ELECTRIC cars are here, and whether you like it or not, electricity is going to be propelling all our cars in one way or another in the near future.
Electricity is being embraced by all areas of the market. Whether it be a hybrid Toyota Prius that uses batteries to save fuel or the $2 million Ferrari LaFerrari that uses electricity to make it bone shatteringly quick.
But pure electric cars are still trying to catch on, with battery limitations stopping them from becoming mainstream vehicles. That might all be about to change.
Tesla’s Supercharged solution
Tesla is the first pure electric car maker to really give the car market a shake up. Previously, traditional petrol powered cars had the advantage of being able to drive further with one tank than what an electric car battery could manage. But Tesla’s Model S can now get nearly 500km off a single charge.
That’s pretty impressive for a car that is completely silent, can blitz most cars off the lights and puts zero emissions into the air.
But while that 500km seems like a lot, it still needs to be charged, and if you’re going on a road trip that can be a problem. It’s not as simple as just spending a minute or two pumping petrol into the tank.
In the USA, Tesla has connected the entire country with its supercharger networks. A series of electric chargers that can potentially charge a Model S in 40 minutes. You can even drive from Los Angeles to New York in a Tesla Model S if you needed to thanks to the Supercharger network.
In Australia, however, our Supercharger network is limited. As it stands, there are two Supercharger stations in Sydney and one in Melbourne. By the end of 2016, Tesla says it will have a Supercharger network setup for owners to be able to travel between Melbourne and Brisbane without fear of running out of power. Innews.com.au’s experience, the charging speed itself can vary depending on the electricity available to the charger. In one instance, we were able to charge right up in less than 50 minutes, while at the same station on another day, it took over an hour and ten minutes.
Another problem for Australian buyers is the lack of inland population. Superchargers away from the east coast will be few and far between which will make visiting your family in rural areas an issue.
If you don’t want to wait for your car to charge, in the USA, Tesla is trialling a battery swap program. This works by paying a fee (slightly less than a tank of fuel) to have the battery swapped in less than five minutes. However, Tesla hasn’t announced any plans to expand the battery swap program outside of the one station in California.
On top of Supercharger networks, Tesla customers have the option to install a high-power wall charger in their own garage that can fully charge their car in as little as five hours.
Charging issues aside, are Australians even ready for electric cars?Before we answer that question, it’s worth noting that the Model S is the first electric car that makes sense for actually being a car. Tesla didn’t make the mistake of other car makers by trying to make a small car with expensive battery technology. Who would buy a $50,000 electric car that isn’t as nice as a $20,000 Toyota Corolla just because it runs on electricity?
Instead, they knew their technology was expensive so they built a luxury car that made no compromises to buyers looking for petrol cars at that same luxury sedan price point.
So with that, you get an interior filled with big screens that are easy to use, alcantara lined seats and more space than most cars its size. Plus its electric drivetrain has such a surge of power at any point, you often find yourself pinned to the back of your seat.
The acceleration is like nothing else ever experienced. It’s even crazier when you consider that there is zero noise from the engine and none from the exhaust because, well, there isn’t one.
With that torque wherever you need it, it means that you can always overtake someone up a hill if you need, or swiftly and silently pull the car through corners if you’re up for some spirited driving.
But what’s the point of having a great car if you can’t drive it?
For your day to day life, the Model S’ range is more than adequate. Whether you have a commute 10 minutes away or an hour away, the Model S will get you there with plenty to spare. Once you get home, plug your car into the charger and forget about until you need it the next day. It’s really no hassle at all and has no disadvantage to a petrol powered car.
But things can become a bit different when you want to go for bit of a road trip.
We took a car that was 90 per cent charged from the Supercharger station at Sydney’s Star Casino and set off west to Bathurst, around three hours and 200km away.
With the higher ranged 85 model that we had, the 200km drive was no worry at all. We popped the address into the car’s navigation system and it estimated we would arrive with 35 per cent charge remaining.
However, there was a bit of a scare as we were driving up the Blue Mountains when the estimated battery percentage began to drop every few minutes. At one point it even estimated that we would only have 6 per cent to spare. This was of course based off the cars most recent electricity usage, and when driving up a hill, it uses a lot more electricity than it does going 60km/h in a straight line.
But we made it fine.
But I made the mistake of thinking that the house we were at had a higher powered power plug, but in fact, only had a standard 10 amp power point like most homes in Australia. This meant that I was charging at a rate that gave only 10km per hour of charge to the range. With the car itself only having an estimated 40km range remaining, and with only 15 hours to charge the car remaining, the 200km trip the following day got interesting.
In fact, Tesla’s computer told us to not even think about heading home, all but yelling at us idiots for the thought of it.
But alas, with 190km of estimated range for the 196km trip to the Artarmon Supercharger the trip began. Airconditioners were turned off, no music was being played and luckily it was early enough to not need anything other than daytime running lights on. Conservation mode was engaged.
Until we started descending the mountains, the computer remained the same. Continually warning of our impending doom, and the possibility that we might have to pull into some poor mountain folk’s home and beg for a power point for an hour or two.
But then something miraculous happened, as we began to descend, the regenerative brakes of the car began to charge it back up, eventually to the point where it said we would arrive with three per cent remaining. And arrive with three per cent battery remaining we did.
Although we did make it away and back, it was only just. It was a problem that wouldn’t need to be worried about if we were driving a petrol car.
If you’re potentially in the market for a Model S and you drive decent distances regularly, this could be a problem.
So how do you sum the Australian Model S experience up?
• It’s a sublime car. It drives well, looks great and is loaded with technology.
• City driving and around your home it has no disadvantages to a standard petrol car
• Still a bit scary to drive more than 200km away from home without Superchargers in place
• East Coast buyers will have plenty of Superchargers to choose from over the next 12 months
• Those outside the major East Coast capital need to beware. With no planned Superchargers, it’s hard to recommend the Model S. Even if it is one of the most brilliant cars ever made.