Meeting 16th Jan 2018, Chapel en le frith Golf Club, on TESLA

Several dozen people crowded into the bar at Chapel Golf Club on Friday 26th Jan for the first meeting of 2018. Outside the wintry light floated over three gorgeous Tesla cars in the car park (the red Model S above is mine – well, hubby’s). Inside, a diverse group with business people from Bermuda to Malawi, but mostly settled in the Peak District, listened intently as Paul Gillett and Chris Wilkinson, from Tesla’s Longsight showroom, explained what these 21st century all-electric cars are about.

Tesla Model S 2
The UK government has announced investment of more than £1.2bn in electric charging systems to create a market it estimates could be worth £50bn by 2035, and will ban the sale of all diesel vehicles by 2040. Greater Manchester already has 300 charging points, but there are very few in our area. We don’t want to be driving milk floats, and we don’t want to run out of juice on a motorway. “It’s a work in progress,” explained Chris.

Michael Lawes, Jonah Jones, Jo Stanton, Paul Gillett, Lynda Clarke, Lucia Coltatu, ECJ

Michael Lawes, Jonah Jones, Jo Stanton, Paul Gillett, Lynda Clarke, Lucia Coltatu, ECJ


Tesla got going in 2006, a brainchild of South African-born Elon Musk, all part of his mission to improve “sustainability” and reduce both C02 emissions and pollution. An immense 6m sq ft Gigafactory for making batteries is under construction in the Nevada desert; solar tiles, for roofs, will be available in 2021 matched with a “solar wall” of battery storage. He’s also behind SpaceX putting reusable rockets into space (“Why do we need more satellites?” asked one member, but if he was driving through Africa he’d know the answer). And he started the Boring Company – digging tunnels for the maglev Hyperloop train system, which has Richard Branson excited.

It all felt like sci-fi till you looked out of the window, and perhaps in homage to that, the Model X has batwing rear doors (“Not very practical in Morrison’s carpark,” commented another member).  Musk decided to concentrate on high end vehicles, which are proving a hit and bring in in lots of dollars. He’s also announced a $30,000 Model 3, and has taken deposits from nearly half a million buyers; it will arrive in the UK in 2019.

Chris Wilkinson Tesla Manchester

So what is special about the cars? The innovations, Chris said, include: long range batteries up to 300 miles on a single charge (that does depend on which model you choose); over-the-air software updates, so the car gets better as it gets older, not more out of date; autopilot; fleet learning (the car sends back info to the central server, which help with further refinements – you can opt out), superchargers mainly at motorway service stations, unique to Tesla, which will recharge in 20 minutes (nope; not mine, anyway). And safety is paramount, with a rigid aluminium body and a low centre of gravity. Owners have been tweeting pics of wrecked Tesla cars they’ve walked away from. Scary.

Autopilot?.. can mean, that the car will park itself; or, if you are brave enough, that on some roads you can sit back and relax. One California driver belting down a highway ploughed into the back of a stationary firetruck; the autopilot had been blinded by another vehicle in front. More work in progress, I’d guess, though in those circumstances even an alert human being might have come a cropper. Another pic for the “I walked away” website.

More useful is the app on your phone (other makes do this too). You can tell the car to warm itself up on a chilly morning. Nice.

Rivals are on Tesla’s tail: Ford is putting $11 billion into electric cars, while Mercedes and Toyota have cut corners by buying Tesla’s own battery system. The early inventors are not always the winners, even if they set the pace for a while. But the model, for shareholders at least, is Apple and Google: not the first, but the sustainable market leaders.

Networking at the Tesla meeting

Chris was not able to answer all our questions about the business, but Tesla is publishing its latest financials on Feb 7th. So far we know that it’s burning money at a phenomenal rate, and has had production delays to drive anyone crazy. There are concerns about where lithium will come from (China, but Chile, USA and Australia too). Google might pounce and wanted to buy the company back in 2015 when it nearly went bust, raising concerns about internet security; but then, if you were that bothered, you might want to stick to a bicycle. More seriously, would you buy a car if the company might do a DeLorean, and collapse?

My own feeling is that we are past that point, and with the Model 3 rolling out now at 1,000 a week, perhaps the worse is behind Mr Musk. Anyway, as I drive this silent stylish car past petrol stations with diesel at £1.23 a litre, I’m a happy bunny.
Article: Buxton Advertiser Feb 8 2018