Monday, 14 August 2017

Tesla

Long time no blog from me - but I have been busy doing stuff.

However, I felt I should blog after my weekend's experience driving a Tesla model S.

As those who know me can confirm, I am no petrol head (or car aficionado at all really) - my main desire in any vehicle is legroom and a bit of comfort. The car I drove for the last dozen years or so of my corporate life was a Lexus 4x4 hybrid. Very comfortable, and moderately green! But expensive. As a private citizen, with no company car allowance, I now drive the old family Mitsubishi 4x4 diesel - not so green!

But I am interested in electric cars - mainly as a sceptic on whether they really can reduce CO2 emissions over their lifetime, and whether they can ever become affordable. Connected to this of course is a fascination with whether we will ever get driverless cars - but that's for another blog.

Anyway - when the government announced in would ban the sale of internal combustion engined cars from 2040, there was a flurry of articles which were referenced in social media - I read many of them, reposted a few, and made the odd comment. This prompted my good friend Mark Goodier to ask if I'd ever driven a Tesla. No I had not, I said, so he arranged for a test drive for me, which duly took place the weekend just gone.

So what did a sceptic like me make of Elon Musk's very expensive baby. 

Well, first of all I must thank the Tesla team in Birmingham - delightful folk, very helpful, and not at all pushy salesmen. And they probably don't need to be - I suspect for folks with deep enough pockets, and a passion for environmental causes, the Tesla sells itself.

Jean and I picked it up on Saturday morning - a quick spin with Sharon from Tesla to show us the ropes and we were off - to Hopwood Services on the M42 where we needed to recharge it!! I suppose if we'd had a petrol car we wouldn't have thought twice about filling up - but with only 50 miles left on the dashboard of the Tesla, range anxiety (i.e. worrying it is going to die on you like your phone does) was uppermost in my mind. 30 minutes for coffee and a loo break and we had 225 miles on the battery. Off to Malvern we went, for a very nice lunch at the Inn at Welland - highly recommended.

A word about the Tesla charging units at the services - there must have been about 15 of them. No other Tesla's were there - so panic over having to queue for your 30 minute supercharge was misplaced. and plugging in and charging was easy. But...it did take 30 minutes - and I suspect if you were in a rush somewhere you might curse that time delay. These cars will certainly need you to adopt a more "planning ahead" mindset. The chaps at Tesla suggest a full 300 mile charge will typically cost you around £12-£15 at home and take 7 hours - rather less expensive than a tankful of petrol - but a lot longer.

And the car itself. The series S is the upmarket sporty version - designed to match the smarter BMW's and Mercedes. To my eyes it looks a little bland - quite American in feel - not European. But really that is relatively low on my list of attributes, and it certainly caught some looks around Worcestershire & Warwickshire over the weekend.

It's a sports car though - so a little too close to the ground for my liking. Tesla do a 4x4, the series X, and in hindsight I may have preferred a test drive in that model.

The interior is cool, uncluttered, and very easy to grasp. The big central console display is the main feature - and it highlights a big googlemap display, along with plenty of space for onboard entertainment controls, or air conditioning displays etc. Very nice for a gadget freak like me - but I'm not sure it wasn't a little too distracting at times. And I also thought that there wasn't anything stopping any other manufacturer installing something similar - a big screen display is certainly not something that needs to be confined to electric cars.

The electric engine means it is incredibly quiet - although I was used to that at low speeds from my time driving the Lexus Hybrid. What is more impressive is how quiet it is at high speeds. for some (petrol heads) of course, that is a downside, as they like the noise of the engine - but I preferred it.

It has a feature called autopilot, which controls speed, distance from the car in front, and as long as you are between white lines (ie. a roads and motorways) will keep you centred, so you can take your hands off the wheel. I suspect we weren't paying full attention when Sharon was showing us this feature, as whenever I momentarily took my hands off the wheel the car felt like it would easily drift out of lane - so I didn't do it again!

The internal entertainment options were great - good connectivity to your phone for spotify etc, and pretty good FM/DAB - although the DAB wasn't perfect, with no meta data on display. It has a built in 3G/4G connection, so you are never "unconnected" - unless you are in the wilds of Worcestershire!

The defining difference with the Tesla is though, as some of you may have heard, its acceleration. Put simply, it goes like the proverbial s**t off a shovel (in case you were wondering where this phrase comes from, I'm grateful for this definition from the Urban Dictionary folk - in the days when trains had a driver and a fireman to load coal and it was necessary to answer a call of nature you would s**t on the coal shovel and then throw it in the fire as quickly as possible because of smell and hygiene. As the shovel had coal dust on it, the s**t did not stick! 

I have never experienced acceleration quite like it - truly breathtaking - and for a bit of a safety-first conservative like me, actually quite frightening. What an engine it has. 

Now, the acceleration, and the quietness, were really the only two driving plus points, with the charging time being the only serious downside - so in the end, forgetting any "saving the planet" considerations, I'm not convinced I'd spend £60k on a Tesla. TBH I'm not certain I'd ever spend £60k on any car - but if I did I suspect the competition at the top end between JLR, Mercedes, BMW etc would mean I could buy an internal combustion engined car with many more conventional bells and whistles. However, if I wanted to save the world - and signal both virtue and wealth - the Tesla would probably tick my boxes.

Our new house in Leamington will have some off-street parking at the rear, so I could recharge at night. But for many neighbours who don't have that, and generally for city dwellers, the lack of obvious charging points for these cars means they will remain a small part of the industry for some time. 

I'm sure both charging infrastructure will need to be built out, and prices will need to fall dramatically, especially for the smaller, urban vehicles, before people will adopt them in large numbers.

The bigger Tesla type cars will remain a very niche product though, until their prices too begin to match their larger counterparts.

But did I enjoy driving it - hell yes. That acceleration is a stomach-churning thrill most of us get all too rarely in our lives - and something that tends to stick in the mind for a long time afterwards.





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