Elon Musk

VW and Tesla – a match made in heaven?

ELON MUSK must be ecstatic. Having already conquered the world with Paypal, taken on NASA at the space exploration game and threatened to revolutionise mass transport with the brilliantly-named The Boring Company, he’s now got a new suitor. The world’s second biggest car company, no less.

That’s right, word on the street is that Volkswagen is interested in buying a stake in Tesla. Admittedly, Volkswagen hasn’t successfully shot one of its own cars into space but it has pulled off a few other tricks of its own – after selling 21 million Beetles and popularising the hot hatchback it’s gone on to snap up Audi, Porsche, SEAT, Skoda, Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini, along with superbike specialist Ducati and truck builder MAN. They’re behind only Toyota in the car-building stakes, and still on an upward trajectory. What’s more, they’re on the cusp of launching their own sub-brand, called ID, which focuses on zero emissions vehicles.

But owning Tesla – or at least, a bit of it – seems like an entirely smart move. Not only does it give VW access to all of the Californian start-up’s battery tech, which for years has been ahead of everyone else in the electric car game, but it also gives it access to all those Tesla-branded smart chargers you see at motorway service stations. The other day I called into Fleet Services on the M3 and saw a line of six of them sitting unused while Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi Outlander owners were practically trading blows over the Ecotricity ones nearby, but if VW and Audi owners were able to use Tesla ones too in a few years’ time, it’d make more sense for everyone.

But I’d like to think the suits at VW are interested in what I think is something even more remarkable that’s potentially on the table; the creation of a brand’s street cred out of nowhere. Think about how long it’s taken Toyota to win over a generation of cynical Brits with Lexus, and yet in half the time there are now car mags urging you to go electric and buy a Model 3 over a 320d. The internet’s even invented its own term for someone prepared to defend Elon Musk’s offerings, even in the face of outright hostility from the rest of the motoring world – the Tesla Fanboy. That such a term – and the people behind it – exists at all just shows you how much currency the cars created by someone I’m still convinced is a real-life Bond villain have with today’s buyers.

Yet here’s the weird thing – Tesla, for all its trick gullwing doors, ability to defeat McLarens in drag races and to make cars that can drive themselves, is still struggling to make long-term profits. It’s moved the motoring game and brought us some very cool cars at the expense of….well, at the expense. So, in other words, it’s where Aston Martin was 30 years ago.

What it needs is the equivalent of the DB7 – a brilliant car that transforms the company, bankrolled by someone else. VW and Tesla, then, are a match made in heaven. Your move, Elon…

Tesla tech I can trust – but Mr Middle Lane Hog? Not a chance

You might trust Tesla tech - not the other drivers passing you nearby
TESLAS can do all sorts of completely bonkers – and therefore, entirely brilliant – things that you didn’t know you needed or wanted from your next car.

There is no point, for instance, in it having something called a Ludicrous Mode that enables you to outdrag a Lamborghini Aventador from the traffic lights. Nor do you need an infotainment system that lets you pretend you’re Roger Moore, circa 1977, outrunning the baddies in an early Esprit, or a remote-control system that lets you move the car out of awkwardly tight parking. And you definitely don’t need your next purchase to fund a motoring tycoon who fires his own cars into space for fun. But this is Tesla, so you can do all of these things, and more.

But one thing you definitely can’t do – at least in the eyes of Hertfordshire Constabulary, anyway – is to show off its impossibly smug autonomous driving mode. You might have seen in the news that Bhavesh Patel has been banned from driving, because he decided to let his Model S have a go. Not on a private test track, but on the M1, while he was in the passenger seat.

The last thing I’d want to do is condone Mr Patel driving like a berk (or not at all), but what the incident does prove is just how much of a tightrope Britain’s powers-that-be and the world’s motoring giants are treading when it comes to autonomous driving. Tesla’s tech, weirdly, I think I’d have trusted with a not terribly interesting stretch of motorway, but would I have had an ounce of faith in the chap in the rented Insignia inevitably 200 yards up front in the middle lane? Not a chance.

I’ve said before that while I love driving, and will be a broken man if my right to enjoy it at the helm of an early MX-5 on a Welsh mountain road is ever taken away from me, there are plenty of occasions when in a distant future I’d happily retreat to a Tesla’s rear quarters. My current commute, for instance, is one long, straight flat road that has no overtaking opportunities and a lorry on it that’s inevitably doing 39mph – that’s an hour a day where I could be learning Italian or writing poetry while Elon Musk’s electronics strut their stuff. I know that I wrote in this very column 18 months ago about a self-driving Tesla that was involved in an accident, but technology improves and gets ever safer.

It sounds wonderful – but Britain would have to go autonomous in one huge, legally-binding lunge if it was to ever embrace it properly. Until then the road will be an unhappy mix of diehard traditionalists (that’d be me, then), the vast majority of people who’d love to have their cars do all the hard work but aren’t legally allowed to, and the dimwits in between, who are too busy cutting people up in their rented Insignias to care.

Until then I’ll happily enjoy the Model S’ other mad features. Any Aventador owners fancy a race, then?