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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 19th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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EVs ready for prime-time?

23 September 2014

For decades we've all been quietly waiting for the rise of the electric vehicle.

Some of the very first "horseless carriages" were actually electrically powered but the inefficiency of battery technology just could not compete effectively with the convenience and low-cost of vehicles powered by dino-juice so by the 1940s, the concept of an EV was virtually dead.

When the oil crisis hit in the 1970s, an EV renaissance took place and for a while it appeared as if every man and his dog was working on the problems.

General Motors in the USA created a limited edition run of what was (by all reports) a very competent EV that was leased to a group of customers, most of who had nothing but good things to say about it.

Even one of the world's most active hi-tech entrepreneurs of the era, Sir Clive Sinclair, was so sure that EVs were the future that he produced the Sinclair C5 which, although designed with great goals in mind, was an abysmal failure.

Step forward to today and we have Elon Musk from a new generation of hi-tech entrepreneurs and he also thinks EVs are the future.

Fortunately for Elon, he's had a whole lot more success than Sir Clive ever did.

Starting with the Tesla Roadster, Musk decided to build EVs that were not only practical but fast and sexy. Sir Clive missed all those bases and hence the devastating failure of his offering.

Basing the Roadster on a Lotus Elise was a brilliant idea. The result was a slick looking car that had kick-arse performance, a totally practical range and was targeted at a sector of the market for who price was not too much of a concern.

The Roadster did a wonderful job of introducing the "practical, desirable EV" to the great unwashed masses. It also provided a brilliant test-bed for refining the battery, control, drive and other technologies on which future vehicles would be reliant.

Musk's timing has also been brilliant.

Before the buzz that the Roadster had created had died, he rolled out the Model S and demonstrated a complete change of direction in terms of target market.

It's pretty obvious that EVs are, for the foreseeable future, going to be more expensive than ICE-powered vehicles so Musk has, once again, opted to create a vehicle that will appeal to a market which is already used to paying for something a little more up-market than a Toyota Corolla.

The Tesla Model S is more of an Accura, Mercedes, Lexus kind of vehicle than it is a car for the average middle-class working family. That's very clever.

Musk hasn't tried to deliver the undeliverable -- he's created a price-performance point that can be achieved with the available technology and he's making sure that the product performs exactly has promised -- or even better.

It's going to be at least another decade before you and I are driving an EV as our main vehicle -- but those who can already afford a "luxury vehicle" can already step across to the EV platform without too many sacrifices at all.

So why am I writing about the Telsa S today?

Well a few days ago, my old cobber from across the ditch, Dave Jones, uploaded this video to his YouTube channel.

Yes, he waffles on a bit and the video is a bit overly-long for the information is delivers but I found it very interesting to watch how a "regular person" reacts to an "anything but regular" vehicle in the form of this EV.

Based on this video alone, and assuming that Tesla's claims regarding range, longevity, etc are valid, I would certainly prefer to spend my money on this car than a Lexus, Mercedes, Accura or equivalent ICE-powered vehicle.

It's pretty easy to see now why, in the USA, many car companies are becoming very worried by Tesla's innovation and the resulting products they're actually delivering.

Just as worrying to these companies as the vehicle itself is the way that Tesla are effectively removing the middle-man (a not insignificant amount of the final retail price) from the distribution chain and selling direct. Look for some very big political wrangles over this in the USA in coming months and years.

Imagine -- a vehicle that doesn't need petrol, requires only a very minimal amount of preventive maintenance, is sold direct and is uber-reliable. What is that going to do to the traditional automotive sales and support industries?

Even the brakes on the Tesla will last much longer than on an ICE because the regenerative braking can drastically reduce pad/disk wear. No oil-changes, no tune-ups, no cam-belt replacements. When you factor these things in, the total cost of ownership of an EV starts to look a whole lot better than when you just consider purchase price and fuel costs.

Are we on the threshold of a transportation-industry change of a magnitude that hasn't been seen since the invention of the car itself?

Exciting for some, horrifying for others.

Personally, I look forward to the day when my EV is part of my complete power ecosystem. The PVAs on the roof and the low-profile wind-turbine atop my house both work tirelessly to harness the power of our local fusion reactor (just 90m miles down the road) and so I have no need for Genesys, Meridian or any of the other leaches on my wallet. My energy use becomes 100% carbon-neutral and I have more money left at the end of the month to boot.

How long before we reach this utopia? Anyone care to make an educated guess?

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