.

After a considerable amount of research, she decided to reserve a test drive in Washington D.C., as there were no Tesla galleries in Virginia at the time.

“I thought the test drive would be where I found a fly in the ointment,” Fowler said.

A quick trip through downtown D.C. and around the Pentagon changed her mind.

“I was sold by the time we started down the street,” Fowler said.

The closest Tesla super charging stations are in Virginia Beach and Glen Allen. (Courtesy of Aine Cain)
The closest Tesla super charging stations are in Virginia Beach and Glen Allen. (Courtesy of Aine Cain)

The car starts as soon as the driver’s FOB is in the car. A touch-screen panel on the dashboard monitors the car’s various settings and includes a calendar, back camera, sunroof controls and a clunky but working internet browser. Without an engine, the only sounds during a Tesla drive are the tires on the road and the air outside.

While the car is expensive and battery replacement can run up to $12,000, the Tesla also eliminates the need for gas and oil, as well as repairs on gas lines, radiators, fan belts, spark plugs, and alternators. The one major line in the car is the brake fluid line.

Fowler says her Tesla has retained about half of its resale value at the 3-year mark.

The closest Tesla super charging stations are in Virginia Beach and Glen Allen. Fowler makes the trip when she needs to charge the car quickly — her charger at home can only fully charge from empty in 7 to 8 hours. Still, in her three years of owning a Tesla, she only has one had incident of being nearly stuck without a charging station nearby.

When the car needs work done, Tesla Motors sends a loaner to the house – often a newer model, to tempt owners into upgrading. Last year, Fowler considered upgrading, but ended up undertaking an adventure in Antarctica instead.

Fowler believes that Tesla Motors will continue to expand due to its commitment to environmental causes and new technology. She noted that a small group of people already own Tesla roadsters and SUVs locally.

Fowler wishes her father could have been here to see her Tesla. However, she is not sure what he would make of all the new technology.