in General

The Tesla of electric cars

Every industry has its fair share of viral trends or buzzwords. When it comes to written communication, there is at least one which desperately needs to go away: the art of overstated comparisons. Every so often, a company will emerge making an aggressive push to promote a new product or business model as market-leading or, in some cases, world-changing. Part of the standard PR playbook, this practice will usually include the juxtaposition of a larger, more recognizable brand next to a specific industry or application. For start-ups especially, it’s an easy way to signal a global ambition, the potential for disruption, or financial viability.

Unfortunately, too many companies are now somersaulting this PR shark and thus exposing us to a collection of analogies ranging from the far-fetched to the outright bizarre or deeply embarrassing. I’m looking at you, “the Amazon of dentistry”, “the Uber for women’s haircuts” or – and this is a personal favorite – the twofer of “the Tesla and Amazon of food.”

And since the best way to kill a trend is to sprinkle some Generation Y magic all over it, here’s my hot comparison for 2018: for the past two years, I’ve been driving the Tesla of electric cars.

In order to elaborate, allow me to take you back to a darker time in my existence: the year was 2016 and my weekday mornings and evenings were spent inside a 2008 Vauxhall Corsa which I was expertly using to expose every person, animal and plant in sight to the finest mix of NOx gases a common rail, direct injection turbodiesel ecoTEC engine had to offer. Although a decent car for its age, my Corsa was often buckling under the strain of a harsh winter so I decided it was time to replace it with another diesel-powered supermini. My requirements were relatively simple; I wanted something:

  • Small: roads in the UK are notoriously narrow, particularly anything below a single-digit A road. Same goes for parking spots.
  • Energy efficient: the average speed of my typical commute was 15-20 mph, although a majority of time was spent in stop-start traffic.
  • Multimedia-capable: I enjoy listening to my own music and would prefer to sit in soul-destroying silence rather than turn on the radio. I also sometimes make calls from my car and use a sat-nav to get around.
  • Affordable: I have always avoided spending unreasonable amounts of money on cars; at the time, I was very keen not to invest more than £5,000 in a used car.

I therefore instinctively gravitated towards a 2013/2014 era Ford Fiesta or Vauxhall Corsa, two superminis that mostly delivered on the above criteria. In order to decide which specific make to go for, I deferred to the collective wisdom of What Car? and started browsing through their reviews and recommendations. I discovered that most review articles had a section called Alternatives where the authors would present some different cars worth considering apart from the headliners. In the case of the Fiesta and Corsa, the Alternatives list contained the usual suspects: Skoda Fabia, Volkswagen Polo, Seat Ibiza, and so on. But listed alongside these superminis was one car I had never heard of before: the all-electric Renault Zoe.

Out of curiosity, I started reading the in-depth What Car? review of this mysterious Zoe. And then kept on reading and reading; the more I read, the more I found myself nodding along and thinking “This could be my next car!”

The following week, I noticed a used Zoe was on sale for £5,200 at a nearby dealer and immediately booked it for a test drive. From the moment my wife and I got in the car, I knew there was no going back: this was the car I was meant to own.The first things that struck us were the unique design and the silence. You have to understand, coming from the tractor-like sound of a diesel car cold starting at -4°C, the gentle, white noise hum of an electric engine left me very confused – almost concerned. I turned to the dealer and asked: “Is the engine running or…?” He smiled and said “Yes, yes it is! You can start driving anytime you want.”

We drove around for about fifteen minutes and I signed the paperwork as soon as we got back. Luckily, I was also able to part exchange my old Corsa and only had to pay £4,200 in total.

I won’t attempt to turn this article into an in-depth review of the Renault Zoe; you can easily find many useful reviews and dedicated forums where other owners offer sound advice. However, based on my experiences over the past two years, I’d say that the car is very easy to drive, has a spacious trunk, is relatively cheap to service, and has reliable software. At a price point of £5-5,500, you’re also likely to get a feature set that is significantly above fossil fuel-powered superminis.

On the downside, the A/C can be temperamental in extreme weather, the suspension is rigid, and breaking performance can be variable. In short, even though it has its minor quirks, the Zoe is an objectively amazing commuter car to own and drive – and this is coming from someone who passionately dislikes driving.

A few months later, I was charging my Zoe at the Brent Cross mall in north London. The shopping center has one of the several Tesla showrooms in London so I decided to quickly check it out while my car was getting some e-juice. I went inside the store and headed straight for the Model X; some seconds later, a sales rep came to greet me:

“So, what do you think?”

“Yeah, it’s a very nice car, but it’s not a Zoe.”