Last Saturday I was invited to experience some electric cars (courtesy of Cyberview Sdn Bhd - the people that has the task to develop Cyberjaya as a global tech hub) at the GreenTech Malaysia EV Experience over at Cyberjaya. The 'EV' here stands for Electric Vehicles. No hybrids or fossil fuel power vehicles were present on that day. Only fully electric or to put it crudely, battery operated vehicles. So that day I saw electric powered bicycles, electric Go-karts (very nice to drive with bucketloads of lowdown torque) and most importantly, electric cars.
GreenTech Malaysia Sdn Bhd provided a Renault Zoe and a Renault Twizy. These are nice little commuters. The Twizy is actually a golf kart disguised as a car (I've driven it and the test drive is here) and it actually drives as well as sounds like one - very electric blender like in sound. The Zoe is a small hatchback, powered by an electric motor, does 0-100kmh in around 13 over seconds and has a range of about 200km. These two sound very pedestrian to you and me. But not the Tesla Model S 85 that was on display and also available for taxi rides for lucky individuals - some contest winners, VIPs and somehow, people like Yours Truly.
Yes. I managed to cop a few short taxi rides in the Tesla Model S 85, something not many people here in South East Asia have not had the experience of doing. If many of you aren't sure what a Tesla Model S is, a Tesla car is manufactured by Tesla Motors, an American luxury car brand specialising in electric only vehicles. The Model S is their full sized luxury sedan which is basically the same size as a BMW 5 series or a Mercedes Benz E-class. It is a plug in electric car and comes in various guises, from the base 315hp 375km range S 70 model to the Ludicrous Tesla S 90D model, which does 0-100kmh in 3.0seconds, a top speed of 250kmh and a battery range of 480km. The car's nomenclature is simple, 70 stands for 70kw battery, 85 for 85kw battery and 90 for 90kw battery.
So whilst the Model S 90 should be totally mind blowingly fun with its ridiculous acceleration times, Green Tech Malaysia have brought in two Tesla Model S 85 units for evaluation with the aim of proving to the Government of Malaysia that electric vehicles is the future, that more should be used by the government and that such EV's should be exempt from high import and excise duties. Of course, the funny thing is that Malaysian Green Technology Corporation (GreenTech Malaysia) is an organisation under the purview of the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (KeTTHA), and is charged with catalysing green technology deployment as a strategic engine for socio-economic growth in Malaysia in line with the National Green Technology Policy 2009. So the government has tasked a government agency with the task to convince themselves that such technology is good. It is confusing yes? Well, governments do need convincing, so they do research and development to do this. Yup. Anyway, R&D is necessary as part of the Electric Vehicle (EV) Infrastructure Roadmap. Which is part of Malaysia’s voluntary pledge to reduce its carbon emissions by up to 40 percent (compared to the 2005 levels) by the year 2020. What better way to achieve this that with a proper electric powered car.
The Tesla Model S 85 that I had a ride in really rocks! Big time. I can see no other car that is a credible alternative to the fossil fueled cars of today. The Renault Zoe and the Twizy as well as the Nissan Leaf have short ranges - 200km it paltry and would never convince me to trade over to an EV. Furthermore, their 0-100kmh times would make me fall asleep at the wheel. This has the range and the speed to keep any motoring enthusiast excited. This is no shopping trolley. This is also no Toyota Camry, which is also a full sized saloon, but about as dull as a shopping trolley to drive or to be sitting in. This is interesting and exciting. It also looks like it was styled by someone who likes the styling of a Jaguar XF or a Maserati Quattroporte. This is a very good thing as the Model S is a handsome sports saloon.
This S 85 has a range of slightly over 440km, makes about 373hp, 441Nm, does 0-100kmh in 5.6seconds and has a maximum speed of 230kmh. The reason that it makes so 'low' a top speed for a car with over 300hp is the fact that it has only a single gear to accelerate from a stand still and power on through to 230kmh. So when you slot it in D, you're actually engaging the only forward gear of the whole car. It makes things simple as electric motors put out 100% of their torque at very low speeds. As the electric motor's rpm increases, torque numbers slowly taper away at an almost linear rate, at the same time horsepower is increasing, also at an almost linear rate. Torque is the punch you need to get off the line, horsepower if basically what you need to maintain a certain high speed. So at some point, you need horsepower over torque to gain speed. In the case of a fossil fuel engine, it works within a narrow power band, and you need gears to actually adjust to suit engine speed and the power it generates. Of course, a EV does not have that narrow power band to worry about, everything is linear. I think the only drawback to a single speed is that it has to do everything, accelerate and also reach max speed. So if you want to clear a certain speed in an electric car, its either a two speed gearbox or a motor that spins higher and faster (e.g it would take the motor to spin at 10,000rpm to hit 230kmh and maybe 13,000rpm to reach 250kmh).But since we don't live beside an unrestricted motorway like the Autobahn, 230kmh is actually quite a decent figure and I suppose it keeps parts, rotating mass and also weight down too.
