Tesla – The New Era for Cars… Or not.

Image courtesy of Tesla

Before I go about writing this article, which I have wanted to do for a long time but didn’t have time to, I just want to say a few things that set the tone for what you are about to read. Ergo this is very much an opinionated post, but that’s to be expected from me… isn’t it?

First of all, I am not an environmentalist. I care about the environment, but not enough to drastically change my lifestyle to do much about it. Often when I tell people this, they respond by asking me “But you ride bikes?”. Yes I do, not because it’s greener (which it actually isn’t. Look it up yourself.), but because it’s really good fun. Do you know how much pollution is generated by producing a carbon fibre bike? If I wanted to save the environment by riding a bike, I would have bought a $50 twenty-year-old steel bike to travel around on.

Secondly, I am a massive BMW fanboy. When I was in high school, I had the privilege to drive a Lexus IS250, which I thought (and still think) is a fantastic car. The gadgetry is very spot on and you do get a sporty feel when you are turning the steering wheel or pressing the accelerator. While looking up the Lexus website on a school computer, someone said “It’s never going to be as good as BMW.” I scoffed at the comment. My first drive in a BMW was in my cousin’s Chinese made 320i. I thought the ride was rubbish, and the suspension felt like it was welded solid. Suffice to say that I wasn’t impressed. Then I bought one, the Germany-made BMW 125i with a 3.0L straight-6 engine coupled with a manual ZF transmission. It was absolutely perfect. I truly understood the “special” feeling that people were talking about when driving a BMW. Since then I’ve driven many other cars of similar pedigree – a couple of Mercedes, a couple of Audi, an Infiniti, and a few more of the kind. They were good, but not as good. The BMW really lived up to its slogan – the ultimate driving machine. I will be doing a few comparisons between a Tesla and a BMW in this post, obviously. If this annoys you, I am sorry.

Image courtesy of BMW

The first time I heard of the brand Tesla was when they made the Tesla Roadster, an electric vehicle based on the Lotus Elise. I never liked the Elise, and consequently never liked the Roadster. They went quiet for a while, before coming up with the Model S. It was in R&D stage for a very long time, before production finally began, and I saw my first Model S while driving around Rushcutter’s Bay in Sydney looking for a place to park. The first reaction was, as it was for most people, “What the heck was that?!”. Then I looked at the logo, and evidently it was a Tesla, and on the bottom left of the boot, it said “Model S”. I will be honest with you, my first impression wasn’t great. Yes it was a cool car, but it’s not one of those cars that you see and immediately think “I want one”.

Despite the fact that I didn’t want one, I still looked it up when I found a place to park after about 2 hours of wondering around at 10km/h. I was expecting the car to cost about $90,000, but no – it costed more than $150,000. Immediately I came to the conclusion: the person driving the car must be pretty rich. That’s my first problem with Tesla, which is very similar to my problem with the Apple Watch – people know how much it costs. There’s a scent of snobbery when driving a Tesla. It’s more of a show-off than a vehicle. I might belong to the group of people whom others call “funless”, but I genuinely do not feel impressed by someone having something expensive because they can afford it (or I might just be jealous…). The vanity of a Tesla (or an Apple Watch Edition) is overwhelmingly apparent, and I don’t like that at all. Yes BMWs are also expensive, which is why I don’t like the 7-series, and think the M3 is the best car in the world right now due to its (albeit limited in recent years) understatedness.

