Is the Tesla Model 3 enough to save the planet? 

I know what you’re thinking: here’s another love story about Elon Musk, the poster boy for technocrats and twenty something’s in Shoreditch warehouses claiming they’re the Uber of everything.

But no, while I appreciate all Musk does for the world of tech and cars, he is, by all accounts, as human as the person eating a bag of Hula Hoops next to me, not an iPad-wielding God. So let’s look past the frenzied media reaction to the launch of the new mass-market Model 3, and get down to what this means for the future of personal transportation.

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First and foremost, the Model 3 will be safe. ‘We care about you, we want you to be safe and we want your friends and family to be safe,’ said Musk at the launch event at the New York auto show last week. This is certainly something you’ll want to know if you’re one of the 276,000 people queuing to buy one. But the Telsa 3’s safety technology could mean more than just peace of mind. With vast numbers of accidents due to driver error each year, the Model 3’s standard Autopilot tech could help reduce the number of collisions.     

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On top of that, it’s also pretty practical. When asked if you could fit a seven-foot surfboard in the back, Musk replied ‘yes you can.’ Not necessarily something every gentleman in the UK will be carrying with them but still, it’s good to know you could. In the world of electric cars, however, practicality is more about not running out of battery and reducing carbon emissions. Musk claims the Model 3 will have a minimum of a 215 mile range, meaning you could get from London to Ghent in Belgium without hurting any polar bears or having to stop for charge. How about that for a dull pub fact, hey?

It helps that the Model 3 is attractive, aided by the appeal of the Tesla brand. With its cool Californian headquarters, links to Musk’s SpaceX project and the cars’ supercar killer performance, means Tesla’s are a hot topic. Which is more than can be said for cars like the dreary Nissan Leaf that went before it. Making electric cars appealing is essential for the automotive industry as it pulls away from raging V12s to tech-laden smartphones on wheels. Oh, and you can bet your bottom dollar the Model 3 will come with ‘Ludicrous’ mode too – so brace yourselves for super saloon performance figures.

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Most importantly, however, the Model 3 is affordable at £25,000. And this could be the clincher. For years, electric cars have not been particularly practical, attractive or affordable, but Tesla has bucked the trend. The marque has successfully tapped into new, younger consumers as well as pulling people out of their premium diesel saloons. With competitive pricing, it’s likely Musk’s latest machine will appeal to those who previously thought electric cars were beyond their means.

But what does this mean for the planet? Well, in terms of Model 3’s impact, not an awful lot, unfortunately. Despite the car’s impressive paperwork, the number of Model 3’s released into wild will pale in significance when compared to the billions of combustion cars already out there. The car’s impact in reducing the number of accidents and carbon emissions will not be as severe as Musk had hoped, and this is his real bugbear. ‘We have record CO2 levels,’ he said alongside figures that said 53,000 people die in the US a year from toxic car emissions.

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While the Model 3 alone may not be able to change the world, what it does represent is a monumental shift in the way electric cars are represented, imagined and produced, and it’s this cultural and industrial shift that could make the real difference in years to come. Good work Musk, but there’s some way to go yet. 

All images Tesla

rorysmith

rorysmith

Rory is motoring editor-at-large at The Gentleman’s Journal. Most familiar with four wheels but can also be found falling off two.

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