This article was written in 2013 and may contain out of date information. Browse more recent articles.
The Tesla Model S is a terrific looking car. It's sleek and futuristic, and could easily hold it's own parked next to any BMW or Jaguar. One thing separates it from the rest of the herd though - it’s completely electric. And in California where it’s made, Google and Facebook types have been snapping them up as fast as they come off the Silicon Valley production line.
Tesla Motors only makes electric cars. Their first production car, the Tesla Roadster, was a fully electric two-seater sports car designed with the help of Lotus. It was aimed at well-heeled early adopter types who wanted a car that went like a rocket but who would normally go for something German or Italian. The idea was to use the Roadster’s Lotus like looks to get the word out that electric cars can be cool and desirable and then launch a luxury electric car with more mainstream appeal.
The Roadster did its job well, so the new car was developed, and then last June Tesla delivered their first Model S cars. The Model S is a four door luxury sedan, but unlike most electric cars, it isn’t weird or funny looking. It’s very good looking and it’s clearly aimed at the kind of people that drive BMWs, Mercs and Jags.
Tesla Motors was founded by a guy called Elon Musk. He’s one of the founders of PayPal. He’s also the guy who reckoned he could build spaceships, and so he founded a company called SpaceX. He then won a contract worth billions to fly his spaceships to the International Space Station for NASA. And that’s exactly what he did.
So this is a can-do kind of a guy. And he seems to have done rather well with the Internet, and he’s certainly done a good job with spaceships, so there’s no reason to think that he won’t do well with cars either. He’s obviously learned plenty from his previous work as well, because the Tesla Model S is a bit of an Internet Spaceship. It’s unbelievably fast and it’s jammed to the brim with the latest technology.
If you haven’t heard much about Tesla yet, I’m sure you will soon. The company has just announced that they will be delivering the first Model S cars to European customers in June. There must be plenty of interest because Tesla has also announced that they are going to build a factory in the Netherlands too.
The main reason that I think the Model S is so interesting though is that Tesla has confronted peoples’ biggest concerns about electric cars. Their looks – and their range. Electric cars traditionally have a range of around 100 miles. That’s fine for short daily commutes or shunting around the city, but it’s not much good for the open road, especially when there are so few places to charge electric cars. And even if there were plenty of charging stations, you still have to wait while the batteries charge up. It’s why we have compromise cars - or hybrids.
So with the looks issue taken care of, Tesla answered the range issue by engineering the top Model S car to be able to do 300 miles on a single charge. Which should be enough to deal with any commute. It’ll take care of most road trips too. Sure, it’s not enough to get you from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas, but it’s certainly enough to get you from Dublin to Cork.
The Tesla Model S must be pretty good because it’s won over most motoring journalists who’ve tried it, and they are not known for their environmental credentials. All the positive attention is quite a feat for a brand new car from a new company, and an electric car to boot. But then Elon Musk has gathered together a spectacular array of Silicon Valley technical wizards and motor industry geniuses to put the project together. Sure, Jeremy Clarkson didn’t like the car, but he’s a bit of a crotchety old codger and the Tesla doesn’t have a V8 engine and doesn’t need petrol, so that’s hardly surprising.
And V8 engines are what bring us to the point of this whole thing. Petrol cars are not efficient. Diesels are better, but a modern electric car like the Tesla leaves them both chuffing and smoking in the dark ages... I know, I have 2 litre car. It’s not the most economical of cars, but with petrol now costing around €1.65, I really feel it when I have to fill up. The last time I did, it cost €85 to fill the tank and I got 310 miles for my trouble. That’s around 27.5 cent per mile.
The Tesla with the 300 mile range has an 85 kilowatt hour (kWh) battery pack. This means that it should take 85 units of electricity to fully charge it up. A unit of Standard electricity from Electric Ireland costs 19.28 cent with VAT included. So to fully charge the Tesla Model S should cost €16.39. If the car can do 300 miles on full charge, that’s 5.5 cent per mile. It means the Tesla Model S is five times more economical than my 2 litre Honda.
But it gets better. Since it makes sense to charge an electric car overnight, I’d go with a NightSaver tariff. The cheapest NightSaver rate right now is 8.55 cent per unit. It would mean that charging up the Model S would cost €7.27. That’s 2.4 cent per mile. It makes the Tesla 11.5 times more economical than my 2 litre petrol car.
At current petrol costs, owning a Tesla Model S would be like:
- Paying 14.4 cent per litre for petrol
- Or getting almost 100 kilometres per litre
- Or getting around 300 miles to the gallon!
300 miles to the gallon is extraordinary. And from a luxury car that can do 0-60 in less than 5 seconds it's truly amazing.
Unfortunately this car will be out of reach for most people. It's about as expensive as it looks. Even with environmental rebates, it costs more than $60,000 in the US, so you can be sure than when it's available here, the price tag will bring water to the eyes. So where am I going with this?
Well, I think that the Tesla Model S has the potential to influence a massive change in the way we think. A paradigm shift if you will. Its no-compromise looks and spectacular performance make it an object of desire. It’s an electric car that people really want, so much so that it has sold out in the US and a new factory is being built in Europe.
The Tesla Model S could be the car that makes people the world over really consider electric cars as a viable option. And it’s already the electric car that’s made other manufacturers sit up and take notice. Now all I need if for Elon Musk to let me have one for a while so I can write a proper review of the thing!
This blog is mostly about the efficiency of electric cars compared to petrol and diesel cars. I know that most electricity in Ireland is made by burning fossil fuels!
Regular cars waste more than 60% of their energy through heat loss. Electric cars don't.
Taxes on petrol and diesel in Ireland make up more than 55% of what we pay. Taxes on electricity are around 14%.
The US Environmental Protection Agency reckons that the Tesla Model S does 265 miles on a charge rather than 300 so the efficiency figures I've calculated could be adjusted downwards.
Electricity companies have vast generational potential available during off peak hours and love the idea of thousands of electric cars charging overnight. Electric cars are also an ideal way to maximise night-time wind generational capacity.