Sandyford in Dublin is full of car dealerships, but the Tesla Motor Company should have no trouble standing out. Teslas are seriously selling around the world now. The American electric car maker just shipped 25,000 of its luxury saloons and SUVs in the first three months of 2017, and Wall Street got so excited that Tesla’s value blew past that of Ford and kept on going. And when Tesla starts shipping their new affordable Model 3 later in the year (with 370,000 pre-orders so far), those numbers will skyrocket.
And it’s exciting times for Irish motorists too who will finally join Jordan, Luxembourg, and the UK, and be able to buy Tesla cars and have them serviced right here in Ireland - at last.
Electric car sales are still slow in Ireland, although they have increased by 20% on the first quarter of 2016. However, when the Tesla store opens later this year, it could be the game changer for electric vehicles in Ireland. It may have a bigger impact in getting electric cars onto Irish roads than all the incentives, rebates and environmental concerns combined.
Why? Well, it’s got a lot to do with perception. It’s not that we’ll all be driving Teslas soon… they’re too expensive. It’s more they could change how we think and feel about electric cars in general. Seeing Teslas on Irish roads could help more people think about electric cars differently, see them as practical, cheap to run, and even aspirational and cool.
And when the Tesla showroom opens, affluent drivers will have a serious electric alternative to the likes of Audi and BMW. A car that’s faster than most Ferraris. A car that still free to charge*. A car that's comfy enough for four good-sized grownups. And an electric car that can do the run from Dublin to Dingle on a single charge.
But most importantly, well-heeled drivers who’ve been eyeballing Teslas from afar will now be able to buy them in Ireland. And when they need to be serviced, or if something goes wrong, they’ll be able to get them sorted in Ireland too. And it’s that peace of mind - more than anything else - that will likely see Teslas flying out of Sandyford and onto the gravel driveways of big houses in leafy suburbs around the country.
There’s no denying it. The Tesla Model S is an expensive car. It will start at about €85,000 in Ireland, but you could spend €200,000 if you took the top model and added all the options (you can design your own Tesla here). Having said that though, you could easily blow €85,000 on a German saloon car and it would look and feel like most other German saloon cars on the road.
Or, you could spend €85,000 on a Tesla and you’d have... well, a Tesla. And there’s nothing like it. I know, I’ve driven one.
What Elon Musk has done with the Tesla Motor Company in just 15 years is extraordinary, but I certainly didn’t think I’d get a chance to drive one of his cars any time soon. I certainly don’t know enough about cars to review them properly, and my experience as a car owner and driver is thoroughly unremarkable. So it was with some surprise that I was invited to try one.
I was attending the SEAI Energy Show, and in the transport section amongst the all the electric and hybrid cars, was a Tesla Model S. It was a top of the line P90D and I had to nudge and elbow my way through the admiring crowd until I was close enough to see the car properly, and then I gawped at it like a 10-year-old seeing his first Ferrari.
The car belongs to the Merrion Fleet leasing company. It’s one of a just a handful of Teslas in Ireland, and amongst the solar panels, heat pumps and energy storage devices, the Tesla was the star of the show.
The Tesla Model S is an elegant looking car, even rather understated, but that’s part of its appeal. It doesn’t have a snarly front, or bulges, or go-faster spoilers sticking out of it the way fast cars usually do. And it doesn’t look weird or have neon strips the way that some electric and hybrid cars do. Its looks are rather stately... so much so that you could easily imagine Enda Kenny arriving at Dáil Éireann in one.
By a stroke of luck, I got chatting to the chap in charge of the car, he started up the electronics, and even showed me the “Ludicrous” button which allows the car get from 0 – 60 mph in something like 2.7 seconds.
He told me that Merrion Fleet had received loads of interest in the car and were planning to bring more into the country to lease to posh execs at dynamic companies looking for something a bit different.
As we chatted, my enthusiasm must have shown through because he invited me for a test drive. Which of course I accepted! Even though I wasn’t entirely sure whether he was serious.
He was very serious though, and a date was set which saw me and the bonkers.ie MD at Merrion Fleet headquarters in Sandyford, just a stone’s throw away from the soon-to-be Tesla showroom, on a beautiful sunny morning.
