My Australian EV Journey Part 3: Why not Tesla?

Tesla’s often held up as the “gold standard” of EVs in Australia, and it’s not hard to see why. At the same time, it also wasn’t that hard for me to work out that a Tesla wasn’t going to be my first EV. Here’s why.

Coming to this series fresh? Read parts 1 and 2 first!

My Australian EV journey: Why is it so hard to own an EV down under?

My Australian EV Journey Part 2: Let’s Talk About Range, Baby

So, one of the earliest pieces of feedback I got from the first article in this run was from a tech journo colleague of mine who has also done some time on the car reviewing side of the business.

As a reminder, I don’t count myself as a “car person” at all. The car is the thing that gets me from A to B, and while the bit in-between can be pretty depending on where you go, for me it’s all about being at B in a timely fashion.

However, I think it’s fair to say that he is a car person, and his advice was pretty short and sharp:

“Don’t buy a Leaf. Buy a Tesla.”

Well, my money is already on the table for a Leaf, so the die was pretty much cast by then anyway — more on the latest of that below — but it does raise the question around the Tesla generally, and why I’m not choosing to buy one at this time.

Before I start: I’m well aware that there are a lot of Tesla drivers out there locally and globally, and many of them are “car people” who are very passionate about their luxury vehicles.

That’s totally cool! Enjoy!

My intent isn’t to urinate on your street gathering, I promise.

I’m presenting a case that led me to my own conclusions, but your own can differ, and I’m happy to take on board constructive criticism. The Internet being what such a fine gathering of sensible individuals, I’m certain every criticism I get will be constructive, right?*

Tesla is often held up as the poster child for the EV movement, and that’s fair enough. I think it’d be quite hard to argue that the brand as such hasn’t done a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of raising public awareness of EVs and their overall adoption over time.

However, I’m not sure that Tesla’s on the same track that I am in terms of where they’re pitching their cars.

A lot of the early rhetoric used by the company to justify the very high price of those early Teslas was that they were starting high for enthusiasts (again, fair enough) with an eye to scaling up and producing more affordable, everyday vehicles for everyone else. That’s all quite admirable in rhetoric, but I’m not really yet seeing the company actually walk that walk.

Teslas are luxury cars — especially in Australia — with the absolute cheapest model in Australia right now tipping the scales at $62,900, although you can spend quite a lot more than that.

Yes, there’s plenty in the ICE space that costs similar, but the practical reality here is that Tesla started in the luxury space… and it’s pretty much stayed there ever since. There’s weird offshoots like the Cybertruck that we’ve had a lot of fun talking about over at Vertical Hold, and some admirable work in electric transport trucks too, not that I’m going to be using one of those to nip down the shops for a bottle of milk.

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Artist’s impression of Alex driving a semi-trailer down to the supermarket.

A lot of the rest of what Tesla chooses to promote itself on are luxury features; just this week it was formally announced that Tesla will be adding AMD Ryzen processors to the Model S and Model X vehicles in the future, giving them processing power approaching that of a current generation games console. We discuss that in this week’s show, actually:


The Tesla chat starts at around 11 minutes in, but the whole show is great. Though I may have some kind of bias…

Again, there can totally be a market for luxury EVs, but that seems to be the niche that Tesla has settled itself into. In the meantime we’ve got lots of activity in the mass market, non-luxury consumer space, although as I’ve noted previously precious little of it shipping to or selling in Australia, sadly.

There’s a lot of work being done by previously unknown (and in some cases, brand new) Chinese brands in terms of really affordable EVs, and while many of them may be awful, it feels like this is ground that Tesla just isn’t interested in chasing.

To be honest, I’m also somewhat reluctant to throw my money Elon Musk’s way, and his personal position at Tesla does very much pervade the way the company both looks and operates.

Take, for example, his recent work tweeting and talking around cryptocurrencies, a move which appears to have benefitted him and Tesla immensely in a financial sense. The problem here? Tesla’s whole reason for existence was meant to be around being environmentally sound, and most crypto burns some pretty dirty power.

