I have driven the future of motoring, and it's electric. For the Tesla Roadster electric car blows range and performance worries into the weeds, and it's light years from golf cart stereotypes.
It also proves electric vehicles are already more than one-trick ponies, despite their usual focus on frugal running costs and sensible real-world functions (think Mitsubishi i-Miev and Nissan Leaf). It most definitely proves keen drivers have no need to worry.
Effectively this is an extremely expensive Lotus Elise, at over three times the price. It's low and while 390kg heavier than an Elise, still fairly light at 1235kg, with a carbon fibre body on a bonded aluminium monocoque chassis and suspension and steering designed for agility.
But the Tesla's electric motor hurls massive torque into the equation, delivered almost seamlessly from virtually zero revs, dropping off slightly at 8000rpm until a 14,000rpm red-line that rivals a performance motorcycle.
The weight is as mid-mounted as possible with the battery pack just behind your head. Behind that is an electric motor the size of a watermelon and the boot, with a battery of fans up front and the minimalist cabin we're now used to from Elise. The difference here is that drive, reverse and neutral buttons replace a standard transmission, and an info screen shows stuff like maximum range remaining, and pattern of power useage.
Given a bendy road and a tolerant owner in the passenger seat, I discovered a car that's as much fun as its donor; sure, you feel the extra weight at times, but that is more than compensated for by the torque rush and the breadth at which it's delivered. Stamp the accelerator from a standing start, your head snaps back and it stays pressed to the headrest until you pass 100km/h after 3.9 seconds, then eventually frighten yourself and ease off. That's when brake energy regeneration tuned to mimic powerful engine braking cuts in; you barely notice the lack of conventional gearbox. Slightly more aggressive braking and you've slowed, you're round and powering out.
No wonder Steve West sold a Ferrari 458 to buy the NZ-new Tesla and doesn't feel the lack.
Yes, he's an electric car evangelist who seeks to send the right message. But he also wants to enjoy driving on real world roads and, with this car, he can do that without compromising his eco beliefs.
NZ already has the capacity to support more electric cars.
West says if all 2.6 million cars driving 37 billion kilometres in NZ each year went electric tomorrow, our energy requirement would increase 15 per cent - assuming daytime charging. That'd drop radically if they plugged in overnight given generators run 24/7, producing power we can't currently store or use.
Meanwhile, West's daily commute takes an overnight charge on a household socket, the full 400km costing $10 via three and a half to eight hours plugged into adapted sockets.
All go for Kiwis to flip the on switch
"New Zealand is ready for the electric car," says the director of plug-in vehicle readiness at Southern California Edison, Ed Kjaer, a Kiwi expat, and a world-leading EV expert visiting New Zealand last week for the APEV Electric Vehicle Symposia. "You already have a 240-volt supply, you have a clean grid [high renewable or clean-burning generation] and outlets everywhere."
With a 50-60km daily commute a couple of hours tops your car up to a full charge, while night-charging doesn't strain the grid. "In the US we could already fuel 75 per cent of our 180 million light-vehicle fleet off-peak without building one new power plant."