Star Transportation adds electric Tesla to its executive taxi service
By Michael Sanserino / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The black car service scene in Pittsburgh just got a whole lot greener.
One Pittsburgh executive car service is shunning the traditional luxury automobile model in favor of the Tesla, an electric car manufactured in California. The Tesla Model S was named the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year.
Star Transportation Group, which operates Veteran’s Taxi, Classy Cab, Star Limousine and a few other transportation companies, already has two Teslas in its fleet as part of its newly launched “White Glove Service.” Bob DeLucia, owner and founder, has ordered three more.
“We get people that want it all the time,” Mr. DeLucia said. “It’s a great car.”
As far as he knows, the White Glove Service is only the second transportation company in the country to use Teslas in its fleet, with the other being Music Express Limousine in Los Angeles.
Anthony McNutt, one of three approved Tesla drivers for the White Glove Service, said he spends most of his rides answering questions about the car. Though driving an electric car is like driving traditional fuel-injector models, Star gives special training to any driver who uses the Tesla.
“Most people, whenever they first see it, they’re like, ‘What kind of car is this?’” he said. “Most people don’t know it’s electric ‘til I tell them.”
The car Mr. McNutt drives, branded a luxury sport model, is black with tinted windows. It piques peoples’ curiosity, in part, because it does not have the familiar logos and hood ornaments.
Mr. DeLucia ordered his first Tesla about seven months ago, spending $102,000 to bring a white car into service. Two months ago, Tesla delivered the black car — along with a similar price tag. The base price for a Tesla is around $70,000, while more conventional luxury cars range from $40,000 to $80,000.
The company paid the total cost of the vehicles, but it has applied for alternative fuel grants through the state Department of Environmental Protection, which will bring a rebate for the company’s investment in an alternative fuel.
Star has been aggressive in its pursuit of alternative fuel vehicles. Mr. DeLucia said about 70 percent of the 160 vehicles in his fleet run on alternative fuels, including his compressed natural gas taxis. The only vehicles that aren’t using alternative fuels are the cars Mr. DeLucia uses for Star Limousine, which is part of the reason he dreamt up the all-electric White Glove Service.
Most limousines are built to run on unleaded gasoline, and there is not enough room under the car to convert those vehicles to compressed natural gas or another alternative fuel.
“Most of our wars were all fought about oil, so our dependence on foreign oil is my main reason for doing this,” he said.
In the White Glove Service, drivers wear white gloves and black berets on the job. The service can be ordered by contacting Star Limousine. The car costs $60 per hour, or $78 with 15 percent gratuity and a service charge, which he said is competitive with other executive car services in the region.
Most clients using the service are out of town guests needing rides to and from the airport.
Mr. DeLucia said he was attracted to Tesla because of its growing reputation.
Founded in 2003 by a group of Silicon Valley engineers, the company’s strategy exists in stark contrast to that of other companies manufacturing electric cars. The Chevy Spark, the Nissan Leaf and the Ford Focus Electric are modeled after, and drive like, most unleaded-fuel compact cars.
The Tesla Model S is different, as the company sought to create an electric car that did not compromise on power, appearance or handling.
“It drives like a sports car, eager and agile and instantly responsive,” Motor Trend writer Angus MacKenzie wrote. “But it’s also as smoothly effortless as a Rolls-Royce, can carry almost as much stuff as a Chevy Equinox, and is more efficient than a Toyota Prius. Oh, and it’ll sashay up to the valet at a luxury hotel like a supermodel working a Paris catwalk.”
Tom Martini, general manager of the Westin Convention Center hotel, has taken a few rides in the car and, for the most part, agrees with that assessment. “As far as power and that sort of thing, I thought it was a beautiful car,” he said.
Mr. Martini has worked with Star Transportation Group and when the company acquired its first Tesla, Mr. DeLucia approached Mr. Martini to see if he could park it near the hotel as an option for his guests and others Downtown.
After clearing it with the hotel owners, Mr. Martini gave the OK.
This fall, Tesla, in partnership with Star and with nonprofit Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities, is set to install a supercharging station in front of the Westin. The station will give Tesla owners the ability to charge their cars and will be available to Westin guests and Mr. DeLucia’s drivers. Tesla opened a supercharging station earlier this year in Cranberry, part of a nationwide series of superchargers meant to make it easier to travel coast to coast by electric car.
Tesla is providing the charging station, while Clean Cities Pittsburgh helped Star get a grant for infrastructure improvements needed to run power to the charging station.
The Westin will cover the cost of the electricity needed to charge the vehicles, though it will charge a standard parking fee to anybody occupying those spots, as it would any guest parked in its underground garage.
As the infrastructure grows, so, too, will Mr. DeLucia’s fleet. He is working with a Tesla dealer in King of Prussia, Pa., on his next three orders.
He is considering purchasing the still-in-development Model X, which will be a larger sedan. He figures the larger car might be better for his service but he wants to see how development progresses before committing to buying one.
“I’d much rather be in that car than a gasoline car, believe me,” he said.
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