Self-confessed technology addict Chris van der Kuyl has become one of the first in the UK to own Tesla’s new Model S all-electric car. The Courier’s motoring editor Jack McKeown took it for a spin to find out what it says about the future of driving.
Electric cars promise so much. Unlike petrol and diesel cars, they emit no harmful CO2. They can be charged up overnight at home for just a pound or two. That cost drops to £0 if you use the ever-expanding network of fast charge points.
Without a noisy internal combustion engine, they are incredibly quiet, lending even run-of-the-mill models the air of a high end Mercedes or Lexus.
There is only one problem: range. Most of the current crop of electric cars only manage between 80 and 120 miles. Show them a Scottish winter where the heating and lights are running most of the time and the cold makes life hard for the battery and that range plummets.
A couple of years ago I drove an electric Mitsubishi iMiEV. Leaving my brother’s house in Markinch for the 22-mile journey to Dundee on a cold and dark night, the car declared it had a range of 28 miles. Just enough to get me home. Within 10 minutes the range had dropped to single digits and I had to turn tail and spend the night with the car plugged in. I made it with just a mile left.
Now along comes a manufacturer who appears to have broken down one of the last barriers preventing electric cars from becoming mainstream.
The Tesla Model S is a five-seat saloon (with the option of two more rear-facing child seats) that can cover 250 miles on a single charge.
Chris van der Kuyl is chairman of Dundee-based computer game developers 4J Studios. He bought a Tesla Model S in London on Tuesday and drove it up to Scotland the following day. The journey cost him a total of £5.50 the price of the M6 Toll.
“I drove 435 miles in 12 hours,” he said. “It took about three hours of charging time, so I had an extended lunch and then another break, but there was still 50 miles left in the ‘tank’.”
Chris, 44, arrived back in Dundee on Wednesday night and Tesla has confirmed his is the most northerly of their cars in the UK.
Tesla was founded in 2003 and is named after the electrical engineer, physicist and maverick genius Nikola Tesla. It was the first company to make a production electric car the two-seat Roadster that could do more than 200 miles between charges.
In an unexpected move, earlier this month Tesla opened up all its patents so other manufacturers can benefit from its breakthroughs and improve the technology.
The Model-S starts at £49,900 once the UK Government’s £5,000 electric vehicle grant is taken into account. That version has a 60kWh battery. There is a larger 85kWh model that gives the 250 mile range and costs from £57,300. The range-topping Performance model Chris bought comes with the same battery and a more powerful 416bhp motor costs £68,700.
That doesn’t bring it within all our grasps but running costs are low and it is a very attractive proposition for company car owners.
“I hadn’t had a company car in 10 years because tax had become so high,” Chris explains. “But the Tesla is tax free in the first year and only 5% from year two. So although the cover price is quite high, the fact it’s so tax efficient and virtually free to run makes it much better value.”
The Tesla can be controlled from an iPad or mobile phone.
“I can set it to start charging at a certain time and stop charging when the batteries reach a particular level,” Chris says.“And I can switch the heating or air conditioning on from my phone so it’s the perfect temperature when I get in.”
Chris is also happy at never having to do all of the tawdry things we poor internal combustion engine car owners have to.
“When I come out of the house in the morning it will be fully charged,” he says. “I never need to spend time going to a petrol station again.”An incredible car, inside and outI took Chris’s Tesla Model S for a very quick test drive in Broughty Ferry, writes Jack McKeown.
You don’t need to turn a key or even press a button to start it. The car senses the key is in my pocket. It feels the weight of me on the driver’s seat. It knows I probably want to go somewhere. So I just squeeze the accelerator and the car glides silently forward.
Being in central Broughty Ferry there wasn’t much scope for testing the car’s speed, but I pushed the accelerator on King Street and did a 0-30mph sprint.
The force of the acceleration pins you back in your seat. It’ll go from 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds faster than an Aston Martin DB9 or a Porsche 911 Carrera.
Because the heaviest part of the car (the battery tray) is in the floorpan, its centre of gravity is incredibly low so its handling is phenomenal.
But by far the best thing about the Tesla is its interior. The 17” touchscreen is like a giant iPad and in addition to controlling the heating and stereo and displaying the car’s range, also has a 3G connection, allowing you to surf the net.
So, of course, I established a world exclusive by becoming the first person ever to browse www.thecourier.co.uk from the dashboard of a Tesla.