As the driver of New Zealand's first plug-in taxi, Margaret Baker was an early convert to electric vehicles (EVs).
Now the EV champion, who hails from Taipuha, about 45km south of Whangarei, has a major role to play in the Leading The Charge Road Trip, which will be silently sliding into towns and cities all the way from Bluff to the Far North.
She will be driving people around in a Tesla Model X.
Peter Shand asks her 10 questions.
1. The road trip is an annual event and this is your second. What will you actually be doing?
We have organised events around the country where the cars — a Tesla Model X, three Tesla Model S's, a Hyundai Ioniq, Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 — will be on display. [At some venues, they will be offering rides and, in some cases, test drives.]
2. So I guess someone has got to do it, but what's it like driving the — errr — Rolls-Royce of EVs, the Tesla Model X?
It's okay, I guess ... Nah — it's AWESOME! I feel very lucky. It has extraordinary power in 'Ludicrous' mode but I'm mostly driving in 'Chill' mode, which is more like driving a high-powered Leaf. It's an absolute luxury to be driving a car with 450km range and with such hi-tech controls.
3. What is the purpose the road trip?
It's to promote EVs to people who may not be familiar with them or what they are capable of. Getting people behind the wheel of even the smallest EV can be a game-changer for them — almost everyone is impressed with the smooth, quiet running. It also gives us the opportunity to meet local EV champions from around the country.
4. The road trip is expected to take a bit over three weeks. Is it fun or more of an endurance event?
It really is fun but there are some big days and long drives between centres. Some days are quite relaxed which means we can chill out, visit friends or just sleep in.
5. What are its biggest challenges?
It can be a bit like herding cats ... We have to have good publicity which can be challenging from a distance — which is where our local champions can really help. Some areas that we have been allocated for our events can be tight so getting cars in and out is tricky. Mostly it runs like a fairly well-oiled machine, even though there is no oil involved!
6. What first piqued your interest in EVs?
I already drove a Toyota Prius [the world's first mass-produced gasoline-electric hybrid but, back then, not a plug-in] and was very happy with that. Then I had a chance conversation with [Whangarei EV advocate] Joe Camuso at a meeting. He was looking for a driver for the first EV taxi in New Zealand — in Whangarei! Prior to that I really didn't know much about EVs at all.
7. After driving the country's first electric taxi, you went and bought your own plug-in EV. Can you tell us a bit about it?
The big deciding factor for me was an inheritance which meant I could afford to buy an EV of my own. After driving the Leaf taxi for 18 months it was a no-brainer for me.
I live fairly remotely so I had to consider driving range when making the decision but I can do the return trip into Whangarei on about 66 per cent of a full charge. I do 120km a day and my car is fully charged every morning when I wake up via a standard 6-amp three-pin plug.
Most days I grab a few hours top up at 6 amps during the day and maybe use fast chargers once a week. The average time I spend on a fast charger is about 15 minutes and my all up running costs are about $25 per week for around 600km.
8. What's so great about EVs anyway?
Honestly, what's not to like ... they are quiet, smooth, cheap to run and have zero emissions.
People often have questions around the batteries, like how long do they last and what happens to old ones. The thing is, they don't just die, they slowly degrade. This means that they just don't go as far but will still be adequate for somebody who only drives short distances.
The raw materials in lithium ion batteries are very valuable and completely recyclable. There are even a few from cars that have been written off and are being used in home storage systems.
9. Do you think they are here to stay?
Definitely. Any car manufacturer who doesn't get on board is setting themselves up for what I call their 'Kodak moment'.
A few big car companies still don't have an EV in the planning and I honestly believe that this will put them on the back foot in the not-too-distant future.
10. Do you think they might even displace internal combustion engines [petrol cars]?
It's inevitable the internal combustion engine will be phased out. As EVs become more popular, new cars with better range are produced and the charging infrastructure improves, they will become the new normal.
Whangarei had the first rapid charger in the country thanks to Northpower and, in recent weeks, we have seen new chargers in Kerikeri and Kaitaia, with another in Kaikohe about to be completed.
Without the vision and investment of ChargeNet and some lines companies around the country, EVs would not be a viable option for many. With a new charger opening somewhere in the country every week, it is possible to travel almost anywhere.
The EV market still has gaps but things are developing rapidly so in another five to 10 years there will be vehicles to suit every purpose, prices will have come down, and there will be a much wider range of second-hand vehicles available.
■ WHAT: Leading The Charge Road Trip from Bluff to Cape Reinga
■ WHERE: PAK'nSAVE Whanganui
■ WHEN: Today, Saturday, March 24, 12-2pm
■ ALSO: Whanganui Film Society with Black Pine Architects presents Revenge of the Electric Car
■ WHEN: Today, 7.30-9.30pm.