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Is Tesla the World’s Greatest Camping Car?

August 21, 2016, 3:44 PM UTC

4. 2013 Tesla Model S

Entrepreneur Elon Musk has garnered thousands of reservations and a Motor Trend Car-of-the-Year award for his all-electric Tesla Model S. Now he just has to build them. A production shutdown due to supplier problems has put his 2012 goal of 5,000 cars in jeopardy. But Musk says Tesla can assemble 20,000 cars in 2013. If they all sell, the Model S will qualify for more car of the year awards, and Musk will be hailed as a 21st century combination of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
Courtesy of Tesla

Bloomberg’s Tom Randall has a great little story about yet another thing the Tesla Model S is excellent for – sleeping. Following a small community of drivers who have explored the practice, he spent a night on Lake Tahoe stretched out on the car’s folded rear seats.

You might question why anyone who can afford a Tesla would choose it over a hotel room. But for some of us, spending a night in the woods is a more than even trade-off for a breakfast buffet. As an inveterate hiker, camper, and road tripper myself, I’ve often found myself stretching out in the spacious hold of my trusty Toyota Matrix, more often out of choice and convenience than necessity.

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Before my fellow Boy Scouts start questioning my cred: Yes, I prefer a tent, in part because of some specific drawbacks to sleeping in a gas-powered car. There’s no way to responsibly run the A/C or heat, and even if the weather is ideal, you have to crack a window or two for air circulation. Which, depending on where you are, isn’t the safest, and at the very least invites mosquitos.

But with a battery-powered car, it’s a different story. Though it requires some workarounds to keep the Model S from shutting down when there’s no one in the driver’s seat, Randall was able to set his car to an unofficial “Camp Mode” that kept the climate control and air filtration systems running while he slept. Randall says that the night only expended about 7% of the car’s battery power, leaving him plenty to get to the next charger.

And what he got in return was a unique outdoor experience—sleeping securely and comfortably, but with a huge panoramic view of the stars and the outdoors. It’s not clear whether Randall’s ride had the optional giant sunroof, but even without it the Model S has expansive windows.

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Now, there are some downsides—at least some Model S’s seats don’t fold flat, requiring Randall to do some awkward improvising. But sources familiar with the design of the upcoming Model 3 told him its seats will fold flat, making it almost as appropriate for sleeping as the Model S, though less spacious.

Then, of course, there’s the yet-to-be-unveiled Tesla Minibus, which could become the next truly great American camping vehicle. Elon Musk has said it will be inspired in part by the classic VW minibus, which became an icon of 1960s road-trip culture. Thanks to the magic of battery power, Tesla seems uniquely positioned to reignite that freewheeling love of the open road.