NWautos: Seattle's local source for new and used autos


April 17, 2009 12:00 AM

First in line: For the man with the first Tesla in the state, driving is electric


Issaquah resident Mark Mullet was the first Washington state resident to get a Tesla Roadster. (Photo by Scott McCredie )

Mark Mullet says he was 12 years old when electric cars first blipped onto his radar screen. That was back in the early 1980s, when rallies were held at Greenlake to promote electric vehicles.

One car that caught his eye was a home-built, electric-powered Volkswagen Beetle with a top speed of 35 mph and a range of 35 miles per charge.

What a difference two decades makes.

In January, Mullet, a former Bank of America executive who lives in Issaquah, became the first person in Washington state to take delivery of a Tesla Roadster, the world's most advanced electric car. Its top speed, limited by a governor, is 120 miles per hour, and the car can travel up to 220 miles on a charge.

How to get a Tesla
  • How did Mark Mullet manage to snag one of the most sought-after cars in the world? In 2006, after reading about the car in a Seattle Times article, Mullet was so excited that within a week he sent Tesla a check for $100,000 to secure his place in line. He then had to wait two-and-a-half years for the car to be delivered. Washington has the second-longest waiting list for the car of any state in the U.S. (behind California), according to James Morrison, an electric vehicle enthusiast who runs the blog peakoilgarage.com and who is expecting his own Tesla in May. Around the world, more than 1,000 people are in line for the car. Mullet's Tesla was number 68. To reserve one, go to teslamotors.com and click the "buy" tab.

The two-seat convertible is built using the chassis and sinuous carbon-fiber body of the British-made Lotus. It not only "blows the doors" off his old Porsche Boxer, Mullet says, but trumps almost every car on the road in performance -- all while emitting zero emissions and costing just a few dollars to "fill" its 7,000 lithium ion batteries with electricity.

The car has been dazzling the media for the past year and boasts such owners as George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

Mullet, 37, delights in demonstrating the Tesla's already legendary acceleration (it goes from 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds). He guides the car silently down the driveway of his solar-panel-topped home, and then gooses the accelerator. We rocket down the deserted street, the scenery blurring, every neuron screaming, "Slow down!"

Mullet just looks at me and smiles. It's a typical reaction for first-timers, he says. What also impresses people is the quietness of the motor. All you hear is the rush of wind and the hum of tires on pavement.

Mullet says he's been pleased with the car's utility as a day-to-day vehicle: "The (220-mile) range lets you do anything you want to do. It doesn't cross your mind that you're driving an electric car."

Though Mullet describes himself as a bit of a technophobe, he thinks the Tesla's technology is "really cool." It has only 12 moving parts, vs. more than 100 for a gasoline-powered car; a motor that's about the size of a watermelon; and only two shifting positions on the stick: forward and reverse.

For him, though, the car's best quality is its million-watt signal to the world that the technology is here, right now, to wean car buyers from gas and diesel. And the costs (the Roadster stickers out at $110,000 before nearly $15,000 in tax credits and exemptions) are bound to drop as mass-production kicks in.

Tesla has already debuted a more practical four-door sedan. Asked if he'll order one of those, too, Mullet laughs.

"If my wife and I decide to have our fourth child," he says, "I'm going to be waiting for the Tesla minivan."