Buying a Tesla new will set you back anywhere from $42,900 to $137,000, depending on which model you choose.1 The Model S, Tesla’s midpriced sedan, starts at $85,000, but Rich Benoit, a 30-something father of three and IT worker, got one for $6,500. It’s the topic of his now infamous YouTube page, Rich Rebuilds, which has racked up more than 39 million views.2
The sought-after electric cars have been growing in popularity along with the U.S. electric vehicle industry, which experienced an 81 percent jump in sales in 2018 compared to the year before.3
Tesla was responsible for more than half of these sales, selling nearly 140,000 of its lower cost Model 3 units alone. When sales of the Model 3 are removed, the statistics show a very different picture, with just 11 percent growth in the entire electric vehicle market.4
It’s safe to say that consumers are on the hunt for lower priced electric cars — but Benoit’s cost is virtually unheard of. So how did he get an $85,000 vehicle for a fraction of the cost? As The Boston Globe reported, it started when “He pulled a 1,300-pound, 400-volt battery out of a Tesla that had been under water.”5
Man Rebuilds Tesla From Salvage Yard — With No Help From Tesla
Benoit purchased a Model S that he calls “Delores” from a New Jersey salvage yard. The vehicle had been stuck in a flood, but the amateur mechanic was undeterred, determined to rebuild the car from the ground up, starting with removing its massive battery. But he was quickly met with a number of obstacles, not the least of which was Tesla’s reluctance to help anyone fix their cars.
Massachusetts has a Right to Repair Initiative, which grants vehicle owners access to information to help them fix their own cars — the same type of information furnished to dealerships and repair shops. However, since Tesla doesn’t have any dealerships, it’s exempt from this requirement.
“We’re in a society where if you need to know something you Google it, but there was nothing out there, no one who knew how to fix them,” Benoit told the Globe. But this was only the first obstacle. After stripping the car of its damaged parts and electronics, he contacted Tesla to order new ones, and was quickly turned away.
“Tesla does not want anyone working on its cars besides Tesla, and it refused to sell Benoit the parts he wanted,” according to the Globe. “A Tesla representative, in a statement to the Globe, said ‘there are significant safety concerns when salvaged Teslas are repaired improperly or when Tesla parts are used outside of their original design intent, as these vehicles could pose a danger to both the mechanic and other drivers on the road.'”6
One Year and $6,500 Rebuilds Tesla Model S
Since he was unable to buy parts from Tesla or anywhere else, he found another salvaged Model S, this one with usable electronics and batteries. Using the parts, he was able to slowly but surely piece Delores back together, documenting his journey on YouTube at every step of the way.
It took about a year, but the restored vehicle ultimately passed state inspection and looked like new. After tallying up his costs, including those he was able to recoup by selling duplicate and extra parts, he paid only $6,500 for the car. The story continues, however, as Benoit now helps other Tesla owners interested in fixing their cars.
Tesla has a limited number of service centers and reportedly struggles with parts shortages, and now Benoit is opening a new repair shop solely for electric vehicles — and even has a former Tesla mechanic to work there.
It’s a boon for Tesla owners, who often complain they have to wait months to find a mechanic who can service their vehicle — and when they do may be charged upward of $175 an hour.7 Ultimately, he hopes the service center will also be a place to educate owners about electric vehicles and even convert gas-powered vehicles to electricity.
“It has been a long, complicated, strange trip since he opened that waterlogged battery, wondering if he was about to electrocute himself. And despite all of the ups and downs, he insists he is not at war with Tesla. ‘Maybe I was for a few weeks after they wouldn’t sell me the parts,’ he says. No, this is a love story, of how a man who says he has gas in his veins decided to go electric,” the Globe wrote.8
Electric Cars Cost Less to Make and Service
Analysts believe the electric vehicle industry is going to continue to grow in 2019, with more manufacturers and models entering the mix.
