Subscriber OnlyLife & Style

Renting a Tesla is an eye-opening experience

Game Changers: This car’s personality is a weird mix of nervous nelly and boy racer. Good car. Bad car

I’m excited about my first time behind the wheel of a Tesla. I’ve hired this electric car for the day but the pickup is not going well. The car is not in the place where it’s supposed to be. Christien in app support texts me the registration number. I know the registration number. In the end it’s the car park attendants (the humans in the building) who help me find it, on another floor.

I’m on a borrowed phone. The final step is to validate a contract with a fingerprint. Eek. This phone doesn’t know me from Adam. Can Christien unlock the contract from their end? Another car beeps when I press the unlock button on the app. By now I’m calling it the Stressla. But the technology sorts itself out. The flush-with-the-body door handle becomes a lever and I’m in.

Most of my journeys are by bike or public transport, but I’ve also driven a hybrid for years so the lack of a gear stick and the glide of an electric engine are not new. The strange bit is the screen showing actual cars, cyclists and pedestrians as ghostly grey presences that hove in and out of my bubble. It’s all quite video-gamey. Very quickly it’s clear that this car is doing a lot of the driving. Approaching traffic lights or the rear of another car it slows, like the ghost of a thin-lipped driving instructor is pressing his foot on the dual-control brake. This car doesn’t trust me to do the right thing at the right time.

The charge level becomes a small obsession. I’m late for my meeting so I drive fast. Although the car goes judgey on my bumper moves, there is no limit to my speed on the open road. This car’s personality is a weird mix of nervous nelly and boy racer. Good car. Bad car.

READ MORE

It’s an eye-opening experiment. My foot-to-the-floor journey burns through 25 per cent of the charge. A leisurely return below 100kph uses a good 10 per cent less. The technology exists to limit drivers’ speeds for maximum battery efficiency, but driving culture (my least favourite of the human cultures) trumps that with the need for speed.

And it comes with a carbon cost. Until our electricity comes from renewable sources electric cars are still powered by carbon. Limiting their weight and speed is a way to reduce those emissions. Both can be baked into car design. But they’re not. Manufacturers keep pumping out SUVs so heavy they may buckle the infrastructure of multistorey car parks. So far, so less green than is possible. Combustion engine or space-age EV, you can drive greener by slowing down. As we glide into the electric age, regulators need to make automatic speed limiters part of how cars are made, so the choice is taken out of our hands.

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests