x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Viability of electric Tesla Roadster in UAE is a question of charge

The Tesla Roadster is a sports car with a green streak, but could Kevin Hackett use one every day here in the UAE?

It's lightweight, has no gears and deploys all of its 270Nm of torque in one go, meaning this Tesla is one of the quickest cars around. Delores Johnson / The National
It's lightweight, has no gears and deploys all of its 270Nm of torque in one go, meaning this Tesla is one of the quickest cars around. Delores Johnson / The National

All things considered, I drive a fairly green car. My 2.0L Scirocco, according to Volkswagen, put out exhaust emissions of 174g/km. That doesn't sound like much but, when I stop to consider this for a moment and carry out a few rough calculations, if I make my daily commute from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and back five days a week, that turns into 2.6 tonnes of CO2. Over the course of a year that's a staggering 120 tonnes; just little old me.

When I also consider the thousands of drivers who make the same journey each day, the majority of them in gas-guzzling planet killers, it makes for quite terrifying statistics. But what can I do about it? There's no rail network between the two emirates, otherwise I'd use that every day, so the car is the only option for me as an individual. But those simple workings out have certainly got me thinking about the impact we all make on our surroundings in blissful ignorance.

Back in November last year I got to hear about Green Car Rental in Dubai - a company with a vision to change the way we drive in the Emirates - and, would you believe it, they have a gorgeous blue Tesla Roadster on the fleet. Could an electric sports car be a viable mode of transport for me - someone who loves driving and all its thrills? There was only one way to find out, so I spoke to the guys and arranged to pick it up for a day. It would, I thought, be a fascinating experiment on a number of levels.

Deciding to "go green" for the entire day, I opt to take the Dubai Metro instead of the trusty Scirocco to pick up the Tesla from Green Car Rental's office. The Metro is a brilliant way of getting about Dubai and there's a station just a short stroll from my apartment. I swipe my NOL travel card and board a carriage that's just full enough for me to not have a seat. But it's spotlessly clean, totally punctual and, crucially for me at this hour of the morning, stress-free. Oh, and it's cheap, too, with my fare from Dubai Marina to Financial Centre station costing just Dh4.10. Why is the Metro not always busy?

The journey takes less than 40 minutes and, half an hour after that, after signing my life away, I'm edging my way - silently - out of the car park and onto a crammed Sheikh Zayed Road bound for Abu Dhabi. The available range, according to the Tesla's computer screen, is 160km, which means it's not fully charged, but it's enough to get me to work, where the plan is to put it on charge so I can get home later in the day.

Being mindful that the harder you drive an electric car, the lower the available range from its batteries, my fun is somewhat restricted. The journey from Downtown Dubai to the office is, by my reckoning, at least 120km, and the last thing I want is to run it flat while on the E11. Still, the occasional fleeting burst of acceleration is enough to have me reeling in shock and awe at the way the Roadster deploys all its 270Nm of torque in one hit. It's, errm, electrifying.

With no gearbox as such, the Tesla has no need to go through several cog changes as the speed piles on. All its power is available from standstill, all the time, and the effect has to be experienced to be believed but I'm determined to behave myself until the journey home, when I can be assured there's enough range to get back in one piece.

I arrive outside my office later than planned, due to me keeping to 100kph most of the way. I've been the slowest car on the roads today, that's beyond doubt, but my car hasn't emitted any nasty carbon dioxide. I feel kind of smug for all of five minutes, because it rapidly becomes apparent that charging the car's battery is going to be a far from simple affair. Green Car Rental has its own rapid charging facility where the Tesla can be charged from flat to full in less than four hours, all the while harnessing the required energy from its solar panels.

My own experience, however, proves to be fraught with difficulty because, ideally, you should use a 15 amp power supply. I am told by my employer's electrical engineer that we only have a 13 amp supply on site and that's that. Unbowed, we plug the thing in and … nothing. The car emits a beep, LEDs surrounding the charge socket (which is conveniently situated where you'd normally fill a car with Adnoc's finest) blink white, then blue, then stop blinking altogether.

A series of frantic phone calls between Green Car Rental's technical guy and myself ensues. I'm panicking, I have a table booked tonight at a restaurant in Dubai and life will take a turn for the worse if I can't make it. Time is ticking away, I need to get this car charging. It turns out that we shouldn't really be using an extension lead for this process and the car is failing to connect to the supply. So we locate an external wall socket that's close enough and plug it directly into the mains. Brilliant, job done.

Before we can go patting each other on the back, however, there's another problem, and it's a big one: the computer is showing the supply as being 10 amps. Thirteen would be bad enough, but 10? Turns out this is quite a common problem in Abu Dhabi, so I make another phone call, this time to break the news that, at this rate, I won't be able to take the car back for another 24 hours. Call over, I start scrounging a lift home from my trusty colleague Steve McCombe.

A failure? Yes, but it isn't the car's fault, it's mine for not doing my homework first. The following morning, after scrounging another ride back to work, the Tesla is showing a range of 160km. Throughout the day, it gradually increases to 220km, the LEDs (which blink amber while charging) turn a steady green and the Roadster is ready to roll again. By the time it's fully charged, no less than 30 hours have elapsed, and my experiment has revealed something: that commuting every day between the two emirates on electric power alone isn't really viable. Right car, wrong country? Perhaps, but it must be possible, if you have the money to actually buy one of these cars, to arrange a more reliable charging facility in your garage or at your place of work.

All these problems vanish from my mind, though, every time I floor the Roadster's throttle. While there's lots of wind roar to be endured thanks to the inherent design flaws in Lotus' canvas roof arrangement, in the background there's a turbine-like whirring that increases in pitch as the speed instantly piles on. It's surreal, like I'm inside a tiny spaceship. Just depress the accelerator and hang on for dear life as the Tesla destroys everything else on the road in a glorious whoosh.

Seriously, the only cars I've driven with this much poke have been the Bugatti Veyron, the Lamborghini Aventador and the Caparo T1. It's insanely quick. If you've ever taken a ride on Formula Rossa, the world's fastest rollercoaster at Ferrari World, you'll know how this thing feels. With this much fun at my disposal I find myself, unbelievably, thinking how overrated petrol engines are. While the order books for the Roadster are now closed, Tesla will soon be launching the four-door Model S, and I can't wait to try that out. It may not have changed the world but this little sports car has shown that it really is possible for enthusiastic drivers to have fun without killing the planet. Consider me a convert.