On certain Sunday afternoons, Laura Burns has met with a group of strangers to take a pleasant drive, their Teslas lined up in rally style, through a scenic location. Burns, 60, from Hingham, Mass., is one of the growing legions of Tesla fans.
"They show up with their cars," said Burns, who explains that there's no one way to describe the group's demographics. "They are capable of purchasing a luxury sports sedan, but that's all I can tell. Most of them are younger than I am."
So what are they all so exited about? The magazine Consumer Reports has an idea.
Earlier on Thursday, Consumer Reports said Tesla's Model S, which is sold for $70,000 to $100,000, led its owner satisfaction survey with a near-perfect score of 99 out of 100, the highest any car has earned in years. To top it all off, Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) CEO Elon Musk today was named 2013 Businessperson of the Year by Fortune Magazine.
If the rabid fans and the accolades remind you of Apple and Steve Jobs, Tesla's "Teslovers" and Apple's "fanboys" do have much in common: a cult-like attraction to a market-changing product.
And just like Jobs, who weathered some dramatic twists and turns on the way to building the most valuable company in the world, Musk has had his share of controversy including three recent Tesla fires in six weeks that are being probed by U.S. officials.
Burns bought her red Model S all-electric car in May after several weeks on a waiting list. While it's easy to spot a Tesla on the road in California, there are only a few hundred registered in Massachusetts. But that's likely going to change with customers like Burns, who says she recommends the car to her friends and family "constantly, on a daily basis," despite the three highly publicized fires. No one was hurt in the incidents and Musk has vigorously defended the company's safety record. Still, the NHTSA said it is conducting a formal investigation.
That's not deterring Burns' love of the car and Tesla the company. The main driver of her devotion to both her car and Tesla the company, is its sustainability mission.
"It stands to reason that with a new car and new technology you'll understand you're a beta tester and things will turn up that you don't expect," she said.
When asked if she thinks Tesla's mission is on the same level of Apple's fans who camp out days before an iPhone release outside its stores, Burns said it is deeper.
"I think one thing that's different about Tesla fandom is that people are inspired by the social mission of the company to ultimately save the planet from global warming," she said. "That's not an element of Apple's mission."
The fiery incidents seemed to have only emboldened Tesla customers even more, similarly impassioning Musk after news reports questioned the safety record of the Model S.
After news of the third fire hit Twittersphere, one comment on TeslaMotorsClub.com, a community site not officially affiliated with Tesla, wrote, "I guess it's time for another round of speculation and media reports."
Another Tesla driver shared a story on the website on Oct. 5 with the subject, "I'm living proof the Model S is the safest car ever made!"
With the username Jdovi, the driver from Long Island, N.Y., shared photos the wreckage after claiming the Model S was hit by a driver talking on her cell phone.