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The ultimate electric car is coming

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This is my average day. I get up, have breakfast, and then go down to my garage. I smile when I see the gleaming red Tesla S. I could have chosen a Porsche Panamera  or a Jaguar F-Type but the Tesla looks better, performs as well as either of them and, well, it’s different.

I unplug the Tesla from the mains, get in and push the start button. It wakes up but makes no sound aside from the soft whirr of switched-on electricals. The large centre console – it looks like an iPad but it’s bigger and quite beautiful – comes to life. This car can travel over 600km on that one overnight charge costing around $3.

The Tesla Model S sets a benchmark for electric cars

Yes, this average day is still a dream, what I might call my electric dream, but it’s not as far from reality as you might think. The Tesla Model S will arrive in Australia later this year.

The fact is, electrically powered cars make a lot of sense today but the sales of these and hybrid cars (fitted with either a small diesel or petrol engine in tandem with an electric power unit) have been driven into the ground thanks to high initial costs. Quite simply, few Aussies are buying electric or hybrid cars.

The cockpit of the Tesla S.

If you lived in the US, UK or Europe, even China, you would be the recipient of government tax refund or payback largesse which makes the electric car buying experience that much less expensive. Over here, there is little incentive to buy an electric car, aside from the fact they are a good move away from fossil fuels and so pollute less.

I must admit I haven’t yet driven a Tesla S – it really is a dream – but I’ve spent some time behind the wheel of a Holden Volt which runs on electric power (you plug it into the mains each night) for around 80km and then when that runs out a 1.4-litre petrol engine chips in, and also part recharges the electric motor.

The Holden Volt.
The Holden Volt.

The thing is, I love the Volt and I think Holden should give me one for a long term test, I mention cheekily. I’d go so far as to say – Editor Bober thinks I’m bonkers – that given the choice between a BMW320i and a Holden Volt – both cars cost around $60K in standard versions – I’d opt for the Holden. Why on earth would I do that?

Well, over the week I drove the Volt I used no petrol at all, it ran completely on electric. I happened to do no more than 80 or so km a day, so the petrol never kicked in, and it provided me with, well, electric performance. The Volt has instant torque in electric mode, it sits the road firmly and flat (due in large part to the heavyish batteries) and the electric steering is precise and well weighted. The ride is excellent. It is well made too, and looks different inside to most of today’s cars.

Unlike the BMW, which essentially uses engine technology developed in the 19th century (yes, yes, I know, but much improved…), the Volt is 21st century. It looks different too. It gets people looking, it gets people talking and enquiring, and above all, it can be run by most people without ever taking a trip to a petrol station.

One neighbour scoffed and said, “how could you cross the Nullabor in that?”

One neighbour scoffed and said, “how could you cross the Nullabor in that?” and I looked at him and said, “how many times have you ever done that?” Of course he never had, and never will.

Now, the Tesla S is a slightly different proposition because for starters it has no back-up petrol motor, but it does have terrific range, even for long-distance Australian conditions. When it comes here around June – and in part no thanks to our federal and state governments, none of which cut it any tax slack or give it any other concessions – it is likely to cost around $150,000 (estimate), a tidy sum.

Drive off into the sunset ...
Drive off into the sunset …

But if I was in the market for such a car – and some people do spend that much on a luxury car– I’d definitely be looking at the Tesla. Spend around $8000 getting solar and back-up batteries fitted at home and I reckon you’d never visit another petrol station again.

A version of this story first appeared in Practical Motoring

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