Carrie Rengers

Tesla Motors shows off its all-electric cars and new Wichita charging station (VIDEOS)

Ryan Seitz photographs a Tesla Model S P85D on display next to the Applebee’s at 47th and Broadway. The all-electric cars have extra storage space under their hoods instead of engines.
Ryan Seitz photographs a Tesla Model S P85D on display next to the Applebee’s at 47th and Broadway. The all-electric cars have extra storage space under their hoods instead of engines. The Wichita Eagle

What car sounds like an airplane taking off and feels as exhilarating as a roller coaster on its first steep dive?

Here’s a hint: It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.

It’s a 691 horsepower Tesla Model S P85D, the world’s fastest four-door car. Silicon Valley-based Tesla Motors had a couple of the all-electric cars in Wichita on Monday at the company’s new charging station next to the Applebee’s on the northeast corner of 47th and Broadway.

“We’re really just building up the brand awareness in areas that haven’t been as exposed to Tesla,” says Hunter Johnston, whose Tesla title is “asset-lite.”

That may sound like something out of a Jason Bourne movie, but it simply means Johnston has a job that would be the envy of most gearheads.

“My job is to spend as much time out on the road in these cars as possible,” Johnston says.

His goal is to build community relationships and establish a market for Tesla Motors, which does not advertise.

“We just don’t have to,” he says. “Not to sound cocky, it’s just the reality of it right now. We sell as many cars as we can build.”

Johnston doesn’t need an official event to generate interest. People snap the car’s picture as he’s driving down the road.

“I feel like a celebrity,” he says. “You almost feel like the paparazzi are following you. You want to put your hood up and hide.”

If he stops into a gas station, he says, “You come back out, and there’s a line of people waiting to talk to you.”

The company formed in 2003 and now has about 60,000 Teslas on the road throughout the world.

They retail from $70,000 to $140,000 and are capable of traveling 250 miles before needing to be charged again.

“That’s why we’re building that super-charger network,” Johnston says of the new charging centers the company is installing nationally.

Even after the network is fully built, Johnston says road trips require a little more planning for Tesla drivers.

“You kind of have to reinvent your relationship with your car and how you think about driving,” he says. “You have to be more cognizant when you drive this car.”

The P in the model name stands for performance, and the 85 – or 60 in some models – indicates the car’s battery pack size. The D stands for dual motor, because the cars have two motors.

Instead of having engines under their hoods, Teslas have extra storage space there, which make the hoods look more like trunks when they’re open.

Teslas, which can go from zero to 60 in 3.2 seconds, have a top speed of about 150. That’s not what excites Johnston, though.

“I’m just really into the driving dynamics of the car,” he says. “I’ve been a car guy since I was a little kid.”

Johnston also has a degree in business administration, so being involved in a start-up car company is thrilling for him.

“Tesla for me is like a dream company,” he says. “We’re starting a car company from scratch.”

With what he says is “absolute admiration,” Johnston calls Tesla founder Elon Musk “kind of a geek” who created a “sport” mode and, literally, an “insane” mode for the car.

It’s that insanity that draws the amusement park ride comparisons, yet it’s still remarkably easy to drive.

“In my opinion, it’s the easiest car in the world to drive,” Johnston says.

As soon as a driver lets up on the gas, the car dramatically drops speed. Johnston says it’s almost as if it’s a down shift in a manual car.

“You feel like you have a direct connection to the vehicle. It does what you think almost. Like your brain is somehow plugged into the car, you know?”

It’s something he says he never gets tired of sharing with people.

“I work every single day,” Johnston says. “To a lot of people that would be a downside.”

Nine times out of 10, he says, it’s not a downside for him.

So what kind of life does that leave him?

“Ah, you’re looking at the life. That’s all there is.”

There’s a payoff for Tesla as Johnston shows and tells people about the company.

“They’re going to tell all their friends, and it generates a lot of organic buzz around the brand.”

There’s a payoff for Johnston, too.

“It’s never a dull moment,” he says. “I’m showing people the future, and that’s always exciting.”

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @CarrieRengers.

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