Call me conflicted – I’m a car nut with a conscience. I have spent my North American lifetime reading oily rags like Car and Driver and driving impractical British sports cars. It’s been one of my great disappointments that something that has brought me so much pleasure (cruisin’ on a hot August evenings with the top down and the tunes up) seems to be one of the prime suspects in killing the climate.
Help, however, may be at hand. The Tesla Motors folks are among the pitch people working the Society of Environmental Journalists conference, trying to convince these most skeptical reporters that the car has a future in a sustainable world. It’s a hard, and sometimes boring prospect when you hear it from somebody peddling a Ford hybrid. But the Tesla, a 0-60-mph-in-four-seconds, pure-electric pocket rocket, might just make you a believer. In 20 exhilarating minutes, it sure worked for me.
The car is Lotus-like – no accident, since the makers have taken heavily from Lotus design and the Lotus company is looking after assembly. Under 2,700 pounds (900 of which is battery), and boasting 250 horse power, the car is ridiculously fleet and fabulously sure-footed. Perhaps best of all, from a driving perspective, the power delivery is smooth as silk, from standstill to at least 65 mph without a single shift. And it’s just as torquey at 60 as my Cooper convertible is when I drop the clutch at a stop light.
There are, of course, lots of environmentally correct reasons to be critical of our car obsession. The classic California land-use pattern so much in evidence here in the San Francisco suburbs proves that the automobile has been destructive on the ground as well as in the air.
But the Tesla proves what the major car makers have tried to deny. For $125 million – a drop in the Detroit bucket – you can build a prototype electric vehicle with a 200-mile range, and a high-performance one at that. If the major car makers had spent more time competing in this field and less time defending their fossil fuel turf, we may already have leaped through some of the barriers that still face electric car makers.
But for me, seeing is believing, and having ridden in this baby, I am convinced that the future may be sustainable and may also be fun. Given how depressing the climate change conversation can often be, THAT‘s a message that I will be happy to take home to my kids.