We were met by Merrion Fleet’s Paul Dunn, and although he deals in all sorts of cars from the standard to the very flash, he had bundles of enthusiasm for the Tesla.
When the car rolled silently around the building and was parked gleaming in the sun, I was handed the key - or rather, a fob styled like Tesla toy. Our MD and I took the front seats and the Merrion Fleet chap hopped in back and buckled himself securely into place.
Now, as I've said, I don’t know too much about cars, and I’m not well up on stuff like foot-pounds of torque, but I do know something special when I see it - or sit into it - and this was a very special car.
As you’d imagine, it doesn’t need to be started up. You just get in and push the brake pedal and that's it. The gear shift is an indicator-like stalk which you just tap into Drive and you're ready to go.
As we glided silently out of the Merrion Fleet headquarters, the first thing I noticed was how heavy the Tesla felt. Not hard to steer, but a sensation of weight that made the car feel very solid and stable.
I mentioned it to our host who revealed that the car is a good half ton heavier than similar sized sedans due to the batteries which are laid out across the floor of the car. In fact, the battery pack alone, he said, weighs a staggering 544kg, but as I was soon to find out, the car’s extra weight does nothing to dampen its performance.
Cruising gently through the streets around Sandyford, we familiarised ourselves with the cabin and the enormous 17-inch touch screen control panel which runs just about everything in the car and tells you all you need to know on the road, from how much charge and distance you have remaining, to how much energy you are currently using. It even graphs out your consumption – so you can see where you’re really burning through the juice.
City driving is a breeze in the Tesla. It’s smooth, extremely comfortable, eerily quiet, and an absolute pleasure to drive. It does attract a lot of attention though, but thankfully it was all positive, with plenty of people offering smiles and thumbs-up as we passed by.
Ultimately, our host was guiding us towards the motorway where we could experience what his Tesla P90D could actually do. Ludicrous mode was pre-engaged and we were ready for action as we cruised down the ramp and merged with the light morning traffic.
After moving into the right lane, we slowed the car to a crawl (much to the annoyance of those behind us) and waited for a stretch of motorway to clear ahead of us. Our MD set up a camera on the dash and held it firmly in place to record the moment we took off.
And then it was up to me. I looked to our host, he smiled and gave me a thumbs-up, then I put my eyes back on the road and stamped on the accelerator.
Now I’ve certainly put the pedal to the metal before - even on a couple of fast cars, but absolutely nothing I’ve ever experienced prepared me for the completely bonkers acceleration of this car.
The P90D shot off like a rocket. Everyone was slammed back into their seats, the camera flew from our MD's hands, and everything that wasn’t bolted down ended up in the back of the car.
There was no screaming engine and no shifting gears, just a sort of whooshing sound as the car went from slow to very-very fast in the blink of an eye.
It was like engaging warp drive on the Enterprise.
Once we’d stabilised at legal speeds, everyone gasped and started laughing. The only thing I can liken it to is that moment when you tip over the top of a massive roller coaster drop, only it’s much faster than that. It is truly Ludicrous. And fun. So much fun that we did it again; this time better prepared for what would happen when we shot off.
Other fast cars have a way of preparing you for their speed. They are loud, both inside and out. They have special seats and seatbelts. They growl so you know that you’re in a fast car. The Tesla Model S doesn’t prepare you like that. It’s a luxury family car with four doors. It looks sensible like a Volvo - but put the foot down and it drives like a Lamborghini. There’s just nothing like it.
On the drive back, I asked our host if he was ok with this sort of driving. “Absolutely,” he said. “The car knows if there’s a chance of a crash and takes control back from the driver”.
And so he didn't need faith in me because he trusts the car... which parked itself beautifully when we arrived back at Merrion Fleet.
“Is there anything in the same price range that could keep up with the P90D?” asked our MD as we walked back towards the Merrion offices.
“Well, there is the BMW i8”, said our host, “but you’d want a Batman outfit to be seen climbing out of that yoke.”
And with that, we all agreed that we'd stick with civilian clothes and nice sensible cars...
Like the fabulous Tesla Model S P90D.
*Owners of electric cars can currently use the ESB Public Charging Points at no cost. You can find out how here.
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