Charging infrastructure vital if NZ is to follow overseas trends in electric vehicles.

Finally, I had the opportunity to drive a Tesla, the muscle car of electric vehicles.

I was given the keys (well, a little wireless push-button fob) to a 2014 Tesla Model S P85+ for the afternoon, and yeah, electric vehicles, or EVs, really are the cars of the future.

From the totally silent drive line to the great performance - this set of wheels does the 0-100km/h sprint in well under five seconds thanks to a 310kW/416hp engine with 600Nm of torque - the P85+ is great to drive. It's fast yet controlled, comfortable and with heaps more space than you'd expect from its elegant, sporty chassis.

It will carry seven people, in fact, two of them kids to squeeze into the pair of rear-facing seats in the back. Luggage space is ample, about 1800 litres front and rear, and apart from it being electric and with a huge 17in touch screen in the front, the Tesla seems like a normal car. Only better and more fun to drive.


I don't normally get to hoon around in cars that have people stop whatever they're doing and ask what kind it is, but the Tesla Model S is one of those. So it should be, given that you're looking at $200,000, with the weaker New Zealand dollar and import charges.

Tesla has recently upgraded the Model S with the P85D model that has two electric motors packing almost 700hp and colossal torque. The P85+ felt incredibly responsive and quick, and I can't imagine something even faster and snappier.

Driving the Tesla gave me a taste for more. I'm eager to discover how practical it would be in everyday use. The indicated range, for instance, is just under 400km, which sounds more than adequate for a city car. It would take more driving than I did to work out if range anxiety is justified.

The car's owner, Steve West, didn't skirt around the issue of charging EVs - he is trying to build a business around it. West and a friend drove a pair of Teslas from Cape Reinga to Bluff, covering about 5000km.

That shows it is possible to drive EVs for long distances, but as West admitted, "charging the car for eight hours just isn't going to work for longer trips".

Unlike in the United States and parts of Europe, where EVs are becoming increasingly popular, West describes the New Zealand charging infrastructure as "third world" and pretty much nonexistent.

West is an EV fan - and loves Teslas in particular - and thinks we're ready for a charging network throughout the country. Fast and efficient direct-current charging stations in 75 locations around New Zealand would turn others into EV fans too, he reckons. A first station is being built at The Warehouse in Albany and is set to open in the next few weeks.

Some of the challenges West and the outfit face include the plugs. There are several standards for the plugs, with Tesla doing its own thing. The most popular EV in New Zealand is the Nissan Leaf, which means its charging plug has become the de facto standard here.

As for the economics of EVs, if you drive 100km a day or less, they make sense as despite New Zealand's high electricity prices, you're looking at paying about a quarter in "fuel" costs compared with a petrol car, West says. That is, if you pay $20,000 for one instead of $200,000, of course.

BMW recently announced to the Nasdaq sharemarket that within a decade, the Bavarian carmaker's vehicles will be mainly electric because of increasingly stringent emission restrictions, and there's no doubt that EVs will become the norm rather than the exception.

With something like four-fifths of New Zealand's energy production coming from renewable sources, and most car trips being short, EVs make total sense for a range of reasons, including looking after the environment.