When most people think about car clubs and who they might meet there, they probably don't immediately assume they'll meet a strongly independent and successful feminist like Jude Burger. But as the founding President of the Tesla Owners Club of Australia, Jude is investing in her social and environmental values by driving an electric car, and sharing the journey with friends who feel the same way about the future of personal transport.
And a brief note: this interview was with Jude, not the Tesla Owners Club (who have no political affiliations). So these are her own opinions, not those of the Club she started.
Jude saved up and bought her first car — a Mazda 1800 — when she was 17 or 18. "A car meant independence: I could come and go to work, Uni and social events as I pleased. I learned how to do my own grease and oil changes to save money. I really loved driving and learned to play the choke in the winter like a maestro," Jude says.
When the time comes for the next generation to learn to drive and buy their first car, things will be quite different.
"There are children alive now who will never need to drive a car," she says.
First steps into an electric future
When she first heard about the Tesla Roadster years ago, she said it "seemed like a rich man’s hobby car — gorgeous but impractical." But those expensive Roadsters paved the way for later, less expensive models. By the time Tesla had opened a Sydney store, Jude had read reviews of the new Model S that sounded more practical and included dual engines, making them an all-wheel drive like the petrol-driven Audi she was driving at the time. The new Tesla Model S also appealed to her gadget-loving nature.
"I had the Audi for over six years, and when I bought it I told myself that my next car would be electric," she says.
"When I filled the Audi with my last tank of gas, I thanked the representative of the petrol industry (the service station attendant) for a lifetime's worth of driving via petrol and then threw my arms up in the air and said “The future has arrived!”. Now, petrol engines just seem dirty, smelly, inefficient… and dreadfully old-fashioned. We had electric cars a hundred years ago; think how our world would be today if we had stayed on that path."
Jude feels lucky that she is in a financial position to be able to put her money behind her values and support the growth of sustainable energy and transport. That she's driving a car that is quiet, relaxing, and peaceful only makes it all the more enjoyable.
It sounds like others also think she's made a good choice to ditch the fossil-fuel vehicle for an electric car. "I love driving around and another driver will match their pace to mine, point to my car and give me a great big smile and a thumbs up. I’ll get people jumping up and down in the street so excited to see a Tesla," she says.
I know what she means — I'm one of those people that will give a big smile to an electric car driver if I see one on the road, and point them out to my kids if we see one in a carpark. The regular electric vehicle display days in most cities are a fun way to find out how the technology works.
Starting the club
In fact, she's had such a great time meeting other electric vehicle fans that she organised a meet-up of Australian Tesla drivers in March 2016. "It was attended mostly from people I’d met on Tesla chat forums. When Tesla introduced an Owner’s Club program, a group of us decided to form the Club which is going really well. We now have a buddy program for new drivers and a loan adapter program for drivers going off the beaten track," she says.
While the percentage of women in the group is low, the community is a diverse mix of ages, cultural backgrounds, political views, values, and includes people from all over Australia.
"It’s a great group of people, with many being quite generous with their time and knowledge, and we do have a little cross over with home-conversion EV car owners. Tesla already has some ties with AEVA (the Australian Electric Vehicle Association) that we hope to strengthen this year," Jude says.
Cars are not Jude's only technological interest. She has had solar panels on her roof for years, and had been thinking recently about a battery system to make it easier to charge her car at home purely from the sun. But with Canberra moving to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020, she's wondering now if she may not need home battery storage. The efficiency of an entire city's energy being generated from renewable sources certainly has some efficiency potential over household solar systems with battery storage, although household solar remains popular. In fact, the new Denman Prospect suburb being developed in Canberra requires that all new homes have a minimum three-kilowatt solar system.
When asked how being involved in the car club has impacted on her life and how she sees herself, Jude says "I keep surprising myself how open I am with complete strangers who either express curiousity about the Tesla or are excited to see one up close."
An autonomous, electric future
Jude believes that when the mainstream car-owning population in Australia change from petrol to electric, that change will happen in a short space of time. "There will come a time soon when people with means just won’t buy petrol cars anymore. It just won’t be cool anymore," Jude says. "I recommend people don't buy a new petrol car now, because when the time comes to sell there will be so many electric options that they won’t get a decent price."
From here, Jude believes the next step is autonomous driving cars. She has taken me for a drive in her Model S and demonstrated how the auto-pilot feature makes highway driving easier, while still requiring the driver to put their hands on the steering wheel regularly to ensure the driver is still in control of the vehicle.
"Fully autonomous cars are so close," Jude says. "I wonder how the Australian government is readying for the legislation required to support the technology."
Images from Tesla Owners Australia