Car Culture: Tesla’s Cars



Elon Musk and one of his Tesla cars

 It isn’t only the sordid world of politics that the press, the power elite’s grubby middle-management, alter reality to suit their master’s agenda. It happens in the world of cars too. The motoring press, as they like to term their reprinting of car maker’s press releases,  ‘tweak’ the information given to them to ensure their car advertising isn’t jeopardised.

The car manufacturers I refer to are the ones deeply troubled by competition from an upstart electric vehicle company that has every chance of offering transportation that cuts car ownership costs drastically.

Tesla Motors is the world’s first all-electric mass-market automaker, the brainchild of the oddly named Elon Musk. Mind you it’s a great name if you’re a yak herder, an even better one if you want your ‘revolutionary’ cars and company to stay in the public mind. Musk is co-founder of Pay-Pal among a few other progressive patents.

Electric pioneers

The Tesla part is a homage to Nikola Tesla, the Serbian engineer and mechanic who made his name in electrical invention after working for Edison. (Their loathing was mutual.) Tesla was an intense, spiritual man who thought all earthly power ultimately came from God. Thankfully Musk didn’t call his company, Messiah Motors. I digress.

Way back in 1898 a young Ferdinand Porsche put electric hubs on to the rear wheels of a carriage. He had the right idea. Only recently has Porsche announced an all-electric car is on the design table. Why the delay? It’s called the oil company lobby.

Back early last century electric cars were the model of choice. Steam cars took days to fire up, and petrol cars could bust your wrist or fingers winding up the starter handle. They also frightened horses when they backfired. People didn’t go on holidays as they do now, so a car that did 25 mph maximum and offered 60 miles on a charge was the perfect way to get around the city. The modern two-seat Electric Smart Car does 80 mph maximum and offers 80 miles from a single charge, plenty for a week’s daily tootling around town.

You can see why petrol-driven manufacturers have been ultra-slow in developing electric cars. Once someone invented the electric starter (the irony) they were off and running. And the petrol giants were never going to encourage electric vehicles.


The first ever Porsche – a carriage with an electric motor

How not to welcome innovation

Hardly had Musk got his car company off the ground when it was harassed by scaremongering propaganda from all motoring quarters. ‘Attacked’ is a more accurate description.

The fast and fatuous scaremongering aimed at Preston Tucker decades earlier, a man who dared to take on the might of US car corporations, was similarly dumped on the head of Musk almost before his first car left the factory. The exception was Renault whose boss had set up an all-electric car wing. He “welcomed competition in the new market sector.”

The most vociferous jeering came from lovers of cars, petrolheads, polishing queens, the automotive illiterate, who think anything with an aircraft wing stuck on the back must be super cool. They are about as dog-in-the-manger conservative as you can get when it comes to anything that is innovative, beautifully designed, doesn’t smell like burning rubber, or pollutes the atmosphere, or rip-snorts a racket to tremble your bowels.

The belligerent Jeremy Clarkson and his corpulent laddites got into the deprecating game. To prove electric cars are useless they ran one to the outer edges of Britain to show how the car  was guaranteed to stop when it’s batteries ran flat. Well, erm … yes. What did they expect? This is Britain. There were no charging points.

300 miles on a single charge.

Granted, 300 miles of juice won’t get you Edinburgh to London without a stop, but with top up posts at gas stations enroute, and an hour to charge while you wolf your pie and beans lunch and take a toilet break, is there a problem? The cost for that journey is calculated at £14 on todays electricity rates.

Tesla  got it in the neck from the get-go. We were warned his cars would only travel to the shops and back; caught fire on start up – brand new Ferrari and Porsche cars have caught fire and they’re full of petrol!; were inordinately expensive and wiped out any saving on running costs; would explode power stations overnight when car owning citizenry plugged in their vehicles at the same time; electric cars will kill pedestrians because, well, they’re silent; and aesthetic crime of the century – the interiors are too minimalist.

That last moan is odd. Cars must have hundreds of buttons to be a real car? The Mercedes limousine I sat in, in the rear, a New York taxi, had 188 buttons, some on the ceiling.


A line of electric Smart cars for hire

Norway leads the way

Naturally, Norway, that terribly backward nation that has to handle its embarrassing 600 gazillion oil fund, populated its towns and cities with booster points in a month. They love electric cars in Norway. Score: Electric cars 1.

Toyota sent a fleet of electric SUV around California in the late Eighties as an experimental test run. Late one evening they rounded up the lot, bar a few stragglers and scrapped the lot. The political shenanigans behind that little adventure have yet to be fully explained. A car with no moving parts except steering wheel and road wheels? Bin it!


