Aline repeated this phrase “the good old days” many times as we enjoyed a coffee together in Brisbane, Queensland. I was intrigued by what she meant by “the good old days” and had to know more. Aline bought her Tesla Model X in 2017, and back then, she says, they felt like movie stars. It was the first Model X and probably the first Tesla in the area in which she lived — the Redlands — to the east of the city.
Children would wave at the car as it passed, and many strangers would ask her questions as she charged at the free destination charger at her local Coles supermarket. Both electric cars and chargers were rare in those days. She found herself answering the same questions over and over for the curious. And there was always easy access (none of those pesky Model 3 cars in the way). She tells me she hated using the back doors because people found them so unusual. She would climb into the back from the driver’s seat to get stuff just to avoid using the falcon-wing doors. They have had no technical problems with the doors. They open fine. She uses them more now because people are not watching so much. It took a little while, but things have changed a lot in last 2 years.
Aline has a delightful European accent, so many observers would say: “Oh, these EVs are OK for Europe, but they will never be popular in Australia with its vast distances. There is no future for Tesla here.” There were lots of negative comments, like “electric vehicles are not possible.” Some people were curious, some were judging, and some people were downright nasty.
She would drive her sons to school and be met with people who wanted to know about the car. “In the olden days,” she reflects, “we had the only Tesla in the school. Now there are more and more, especially 3’s.” She said she felt like she was arriving in a spaceship such was the level of attention. Parents, teachers, and school students asked lots of questions. “The school children loved the look. They would hop in and draw on the screen. I showed them Santa driving and they loved the farting option.” After a short wait, many parents and teachers have gone on to buy their own Teslas. About 15 Teslas now show up each day at Sheldon College. [Editor’s note: This all sounds extremely familiar to the history and evolution I’ve experienced with my Tesla Model 3 in Florida, where it used to stimulate these kinds of reactions but is now just one of dozens, with about 15 Teslas showing up for after-school pickup.]
Popularity has its drawbacks. “Since the 3 came along, it is harder to find a time when the charger at Coles is available.” Aline and her husband Brad used to have solar but have since moved into an older house and will have to do some electrical work before they can fit solar and an EV charger. I suggested to Aline that she have a look at PlugShare to find other available charging in the area.
She has found one at the other supermarket, Woolworths, but it is broken. She tells me she has approached management at least 10 times but nothing has been done yet. Recently, she has taken to doing her shopping in the evenings when the Coles charger is more available.
Aline went home to Switzerland in 2017, and then again in 2019, and was amazed at the growth in the numbers of EVs on the road in such a short space of time.
In a followup phone call, I got to talk to Brad. I actually interrupted him helping his son with physics homework. I suspect they both appreciated that. It was Brad’s dream to own an EV. He has always hated the smell of petrol.
The purchase of the Model X on December 2017 was inspired by Brad’s love of the engineering. When he took the X for a test drive, he found the speed and silence of the EV attractive. He also describes himself as a technology geek. He loves the high tech, and the car is so much better for the planet. No smoke, no fumes. He likes the simplicity of the interior. Initially, they charged the car from solar at their old house. “We were travelling for free from the sun!”
He took a Volvo PHEV for a test drive. It was quiet too, but he preferred the simplicity of always driving on electric — “there is a purity to it,” he comments. Back in “the old days,” there weren’t many models to choose from.
Aline and Brad have passed their older Volkswagens down to their teenage sons, and sometimes the parents have to drive them. Brad tells me: “After driving pure electric, if I go back to petrol, I feel like I am back on a tractor. The combustion engine is so clunky and noisy. There are so many things you have to do that are unnecessary.”
The underlying reason to go electric? “It is the right thing to do for the planet.” Brad has had all sorts of debates about the battery materials being bad for the environment. But he sticks to his guns. He admires the technology and speed of innovation of Tesla, SpaceX, and a whole lot of other companies Elon is involved with. Because Brad is an engineer, he loves Elon’s engineering ethics. “Accept failure and use it to move forward quickly — no analysis paralysis.” The latest SpaceX Starship launch is a good example.
“Any issues with the car?,” I ask. They have had some software problems, and a window that wouldn’t shut probably. “But the car has been magic for things that are really important — the drivetrain, the motors, the suspension — no problems. It just works. The car has never had a service. All we have done is top up the water in the windscreen washers.”
As for the Volkswagens: “They are annoying because of the servicing. I look at the quote and can’t believe it. Things break. If the radiator has a leak on my son’s Polo, the car can’t run.”
Initially (in 2017), Aline and Brad had range anxiety, but after about a month of living with the EV, it was gone. “People ask questions about filling up the tank, but I spend much, much less time charging than filling up with petrol. You just charge when you need it and go. We were worried about the cost of electricity, but I ended up spending about 5% of what it cost to fill our old Sorrento Kia.”
Their big adventure was to drive to Bundaberg and back (over 700 km). The PlugShare app indicated that there was a charger at Rainbow Beach — but there wasn’t. They got down to the red and then Googled chargers. They found one 20 minutes away at a hotel. There they met a “lovely guy who made a charger available for free.” He said to them, “This is the future, this is what people should be doing.” He did not have the money for an electric car, but he was doing his part. Brad and Aline had a relaxing couple of hours strolling around the town and walking on the beach.
The Model X mainly gets used as a town car. The 7-seater comes in handy for taking their sons (and sometimes their friends) to sporting fixtures — soccer, volleyball, basketball, and tennis. Occasionally, they do “tourist stuff” — “it’s a nice car for a cruise to Toowoomba, the Gold Coast, and the Sunshine Coast. All about 100–150 km away.”
“When we got it, in the good old days, there weren’t many Teslas on the road. We would wave to other drivers. Everyone would say ‘g’day.’ Everyone who had a Tesla had similar values. We would get a warm and fuzzy feeling. We were all trying our best to do the right thing. It was like being in a family.”
“The good old days” haven’t completely gone. I wave to other Tesla drivers, some wave back. On our trips away from the cities and the coast, we still encounter the same questions, and mixed response to EVs. There are a lot more charging options and a lot more electric models available — that certainly has changed.
And kids still think any Tesla is cool.
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