Like a lot of people, I spent the last few years telling myself that my Mazda CX3 would be my last fossil fueled car. The inevitability of the rise of cars powered by clean renewable energy will surely see millions of petrol and diesel powered cars around the world become stranded, unsaleable assets. Many will probably have to pay for their cars to be towed to the smelters.

About three years ago, I’d read a review of all Volkswagen’s electric vehicles that were coming down the line. I called VW in Sydney a few times about six months apart and each time was told there was still no date for their availability in Australia “thanks to the Australian government’s pathetic policies on EVs” which were making it non-viable for VW to make them profitable here.

But news this week reported:

“Australia recorded 20,665 EV sales in 2021, a significant increase from the 6,900 sold in 2020, which means electric cars now make up 1.95% of the new car market. The Tesla Model 3 was the bestselling electric car in Australia, with 12,094 vehicles sold last year – accounting for 58.5% of all EVs sold.”

I’d been in a Tesla model S on a trip to France in 2017 but had put Teslas out of my mind when I learned of their withering, well beyond $100k price tag. But then the Tesla model 3 came along. A brother-in-law had one. He’d moved from a Porsche 911 to a Tesla 3 and couldn’t stop gushing about how fantastic it was.

So in June 2021 we decided to take a serious look at a Tesla 3. One wet Saturday, I booked a test drive at Tesla’s Alexandria offices. My main question was whether it would fit in our garage. They gave us a 90 minute unaccompanied test drive. It fitted easily. That settled, it took us about two minutes to decide we’d take the plunge.

Back at their office, we looked through the extra cost options and said no to the double battery, the performance option, 18 inch wheels, white seats (“do I look like I’m a Gold Coast property developer?” I asked the saleswoman) and the fully self-drive, pre-paid upgrade. So we were buying the entry level Model 3 for $69,223 drive-away, with all registration and delivery charges paid.

Tesla offered us $15,000 for our tinny little Mazda, which had 45,000km on it and a few scratches. So we had to fork out $54,223. That made it the most expensive car I’d ever owned, with an Alpha Romeo 159 demonstrator at $42,000 a few years back being the previous benchmark. But many have since pointed out that this price is below the luxury tax class.

Home battery

We’d had 15 Sunpower solar panels (4.9kWh) on our roof since June 2018. With a Fronius Primo 5.0-1 inverter, all costing $9758. We have gas hot water and stove, run a 24/7 400w fish pond filter and are scrupulous in turning all lights and stand-by appliances off when not used.  Here are our annual electricity bills:

2015-16: $1616

2016-17: $1401 (-13%)

2017-18: $2064 (+47%)

2018-19: $668   (-68%)

2019-20: $682   (+2%)

2020-21: $1286 (+89%)

If we take the 2017-18 power bill as a benchmark, the solar has saved us $3556 in power bills in the 3 subsequent years, 36% of the cost of installing it. The spectacular 68% fall in our power bill for two years after installing the solar was trumped by the vicious 89% rise in 2020-21, caused mostly by savage reductions in our feed-in tariff paid by a greenwashing power company that we quickly showed the door.

So we’d decided that getting a home battery would make perfect sense at the same time we got an EV.  On advice, we contacted Smart Energy Answers to get options. The consultant came over and was deeply impressive in explaining the parameters of various options. He said the massive growth in rooftop solar was driving the avarice by power companies to savage all feed-in tariffs. Getting a battery was a no-brainer and would increasingly become so.  He looked at our power bills and was entirely in agreement that our relatively new existing 15 panels and Fronius inverter could and should be incorporated into the battery setup.

We settled on six extra panels (LGs adding 2.22kWh to the existing 4.9kWh Sunpowers for a 7.12kWh total) and an Alpha ESS Smile 5 10.3kWh lithium iron phosphate battery.  Fully installed over 2 days in June, this all cost $12,480. 

Alpha ESS 10.3kWh battery
Six extra LG panels

We switched to Discover Energy which currently pays three diminishing tiers of feed-in tariff.

In the seven months since  – which includes three winter months of reduced sunlight – we have paid nothing for electricity, and even have a $118 credit.  And across the same period I have paid just $20 in Tesla charging. This was just this week when we spent three days in the Hunter Valley and a neighbouring hotel charged us $10 for two charging sessions which would have been free if we had stayed there.

We charge the car via “trickle charge”  from a normal 240v socket in the garage by an automatic top-up in off peak hours (10pm-7am) when the cost of power is lowest. In a typical week of Sydney driving, we need to do this about 2-3 times a week, charging it up to 80% full. If going on a long trip, we use free “destination” chargers. There are three sites within a couple of kilometres of our house. This morning I used one at the Glebe Tramsheds shopping centre taking the battery from 43% to 80% in two hours while I took a walk and bought some groceries. Not once have I ever had to wait for a charging station to become free.

