What does my neighbour's Tesla have in common with a stairlift?

Both are driving me up the wall


Something for the Weekend, Sir? Do not park in front of my house.

Standing in the rain, I marvel at the brevity and clarity of this note – unmistakably addressed to me as it is attached to my car. No "please", no "thank you", no explanation, no name; yet the note says everything the author intended and it states all I need to know.

Its impact is lessened by the sodden, childish characters handwritten in green crayon. That someone would fold a sheet of A4 just once before tucking it under my windscreen wiper overnight during a rainstorm also betrays a mind that has trouble conceptualising what water falling from hundreds of feet up for 10 hours does to supermarket 80gsm.

But maybe that's just what Tesla owners are like: the kind of person who would invest a large sum of money into one of the most unreliable motor vehicles since the Austin Allegro.

I feel bad for Monsieur Tesla, partly because he can't recharge his car while I've taken his spot in front of his house; and partly because my mum had a 1977 "Silver Jubilee" Austin Allegro and I remember what it was like. I am ashamed to have potentially inflicted a morning of anxious commuting on my depleted EV-owning neighbour.

By the way, he's not actually called Monsieur Tesla. I just call him that because I haven't the faintest idea of his actual name but I do know he drives a Tesla. Speaking to other neighbours, it turns out they all refer to him as Monsieur Tesla too. The marque maketh the man, eh? It's just as well he didn't buy one of those Eastern European car brands such as Sfinkte or Wäncnob.

His Tesla looks kind of show-offy alongside dowdy small cars like mine. Fancy cars always make me hum that Vitalic song, "My Friend Dario", about a "super mega car" and "driving too fast" and "driving too flash". You know the one, the song that had the video with the girls in underwear and crash helmets. Certainly NOT the kind of vid I'd get away with at the end of this column!

I'd better move my car then. I only parked in front of Monsieur Tesla's house because David Hasselhoff from number 64 had parked one of his nine shit cars in front of mine. It's not the David Hasselhoff, of course. I call him David Hasselhoff as an ironic gesture because he's a hairy-arsed fat bastard in beach shorts who spent most of the summer reshuffling his unnecessary vehicles between his two garages, the street and stretches of the pavement while shirtless with his hairy belly hanging out. Baywatch meets The Biggest Loser.

Curiously, none of my other neighbours knows his real name either; he was just "le monsieur du numéro soixante-quatre". Since consulting them about this, I'm pleased to report they now refer to him as "Ze 'Off".

Wading through neighbourhood cats as I step around to the driver's side of my car, I stumble on something definitely unfeline and stagger into the road. I have tripped on a thick black cable running from a huge electrical socket next to Monsieur Tesla's front door, across the pavement and along to Monsieur Tesla's Tesla, two doors further down.

It's a stretch – literally. The cable is so taut it looks you could strum rockabilly bass lines on it. I try a few bars of "Rock This Town" to confirm, then I move my car.

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Not every car owner has a garage or a driveway. If street parking is all there is, you're going to be out of luck when electric vehicles become compulsory. When I lived in Clapham, I used to count myself lucky if I could find a parking spot within half a mile from the front door. That's going to require a long cable when 2030 comes around. What if I live in a block of flats? They may as well have told us that petrol vehicles are to be replaced by electric helicopters: "Just recharge it on your helipad when you get home."

One good piece of news is that automotive engineers are looking harder at battery technology rather than leaving it to the unusual manufacturers. It is said that Tesla's original Roadster ran on what amounted to thousands of AAAs because there was nothing else out there at the time. Inspired by Tesla's Gigafactory in the Nevada desert, even ye olde carriage corporates are getting into the act. The suddenly woke GM, for example, is now building a $2.3bn factory in Lordstown, Ohio, where it will manufacture "Ultium Cells" – EV batteries of its own design.

GM initially burned its fingers doing what other car manufacturers do when dipping their, er, toes into the EV acid lake: they produced boring economy saloons like the Chevrolet Volt. It's as if everyone assumes that making EVs that look like a Toyota Prius will attract millions of middle-aged eco-warrior motorists. Fail.

No, GM's Ultium Cells are destined for bigger, uglier and much more American things. Introducing the plug-in convertible pickup shagmobile, the Hummer EV.

If you want your customers to save the planet, you have to make it fun for them. Ford is also heading down this off-road path with its F-150, a hybrid pickup with its own onboard generator that delivers up to 7.2 kilowatts of continuous power.

The idea sounds worthy, doesn't it? You're a builder, say, and you can roll up to a bare site without facilities in your F-150, plug in your welder, axle grinder and lamp, and get working. Once the 1.5kWh liquid-cooled lithium battery has done its job, the generator unit switches to the vehicle's twin-turbocharged, 3.5-litre gasoline V-6.

Yeah, right. Much more likely it's going to be the go-to EV for middle-of-field rave parties, poolside rap videos and glam picnicking – you can plug in a grill, an oven and a fridge, turf an armchair in the back, and head up the mountains for that extreme barbecue experience.

The idea appeals but it'll only work if I can get my pickup close enough to my own house to recharge it overnight. I'd also feel more confident that the world would be saved by EV motorists if the batteries were less reliant on lithium.

If oil was "black gold", lithium is "white oil". Turning vast areas of Chile into brine pools might seem very distant to most of us at the moment but accelerating the switch from fossil fuels to electric power in motorised transport means the lithium rush is still just beginning.

And it's getting closer to home for the old nations in Europe, with exploratory digs looking promising in Portugal. It's one thing to forcibly boot indigenous people off their land to turn it into quarries in Australia, China, Africa and South America; it won't be so easy to do the same thing in Europe, not least once its sprawling cities merge into one continuous Downlode.

I park my car in front of my house. It will stay there unmoved for another seven days, until the next time I do the weekly grocery shopping or head off for a Sunday jaunt – albeit without a grill, oven or fridge.

Maybe I should sell the car, sign up for one of those car-share/rental schemes and buy a bicycle instead. The government here is promoting environmental responsibility by offering a subsidy on the purchase of a new bike. Sounds great. Except… the subsidy only applies if you buy an electric bike. More lithium.

This EV revolution is turning out to be a bit of a car crash.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He is ashamed to admit he is the owner of an almost-new diesel car, delivering smoky death to children everywhere. Having sold his right-hand drive before moving abroad, he wanted to wait until he could buy a full electric. But the shopping needed doing. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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