TESLA: The Past, The Present, The Future

Cars

For us the very idea of electric cars was a big turn off. One week with a Tesla changed everything. Here's why.

The Tesla P90DL has rewritten the rulebook. Without an engine, without a fuel tank. Without noise, vibration or metal-on-metal resonance. Tesla has redefined for us what it means to drive. And we don’t only WANT one at a rational level. We DESIRE one too.

Don’t get us wrong. There is something at heart of internal combustion that continues to moves us. Literally, of course, but also at the level of aesthetics.

Driving the Tesla P90DL you don’t get a sense that you are burning dinosaur bones (to quote Jonny Cash). You are doing that of course. But much more indirectly. And less of that precious carbon is emitted over a lifetime of Tesla ownership than any other vehicle.

There is a metaphoric potency to the internal combustion engine. And potency endures. Millions of years ago elemental processes were put to work. The land and the forests and the oceans were born in the heat of the sun. Beasts crawled out of the ocean and onto land. Our ancient ancestors fused into settlement and established kinship with one another and their environment. They sought food, shelter, warmth and mobility. Soon they worked out that those forests and those oceans, and the earth itself, provided energy, heat with which we could motor ourselves to claim new land, new power, new wealth and territory.

From the very beginning we exploited our resources to extend our reach. We’re still groping in the dark. The resources may not be quite running out, but the consequence of their overuse has fed back negatively and our environment is changing fundamentally – forcing us to change with it.

But despite all that, and perhaps because of that. The mechanical simplicity of a highly-tuned internal combustion engine is beautiful. It is inspiring. Awe-inducing. Burning stuff has created the heat that has pushed the human race forward.

Desire, in other words, is deeply encoded in the heart of our technology, and for at least 200 years the spark and compression of fossil fuels has been nestled deep at the heart of that technology.

But consider how brief has been this age of internal combustion in the broad sweep of human history. 200 years.

It’s not that Electric Vehicles don’t exploit the planet’s dwindling resources. The research, development and production processes are energy rich. Though a proportion of the energy they provide is drawn from renewable sources, the charger network on which they rely draws its amperage from grids that still hugely rely on fossil fuels.

But you don’t buy cars for political reasons. You buy cars because you DESIRE them.

And the thing about TESLA motoring is it’s far more rooted in desire than environmentalism. This, we believe, will be at the heart of their appeal and success. Who knows, this fore fronting of automotive desire may even help us save the planet. Art Fitzpatrick, original madman and commercial artist who created so many of the ad campaigns for GM’s chrome-clad land yachts of the fifties and sixties, and also helped usher in the Muscle Car revolution, told us straight a few years ago.

“When Toyota was contemplating a luxury car line a few years back”, he said “they did a tremendous amount of research before picking up a pencil to create a car. They used Mercedes as their benchmark, dissecting both the car and its customers. Number 1 reason by far for buying was image, prestige. Number #4 was performance. Their history book for what became Lexus doesn’t bother stating what #2 & #3 reasons were”, he said. “The fact that they didn’t bother to mention them is as interesting as their identity and rank. If you’re going to sell a car there has to be room for glamour. You have to want this thing as badly as you want anything.”

We were skeptical. We didn’t fully believe – mechanical fetishists that we are – that the silent torque of an electric car could inspire as well as transport. We didn’t believe that without the hot report of an exhaust pipe, that without the visceral tang of metal and oil and the right amount of vibration, that moving along a trajectory could make you weak with joy.

We were wrong.

The Past: TESLA Roadster
We first saw the Tesla Roadster in the flesh at the Paul Ricard Circuit, on the French Riviera. We were handing back the 599 GTB Fiorano owned by Ferrari North Europe’s press office, having blasted down from Slough on a very mid-century 2-day road trip. We had fed over £500 worth of petrol into the Ferrari’s tank. Every penny had been worth it. We were buzzed up on the joys of the V12 engine. As we got out of 599, its engine bay was fizzing and crackling and contracting and smelling of oily sex after all the forces our drive had exerted – a geeky looking guy in what we thought was a Lotus pulled up alongside us, strangely silent, like. We don’t think it was Musk – but rather a Silicone Valley outrider – either a tech head or a sales agent. “Hey guys. You ever met a Tesla?” And he pulled away like a forgotten thought. Nuff said. It was intriguing.  “It’ll never catch on”, we muttered as we walked away to hand back the keys to the Ferrari.

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The Present: TESLA Model S P90D (L)
OK: so we were never impressed with the workaday styling. Slightly Callumesque. Slightly Mazda-like if you’re being unkind, or DB9-ish if they had done a four-door ‘rapide’ version in the mid-90s. But they remained somehow desirable – even if you didn’t know how game-changing these things were. I remained skeptical all through the couple of days that we were shooting this thing, moving from Stonehenge to the Shard and bathing its workaday beauty in the amazing light of early summer. But once the shooting had stopped and the crew had settled in for a well-deserved sleep – I took the keys and headed out to the A-roads – the ones where we had defined ourselves by exhaust note in the early eighties with various versions of Dagenham’s dustbins – and hit the M25. People talk about the 0-60 time of the TESLA Model S P90D (L). But I’ve never heard anyone mention the sensation that comes with the next 100KM/h. Sit in the fast lane at the national speed limit. Wait for the next Audi or BMW to get the hump with you. Then put your foot down. The ease with which you hit vastly illegal velocities is gobsmacking. It’s like Star Trek. Make it so Number One.

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The Future TESLA Model 3 and Model X
We just reserved a Model X. With performance figures said to be broadly similar to the P90D L, but with a panoramic roof and rear gull-wings. I mean come on. Meanwhile, the Model3 has become the most pre-ordered consumer product in the history of consumer products. At time of writing, pre-sales are said to approach $18Billion USD.  Pricing details aren’t even available as yet – but it makes sense that the Model 3 will put you in the region of the workaday Mondeo, or the base Audi A4 – meanwhile the X will go head-to-head with your mid-upper range crossers and medium sized full fat SUVs. We’re not sure about any off-road capability of electric cars, and frankly we don’t care.

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