Our 2020-21 car fuel bill was $1192 plus $1142 in servicing and tyre costs. If the zero electricity bills continue throughout the year as expected, the total saving in power plus car running costs across a year, at this year’s savings will be $3619.  In just 3.4 years the battery and extra cells will have paid for themselves (5.1 years if we add the residual cost of our original 2018 15 rooftop panels and inverter).

On a typical summer’s day, the battery is fully charged by about 10am, and remains so until about 6.30pm. It’s always empty when we wake in the morning, drawing from the grid for overnight power use including car charging. But with oceans of power having been fed back, the net result has so far been a power bill growing in credit.

So what’s to like with a Tesla, apart from the fuel savings?

There are countless videos and breathless reviews about Teslas on the web. Here are some of the standout wonderful things about it for me.

Servicing:  in 7 months there’s been no servicing. There’s no motor, so tyre rotation and changing are the main things that will need attention at some stage, as with all cars. Chat rooms are full of owners boasting huge numbers of kilometres without changing brake pads and rotors. This is because taking your foot of the accelerator brakes the car. You hit the brake only occasionally as a back-up.

Destination anxiety: When you want to go on a trip out of Sydney, the spectre of being stranded with a flat battery on long stretches of roads without charging stations looms large in your mind. All you need to do is look on the inboard computer for the location of charging stations and plan from there. We have good friends on the North Coast and there are many places to charge along the way.

Our first out of town trip was from Sydney’s inner west to Bawley Point, south of Ulladulla.  As we passed Berry, the battery was 60% full and we would have made it safely. But we passed a Tesla supercharger and in 15 minutes, the battery was full. So easy.

Speed: the acceleration of the Tesla 3 is beyond dazzling. On a Hunter Valley backroad this week I decided to floor it from a cruising speed of 80km/h. Within what seemed 2-3 seconds it was over 140km/h and my foot was nowhere near the floor. The G-force you feel on a roller coaster as it plummets from a peak to the bottom is the nearest feeling of what the thrust feels like. Its power is most noticeable in situations when you need to move quickly. Coming back along the M1 freeway this week on a cruise-controlled 110km/h (the car’s cameras read the speed limit signs and automatically adjust your speed), I was tailgated in the overtaking lane by a Mustang. After 20 seconds of this bullshit, I accelerated and moved with rapier-like speed across into the middle lane. The bewildered Mustang receded to a speck in the distance. Knowing you can always do this is very assuring.

Similarly, if you are on the speed limit and overtaking a massive B-double truck hurtling along besides you at just below the limit, you always want to get past it as soon as you can. Within a blink, touching the accelerator has you past. And if you need to slip ahead of a line of traffic at traffic lights to turn soon afterwards, nothing, nothing can stop you being there first.

Here are vids of a Tesla 3 performance racing a Lamborghini Adventador, a Ferrari Portofino, an Aston Martin DBS (vs Model S) and a Porsche 911. Spoiler: the Tesla eats them all. And here are  some fruity-languaged Queensland coal miners taking a Tesla for a run.

Sound: the sound quality is just superb. It comes with digital radio allowing you to access any digital station anywhere in the world. Through 8 speakers (15 in the performance model) with fingertip volume control on a steering wheel button. My only peeve is that you must pay a $10 monthly Spotify fee through Tesla, even if you already have an account.

Software updates: You need to think of a Tesla as being a computer on wheels. Every aspect of its functioning arrives and it monitored through its software. You get very regular software updates which necessitate you having a strong WiFi in your garage. I added a google nest out there.

Safety: The Tesla 3 is said to be the safest car ever tested by US national safety testing authorities. This video demonstrates.

Security: When you go near the car with either your mobile phone or the Tesla keycard, the car unlocks. And when you walk away from it, it locks within seconds. If you are anxious about the car being vandalised or smashed open, you can set it to “sentry mode” on leaving it. This activates 8 cameras which cover 360 degrees up to 250 metres. Anyone touching the car will activate a notice to your phone, sound the horn and allow you to speak to them through the car’s horn speaker. The cameras can be activated as dash cams too.

Sunroof: It has a massive toughened glass roof which, like those sunglasses which adjust to different light, does that too for those inside.

Comfort: I have never sat in a more comfortable vehicle. Pleather seats, adjustable in every which way. Front seats are heated. You can pay extra to activate rear seat heating.

Everyone wants a ride in it. Kids often point at the car as they walk across the road. Many know about it and are excited by it. I’m not a rev-head, but it’s brought out the inner hoon in me. I saw the red wheel rim rubber strips you see in the photo at the top and bought a reel. My wife was merciless when I came home about 20 years ago with a used Nissan ZX (below). “How much did you pay for that?” So I told her. She paused and the said “Why didn’t you just go to an army disposal store and buy a megaphone, and then walk down Pitt Street saying ‘Hey, I’ve got a little dick!’ That’s what women think of men who drive cars like that”. But she loves driving it and even talks about it to others. A car that will get you from A to B. But so much more.

Nissan 300ZX