CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Tesla owners from across Florida gathered at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday to see SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket launch with the now-famous Roadster and "Starman" mannequin, catapulting interest in the sports car's trek to the asteroid belt.
As Elon Musk, CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, watched his 2008 cherry red Roadster sail away into the depths of space, members of Florida Tesla Enthusiasts stood by theirs at the KSC Visitor Complex and watched the 230-foot-tall rocket soar off historic pad 39A.
"There were tons of Teslas there," Larry Chanin, president of the Florida Tesla Enthusiasts, told News 6 partner Florida Today. "That, of course, meant we were all competing for the two Tesla chargers at the visitor center."
Chanin, who lives in Sarasota and drives a Model S sedan, said he wasn't sure if Tuesday's exercise would boost orders for the soon-to-be-released, redesigned Roadster. At $200,000 to $250,000 each, depending on the Roadster model selected, it's unlikely a grandiose marketing gimmick like sending a car into space would persuade them one way or the other, he said.
Still, interest in Tesla models, electric vehicles in general and the availability of charging stations around the country should skyrocket with all the talk about a Roadster in space, Chanin said.
Just last month, Chanin and other members of Florida Tesla Enthusiasts met at Hammock Landing in West Melbourne for the opening of eight EV charging stations. They were joined by West Melbourne Mayor Hal Rose and Florida Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay.
"There was a lot of interest at the West Melbourne event," Chanin said.
A day after Tuesday's launch of the Roadster, things became a bit more grounded – that's when Musk spoke with analysts about Tesla's fourth quarter earnings and vehicle production.
Space enthusiasts may have been awed by "Starman," but analysts weren't as starstruck and soberly questioned him on Tesla's production problems related to the Model 3 sedan.
The comparatively cheap Model 3 is aiming to put Tesla sales over the hump and into wider acceptability. Tesla manufactured the Roadster from 2008 to 2012 and will re-introduce a much faster model next year along with the Model 3.
Those are two different sets of buyers, one more practical and the other wishing to own what could be the fastest car there is.
During a fourth-quarter earnings call Wednesday afternoon, Musk said the company is still aiming for a 2,500-vehicle weekly production rate by the end of the first quarter, and a 5,000-vehicle rate by the end of the second quarter.
Musk originally wanted to get to 5,000 units per week by now, but gradually pushed back the goal in response to battery module production issues.
Musk brushed off concerns of production woes, saying "if we can send a Roadster to the astroid belt, we can probably solve Model 3 production."
As for the convoy of Teslas at Tuesday's launch, Chanin said that's easy to explain.
"I think it was to show support," Chanin said. "The two companies share the same CEO and he's a visionary. The demographic of the person who owns a Tesla is probably also emotionally invested in SpaceX."