Simon Hackett is founder and managing director of Internode, the largest privately held Australian national broadband Internet provider in Australia. The company, founded in 1991, is based in Adelaide, South Australia.
By way of background, I've been a fan of EVs since the mid 1990s, when some friends in California who had two GM EV1s did the only thing it ever takes to convince someone that EVs are the future of motoring: They simply provided me the PIN code (the EV1 didn't have a key) and told me to just go and drive it.
It gave me “the EV grin,” and I have spent the subsequent decade, since GM recalled and crushed those cars, waiting for someone to get out there and restart the EV industry without the embedded agenda of existing car companies and the need to protect their existing product sales to get in the way.
Tesla Motors is that company, and the Roadster is the start of something big. I believe Tesla is the next major motoring marque.
Around the time that Tesla unveiled the Roadster in 2006, I met Elon Musk at a conference that we both happen to regularly attend in California. I asked him for his OK to buy a car and export it to Australia (at my risk, because I was *that* keen to do so), despite there being no support in Australia for the vehicle and it having the steering wheel on the 'wrong' side of the car for Australia.
Fast forward to March 2009. My car, number 186, justified my faith in Musk's dedication to having Tesla succeed. It was delivered out of the Los Angeles Tesla store and loaded into the belly of a Qantas 747 to take it to Australia.
That brings us to the 2009 Global Green Challenge.
I'm a very strong supporter of EVs (obviously, having decided to privately import a Roadster into Australia), and I decided to have my company sponsor this event to try to further encourage the process of bringing alternative fuel (and especially pure electric) cars to the attention of the public.
The Global Green Challenge is two events in one. It contains and continues the famous “World Solar Challenge” that has run from Darwin to Adelaide for decades now. Additionally, it features the “Eco Challenge,” in which a variety of conventional and unconventional vehicles drive the same route – more than 3000 kilometers from Darwin to Adelaide in Australia, aiming to turn up the best possible fuel consumption figures over that total distance.
In the case of electric vehicles, their “consumption” is measured in watt hours per kilometer (in Australia) or in watt hours per mile (in the USA). There is a conversion formula to turn that consumption into liters per 100 km (Australia/Europe) or miles per gallon (USA). There's a bit of variation in the agreed conversion factors to use, but regardless of those chosen, the numbers come out incredibly well compared to burning gas or diesel -- less than half of the equivalent consumption figures, which reflects the extremely high efficiency with which an electric car uses energy compared to the process of burning liquid fuels under the hood, where most of the energy is turned into heat and noise and only a small proportion ultimately turns the wheels.
You can see the results we obtained in terms of energy efficiency over the total trip in my Roadster from Darwin to Adelaide, plus an example of the conversion to liters per 100 km and miles per gallon on my blog about the event.
My support team, my co-driver Emilis Prelgauskas, and I had an incredible journey. Driving from the top of Australia to the bottom is a spiritual journey as well -- and travelling at moderate speeds (to maximize energy economy, as every other driver in the event did) leaves you with time to appreciate the beauty of the terrain. You can get a better sense of in the photos in my blog.
We set out to prove that it was indeed possible to drive a production vehicle over this distance, and keep up with the fleet of conventional cars doing the same trip (on event stages of up to 688 kilometers per day). We brought a mobile recharging facility with us to demonstrate that when recharging infrastructure becomes widespread it is possible to do this sort of trip in an EV. It is certainly possible, and we certainly did it. On the longest days we stopped for a brunch and then an early dinner. On shorter stages, we simply drove to the next stage on the charge we put in the night before. And in all cases, our road speeds (except for recharge time) were the same as the other cars running in the event.
We also had the privilege, on one day, of stepping aside from the main agenda of the event to attempt to break the world record for distance driven on a single charge in a production electric vehicle. Not only did we break the record -- we smashed it by driving 501 kilometers or 313 miles. We started from Alice Springs, with the car fully charged and the charge door security sealed, and drove to a distance marker 501 kilometers down the road, where we had witnesses standing by to see us roll past that marker post. Due to the Roadster’s efficiency and the benefit of energy conservation techniques learned in decades of competitive sailplane flying with my co-driver... we did it!
Am I confident in the future of EVs? I'm totally confident in that future. This journey busts the myth of “range anxiety.” The Roadster isn't a good sports car – it’s a GREAT sports car. Period. And it just happens to be electric.
Tesla has taken the Silicon Valley approach to electric vehicles. They started at the high end with a sports car, and they are using revenue from these affluent early adopters to subsidize lower-priced vehicles “down the stack.” The entire goal and mission of the company is to produce progressively more affordable and mainstream cars. For decades, mainstream and niche manufacturers have tried to do it the other way around – and failed to get their business model to work. I believe Tesla is doing it the right way, and their success will only increase as more and more people buy their vehicles. Tesla is rapidly approaching 1,000 deliveries, and I’m happy to be part of the initial wave of adopters who will enable more affordable EVs for future consumers.
The upcoming Tesla Model S Sedan (yes, I've already ordered one) will equal or exceed the performance of my current “people mover” -- a Subaru Tribeca -- in every axis (city driving range, space, capacity to carry people and luggage). And it will do it at a comparable price.
The Roadster is a true paradigm shifter. But the Model S, slated to debut as a 2012 model-year car, will really change the automotive landscape for consumers. It will be the first true touring car that happens to be electric – and it will be an admirable compliment to the first true sports car that happens to be electric.
The next Global Green Challenge is in two years. I hope that we can arrange to bring a Model S to Australia and run it in the next event. That car will eat up the distance in my native country and prove itself, as the Roadster just did, on one of the most punishing “road trips” in the world.