VW Alternative

Taking Tesla for a Ride

Car drivers Source Derek bridges
Testing times – trying something new.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    German drivers feel betrayed by Volkswagen but remain suspicious of electric cars.

  • Facts


    • Tesla is an up and coming e-car maker based in Fremont, California.
    • Volkswagen has been caught cheating on emissions tests.
    • The manufacturer had programed software in many of diesel cars to detect when they were being tested and lower the amount of nitric oxide being emitted.
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Imagine turning up a party in muddy rubber boots and the host wearing a white suit.

Maybe then you can appreciate how it feels to pull up in a diesel-powered VW Touran at the shiny, brand new factory of the electric car maker Tesla in Tilburg in western Netherlands.

Hundreds of guests attended the factory inauguration. They welcomed Elon Musk, the founder of the California-based company, as if he were a messiah.

I came armed with three questions I needed answered: What does it feel like when you rev up the new Tesla S model to 100 kilometers per hour in three seconds? What would Elon Musk do if he were the boss of VW? And is my 2013 Touran, with a 1.6 liter diesel engine, affected by the VW emissions scandal? Is it poisonous for the environment, for VW, for Germany and for me?

Germany is still a land of gasoline, and the Touran is one of the nation's favourite cars.

The diesel Touran and the electric Tesla are representative of the coming shift in the car industry, for the industry’s difficulties and for its hopes. Germany is still a land of gasoline. The Touran is one of the nation’s favorite cars. Germans bought around 26,000 of them between January and September 2015, 19,500 of which run on diesel.

In the same time period, Germans bought just 1,091 Teslas. But the sands are shifting. Last year, Tesla sold almost double as many cars as the previous year – while the number of new Tourans dropped by 10,000.

Before my VW, I’d only driven smaller, older cars. But the Touran was so big that we could fit two adults, two kids and plenty of luggage inside.

But above all, we thought of the new addition as a sensible compromise between price, size and environmental credentials. In the brochure, the car’s CO2 emissions had been given an A rating – its average climate-gas exhaust fumes were supposed to be 121 grams per kilometer. The German ADAC automobile club gave it above average marks for emissions and described the amount of poisonous gases such as nitric oxide emitted as being “low on the whole.”

But when the VW Dieselgate scandal broke in mid-September, I started having doubts. How much damage was the Touran really doing to the environment whenever I put my foot down on the accelerator? I thought about this on the way to Tilburg. And then, suddenly, there it was in front of me: Tesla’s new factory.

The entrance was full of shiny new charging stations. A row of new model cars gleamed in the sunshine. Somewhat ashamed, I parked my VW out of sight of its electric brothers.

In the hall, monitors showed in real time where in the world Teslas are charging and how many million liters of gasoline and diesel the fleet has already saved. The 43,574 square-meters building is full of shining floors, test rigs, hydraulic lifts.

Around 450 Tesla model S cars are planned to roll off the assembly line every week.  The bodies will come from Tesla’s main plant in Fremont, California. In Tilburg, workers will add the battery, the drivetrain and rear axel, as well as fit the tires and install the software.

Since the VW scandal broke, it’s become clear the role computer programs now play in cars. Software translates a driver’s movement of the steering wheel into movements by the car, it even helps the driver, ironing out their mistakes. Companies such as Google and Apple are working so that one day computers will drive all by themselves.

Personally, I won't be going electric overnight. The Tesla is just too expensive.

Thanks to software, new Teslas can move semi-autonomously using radar and ultrasonic sensors.

But thanks to software, VW was able to trick emissions testers. The company programed many of its diesel cars to know when they are being tested.

Gijs van de Ven, a manager, pointed to a 750-meter-long launch pad, known as an indoor test track, where Teslas are checked to see whether they meet their claim of achieving 100 kilometers per hour in three seconds.

Mr. Van de Ven asked if I wanted to try it out, and I did.

The Tesla S doesn’t roar; it hums. It has a large, Internet-connected touchscreen next to the wheel, with luggage space at the front and the back.

But it’s pricey at upwards of €76,000, or $83,3100.

“We aren’t negotiating on price,” Mr. van de Ven said. “If we want to convince customers, we just let them go for a test drive.”

I put my foot to the pedal and the whopping 700 horse-power kicked in. But for some reason, I got cold feet and took my foot off the gas before hitting the 100 mark.

“The car can do more,” Mr. van de Ven said. “But that’s not bad for a start.”

When I later asked Mr. Musk what his three wishes would be, he said he only had one: to slap big fines on vehicles emitting carbon dioxide.

As for VW and Dieselgate, he has this to say. “If I was the head of VW or any other large carmaker then I would be going full steam ahead with the switch over to emissionless cars.”

Personally, I won’t be going electric overnight. The Tesla is just too expensive, even without having to pay gasoline and recharging for free at a Tesla charging station.


A version of this article first appeared in Die Zeit newspaper. To contact the author: reaktion@zeit.de

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