It’s a monumental milestone in life, passing your driving test. Assuming you’re somewhere in your late teens when your licence gets upgraded from green to pink, it means one thing: freedom. No longer are you relying on parents, siblings, friends or, heaven forbid, public transport to get you from A to B. Of course, this freedom means a lot more to us wave hungry bunch.
For the young surfer no longer are you limited to walkable waves or scabbing grom-level lifts with the bigger boys, as the master of your own destiny, the captain of your own ship, you’re free to roam, to explore, to travel wherever your mood, desire or indeed swell charts take you.
Well, kind of. There is currently one major hurdle standing between you and your surfing freedom, old dead animals, and the cost of acquiring them. Although it seems crazy that we still rely on a 150-year-old invention to get around, using fossil fuels to power your ride is still very much the norm, and all those smashed up prehistoric monsters come at a price, currently about £1.12 a gallon. Put this in real world terms, the cost of driving your 40mpg oil burner from Newquay to Thurso and back will cost you around £300, a hefty chunk of most people’s paycheque, let alone that of a 17-year-old frothing grom who’s just ripped up their L-plates.
This is where Tesla comes in, a car company initially funded by $7.5 million of PayPal founder Elon Musk’s own cash with the goal of creating affordable, mass-market electric vehicles. Unlike the ever-present plug-in hybrids like the Prius, a Tesla is all electric, no internal combustion engine, all you need to travel up to 320 miles in this futuristic bullet is a set of fully charged batteries. “Ah!” but I hear you cry, “What if I run out of power!?” Well, keeping your battery topped up en route is easy, simply enter your destination into the 17” touchscreen (this replaces all the physical buttons and switches in a “normal car”) and the clever software tells you which one, or more, of the UK’s 127 Tesla Superchargers bays to head for, and how long to stay before setting off again. The best bit? They’re all free. Right now, part of owning a Tesla includes free charging at the official Tesla stations, for life. Combine that with the price of an off-peak charge at home costing around a fiver, and all of a sudden that 790-mile road trip to Scotland just got a little cheaper.
The reality of driving a Musk Mobile is an enticing combination of conventional expectations and impressive futurology. With the “key” secured somewhere about your person, walking towards the driver’s door prompts the chrome handles to glide out of the body (they disappear when you’re driving, because aerodynamics), there’s no need to start it, just get in and tap the column mounted gear selector (although there’s no actual gearbox) and you’re off. Traditional engine noise is replaced with silence at low speed and nothing more that hum at full whack. There’s no handbrake or gearstick, the only physical button opens the glovebox while every other element of car control taking place on the giant screen that takes centre stage of the leather and carbon-fibre cockpit. Other than these operational quirks, physically driving the S is just like jumping in any other luxury automatic, instantly accessible, although a little disappointing if you were expecting some Space Shuttle style buttons and switches.
So this all sounds great, there’s got to be a catch, right? Well, the Model S we were lucky enough to get our hands on was the top of the range P90D, when fully loaded with all the fancy optional extras, our press car comes with a two-bedroom-flat price tag of £121,550. Admittedly this does bag you 762bhp, 0-60 in 2.8 seconds supercar performance with a heated steering wheel, autopilot and gangster spec 21” rims, but there’s no hiding from the fact that’s an expensive ride for anyone who’s not in line to the throne or sitting on an impressive property portfolio. Although the lesser models start at relatively palatable £53,400, this still puts the all-electric dream out of reach for the average cash-strapped surfer.
But right now, that’s not the point. What we’ve got here is a visionaries taste of the future. Remember how many of your friends went for the first iPhone? Most likely none, the technology was new, expensive and none of us could quite imagine why we would ever need a huge, always connected, mobile internet machine in our back pocket. Back in 2007 a first generation iPhone would set you back £900 with a contract, but right now you can pick up a 3G for £30 on eBay. If you can draw some parallels from the way this technology has changed everyone’s lives, and the speed at which it’s developed, then you’re on the right track. Innovation in any field takes to be ready for the mass market, and in the case of transport, there’s a mindset of a century and a half to deal with.
But hopefully, when your kids first come home with a full license, rather than being out of pocket from filling up, all they’ll be worried about is plugging in and getting out.