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Area Tesla owners await the debut of Transit Road charging station

In an open, out-of-the way section of a Transit Road parking lot, there are seven futuristic-looking electric-car pumps at the new Tesla “Supercharger” station.

For now, though, the sleek, California-made cars can’t hook up to them.

The chargers, still wrapped in plastic, will remain unused near the Key Bank at 4455 Transit in Clarence until after an inspection required before the electric company can connect power later this month.

The pumps, which resemble regular gas pumps, will give electric-powered Teslas 170 miles worth of charge in 30 minutes.

Tesla owners, impatient for the free doses of electricity, have been venting online.

“I always get excited when I see this thread has been updated. Then I open it and get sad again since nothing has changed,” wrote a Rochester resident in the Tesla Motor Club thread called “Buffalo Supercharger Updates.”

An Albuquerque, N.M., driver planning a trip in this direction later this month stayed hopeful: “That is the last and only supercharger I need to make it all the way to Maine. Go Buffalo!!”

Since its 2003 inception, Tesla Motors – named for Nikola Tesla, the electric pioneer and Niagara hydropower mastermind – has been selling more and more cars. Its North American network of about 200 charging stations has expanded along with car sales, which have reached 70,000 worldwide, according to the company.

Teslas are completely electric.

Their batteries last longer than those of other electric cars, powering cars up to 270 miles on a single charge.

The newest Tesla model won top ratings for speed, smooth ride and safety from car reviewers, including Consumer Reports. The latest Model S, with a $75,000 base price, comes with a sunroof, a dashboard and trim made of African obeche wood and the company’s promise of free, lifetime Supercharger power-ups.

“It really might be, in a lot of ways, the best car ever built. That’s like a crazy achievement for a Silicon Valley startup,” said Ashlee Vance, author of “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.”

Teslas and SolarCity

Musk, the co-founder of Tesla, has been compared to Steve Jobs, the late Apple co-founder who revolutionized personal computers, smartphones, tablets and digital animation.

“His star has been rising to the level that he’s kind of the next Steve Jobs,” Vance said.

Around Vance’s Silicon Valley home, it seems like every other car is a Tesla.

“It’s almost like a cliché in California,” he said.

In Buffalo, Teslas are still rare. But SolarCity is better known. Musk is the founder and chairman of SolarCity, which is building a sprawling solar panel factory on South Park Avenue in South Buffalo. When finished, the plant is expected to employ 1,400 people.

“Now he’s putting down roots in New York,” Vance said of Musk.

Some of Tesla’s Superchargers run on SolarCity sun power.

“You see these interesting tie-ins between Tesla and SolarCity,” Vance said. “There’s very few titans of industry that have this interplay between the companies.”

Supercharger desert

For now, with the power still off at the Transit Road Supercharger station, the drive between Cleveland and Syracuse is just long enough to leave a Tesla driver in need of somewhere to charge up.

“Western New York has been a Supercharger desert,” said Bruce Stringer, the Amherst owner of a midnight blue Model S.

Since last year, when he bought his Tesla, Stringer has offered his garage plug to Tesla drivers in need of a charge.

“We’re kind of in a little club,” Stringer said. “We’re early adopters, and early adopters tend to band together.”

The company couldn’t provide a number of local Tesla owners. Stringer estimates there are six.

So far, three Tesla owners traveling through from Connecticut, Ohio and Florida have stopped at Stringer’s house to charge for as long as four hours.

Powering up in Stringer’s garage is about six times slower than at a Supercharger. An hour of home-charge time delivers 56 miles of drive time.

That gives visitors time to stay and talk Tesla. Frustration over the shortage of Superchargers is overshadowed by camaraderie and fascination with the new kind of car.

“I’m having a ball,” Stringer said. “I was smiling so much the first couple of weeks that I had this car that my face was cramping up.”

Stringer parks his Tesla in the garage next to his back-door steps. A wall sign says, “Tesla Model S Owners Only. All violators will be smoked and towed away for scrap.”

When Stringer plugs in the charger cord, a light ring flashes green around the socket in the same spot where the gas cap of a regular car would be.

Since the battery is in the car floor, the empty space beneath the hood is an extra storage trunk.

Chrome door handles lie flush across the door. When the key, which looks like a toy Tesla, gets close, the handles glide out so a hand can reach in and pull.

Inside, leather seats the color of milky coffee are surrounded by a dashboard and door trimmed with the obeche wood.

Instead of the dials and buttons on normal dashboards, the center console is big touch screen, like an iPad. Stringer’s shows a map of surrounding streets.

To start the car he presses the brake. With a push on the accelerator the Tesla glides forward. Total silence. As he drives through his neighborhood, the ride feels a little like coasting on air.

“It doesn’t belch out smoke,” Stringer said. “It doesn’t make noise. It just goes.”

Car for 21st century

Stringer, who lives minutes from the Transit Supercharger, paid a visit on a recent afternoon. He likes its location on the edge of the parking lot. Gasoline-powered cars are less likely to venture there to park and block pump access.

One charger, standing about as tall as Stringer, was without plastic wrap. Mostly white with a vivid red center hollow that holds the electric cord, it looked like something out of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

It also fits Stringer. The retired radiologist said his branch of medicine is known for its technological focus.

“I’m a techie,” he said.

When the Supercharger has electricity, Stringer expects to stop in the nearby Barnes & Noble bookstore while he plugs in.

Until then, he and his Tesla will visit Superchargers between here and his sister’s house in southern California.

He’ll take his Model S on its first road trip across the country later this month. He plotted his route with a website – evtripplanner.com – that pinpointed Superchargers along the way during his six-day trip through Denver and Las Vegas.

There’s not one particular thing about his Tesla that he looks forward to on the road. It’s everything.

From the way the car recharges the battery as it brakes to highway driving. Merging into speeding traffic is a lot easier because it accelerates so fast.

“Before you can practically say, ‘Oh, my goodness,’ you’re at freeway speeds,” he said. “We’ll have zero energy costs for the entire trip.”

The best part, he said, is “just being in the Tesla.”

“You don’t have the flying cars like they promised us in the 1960s,” Stringer said. “But at least you have a car that feels like it belongs in the 21st century.”

email: mkearns@buffnews.com

Related: Musk says Tesla battery systems won’t put electric utilities out of business. Page E1