Anyway, before I start sounding overly technical like an ex-presenter of TopGear, lets move on with things. The Model S 85 is fast enough for most of us. When you sit in one it feels very much like as if you are sitting in a European sports saloon with something that has about 350hp. Much like the supercharged Audi A6 3.0 that I drove recently. It has that same levels or performance and surprisingly the Germanic quality to it. It may be designed by an American company but it isn't American in feel and quality. I think Telsa, a company that is under the helm of Elon Musk, does not do things that a normal American automotive manufacturer would do. And this is the result. Thank God.
It is luxurious in the European way inside. The dashboard is flocked with suede alcantara on top of the instrument binacle, the plastics used have a high quality feel and touch to it. There are two nicely sculpted reclining bucket seats up front and a pretty cozy rear area also. All of which are in nice high quality leather. Whilst this is supposedly a full sized car, it is still just cozy and not truly roomy. It is much like the interior of a Jaguar XF instead of something as spacious as a Jaguar XJ (which has more legroom due to its length but as much headroom as this too slopes down a bit). I think the supposed cossetting cabin has to do with the sports saloon styling of the car, the sloping roof line and the extremely well padded, well insulated interior with keeps things super refined as we shall see below.
The instrument cluster has a TFT screen in place of analog instrument cluster. The Telsa infotainment system is on the center console. The infotainment screen is HUGE. One and a half Ipads in size at least. Everything can be accessed here - airconditioning controls, radio, GPS, the internet etc. Everything is via its touch screen. It works pretty well, with the exception if you scroll too fast through the radio stations it would just scroll a little out of control. (a software update could fix it or reducing its sensitivity could do it - couldn't tell, didn't have time to fiddle with a display car's controls). Aside from that it is intuitive and easy to use. I suppose this could be an Ipad on wheels in some ways, even to drive the darn thing requires putting it into D and drive away. This can park by itself, has side collision avoidance and more super fangled driver aids. In fact, some models can actually drive by itself. These two shown here can be able to do so once it receives its latest software upgrade. Amazing.
It is supremely refined. A Tesla Model S 85 hurtling down the road is an experience in utter refinement. You only hear the change in the pitter patter of the road noise and its urgency the faster you go but not in terms of volume, just the frequency if you're accelerating from a stand still to around 150kmh (which was as fast as the driver could do on the closed circuit the Model S was allowed to do - wind noise could take over at higher speeds, but I wouldn't know). There is no transmission whine or engine noise. No rumble, roar, groan, scream, shriek or wails. The electric motor is silent as is the single speed gearbox. Maybe this is because the motor and its drive gear is mounted at the wheels away from the cabin. You do not hear much wind noise too and as I mentioned, it is only the road or the change in the tyre noise that grows urgent rather than growing louder and louder.
You also feel the gentle push at the base of you back that tells you it is rear wheel driven. You also feel that momentum as the driver guns the car towards the horizon - most 350hp cars do this to you, but since it weighs a bit, it only does it under 6 seconds (5.6seconds). This isn't full sized BMW 5 series, Audi A6 or Mercedes Benz E-Class levels of refinement when it comes to noise levels, it would be on par or surpassing a Rolls Royce Phantom if you were doing about 120kmh. At lower speeds, it should be on par with the best of the best. This is an EV at its best. As quiet as possible.
The Model S' Suspension seems to be European sports saloon firm on its 19 inch wheels. I am glad that this is another thing European that Telsa has followed instead of doing things like most American companies who build cars do. It feels planted and you feel safe and secure. It is the lack of noise, the enclosed high waistline of the glass house and also due to the weight. Speaking about weight, it isn't light - 2,100kg due to all those batteries - the battery pack of all Model S forms the floor of the vehicle and is located between the axles. Since the huge battery pack (which is over 6,800 pieces of the NCR18650 Panasonic batteries in the "Battery pack) is the single heaviest component of the vehicle, the Model S has a center of gravity height of only 46 cm helping it to achieve a lateral cornering of 0.9g and good protection against rollover. Oh, by the way, I wouldn't know how it actually handles in hard cornering as I wasn't driving it and the course the ride was set up on did not have any real corners. This was just an event to showcase the car for the general public and not for a motoring enthusiast like me.
