Pseudo-greenness and the power of celebrity
I've held a long term belief that I cheerfully hypothesis to anyone who'll listen, that you only need to look at the cost of something to get a measure of how green that something is when it reaches you.
This assumes a few things - subsidies are removed, and high-price marketing is accounted for. High-price marketing is my term for the use of high prices to create desire and a sense of exclusivity - it's why high-end cosmetics cost three times as much as mainstream ones in spite of being almost exactly the same. But we can assume that Tesla, at the moment, receive no subsidies and they're not indulging in high-price marketing. We also have to assume regulatory parity - it's cheaper to dump toxins in a river than reprocess them into something nicer, for instance, so a Chinese maker will always be cheaper than a Swiss one, for example.
So that would suggest that by the point it's reached your door, for various reasons, the environmental cost is perhaps as much as 4x what a normal Lotus Elise would be. And I'm probably not far off being correct. Given that small, uncomfortable sports cars are rarely much more than a toy for sunny days and track days and that the milage of most ten year old Elises is rarely over 40k then you can see that a Tesla will never ever make its money back.
At best, the Tesla is simply a gateway car - one that proves that electric cars don't have to be tedious, dangerous and make you look ridiculous. Perhaps that's its real purpose, and there's enough rich, gullible people willing to buy them in order to pretend they're cutting edge greens. Perhaps.
Incidentally, I've tried applying my 'the price is green' theory in a few areas and it holds up quite well:
1. I can go to Spain and back in a plane for roughly the same cost as London and back (from Liverpool) - yet the trains are, I believe, subsidised. This suggests that providing a full and complete train service costs more than a plane. No surprise, all a plane needs is a strip of concrete at each end and almost zero infrastructure in comparison to a train.
2. out of season fruit is ferociously expensive compared to in-season fruit. Why? Because heated greenhoused or flying fruit all the way across the world is expensive and polluting. ie, out of season fruit isn't exactly green (ahem.)
3. other stuff. Er, you know...