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Follow Darren's jouney across Tassie

Our General Manager of Member Assist is testing the range of electric vehicles over the next few days throughout Tassie to determine if they will be a viable alternative transport for use in the near future. Follow his journey below.

​​​​​​​​​Day one: Melbourne to Tasmania on the Spirit of Tasmania

As I walked to the Tesla showroom a row of gleaming vehicles greeted me, Tesla had provided me the registration number for the Spirit of Tasmania booking so I immediately knew which one was mine. Finished in multi-coat red the paint looked deep, optioned with 21" grey turbine wheels (we'll see what that does to ride quality down the road) it was easily the pick of the lineup. My new best friend James was immediately to the fore enquiring about what experience I'd had with Tesla vehicles, my answer was swift and short as a passenger for about 5kms, so in short none.

​James spent the next 40 minutes explaining to me the basics; yes that's 40 minutes for the basics. Even for someone who regularly drives many and varying vehicles, that was about as much as I could take in. I was advised this vehicle was just updated with version 8.0 software and one of the key upgrades of this version requires you to keep your hands on the wheel in autonomous mode? If not the system is disabled until you stop put it in park and set off again. While understanding autonomous driving vehicles haven't been legislated for in Australia yet I'm not sure I get an autonomous mode where you have to have your hands on the steering wheel?

With the basics under my belt I thought I'd head off for a familiarization drive as I had an hour up my sleeve. I gently navigated my way through increasingly trendy Richmond getting a feel for my steed for the next five days. The two things that immediately hit you is the silence, the other the acceleration. Even a gentle squeeze on the throttle will shove you back in the seat. I completed my familiarization drive and dropped back to the Tesla showroom to take advantage of a final top-up from their Super-Charger as range was going to be very important for me on Friday.

Charger unplugged, I set the navigation to the Spirit of Tasmania terminal in port Melbourne by voice command. The vehicle immediately understood my Tasmanian accent and set a 9km path for the Spirit. 55 minutes for 9kms doesn't make Hobart traffic look so bad! I drove into the terminal and stopped in quarantine for the once over, nothing to declare, but I wasn't going to get away that easily. A couple of the guys wanted to have a chat about the car, which Model S was it? Is that the one with ludicrous mode? Is it under three seconds 0-100kms? P90D, yes and yes was my response. One of the guys said he saw one of these on a drag strip in QLD matching it with a V8 supercar.

A short wait in the queue prior to boarding gave me a chance to explore the Tesla. Almost everything is available via the massive touchscreen. This thing is nearly as big as the screen on my desk in the office. You can have the Google maps over the full screen, halve it with a rearward facing camera or have your playlist displayed. As the vehicle is "connected" you have access to multiple music streaming options via apps, internet radio stations from all over the world, it's limitless.

Almost all vehicles settings are changeable via the touch screen, you can raise and lower it, change the regenerative braking mode, change the steering to whatever setting you like, manage driver assistance systems and the one I was interested was a mode that provides you with optimal range by making sure things like climate-control aren't using any more power than they need. You also set up a profile which remembers things like your preferred steering wheel and seat position.

In no time I was on board the Spirit with the Tesla safely locked away on deck five. I collected my overnight bag and headed for my cabin. A four birth with en-suite and a porthole fitted the bill this time on my own, but I've previously travelled a couple of times in a shared four berth with no problems with my co-tenants. I dumped my bags and headed to my preferred spot which is the terrace lounge on deck 9 right at the back (stern for the nauticals). Here you can get a drink and a light snack which I opted for after a late lunch. It was like setting sail to the sunset with clear skies and little breeze You had the choice of listening to live entertainment here or relaxing watching the numerous flat screen TVs. We left right on schedule on smooth seas in the bay. There was a small swell on Bass Strait but it barely rocked Spirit 1 on the crossing, almost soothingly rocking me to sleep.

The 5.45am wake-up call greeted passengers with instructions on when and where we would be disembarking. Car deck 5 was first off and I was back on terra-firma and leaving the dock facility by 6.45am. Unfortunately the sun and blue skies I left in Melbourne hadn't followed me to Devonport. A dull morning and lots of rain and with 250kms ahead of me road conditions are going to be challenging.

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​​​​​​​Day two: Devonport to Strahan Village

Sometimes the best laid plans go astray. We'd invited the media to get a first-hand look at the P90D Tesla at the Spirit terminal before I headed for Strahan. A mix up in time for the event and the need for the TV camera guys to get lots of imagery meant I was still sitting in Devonport at 10.45am well over an hour behind my original schedule.

