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People are camping in their $145K Teslas

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The fanciest, most expensive tent around

In early 2015, Phoenix resident Steve Sasman jokingly offered the "World’s First Tesla Hotel" to adventurous car fans wanting to spend the night in a Tesla. And while the Airbnb ad was largely a publicity stunt (only one person ever stayed in Steve’s car), it looks like he was on to something: people are actually camping in their Tesla Model S’s.

For those unfamiliar with the Elon Tesla Model S, it’s a full-size all-electric, five-door luxury liftback first introduced in 2012. It was the world’s best-selling plug-in car in 2015, and it costs about $145,000. So just why exactly would anyone want to camp in a luxury electric car that costs as much as some condos? According to forums that discuss the Tesla "Camper Mode," the long-lasting 90 kilowatt hour batteries on the Tesla Model S allows for climate control and air filtration all night long, without any tailpipe emissions or sound. The Tesla seats also fold flat, allowing car owners to sleep on blow-up mattresses in the back of the car. And according to Tom Randall, the author of a recent Bloomberg article who camped in a Model S for a night in Lake Tahoe, the panoramic glass roof provides views better than any tent.

Prepping the Model S for a night of camping requires specific directions or the use of a third-party Tesla car app that tricks the car into a "camp mode" function. You can also watch a You Tube video explaining exactly how to set up the car so that the heater runs all night. When Mr. Randall camped in the Model S for a night, the power used only sapped about 7 percentage points from the car. Other electric cars don’t have the battery range to drive, camp overnight with the car’s HVAC system running, and return home.

It’s clear that Tesla didn’t design the Model S with camping in mind. But Mr. Randall reports that the "camper mode" will be possible in the upcoming, more affordable Model 3, which is headed for production in 2017. That a subculture of devoted Tesla owners are using their expensive cars for camping hints at future uses of both electric cars and potentially electric campers. Tomorrow’s campgrounds could be full of self-driving, environmentally-friendly vehicles that provide climate-controlled comfort all night long.