Chris Nelder, manager of Rocky Mountain Institute’s mobility practice, told Green Tech Media, “I don’t think 2019 is going to be all about the Model 3. There are a lot more manufacturers making a lot more EVs … In 2019, we’re going to have much more significant participation from other major manufacturers, especially in the high-end luxury crossover/SUV segment.”9
The growth may be so explosive that Morgan Stanley estimated 3 million traditional auto industry jobs could be lost over the next three to five years as a result.10 In fact, it’s estimated that it takes 30 percent less labor to manufacture an electric vehicle than a gas-powered one, with some estimates putting it up to a 50 percent cut.
Maintenance and servicing of electric vehicles is also less costly, which could heighten the demand for them even further, especially once service centers become widespread.
Are There EMF Concerns in Electric Cars?
Electric cars appear to be a clear winner for the environment, although there are a few considerations, such as the rare minerals that must be mined for the batteries and the need in some areas to power your “electric” car from a power plant using coal. However, another potential concern is exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs).
According to Joel Moskowitz, Ph.D., director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California (UC) Berkeley:11
“Hybrid and electric cars may be cancer-causing as they emit extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields (EMF). Recent studies of the EMF emitted by these automobiles have claimed either that they pose a cancer risk for the vehicles’ occupants or that they are safe.
Unfortunately, much of the research conducted on this issue has been industry-funded by companies with vested interests on one side of the issue or the other which makes it difficult to know which studies are trustworthy.
Meanwhile, numerous peer-reviewed laboratory studies conducted over several decades have found biologic effects from limited exposures to ELF EMF. These studies suggest that the EMF guidelines established by the self-appointed, International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) are inadequate to protect our health.”
Both the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have said magnetic fields are “possibly carcinogenic” to humans, which, Moskowitz suggests, means the precautionary principle should prevail, and products should be designed to minimize consumers’ exposure to ELF and EMF.
“This especially applies to hybrid and electric automobiles as drivers and passengers spend considerable amounts of time in these vehicles, and health risks increase with the duration of exposure,” he said, adding:12
“Based upon the research, more than 230 EMF experts have signed the International EMF Scientist Appeal which calls on the World Health Organization to establish stronger guidelines for ELF and radio frequency EMF.
Thus, even if EMF measurements comply with the ICNIRP guidelines, occupants of hybrid and electric cars may still be at increased risk for cancer and other health problems.”
Are Electric Cars the Future?
A poll conducted by Clean Energy Canada found that 64 percent of Canadians want the majority of vehicles sold to be electric, and 72 percent believe that electric vehicles will become the majority worldwide in the future.13 The findings echoed a U.S. survey, which similarly found that 74 percent believed electric cars were the future.14
Overall, the associations with electric cars were positive, with most believing the long-term savings on gas would outweigh the vehicle’s higher upfront cost. Nearly 60 percent also felt that electric vehicles would have a more positive environmental impact than recycling, switching to paperless billing or regulating their energy at home.
As for barriers, electric vehicle owners cited a need for faster and upgraded public charging stations, such as making them available at coffee shops and gyms, and giving an option to pay for a faster charge. For now, electric vehicles represent only a small fraction of cars on the market, but industry analysts agree that’s going to change, possibly sooner rather than later.
“Electrification, you cannot stop it anymore — it’s coming,” Elmar Kades, a managing director with the consulting firm AlixPartners, told NPR. “We have fantastic growth rates, between 50 and 60 percent on a global level.”15 While in 1997 there were just two electric cars on the market, there are now 98, and it’s expected that nongas cars, including electric, fuel cells and hybrids, will triple by 2025.16
The tipping point — when electric vehicles will outsell gas-powered ones — could be as near as 2025 or 2030, according to some analysts,17 and Benoit, who says he felt like a trailblazer when he first started his attempt to rebuild a Tesla,18 is likely only hastening the appeal by letting people know that — with a bit of grit and ingenuity — a Tesla could be had for under $10,000.
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