"The recession nearly killed the old Detroit, but it had been in decline for decades. Now a bunch of new Californian carmakers, technology companies and investors that think they can do things better: that they can build cars in America "
Robert Llewellyn: Guest blogger
There are occasions when sitting in my Tesla Model S that I recall the Talking Heads song, Once in a Lifetime.
“And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile,
And you may ask yourself, well…how did I get here?”
The journey to get behind that wheel has been long and often difficult to recall, but how did I end up sitting behind the wheel of such a large automobile?
This is really my main and only criticism of the Tesla Model S. It’s so damn big!
I’ve only ever owned small cars, compact European hatchbacks. OK – I also owned a Land Rover Defender but that wasn’t very wide. The Tesla is a massive land ship by comparison. The one I drive is black and the bonnet just seems to go on forever.
With that one gripe out of the way this machine is a game changer.
I have had it since July last year. I’ve driven 17,800 miles in it and never got remotely close to ‘running out of battery’, which was for many years the anxiety people expressed if you mentioned electric cars.
Last summer my wife and I drove to Italy in it. I put our destination address in Liguria into the satnav and it worked out a route via the Tesla supercharger network. It then estimated we’d arrive at our destination with a 60% charge level in the battery.
When we finally got there, we had 61%. No need for anxiety.
But once again the size of the car was an issue. The parking space allotted to our wonderful ‘Air BnB’ apartment was designed for a Fiat Cinquecento rather than a massive Californian barge.
But of course the Tesla has the added benefit of ‘SUMMON’, a system whereby you can control the car from outside using a cell phone. I got out of the car and manoeuvred it into the tiny gap, so tight I would never have been able to get out of the door.
We drove over 2,300 miles to Italy and back and we didn’t spend one penny on fuel.
Okay, so the lease on the car is mind-numbingly enormous. If you buy one it’s in the luxury car bracket. But just suppose you did the same journey in a similar size Jaguar, BMW or Mercedes petrol/diesel. You would have to spend at least £250-£300 on fuel. Multiply those sort of costs across the lifetime of the car and the terms and conditions don’t seem nearly as off-putting.
I’ve been lucky enough to drive just about every electric car ever built. I still have a Nissan Leaf. I love it and will never get rid of it. I use it nearly every day. It’s done 56,000 miles and has never broken down. The only time it did ‘run out of battery’ was when I was filming it to see exactly what happens when the dreaded range anxiety crystallises.
And what happens exactly? It stops. But not without endless beeping and alarms to warn you. You have to be really determined to run out. The car, which is the original 2011 Leaf, did 103 miles before it ran out, but this disaster had been carefully planned. I stopped just outside a friends car repair workshop and we took the car back home on his low loader.
The transition from internal combustion engines to battery or hydrogen electric cars is going to be slow and filled with set backs and compromises. But the last 5 years has seen dramatic and unexpected changes.
Electric cars are disruptive technology. Essentially the controversial thing about Tesla, who are without doubt leading the charge in this area, is not about the power source or even the technology. It’s more about our relationship with cars. There are different ownership models with electric cars necessitated by the technology within them. This tweaks the age-old business models of the mainstream automotive and oil industries.
All of these well-established organisations are going to see an enormous shake up. Things will get messy and knocked out of whack. Powerful vested interests have been and will continue to resist change but everyone, I believe, now accepts these changes are inevitable.
The recent launch of the Tesla Model 3, a car that virtually no one has driven, very few have seen and isn’t in production yet has received over 400,000 pre-orders.
This is yet another wake up call for the traditional automotive industry.
As I have said many times, this wake up call is caused not because these cars are cheaper to run, which they are because they’re more energy efficient. It’s not because they cause less impact on our beleaguered environment, which they do.
It’s because electric cars are motored by better, more sustainable technology than those driven by internal combustion.
It’s as simple as that.
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