It's no real surprise to discover tech types in Silicon Valley are turning to ancient philosophies like Stoicism - not defined as rolling over and accepting the inevitable, but rather striving for moral and intellectual perfection. That's because some of today's global companies seem to be as much a movement as they are an enterprise and their business is a mission. Tesla is a good example. A very rich man, Elon Musk, decides to covert a huge fortune into a mission to revolutionise the car industry by producing electric cars - exclusively and with zero emissions - and to make them eventually available to almost everyone.
Elon Musk does'nt just want to take you down the electric road, but to Mars as well.
And it does'nt end there. Now he is promising to take people to Mars and produce solar roof tiles - again at affordable prices - for everyone who wants them.
In ways, Tesla cars seem almost incidental to the company's reason for existing. They are part of Musk's mission to create sustainable green transport globally. And, apart from being financially beyond the reach of most people, they are here. But until the Model 3 arrives - it is scheduled to go into production at the end of this year at a price of about $35,000 dollars in the US - Tesla cars won't be sitting in too many driveways.
In the meantime we have the Model S and the Model X, both of which arrived in Ireland this week to herald Tesla's presence on the market. At a starting price of €86,650 (rising to €175,400), they are cars for the wealthy early adapters. They are relatively simple in their basic engineering - four wheels powered by electricity with a choice of two and four wheel drive - but not in their cutting edge built-in software. The fact that Tesla recruited 150 Apple employees is evidenced by the fact that the interior of the car is dominated by a 17" display screen that screams Apple intuitive usability and all any geek could desire.
Tesla cars have a 17" infotainment screen that controls almost every function.
You can swipe and touch to your heart's content and access everything from an advanced GPS system to Spotify music streaming to Google search. Almost every function apart from brakes, indicators and automatic gear engagement are controlled from the screen and the functions are actually too much for most people to take in at once. It is engaging to try 'though.
However, Tesla's real success is not in changing all this kind of technology - BMW and Mercedes may use smaller screens but their connectivity is almost as good - but rather in its cracking of the range anxiety problem that has held back other manufacturers. Tesla batteries are bigger - that's why the cars are so much more expensive - and they take you further, much further.
The S Model with the smallest 75 kw battery, for example, has a potential range of 480 kilometres. Even allowing for the use of lights, wipers and an occasional hard foot on the accelerator the S managed a 140 kilometre cross country journey with ease and there was plenty left in the battery when we arrived at our charging destination. And then, after a 30 minute charge at the Tesla Ballinacolla charging station near Portlaoise, it was back up to to 85 per cent capacity.
Range anxiety, which has plagued other manufacturers using smaller batteries, has been eliminated with the arrival of Tesla. This is really good news for people nervous about the range of an electric car and something that will draw many converts when the more affordable Tesla arrives, provided the price is right.
I found the S a really rewarding drive. It had really good road holding with four wheel drive, had plenty of space for four adults and the technology was easy to use, or at least investigate. Some wind and tyre noise at speed were the only real complaints.
The boot is really big and that is not what you expect from an electric car. In the case of Tesla, the battery runs the length of the car underneath and is not bulked up in the boot.
What is most surprising about the car 'though is the acceleration. Even the 75 battery-driven S can accelerate from 0 to 100 KPH in 5.8 seconds - that is 3.3 seconds slower than the fastest cars in the world - the Bugatti Veyron and the Porsche 911 Turbo S. It is quite an experience to take a car like the Tesla up to 100 KPH as quickly as it takes you there.
It might seem incongruous that Tesla - a safety and planet-saving company - would want acceleration on this scale but the company says if it is to woo people from gas-guzzling super cars then this is what they want. And besides, if it can be done, why not ?
The Model X is not so appealing, apart from the gull wing rear doors.
Some of that philosophy applies to the Model X - a car I did'nt like as much. It's a big SUV clearly designed for the American market but it has none of the grace of a Range Rover, for example. The massive wheels added to this aggressive look but then you think this car produces zero emissions, so if people want a little vulgarity where's the harm ? I was very taken, however, with the gull wing rear doors that open upright to match the wingspan of a condor.
Go for the smaller battery option on a Tesla and you get a very respectable driving range but you can pay more again for bigger battery options - hence with wide discrepancy in price. As for charging, there are no supercharging points at the Sandyford HQ in Dublin as yet (Tesla does not have dealers and will sell direct from Sandyford) and at Ballinacolla on the Cork to Dublin road. Tesla is in the process of building more and more charging points and will have them on all national routes and at locations such as hotels and shopping centres eventually. If the range on the cars was not so extensive the word "eventually" might be an issue but with Tesla the range is there and a little careful planning should avoid any major issues. You can also use the conventional charging at more local locations but the optimum requirement is home charging.
Tesla estimates a night's home charging to cost about €7 but that won't be required every night unless you have pretty high mileage. With lower mileage, this could be an exceptionally cheap car to run and cost far less than the petrol or diesel equivalent. Servicing costs are pretty non-existent because you don't have moving parts to change. Tesla cars come with an eight year battery guarantee and a four year unlimited mileage warranty for the car.
A Tesla spokeswoman agreed. "If you are driving over 400 kilometres a day and you don't have home charging, then this car is not for you".
Tesla cars may not have the most exciting designs but they are certainly cars you can live with. And they, along with other electric cars, have the huge advantages of producing no emissions, have no fuel costs (only low charging costs of 16 cent an hour overnight) and have no maintenance costs. Tesla says you could save about €5,200 in petrol costs over five years with a car like this. All of the software updates for Tesla are done remotely as the car is monitored at all times.
With range anxiety almost eliminated Tesla has taken the electric car project way beyond the point other manufacturers are at in their development. The big issue 'though is the price. For the moment, at least, Tesla cars are an option only for the wealthy
Roll on the Model 3 then and more of us can join the movement.