Image courtesy of Autocar UK

Although I had some grudge against the image of driving a Tesla, I still happily accepted when one of my friends (bravely) offered me a drive in his Model S P100D. Stepping into the car is like stepping into a space shuttle. There has never been anything like this before I have to admit. Inside, it’s all beautifully upholstered leather and detailed stitching, with the beautiful huge display in the centre console and the even more beautiful screen in the instrument cluster. It also smelt pretty amazing too. Starting the car is like nothing I’ve felt before (yes my sister had a Lexus hybrid SUV which doesn’t make a sound when starting up either but that selfish ******* sold it before I got a chance to drive it). All the animations kick into action and it’s comparable to watching a 2000’s cinematic depiction of transportation in the 3000’s. It was truly a eye-widening experience just to start the car. Stomping on the accelerator, the low range torque was absolutely uncanny. It literally has infinitely more torque than any petrol car that has existed and will exist in the future at 0 rpm. Sitting in the car you feel like a golf ball as the player teed off. Then it started to go downhill. I was very much used to the solid steering feel of my much, much cheaper BMW, and in a Tesla it felt nothing like that. There were almost no feedback on the steering wheel, especially when you are going around corners. I learned that I felt the car’s response more from my seat than my hands, which was a very weird feeling.

Image courtesy of Autocar UK

That’s another thing that I didn’t like about Teslas. To me, driving is an expression of freedom. Everybody remembers their first cars, right? The reason isn’t that their first cars are so great, in fact most of the time they are quite rubbish, the reason is their first cars give them the freedom to travel. In a Tesla it somehow didn’t feel the same. It felt like I was operating a laptop (which is most likely what I was doing anyway). It just felt… off, for some reasons. I get it – it’s very clever, and the control systems in the car was very well designed, it’s got radars and sensors and cameras and anti-missile machine guns, but I didn’t feel any passion in it. I didn’t feel special.  I didn’t love it. Perhaps I’m just too old, and don’t have the energy to feel passionate about new things any more, but I’m not that old, right? Hopefully I still have another 60 years to live, if I have to spend those years being passionless, oh dear… Moving on.

Smooth segue into the next topic: age. See, people of different age like different kinds of cars. If you are 16, you want a Honda S2000; if you are 45, you want a Porsche, if not a McLaren; if you are 60, you want a Mercedes; and if you are 70, you want a Honda Jazz. It seems to me that a Tesla is more of a technological experiment, a gadget, more than an everyday tool. People who are progressive enough to want to use it as a daily car aren’t the people who can afford it. Who would be the perfect customer? Tech savvy young people, like MKBHD (the YouTuber), and indeed he does have a Model S. Older people don’t want to go into the garage in the morning and mumble “Ah ****, forgot to plug my car in last night”. This problem isn’t specific to Tesla. A lot of sports car manufacturers add a lot of clever gadgetry to appeal to people,  but to whom? Those that fancy those gadgets can’t afford the car, and those who can afford the car don’t particularly care.

Image Courtesy of TreeHugger

The last thing I want to talk about is not limited to Teslas, but to all electric vehicles. I don’t think batteries is where the future of electric vehicles lies. Batteries as rubbish, if you charge them too quickly they explode, if you use them too much they overheat, and explode, even if you don’t use them, they explode (*cough* Samsung *cough), and if they don’t explode, they wear out. They say, the days were so great when they could charge a Nokia and use it for a month, yes – because those Nokia were rubbish and barely use any electricity at all. Now if you don’t charge your phone every night, good luck getting emails the next day. Surely, there is a better alternatively to batteries to power cars. We are running out of oil, and when we do, petrol/diesel cars are going to die altogether simply because they can’t be used any more. Will we all switch to battery powered cars? I don’t think so. Honda and Hyundai (and maybe others) are experimenting with hydrogen fuelled cars. You put liquid hydrogen into the car, the car turns the liquid into electricity, and uses the electricity to drive the car. I think that’s a fantastic way to approach the world of electric cars. However, with liquid hydrogen, we will need to figure out ways to store them, which means huge infrastructure investment, which electricity doesn’t require. Despite that, I still think hydrogen powered cars are the way to go in the future.

The motivation for writing this article, was catalysed by a conversation the other day, with someone who is rich enough and actually wants to buy a Model S. Perhaps my peasantry is what prevents me from seeing the benefits of owning a Tesla, but if you want to ask me to spend $150,000 on a car? I would get a M3. 

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