I finally hit the road in earnest with the first plan to get to Burnie, drop into our branch offices there for a few moments to say hello. The girls in the office ever interested in what I am driving spotted the Tesla but couldn't work out what it was another said she didn't recognize the badge. Anyway 3 trips around Burnie later each one had their pre-conceived views on electric cars blown away. One was even heard to utter a four letter word as we accelerated onto the Bass Highway. Next stop was a friend a few kms up the road who I had mentioned I might need to use his three phase plug for a top-up in case I looked like being marginal on getting to Strahan. I wsnt until he thought he should check what all the noise was about in this "ludicrous" mode. So we found a quiet piece of 100km/h road stopped the car switched to ludicrous and nailed the accelerator. I wasn't counting as I was pinned against my seat, but 3 seconds to 100km/h sounds about right.

After I steered him back in the direction of his workshop we attempted to plug in for a quick boost of energy. Cables all sorted both ends plugged in, Nothing! Re-checked plugs, switches settings still no joy. Just to make sure it wasn't the car or equipment we changed to a 15amp plug and it started charging, but it was only delivering 10km range per hour and I want an extra 50kms pronto. A quick ring to a sparky tells us five pin three phase sockets need the middle pin connected to neutral, clearly this wasn't the case with this one. However a guy around the corner did have one and we plugged in there for 45 minutes and I got the insurance I was looking for.

Leaving Burnie with 379kms range I felt comfortable I had plenty, the navigation system said I'd have 20% remaining by the time I got to Strahan. Through the first 40kms we relative stayed on track, but I noticed as the outside ambient air temperature fell from 13Deg C in Burnie to 6Deg C 80kms down the road, add to that a climb to the highest point on the Murchison Hwy and the estimate remaining when I arrived at Strahan  got down to 2%. The regenerative function which puts some charge back into the batteries but also really washes off some speed in downhill sections, so much so I was able to pretty much use it instead of the breaks to slow me down when required.  The hill down the other side and an increase in ambient temperature put the odds back in my favour and it stayed at 15% for the remainder of the drive.

About 110kms south of Burnie I needed to stretch my legs so I thought I'd stop at Tullah which was at one time a HEC town which was established to build the Reece Dam. I'd spent some time here as a kid and wondered at the time how they could have such a lush if not soggy footy oval when the best Queenstown could do was gravel? Anyway I digress, back to the subject at hand. Just on the topside of town was a deserted petrol station and the irony of driving the Tesla hit. I'd stopped in an old Hydro town, parked at the bowsers of a disused petrol station in an electric vehicle!

I've had a few technical glitches with the Tesla today but I don't know if operator error was causing them. The TV guys thought it was cool how the door handles popped from the doors when I approached with the key-fob (which is the silhouette shape of a Tesla) in my pocket, so they wanted me to do it a couple of times while they got some footage. I decided it might be easier to just press the button, which happened to be the roof of the fob to lock and unlock, seems like the P90D doesn't like that too much. It decided to stay permanently locked and wasn't responding to the button at all. I thought that was going to be embarrassing, I decided I'd walk away from the car to get out of range then walk back towards it, the doors unlocked and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The second was the cleverly disguised charge port. I'd taken particular note on day one from James how this operated. When I got to Strahan with around 80km range left, I backed up to the newly installed Tesla charger only to find I was unable to open the flap with any of the methods I was shown. I tried each way a few times, took the "if all else fails read the manual" approach and located the appropriate page in the manual, remembering this is a tesla and the manual was never going to be a book. The entire manual is electronic and can be accessed via the 17" touchscreen. It was actually easier than a book. As an enhancement maybe a search functionality might also be useful (it may actually have one, but I couldn't see it). Anyway appears I was going about it the right way but with no results. Again scratching my head I went back and pushed the flap in frustration, went back and pushed the button to open it on the screen and magically it opened?

After a long day and around 280kms I finally plugged the Tesla in, the green lights lit up and charging commenced. The vehicle was accepting just under 100kms range per hour, so around four and a half hours for a full recharge. I'll be needing every bit of it tomorrow heading initially 300kms to Hobart including big climbs out of Queenstown and Mt Arrowsmith, a few hours charging then another 200kms to Freycinet.

