Posted with permission from PIA Board member Michael Thwait, with minor edits. Originally published on Facebook Notes.
The pioneering days of Electric Vehicles (EVs) are over for us, will I miss them?
Nine years ago I plonked down all of my spare cash for the nuttiest of ideas around – an electric sports car. Wrapped up in a cool design were numbers that poked holes in Ferrari, Porsche and even Lamborghini. It seemed like the very opposite of what we’d considered electric cars to be. It was guilt-free high performance motoring. It was not without its shortcomings but, this was the start of my journey and for me, the electric cars’ final revenge.
At that moment in time, two threads of EV design were being launched simultaneously to supply two different markets: ‘the affordable eco-EV for the masses’ and ‘the performance giant killer’ – for the more well-healed. The first, lead by Nissan, was necessary to ensure that EVs weren’t simply dismissed as playthings for the rich and famous, the second from Tesla was needed to ensure that, like it had been many times before, EVs were not dismissed as glorified golf carts for tofu eating, sandal wearing eco-hippies. With this two pronged approach, Nissan owners knew they were part of an exciting, counter-culture movement that was going to change the world whilst the Tesla owners proved, in YouTube video after video, that electric cars were the giant killers in the automotive world. I still cheer for the Alfa Romeo 4C losing the quarter mile to the same model Alfa Romeo 4C… being towed by a Tesla SUV. Now that’s Sport and Utility right there!
There’s always been a laundry list of reasons why people don’t need to bother with EVs. I say ‘Don’t need to bother’ as, in my experience and, that of my friends, we’ve all spoken to people who’ve simply argued point-after-point until they finally came up with / invented a good enough excuse rather than taking a test drive and challenging their preconceptions. However, fair’s fair, the many reasons – almost all being range – did make sense but, since that first moment, one-by-one, pioneers, manufacturers, government and local businesses have crossed off item after item from the list until we land today at the Tesla Model 3.
Here’s the big difference though, and why I feel that I’m at the end of my journey: the pioneering days are over. By that, I mean that driving electric is no longer a challenge to those that fit the pretty average demographic of middle income, own/rent their own home, have electricity. When I started, you needed to be either very wealthy or very dedicated; range was poor, long-distance charging stations were non-existent and owning an EV really needed a pioneering spirit – yes, warm blankets and a scientific approach to driving was essential.
Our day-to-day EV choice has been between a long-range EV (200 miles) with no fast-charging and a short range EV (<90 miles) with fast-charging. Range has of course, always been an issue in the back of my mind and, recently, when we’ve started to travel further afield, and started to use the burgeoning charging infrastructure, we found ourselves really in the thick of ‘Charger Anxiety’, short range is fine as long as there’s somewhere to charge but, finding non-Tesla fast-charging stations that were available and not blocked/broken/in-use turned out to be worrisome… So much so that, I realize now, we basically stayed at home.
Enter the Tesla Model 3 – that’s ours up top. The car has 300+ miles range, has plenty of high-speed charging stations that work and is a third-generation product; it’s fully baked – almost ordinary really. When my wife asked “Where shall we go for your birthday?” The answer was “Wherever we like.” Granted, it’s not an SUV or a pickup truck and it doesn’t go 1,000 miles on a charge nor does it come free with your morning milk but, it does have more than enough range, performance, comfort, style and a price tag that’s in the realm of the affordable. It is the ordinary EV for the masses.
But what about the car?
There’s a flood of reviews out already so, I’ll just share my perspective on what you already know about the car. Initial impressions are favorable. I love the clean simplistic design; life is very complicated and this is as serene as an automobile gets. It’s a quiet space in a busy world. I love the obviousness of most of the element of the design, even the door handles.
The central location of the display doesn’t phase me as I’m used to years of driving MINIs however, I thought that I might like to see a small one inch high display above the steering wheel that could reveal speed, status, distance to next turn, etc. but, having driven it, I do wonder if that would break the purity of the design, giving way to complication and disorder.
I’ve come from cars that had no buttons because they didn’t do anything, through cars that had loads of buttons for everything, to today’s cars that have buttons for many things and a twirly knob for everything else. There’s something oddly counter intuitive about the twirly knobs found in Mercedes, BMW and Audi (which turns backwards IMO). I’ve wasted a lot of time hunting through menus trying to find the illusive settings. Learning click, push left, turn, click, push up, turn, click, etc. has just been too much for me – and I’m a technologist – but, whilst there’s no doubt that Tesla has gone over the perfect into the other end of the spectrum, they should hold their ground. If perfect lies somewhere between Tesla and the rest, then Tesla is far closer and, is definitely on the right side of perfect. I may not know every function yet but I know I’ll find it in a 15” square in the middle of the car.
On the road, the car is solid, sporty and feels like any other ‘sport’ model of BMW/Audi out there except that it features that EV low center of gravity which shows in each turn of the wheel. I’ll reserve final judgment when I’ve had some time to really throw it about. I’ve recently been caught out by some cars that feel great around town but end up like herding cats when you really push them hard – tricksters they are! Straight-line performance is typical Tesla EV, not the fastest Tesla nor the slowest but still quicker than an early 80’s Lamborghini or Ferrari, a comfortable sub 5 seconds – 4.66 says DragTimes!
I must finally circle back to the range in more detail though. Tesla has an online route planner that allows you to select your car, enter your destination and stops and then have it plot a route detailing all the points to charge on the way but, here’s the surprise: first route, home in New Jersey to Connecticut and back – no stops. Ok, try another, Home to Cape May – no stops. Home to Washington DC – no stops, no charging, enjoy the trip! This is getting silly, let’s try and push this; home to Niagara Falls – two stops for 25 mins each… that’s it 7hrs, my house to Canada? Trip after trip just kept surprising me more and more. Remember, in my sub<100 mile BMW i3 EV, round trip to Connecticut called for two stops for 40 minutes each, this Tesla will go to Canada on half the charging time.
This is the end of the journey, all the benefits of an EV without any of the disadvantages. Smooth, fast, refined, clean garage, easy maintenance, engaging driving experience, no ifs or buts. Oh, and that trip to Canada, the car will drive most of the way by itself – better than me – so, there’s that too.
The end of the pioneering era. I will miss it. Dark nights driving home in sub-zero temperatures with just a warm blanket and a heated seat for company. Slowing to a crawl to make the last few miles, frantically ‘shushing’ passengers so I can concentrate on coasting as best as I can. Happy days actually, really happy days. Thank you to all the pioneers that made this possible.