One Tesla takes off, another comes home: My days at the wheel of a Model S from Austria to Dublin
In focus: Tesla models
Never mind shooting his red roadster into space, Elon Musk's Tesla electric car operation is blazing a more impressive trail here on humble Earth.
His Tesla endeavour has arguably done more to change the future of personal transportation than anything since the first cars were made. Not so much by producing an electric car, a very expensive one at that, but by shifting the axis of automotive power distribution.
A recent marathon drive of a Tesla Model S from Alpbach in Austria to Dublin, with co-driver Trish Whelan, shifted my focus from the car to the charge. Over the 1,900kms-plus journey (1,750kms driving, train under the English Channel, ferry across the Irish Sea) I realised Tesla has probably established the biggest own-brand network of charging stations in the world.
There are more than 1,100 Supercharger locations where Tesla owners can quickly top up their batteries. These are in motorway service areas, hotels, shopping centres and other strategic locations. Then there are Destination chargers - not quite as fast - in places such as hotels where owners overnight.
In France alone - relevant because much of our drive was through it - there are more than 70 Supercharger spots and up to 500 Destination charging bays.
With a 508kms real-world driving range from our fully-charged Model S, never on our route were we an unreasonable distance from a dedicated place to top up our battery (In Ireland, there are currently two Supercharger stations, on the Cork and Limerick roads respectively; two more are coming. There are 18 Destination chargers).
Tesla picked our destination hotels for the trip, but we were free to use any route between them, within the time constraint of getting there in time to eat, and meet Eurotunnel and Stena sea crossing bookings.
Those constraints did mean the pair of us were travelling distances over the two-and-a-half days which would not have been comfortable, nor sensible, on a holiday trip. But that wasn't the point. The point was to show such distances could be covered in an electric car without any fuel concerns.
That was the case. The first leg - a 342km run from Alpbach late in the afternoon to Zurich - was accomplished with only a stop for coffee and a switch of drivers. We still had 110km in the tank when we plugged in to the Destination charger at our hotel.
By the time my head hit the pillow, a Tesla app told me the car was almost fully juiced for the next day.
That next day, meanwhile, was a mad 841kms to Calais, with a stop at Nancy in France for lunch and a recharge in an Ibis car park which had a bank of eight Superchargers.
On the road once again, almost three hours in torrential rain, we added charge at Reims to take us on to our overnight in a small hotel near Calais. At both stops, we still had around 25pc of charge left.
The 567km trip up through England and Wales the next day was easily accomplished with just one stop, at Warwick for a top-up and excellent fish and chips lunch.
At Holyhead we stayed overnight in the intriguing Chateau Rhianfa before the Stena sail home the next morning. We recharged there, but we needn't have, because there was still 120kms of range left.
The car performed as smoothly and comfortably as you have a right to expect from something costing around €111,000. This was BMW 7-series or Mercedes S-Class territory. The estimated €70 electricity cost for the drive compared favourably to what would have been around €250 in the traditionally fuelled luxury cars.
With the range expectation of even the humble Nissan Leaf et al already reaching that of the Tesla, such a journey in them is almost equally achievable.
However, it won't be by using Tesla's chargers, because they can't be accessed by the humbler models. The Tesla can, however, use other charging units with an adapter, albeit juicing up at a slower rate.
The real lesson for me was that it is the already large and growing network of Superchargers that will give Tesla an edge.
In the early days of motoring, 'motor spirit' was distributed in five-gallon cans, usually at hardware stores or inns.
Eventually, with enough cars on the road, multinational entrepreneurs invested in petrol pumps.
Elon Musk has followed a similar direction with his Tesla enterprise, not waiting for local authorities or even countries to get their acts together in providing the infrastructure.
He may well be remembered not particularly for his cars, but for how he went about making sure that his customers had enough places to fuel them without worry.
Of course there is the matter of a red roadster in space that might have a little trouble locating a Supercharger ...