However heavy weight aside, the absence of a heavy engine between the front or rear axle allows the bulk of the mass to be centralized between the axles, lowering rotational inertia allowing it to turn more quickly. The placement of the battery pack also increases the rigidity of the passenger compartment, improving the passive safety of the vehicle. And then, since there is no engine, front or rear, except electric motors attached to the axles or wheels there is a boot, front and back to carry stuff. Lots of stuff. And you have to add the fact that the Model S is also a liftback, or a hatchback. So it is very practical. And before I forget, the air-conditioning system works too. It was a hot and humid saturday over in Cyberjaya, and inside the Model S, things were fine. No, it wasn't as cold as say, a Proton Preve's air conditioning system. Actually, not many air conditioning systems are as cold as the one in a Proton. But the Model S' one coped with our humidity. An important bit of fact here folks.
Now, the bad news is that Tesla Motors is not interested in marketing their cars in the ASEAN region as yet. It must first enter into a market that has the volume to sell their cars in sufficient numbers. And the Model S 85 costs USD 75,000. This is about RM300,000 if you use 4.0 as the current exchange rate. If you add even 100% tax to it you get something like RM600,000. A similar sized Mercedes Benz E class would cost you RM368,000. Even if you drive like a nut job you would still consume a lot less than the RM230,000 extra you would need to spend for a Model S. So EV taxes must fall to a realistic level or none at all for a Tesla to be marketable here in Malaysia. So the bottom-line is that Tesla must have the numbers before venturing into new markets which are deemed as small.
And then there's the lack of infrastructure to support an EV. There are only a handful of official EV charging stations available in and around the Klang Valley. You may have a Model S that could take you to Johor Bahru or Penang, but if you are staying at a hotel, It is doubtful you can find a charging point near your parking spot. More charging stations would need to be provided by the government if they want to be seen as serious in trying to promote EVs or even try to achieve the government's target to reduce the country's carbon emissions by up to 40 percent (compared to the 2005 levels) by the year 2020 or for Green Tech to encourage the country’s transportation sector to achieve a 10% market share for EVs. I believe it is the reasons mentioned in the two paragraphs above that has stopped Tesla Motors from wanting to sell its beautiful, beautiful cars to the general public here in Malaysia. For now, it is only via a leasing program to government agencies that Tesla Motors is agreeable with. And that the cars are to be used for increasing awareness of EV for the time being is the only reason of their consenting to have their cars promoted in an official capacity here.
But again, it isn't cheap. And the Model S is more of a sports saloon than a limousine. It is for a well to do individual to drive himself. Maybe the Tesla SUV, the model X is the one for ministers to get driven around in. This one, is still for those who want to drive. Even from the passenger seat you can actually feel that it is something that its owner needs to drive and not be driven.
For me, the Tesla Model S is a good looking car. It is very refined, well equipped with the latest in all sorts of tech and comfortable (on the firm side of comfortable) and at 5.6seconds, more than adequately fast for our roads. At its range of over 400km would make me feel that it would be okay to run around in an EV - I think this is also assisted by the fact that its brakes have a regenerative effect and will actually help charge the battery pack even if you lift your foot off the accelerator. I would be confident driving down to Johor Bahru in this if there were adequate charging stations at the hotel I would be staying (or that I may need to bring a very long extension cable if I were staying at a relative or a friend's place).
The other issues are that it is very expensive (even if they get tax relief it is still RM300,000), the batteries are also expensive (if sold it has a base four year/80,000km warranty with an optional four more years/next 80,000km with a 8 year/200,000km on the battery - the battery will cost USD12,000 for the S 85 version) and lastly, its size. It may be full sized but inside it is more mid-sized premium car category. And if you were wondering, charging time varies if the charger used is the basic household socket or medium fast charger or the super rapid charger. Charge times range from a mere four hours to a lengthy eight or so hours. So you are still slightly crippled by charge times if you are in a hurry. These types of cars are clearly meant to be 'rested' for at least a few hours after its charge is depleted.
It however is the future. An expensive future it may be but the Model S has shown that EVs can have the range and the outright performance to satisfy any motoring enthusiast out there. Even from the bloody back seat. How I do wish I was actually pressing on that loud pedal....which isn't loud at all, just a rush of speed and that is fine by me.