Jihee Junn heads along to the newly opened Tesla showroom on Auckland’s Karangahape Road.
It’s a hard life being a billionaire. Just ask tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, who’s been vilified over the past few days for his (unprompted) involvement in the recent Thai cave rescue mission. First, they rejected his offer to use his custom-built child-sized submarine. Then, he was forced to apologise for calling one of the rescuers a “pedo” after they lambasted his offer as “a PR stunt”. Doesn’t anyone care about philanthropy any more? Sad.
Feeling bad for the man whose career revolves around sending metal contraptions into the air and through the ground, I decided to pay a visit to the newly opened Tesla showroom on Auckland’s Karangahape Road where Musk’s genius lays bare between a bridal store, an art gallery, and a Thai restaurant. The building, which was once occupied by Stuff/Fairfax Media, has since been remodelled into a three-storey HQ for all things Tesla. Part retailer, part service centre and part office space, it’s a massive upgrade from its temporary location on Great North Road where it ended up staying for a whole lot longer than expected – the K’ Road showroom was supposed to have opened midway through last year.
Approaching the showroom from the eastern end of K’ Road – past the kebab shops, dive bars, and anti-1080 posters – the first thing you see is Tesla’s cross-like logo, emblazoned large on the outside of its front-facing wall. Keep walking and you see ceiling-high windows where Tesla’s Model X and Model S cars sit dormant on display. In fact, it’s more like an Apple store than your average car dealership. After all, the two companies aren’t all that dissimilar (a Silicon Valley-based leading tech company creating minimalistic products evangelised by a charismatic leader and fiercely ardent supporters, anyone?).
When I head inside to have a closer look, a salesperson notices me curiously peering into the white Model X and tells me to push the silver button where the handle would normally be. The door unlatches and I step inside. “Push the brake,” he says and I do as instructed, which closes the door shut. “Press that button on the left-hand side of the touchscreen,” he says next, referring to the large, tablet-like interface where the radio and air conditioning would normally be. I press the button and the passenger door swings open and the salesperson steps inside to sit next to me.
We then proceed to run through the whole slate of features: the cold weather controls warm up my seat, windscreen and steering wheel instantaneously; the driving controls let me choose what kind of steering, acceleration and braking settings I want to use; and another page lets me see all the previous trips the car’s made, showing me how much energy it took to get from point A to point B. There’s also an autopilot mode which means the car can basically semi-autonomously drive itself. Apparently, it’s great for parking and driving on motorways – not so great for traffic lights and roundabouts (yet).
Would I really need my car to log details of all my trips? Did I really need help changing lanes on the motorway? Did I think any of these extras were necessary? The answer to all three questions was no. But did I think they were cool? Yes. Maybe I’m easily impressed, but yes, I thought they were fucking cool, not that I have a spare $130k to spare.
For those lucky enough to have money to burn, Tesla’s showroom isn’t just for potential customers. While you can’t see it from the street, owners can drive their vehicles into the downstairs garage to recharge both their vehicles and themselves, with customers treated to 24/7 food, coffee, restrooms and wifi. The space also doubles as a garage where cars can come in for servicing and repairs, and unlike your usual garage, there’s not a lick of oil or grease to be seen.
But for the most part, the majority of drivers opt to charge their vehicles at home, which is one of the biggest perks of owning an electric car. No more last minute trips to the petrol station, no more getting ripped off by price-setting tactics, and – if you live in Auckland – no more fuel tax. Regardless of whether you think Tesla’s manic CEO is a total genius or a total fraud, no other company has helped push the electric vehicle gospel into the mainstream more than Musk’s. And that, if we’re trying to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels, is kind of important.
With the Model 3 set to launch in New Zealand some time next year, Tesla’s on course to continue gaining traction. But its high price point means it won’t be kickstarting the electric vehicle revolution anytime soon. In fact, not even the lovely salesperson I talked in the showroom could afford one – he told me he drives a Volvo.
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