While U.S. Republicans and Democrats were fighting it out across the pond in late October, VP19 was busy creating its own political agenda in the United Kingdom.
Everyone agrees electric vehicles are the future -- but Tesla is simultaneously proving they are also the right car right now. To show other people what we at Tesla have long known, we’re taking our cars to the people who can make a difference. And that’s how I found myself doing laps in Parliament Square in central London, with security clearing the way and flashbulbs popping all around.
At first blush it seemed like a great ego trip – but, alas, I’ve driven the Roadster long enough to know that people were really interested in the car. It’s an EV that holds its own among similarly priced internal combustion engine sports cars, and the Roadster’s performance, handling and styling exceed even the highest expectations. People are always delighted to glimpse it – and it’s a pleasure to show off.
In addition to thrilling people with its performance attributes, the Roadster is increasingly taking on a more sober role: It’s teaching legislators and other influences that EV's are not pipe dreams.
There’s no question that, for many in the developed world, the automobile is a necessity – the critical machine they depend on for work, school, food, medical care and recreation. For the past century, governments have built roads, crafted domestic policy and even altered diplomatic relations to facilitate their use, resulting in a complicated infrastructure supporting gas-guzzling internal combustion engines.
But given the reality of global warming and energy security, many politicians are rethinking transportation infrastructure. The most progressive legislators want to create charging stations and encourage a robust energy grid to make way for the era of electric vehicles.
With that in mind, on Oct. 27 I had a date with Geoff Hoon, Britain’s Secretary of State for Transport. He did a lap around Parliament Square, visibly enthused by his stint behind the wheel. His only regret is that, as a minister of the government, he was in no position to explore the Roadster’s thrilling acceleration and unrivaled torque!
Next we drove to No. 10 Downing St. Like Moses parting the Red Sea, police divided the tourists so they could open the massive security cordon. VP19 drove slowly though the security check as security agents gaped.
After a brief photo-call, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, accompanied by Geoff Hoon and Lord Paul Drayson, Minister of Science in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (and an enthusiast of fast cars), greeted us. Gordon Brown was keenly interested to hear how Tesla Motors had succeeded thus far to bring the Roadster to production, whereas many others have failed. Geoff Hoon joked that maybe he should get one as a ministerial car.
Our jaunt on Downing Street coincided with a meeting in London arranged by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department for Transport, where officials discussed plans to accelerate the mass production and usage of electric vehicles. I have no doubt that VP19’s appearance added energy – some might say electricity -- to the conversation.
After departing No. 10 Downing St., I traveled 90 miles north to Millbrook Proving Ground, a series of roads and tracks for vehicles ranging from the newest Ford saloons to the Scorpion tank. Automakers like this 700-acre facility near Ampthill in Bedfordshire for exploring vehicles’ handling techniques and dynamics.
The next day, politicians and VIPs lined up for drives in the Roadster around the high-speed bowl and the Alpine test track. The queue of people trying to fight their way into the Roadster got so out of hand we had to have our own security.
The event was a massive success, and VP19 performed flawlessly. The only unfortunate part of the trip was that I returned from Millbrook in some of most miserable weather Britain could have served up in late autumn: torrential rain, sleet and even snow. Happily, there was no water ingress in the cabin, VP19 got me home with confidence.
Beyond the fun and fame of my two-day outing, I hope my time in London and Millbrook showed UK politicians and automotive industry executives that an EV needn’t be a space-age fantasy, a whiny golf cart or a low-speed econocar. The Roadster doesn’t ask people to compromise or make a choice between high-performance and the environment. Quite the contrary: It enhances nearly every aspect of the driving experience – and it lets its owners bask in the green glow of its eco-halo. And it’s available now. What more could anyone ask of a car?