Decision’s Motoring Correspondent BRIAN BYRNE drives a Tesla from Austria to Dublin
When Tesla owners talk to fossil fuel heathens, they are evangelical. And the Tesla company people help that impression along, talking about the ‘mission’, which among other things involves a ‘trinity’ of generating electricity, storing electricity, and using electricity. All in a sustainable way. All to, bottom line, save the planet.
Maybe Elon Musk isn’t entirely sure himself, which might be why he’s spending so much money, and fuel largely produced by fossil-derived energy, towards getting mankind to Mars or beyond. If he can’t save the planet, maybe he can regenerate that old red one? Still, I can understand those Tesla owners, recently gathered to tell their stories to Ireland’s motor journalism motley. I feel their energy, or did for half a week recently when driving one across Europe with colleague Trish Whelan.
We must have made a detour towards Damascus on our journey from Allsbach in Austria to Dublin in Ireland, a more than 1,900 kilometres trip of which some 1,750 kilometres was actually driving. The balance, for the record, was a 30-minute train ride under the English Channel courtesy of Eurotunnel, and a few hours across the Irish Sea with the help of Stena Lines.
However it happened, I was certainly converted to the ease and practicality of driving long distances in an electric car, without suffering from range anxiety. Granted, it was in a Tesla, a car with a 508km range when fully charged, and the maker of which has invested heavily into providing ‘fuel’ stops across the US and Europe.
A car too that costs not much less than a BMW 7 Series or a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Though it’s appropriate to mention the fact that increasing numbers of ‘ordinary’ electric cars are coming available with ranges getting close enough to that of Teslas.
Putting the Tesla S into perspective, it is nicely styled, has a classy tech interior complete with a screen around the size of two iPads, and leather seats and trim that aren’t — they’re artificial. It seems a tenet that Teslas are as ‘vegan’ as possible as well as everything sustainable.
We were actually in Austria to try out the abilities of the Model S and its SUV stablemate the Model X in snow, as all Teslas are now 4WD courtesy of motors on both axles. A couple of colleagues had driven out in the Dublin Tesla Store’s press demo car, and we were asked would we drive it back? It took all of five seconds of thought to say ‘yes!’ As we decided to drive the car back up through England to Holyhead, it was going to be a significantly longer test than our friends bringing the car out had given it, because they took the Irish Ferries route to Cherbourg.
The ‘snow day’ gave us a seriously good experience of both the S’s and X’s abilities in conditions that were to be unexpectedly mirrored in Ireland a few weeks later. Sloshing the vehicles through a snow-covered valley while people skied down the slopes above us was a little surreal, but fun and informative about the cars’ capabilities. Generally good, thanks to the ultra fast reaction time of an electric drivetrain compared to a normal electro-mechanical AWD system.
Our overnight stops were chosen on the basis of hotels having Tesla ‘Destination’ chargers.
Leaving that event in mid-afternoon, our first leg was a drive of around four hours to the Dorint Airport Hotel in Zurich. At around 380 kilometres, that wasn’t going to need a charge en route but we did stop for coffee and driver change about half-way.
Our overnight stops were chosen on the basis of hotels having Tesla ‘Destination’ chargers. These are supplied free by Tesla to an ever-widening range of hotels and inns. At the time of writing, there are many hundreds of them in all levels of stopping places. They don’t charge as quickly as the Tesla ‘Supercharger’ network on main routes, but three or four hours of plugged-in will generally top off an S’s battery.
The car’s sat-nav, underpinned by Google Maps, will provide the locations of every Tesla charger on any input route. Not just that, but it will indicate how much charge you will have in your ‘tank’ by the time you reach it. That we found very reassuring, because in all cases on the trip, we never landed at a charge with less than 15pc of charge still available.
Leaving Zurich the following morning at 9.30, we were taking the very non-sensible leg of the journey, 850 kilometres all the way to Calais in the day. It’s a journey you simply wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, do in a normal day of driving. But we were on a mission rather than normality.
Our route suggested charging at Nancy in France, where there was a bank of eight Superchargers in what turned out to be an Ibis hotel beside a large shopping centre. It was lunchtime and, before we had finished eating, the Tesla app on my phone told me the car was already fully recharged. The hotel people told me they get a number of Tesla owners through the year, but especially in spring coming down from Belgium to destinations through France and beyond.
After that we continued mostly on autoroutes until near the Vosges Mountains, when we moved off onto nice country roads through very picturesque villages and farmland valleys. A detour through a 10km tolled tunnel brought us to the other side of the mountains, which was a pity as wandering the car up and down the mountain roads would have been nice. But we were time constrained.
It happened to be my turn to drive when we came out the other side, which coincided with what turned out to be nearly three hours of torrential rain instead of the earlier morning sunshine. It wasn’t fun, and it slowed progress, but the car performed impeccably, and eventually we got to our next Supercharger point at a service area outside Rheims. With lots of charge still remaining, it only took a slightly extended coffee break to top off, and then head for our overnight stop at Calais.
This time our digs were in the Najeti Golf Hotel at St Omer, about half an hour’s drive from the Eurotunnel. It was dark when we arrived after Google Maps took us safely through a number of winding and unprepossessing local roads. A cheese plate and beer were very welcome.
The Eurotunnel trip the next morning was a seamless experience — ‘boring’, Trish opined, ‘because there’s nothing to see out the window’. But we were now back driving on the side of the road where the steering wheel made sense.
We had the whole day to make our way up around the M25 and then onto the M6 and on to Holyhead. But we needed it, as the M25 was as horrendously crowded and iffy as it always has been. The car had suggested just one charge stop, at a service area near Warwick, which happened to coincide with lunchtime again. A sustaining fish and chips meal from the Harry Ramsden restaurant there was just what we needed, and took just enough time to have the car fully ready for the rest of the journey.
The last of the day’s run took us along the historic London to Holyhead Road, used in the 18th century by coach-and-horse transport a far cry from the comfort of a Tesla or indeed any other modern car. It is very scenic as long as the light lasts. It was dark, however, when we arrived at our last stop, the Chateau Rhianfa at Menai Bridge. A fascinating French-style castle from 1849, built by Sir John Hay Williams for his wife Sarah. Today it is a wedding and event venue, with beautiful gardens that we didn’t get to see because we were heading off before daybreak to get the early Stena Ferry to Dublin.
As she dropped me at Dublin Airport, to pick up my car which I’d left there on the Monday, I said to Trish “I’ll probably have to prise your hands from the wheel when you bring this back to the Tesla Store.” And I nearly did have to.
Three weeks later we were back at the Store to meet some owners. The S we had shared for 1,750-odd kilometres was parked outside, now shiny and clean. She looked at it, and muttered: “That’s our car. That’s our car. That’s … my car.”
I could write about the technicals, the driving dynamics, the future as exemplified by that Tesla S. But Trish’s comment sums up just why Tesla owners are so evangelical. You could hate them, but you know they’re right. D