Yes, Tesla and Musk have now come out somewhat against Crypto and Bitcoin specifically for its energy usage, but only after making serious bank on it. That feels just a tad hypocritical to me, although I do recognise that it’s not as though the rest of the auto industry are exactly saints when it comes to environmental issues.

There’s a guy just down the road from me who owns a Tesla, and every once in a while I spot him whizzing by in it. Certainly seems like a nice car, and I’m not saying I’ll never own one.

Right now, however, it doesn’t make much financial sense for me to do so, even leaving aside arguments around whether car ownership is a financially sound proposition anyway.

Tesla is, naturally, welcome to send me a fully kitted out Model S to change my mind, but I’m not holding my breath*.

Car update: Insurance is more than a numbers game

So, as I write this, and all other matters going well, I’m expecting to actually have my shiny not-entirely-new-but-new-to-me Leaf within the next week.

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Not this type of Leaf, although I do like that mascot costume.

I was somewhat concerned that it may be held up due to the Melbourne lockdown (and if so, fair enough, bigger problems and all that) but it’s now in Sydney having final checks and cleans and sorting out being done before I can go and collect it.

It’s a little different as a process than any other car I’ve ever owned, however. I didn’t go into this blind, and I’ll give some credit here to the company I’m buying it from, the Good Car Co, because they do make this very clear upfront.

This is a second-hand vehicle that’s never been registered in Australia before, and the price point includes some legwork on my part to handle actual registration, stamp duty and insurance matters. It’s a little more legwork, but nothing I figure I can’t handle with just some paperwork.

First step is insurance, which in NSW has to include Compulsory Third Party (aka “Green Slip”) insurance. Because I live in Sydney, home to some truly awful drivers, I’ll be opting for a higher degree of coverage than that. To get it registered, however, I must at least have that green slip.

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This is what Giphy returns for a ‘green slip’ search. It’s cute, but WTF?

This is where I hit a problem I didn’t expect to be a challenge within these circumstances.

These days, it’s actually pretty easy to compare insurance options, and it’s a smart thing to do, because the pricing can vary a whole lot.

I have to put in some due disclosure here that I do a lot of writing work (and I’m a former editor at) Finder.com.au, which has a whole section around insurance comparisons. That’s not financial advice, and I wasn’t and don’t write for the insurance bits anyway. Do as you will.

In my case, it’s more complex because owing to a truly awful situation with one insurer that’s now (thankfully) five years behind me (you can read about it here) there’s a whole lump of insurance companies who I simply will not give money to. While there’s a lot of insurance brands out there, there’s only so many actual core companies running most of them. You might not care, but I do owing to the unwanted stress of that situation, so I have to pick and choose more carefully.

This was where I hit a problem I didn’t see coming, because while most insurers will let you generate anonymous quotes for the purposes of comparison… a lot of them don’t include EVs including my 2016 Nissan Leaf in their drop-down lists.

I can generate a quote for just about any Nissan ICE vehicle made that year, but they just don’t seem to consider the Leaf to be  a thing. That’s true for some of them even if I said I was insuring a brand-new, Australian-sold-by-Nissan-current-model-Leaf.

There’s been a further quirk with sites that want to use the VIN (remember, it’s not been registered before so I can’t just go off the licence plates) not always coming up in systems.

So I had to go rather old school, and phone around to generate quotes, like I was living back in the 1990s, which was the last time I had to take that approach. Again, sigh, another brake on EV adoption, because typically speaking people prefer easy to hard. I’m still people, but I can be stubborn around this kind of thing.

It’s doable, and still worth doing because even for what amounts to “commodity” insurance — you’ve got to have it in NSW, at least — there’s some pretty wide variance in pricing.

I’m waiting until I get a firmed delivery date to sign up with an insurer, because there’s no point in getting a green slip days before I can use the car, so if anyone’s got any tips, let me know below!

In the meantime, I’m somewhat hopeful that next week’s column will be a first impressions EV piece, because I’m hoping to drive my shiny new 車 by then. Fingers crossed!

Next week: Early thoughts on an imported, second-hand Nissan Leaf. Maybe.

*Satire

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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