An electric motor has arguably become the best technology for most people’s motoring needs. And the global backdrop suggests we’re trending towards a tipping point in favour of EVs.
In 2016 alone, the worldwide market for pure EVs and plug-in hybrids totaled over 600,000 cars – a 50 per cent increase on 2015. Just over half were wholly electric-powered, and about 76,000 of those were built by California-based Tesla Motors.
Tesla has dominated the long-range, high-performance EV ranks since 2013 with its Model S saloons and gull-winged Model X SUVs. Meanwhile volume production of the smaller, medium-range Model 3 is scheduled to begin late this year. Much hinges on the success of the Model 3 and Tesla’s new battery factory – the so-called Gigafactory – if the company is to achieve its near-term goal of manufacturing 500,000 cars a year.
In line with global growth, Tesla is set to open a retail outlet and service centre in Auckland and plans to promptly install its own charging stations throughout the North Island. Tesla’s Superchargers can replenish a battery pack to 80 per cent in less than 30 minutes.
Combined with expectations of breakthroughs in battery technology, the next generation of EVs will be far more usable than the current crop, reducing anxiety over range limitations in real-world driving conditions. And Tesla is already capable of producing 500,000 lithium-ion batteries each year at its US$5bn Gigafactory in Nevada.
The curvaceous Model S is a particularly sleek and distinctive saloon with a low, sporting stance and genuine driver appeal. Electric motors provide immediate response with no lag, no gearshifts and no interruptions. And they’re supremely quiet. Their superior torque delivery compared with internal combustion engines transforms the driving experience and that extra responsiveness can make them safer when negotiating intersections.
Different levels of regenerative braking force make it almost possible to drive EVs as one-pedal cars due to instant retardation the moment you back off the accelerator. And they ride well but still feel planted to the road because the heaviest component is the battery pack, sited low between the axles to help lower the car’s centre of gravity. And because an electric powertrain is about 40 per cent more compact than a conventional one, it frees up more cabin space in typically shorter-nosed designs featuring load spaces front and rear.
A choice of two- or four-wheel drive caters well for our market, with the 4WD Tesla models deploying a vast amount of thrust with incredible efficiency. High-quality seats, fine material choices and large 17-inch screen displays have quickly become hallmarks of Tesla interiors. An optional autopilot feature is most useful on motorways, allowing Tesla models to steer, accelerate, brake and even park themselves.
Electric vehicles might still be a novel proposition occupying a niche corner of the New Zealand car market but that’s quickly changing and Tesla’s arrival is a sign of major change on the horizon.