As the rain poured on a June day in 2018, the headlights of a brand new Tesla Model 3 pierced through the blurry sky. As Kristy Anderson drove it off the North Austin showroom lot, she realized her new purchase would be different than any car she had owned before. After joining the waitlist 15 months earlier, she finally had her Tesla, and it was worth the wait.
"The car is so unique. It just continues to improve with each software update," she said.
Kristy Anderson's Tesla on her family's first road trip in the car.(Kristy Anderson)
As construction of the Tesla Gigafactory begins, owners of the car in Austin are bonding over what they see as the future of automobiles. Like many Tesla owners, Anderson, a Central Austin resident, doesn't consider herself a "car person," but she was one of the city's early adopters.
There's a social element to being on the cutting edge of a new technology, Anderson said.
"You drive around, and when you see another Tesla, you do a little wave," she added.
The Tesla Owners of Austin club has been at the forefront of building a community around the car company and now boasts around 475 members. It also has a popular following on Twitter, with over 2,200 followers from across the country, and recently received the attention of Elon Musk.
The Gigafactory announcement only served to increase the group's excitement.
The $1.1 billion factory in southeast Travis County promises to provide 5,000 well-paying jobs. The site will build the Tesla Cybertruck pickup and the Model Y SUV, as well as battery cells and plans to open by the end of 2021.
"I remember just screaming when I heard the announcement," said Gail Afar, a spokesperson for Tesla Owners of Austin.
Gail Afar, a spokesperson for the Tesla Owners of Austin group, sits with her Tesla.
While the pandemic has impacted the group's operations, its leaders have started to host outdoor meet-ups again. The gatherings have grown from backyard get-togethers in the club's infancy to its now nearly 100-person membership.
Emese Szorenyi, an owners' club member and advertising executive at Saatchi and Saatchi, decided she was ready to leave New York and took her Model 3 on a trip with no set end destination. When she stopped in Austin in April, her car helped her feel at home.
"Everyone is so nice and welcoming," she said of the Tesla community in Austin.
Emese Szorenyi and her Tesla with a New York license plate.
Szorenyi added that the car serves as an ice breaker when she stops at a charging station, giving her an immediate connection to strangers.
Tesla has seen enormous growth as a company in recent years. In 2019 it delivered 367,500 cars, up 50% compared to the year prior.
Mary Lauderdale, a retired Austinite and owner of a Model 3, shares that sense of enthusiasm.
As someone who has lived in Austin her whole life, she says the car represents many of the qualities that embody the city.
"Austin is pretty forward-thinking. People want to take advantage of the car's technological and environmental benefits," Lauderdale said, adding "the car keeps teaching me."
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