Many, many years ago, an elderly cousin left me a very modest bequest. For some reason, I wanted to buy a carriage clock and went shopping. Retailers were keen to sell me one with the new-fangled battery power, as they said it would be more reliable and not depend on someone having to wind it every few days.
As a child of the Cold War, I expected nuclear strikes at any time and that we would be reliant totally on very old technology as we sheltered in mountain bunkers. There would be no corner shops to sell me batteries.
At the same time, I was being influenced by Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, a post-holocaust novel mainly set in a corner of Australia where one of the last survivors spends much of his final days racing his Ferrari. Speed, radiation or a suicide pill would get him in the end, he reckoned. It was hard to be an optimist in those days. Perhaps that’s why now Mr My-Nuclear-Button-Is-Bigger-Than-Yours Trump and his North Korean counterpart quite frighten me. In Shute’s book, it was an attack by a relatively minor power – Egypt – which began the global catastrophe.
Yet, while my fears a couple of generations ago about the availability of batteries didn’t really influence my attitude to electric cars, there has always been a niggling feeling that if a catastrophe occurs, even such as an extended power cut, then the vehicles will grind to a halt. The hybrid model makes for a much better bet. The move away from diesel is happening at a massive rate. Last year, the percentage of German cars burning oil was down to 39pc from 46pc the year before and here the Toyota chief, Steve Tormey, predicts that diesel will account for only 45pc of the overall market this year, down from 65pc in 2017, while preference for petrol hybrid powertrains will double from 3.4pc in 2017 to 7pc in 2018. Looking further ahead, Mr Tormey believes that by 2020, diesel is likely to be down to close to 20pc of the overall market, with hybrids picking up many diesel defectors to round out at roughly 25pc of the market.
This year, Toyota reckons that 55pc of its cars sold will have hybrid technology.
Yet before Christmas, I was driving a Tesla, the marque which has been absolutely at the forefront in pushing totally electric cars in a barn-storming way over the last few years. People just can’t get enough of them, Tesla’s advance orders are mind-blowing and its stock price is out of this world. Last year, it sold 100,000 cars and production can’t keep up with demand.
Its employees have an almost messianic belief in Elon Musk, the Tesla founder. In fact, talking to them, one experiences a strange scientology-like parallel universe, where everything is explained with bright-eyed faith but certain questions are batted off with cult-like defensiveness.
Yet that can’t take away from both the beauty and power of its cars, which have massive space and attitude built around an enormous tablet screen which says this is a new age of driving. Everything interfaces, constant updates are being received and the whole process is putting those who want this on the road to autonomous driving. The all-wheel drive, large five-seater S model, with boots front and rear, is a joy to drive; simple and very powerful with great road holding. It is slightly wider than normal which pays off in enormous comfort but makes for some tricky manoeuvres down small lanes.
Of course, the great advantage about Tesla is its range. On my experience, I’d be very happy that it would do 300-350km without fail and possibly more. Unfortunately, charging from domestic supply can be very slow, a specially installed box is far quicker but the best is the Tesla Supercharger which will charge to half-full in 30 minutes. However, there are very few of them in the country to ease your anxiety if you are travelling a long way, very fast.
We can go in circles about the car’s brilliant aluminium body, massive wheels and some rather uneven off-motorway driving, but overall, the Tesla S is a class car that takes you into the future. It will cost you about €110,000 for all the bells and whistles, but is a very credible, confident car that will be very cheap to run. However, for those who will have the asking price, that may not be why they are buying it. Be warned, you are joining a cult.
And I am still worried about finding a charger when we are blown back to the Stone Age.
PS. If you want to get an idea of the fear that we felt in the generation after World War II, the horrific fictional documentary The War Game, made in 1965 but not universally seen until 1985, is still chilling.