A Los Angeles electric bus

Electric buses

Today, Los Angeles has electric busses. Instead of spending over £600 million on digging up Edinburgh for an old-fashioned tram system, we could have had over 500 electric buses, an electric depot, and change to spend – Green politicians screwed up. Big time.

Germany has announced generous subsidies if you buy an electric car. The UK’s incentives for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles is currently set to go in the opposite direction: to end in March 2018; down to £4 ,500 for cars with a 70-mile-plus range, while cars with a shorter zero-emissions range receive £2500. A price cap was also introduced, with vehicles costing over £60,000 being ineligible for the grant. Isn’t that wonderful?

The first Tesla I saw was a slightly modified Lotus Elise on Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica. One minute the sports car was toddling along in the lane next to the bus I was in, the next it rocketed its two occupants towards the horizon in complete eerie silence.

Tesla motors previewed its third model.

You can buy a Tesla in Edinburgh, that’s how far the company has expanded in double quick time. In an orgy of praise – NOT – the British press got to work on behalf of their normal car advertisers. Tesla doesn’t use press advertising. It’s happy to get press coverage, but has limited it advertising campaign to word of mouth.

If I have a criticism of Tesla it is the styling of their cars is too conventional. Musk wants it that way. He feels his prospective buyers are not enamoured of just-arrived-from-space designs. Better to move one step at a time. Then again, his cars are unquestionably sleek and handsome.

I wish the company success.


BMW’s electric sports car

A change of capitalist heart

Today, almost ever major manufacturer is developing a sub-brand of electric cars, Mercedes, Nissan, Porsche, BMW and Renault have their on the market.There are three major companies working on batteries that will hold power for a greater length than today’s electric cars and half the size of today’s lithium battery.

The future looks rosy, the future looks electric. Cue the petrolhead climate deniers and naysers with opinion otherwise….

Tesla announced it will populate the UK gas stations with charging bays. Two Tesla Supercharger bays are now live at South Mimms, with a further six bays located at Oxford Services on the M40 and another six at Hopewood Park. The units recharge 50% of the Model S’s 310-mile range in around 20 minutes.

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6 Responses to Car Culture: Tesla’s Cars

  1. I’ve long been of the opinion that back in the early 20th century, the oil lobby deliberately killed development of electric vehicles and also railway electrification schemes to push their own ‘blind alley’ technology.
    I look forward to the day that electric cars become affordable and practical for your average working person like myself. They just make absolute sense! 🙂

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    Been massive opposition to electric vehicles by the gas companies, and against experimental battery companies too. One took a lot of shares in a battery company and then proceeded to slow down its research. The big car makers brought out a hybrid now and against to appease the US government and pretend they were really trying to make better, more efficient cars.

  3. lanark says:

    Well said. I was looking forward to reading this article. Electric cars make so much sense – few moving parts=less to go wrong and the environmental benefits. What’s not to like?

    As much as I like cars, I could never watch Top Gear. I found it an odd reactionary show, a sort of blend of Daily Mail and The Sun. There seemed to be an obsession with Germany/Germans, which bordered on the unhealthy.

    All the best Tesla.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    Interesting comment on Top Gear. It was always an uneasy blend of the barely informative and definitely awkward. Clarkson devised the show, so I guess he carries the can.

    Don’t know if its still stands up, but I wrote an essay on the lads:

  5. lanark says:

    I think your comment does still stand. There were the occasional interesting parts of the show but most was just filler. I never got the “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car” segment, where a millionaire celebrity generally thrashed and abused an “everyday” family car. Imagine a show where you had “Star in a Reasonably Priced House on a Reasonable Weekly Wage”. Then watched as said wealthy celeb passed judgement on items us plebs use and buy in our mundane lives. (Maybe I’m reading too deeply into it).

    Top Gear magazine is unreadable. Much blame perhaps could be laid at Editor Jason Barlow who was pretty unwatchable. Too boorish for me. James May was much better on the C4 show Driven before he got the job as Clarkson’s school bully sidekick.

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    When Top Gear was put up for independent production, producers invited to tender their ideas, the executive producer of Top Gear, Andy Wilman, the same who moved out with the presenters to Amazon, assessed submissions.

    Think about that.

    The producer of the in-house show handled indie submissions for the BBC. So what did he do? He did what he had to do to be the only contender – he rejected all comers off-hand, until finally the show was placed in his company for production. He’s wealthy now.

    Neat? Try a totally dishonest fiasco.

    I met him briefly, an ugly wee unionist bully, “Scotland the Crap” his watchword.

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