It’s not about economy

There is a lot of chat and speculation right now regarding the Model 3, and rightly so. If it is speculation you’re after, I’m not going to provide any more of it here. Well, not intentionally anyway.

What I actually want to address are my reasons for reserving a Model 3. Whilst cutting my fuel bills by a factor of 10 is a lovely thought, as in the title of this post it is not the primary reason for purchasing an electric car. Neither are its environmental credentials, even though those are an obvious plus.

Colin Langan, a Wall Street analyst at UBS, recently stated that Tesla would have to invest approximately $8 billion to expand the SuperCharger network to equal that of the existing US gas station network. He was pretty clever about his approach too, using geospatial analysis and so on to estimate the number of gas stations, multiplying that by the average SuperCharger installation cost and so on to come to that figure and yet, despite all of his ingenuity, he has in my opinion fundamentally missed one of the fundamental paradigm shifts of EV ownership: The ability to ‘re-fuel’ wherever there is electricity!

Whilst fossil fuels have to employ great time and effort to transport their refined variants to dedicated outlets for sale, whereas electricity is available very conveniently almost ubiquitously in homes and places of work the world over for over a century. Electric vehicles require no special infrastructure to keep them moving as it already exists; what’s more there is sufficient capacity within the UK’s grid to service hundreds of thousands of vehicles at off-peak times with no additional investment.

To conclude that Tesla need to match the number and distribution of the existing gas station network is, therefore, not only counter-intuitive but displays a disturbing and fundamental misunderstanding of how EV owners tend to use their vehicles, with home-charging being the predominant mechanism by which they are ‘re-fuelled’. Moreover, it would appear the investment may well be best shouldered by the gas stations and gas companies themselves, given that as the use of fossil fuels declines in transportation, they will have to do something to keep themselves relevant rather than being relegated to third-rate convenience stores that, as it turns out, aren’t actually located that conveniently!

Of course there will be a need for such energy stations (and, incidentally, have you noticed how many petrochemical companies are now rebranding themselves as energy companies?) when it comes to long distance travel, and that is exactly where Tesla’s – as well as other third-party – fast chargers come in, and that infrastructure is already growing at a pace.

Given that I can charge every night (or indeed every day if I availed myself of my workplace’s charging facilities), I have a vehicle that is permanently “topped up”, so to speak, and also without having to visit any place I would not ordinarily visit in my day-to-day routine.

So there it is – reason number one: convenience! I can refuel whist I do something more productive (like sleeping) and know that every morning I’ll be ready for whatever I decide to do with the car that day.

Whilst we’re on this topic, there inevitably comes the issue of range. Simply put, I don’t need it. I do approximately 44 miles a day for my round-trip commute, and even if I couldn’t charge at work, that distance can be covered by almost all battery-electric vehicles that have been on the market for the last five years or so.

Longer trips – meh – in the UK you can’t really drive to the east or west of my location for more than about three or four hours before you fall into one sea or another. As for north or south, all of the major routes are already covered by multiple charging options and therefore the whole range thing doesn’t pose an issue.

The second reason is responsiveness. Getting a fossil vehicle to feel alive and eager is a difficult engineering challenge. It’s one fossil vehicle manufacturers have become very good at, but even now, typically, the ones that react quickly lack torque and hence can be tedious to drive in traffic, and the ones that have gobs of torque, whilst thrusting you forward for that brief moment between two- and three-thousand RPM soon run out of puff. In my experience, vehicles that can do both are generally expensive and fuel-inefficient.

In an EV, from the instant you start moving the go pedal, the torque is already building. It is millisecond-instant and can be quite a wake-up call to anyone used to driving one of the more lethargic fossil vehicles. This, combined with the gobs of torque the electric motors inevitably produce in whatever vehicle you’re driving, catalyse in the driver what is generally known as the “EV grin” – that dopy smirk you can’t help wearing as a steady little family hatchback-sized car resolutely and repeatedly takes you by surprise when it comes to how eager it feels.

Reason three is performance and, whilst related to reason two, is ultimately why I most desire an EV. I’m a petrolhead. I love stupid vehicles with overspecified engines and preposterously over-engineered drivetrains with forced induction and limited slip differentials and noise and theatre.

There is something very pleasant about driving a quick car. Note that I’m not talking about fast cars with preposterous three-digit top speeds: in this country it is not only illegal but I think quite frankly irresponsible to even approach the speeds on public roads of which even your average family car is capable. No – I’m on about quick, as in “I’m doing one speed and I now want to be doing a completely different speed in a short a time as possible” quick, and EVs are exactly that. Their top speeds aren’t usually that impressive, but the way they get there with that surge of torque and gear-free single-minded focus is a thing to be experienced, even in a bone-stock Nissan Leaf.

What’s more, they do it in a completely fuss-free manner. My GT-Four had to have the turbo whistling along to make decent progress, at which point the exhaust was nearly deafening. The RX-8 has to be above five-thousand RPM to make decent progress and, unless you know what it is, makes you sound like a yob before you even get to thirty. That silent kick in the back is addictive, subtle and doesn’t wake the neighbours.

Mr Musk says that there will be a Model 3 with Ludicrous Mode. Given that the power inverter architecture appears to be good for at least 300kW in the Model 3, it’s not unreasonable to think there may be a flavour of this car packing around 500kW. Even if this variant is pegged at around £80,000, that is a preposterous amount of entertainment for your money, and I’d wager the cheapest supercar-worrying vehicle you could buy.

I couldn’t give a rodent’s posterior about top speeds, track performance and Nürburgring lap times: For me, it’s all about real-world point-and-squirt go that you can use without sounding like a yob.

Finally, have you noticed how with every other car on the market, you buy that car and it’s… well… the same car for the duration you own it? Given the predominantly soft interface that Tesla uses, they can re-architect and improve entire vehicle subsystems with little more than an over-the-air update. Add to this the carrot of having self-driving hardware fitted to every vehicle plus active safety systems and an all-class five-star crash safety rating, it’s very hard to argue in favour of any other manufacturers right now.

Will there be teething problems? Recalls? Obscure reliability issues? Probably. And you know what? I really don’t care. I’ve never bought a new car before now as every dealer I’ve ever dealt with has tried to screw me over one way or another, the service I’ve had from dealers once they’ve had my money is reprehensible to say the least and, until Tesla came along, I had simply never seen a car I liked sufficiently or thought sufficiently merit-worthy for me to hand over my hard-earned to them directly.

Mr. Musk can have my money, and I will hand it over both willingly and with a smile. I strongly believe that, right now, there will be no vehicle quite like this in the immediate future. All of the legacy auto manufacturers – even those who have more than compliance-car EV offerings – need to up their game otherwise I feel they will come down with one hell of a thump, closely followed by those Wall Street types who simply don’t get it yet.

You listening, Mr. Langan?

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