I'd used 300kms of range today to travel 200kms. This was about what I expected. I may have also lost a bit of battery performance due to the colder weather down the coast. If this rings true tomorrow I'll be looking at 450kms range to do 300kms. I hope I'm right!

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​​​​​​​Day three: Strahan Village to RACT/RACV Apartment Hotel to Freycinet Lodge

I thought it was going to be all about the drive. Despite a range of 509kms in ideal conditions the word ideal doesn't account for Tasmania's west coast and central highlands roads or weather. I left a sleepy Strahan Village about 6.30am via a visit to Banjos for a bite and coffee, although I didn't need much after sampling the delights of the View 42 restaurant buffet the night before overlooking the village and Macquarie Harbour.

I set off comfortable in my mind I had enough range to get to Hobart, I knew it wasn't going to be a trip on the speed limits all the way but I had plenty of time on my side for a leisurely cruise. At a brisk 5Deg C I knew battery performance wouldn't be at its optimum, but proceeded to plot the journey into the navigation which gave me an estimated journey time of 3hrs 32 mins for 298kms and told me I'd have about 17% battery range left. I thought that was a tad ambitious as I don't think the combination of Tesla and Google maps totally understand mountainous roads. It wasn't 15kms into the trip and I was getting a red warning on my dash saying I didn't have enough range, another telling me if I drove under 50km/h I'd make it. I put those at the back of my mind and pushed on albeit conservatively. It felt like I was travelling uphill 80% of the time and the 20% downhill not enough to put anything back in the batteries from the regenerative system. I did note I didn't use the brake pedal once on that leg of the journey. Arriving at Queenstown I'd used 100kms range for 42kms distance. Those sums didn't add up to getting to Hobart especially as I hadn't commenced the 99 bends out of Queenie, Mt Arrowsmith or Tarraleah.

Queenstown was about as quiet as Strahan had been so a quick snap at the railway station and off again. The "Bends" came and went costing me 15km range for 5kms, but I managed to recoup a few down the other side. The messages on how fast I should be driving continued but it seemed they were becoming more optimistic and had changed from red to amber. I took a slight detour to head down to Lake Burbury for a quick look, the tannin rich water almost brimming on full and still plenty of rain clouds about. I imagined the water to be the fuel of future transport.

As I approached the climb to Arrowsmith I'd been losing range around 2:1km, and the temperature had dropped to 2Deg C. Then it started to snow. This wasn't the first time I'd driven through light snow on the Lyell Hwy, but it didn't stay light for ling, it got heavier and was settling in the trees then heavier again and the road became a set of wheel tracks in both directions, the temperature was reading 1Deg C, and remained that way until the top of Tarraleah. Vehicles parked at Derwent Bridge had a good 15cms of snow on them, so this wasn't a passing sprinkle. While enjoying scenery you might see in a northern hemisphere winter I was getting killed on range-to-empty. The gap between the two was closing at a rapid rate. I reached the canal that runs beside the road at the southern end of Tarraleah and conceded in my mind I probably wouldn't make it. I'd travelled 180kms and used 330kms range leaving me just 130kms to travel and only 179kms of range.

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I felt like all I had done was climb and downhill sections seemed so short. I'd driven that road plenty of times and didn't think there was enough downhill on the run to Ouse to get any credit, but to my surprise the 40kms only took 12kms of range and most of that was on one steep section. The temperature had jumped to double figures so the tables were turning. I pressed on and drove as conservatively as I could while maintaining traffic flow. My last challenge would be the short climb out of Hamilton. If I could get to there in the positive I knew I'd make it.

At the top of Hamilton Hill I was 40kms in credit and there were no more climbs ahead. The temperature continued to rise and I've got a smile on my dial again. I arrived with 68kms left. I phoned ahead to local Tesla owner and "I Want Energy" proprietor Rob Manson to see if I could avail myself of his three-phase power to recharge for part two of today's journey.  Rob had one of the first Teslas in Tasmanian and is their biggest local ambassador. Charging at 60kms per hour I needed about four hours to get enough to get to Freycinet late this afternoon.

Gremlins again surfaced or so I thought. I had set the Tesla charging, green lights flashing next to the charge socket, it quickly came up to the specified charge rate, so I headed home for a re-pack and a catch-up with the family. As it happened we needed to grab something close by Rob's workshop so I dropped in to check progress. I'd managed to get 120kms charge but the green charge indicator lights were off. I pressed the button on the charge adapter again and on came the green lights? By the time I came back later in the day the lights were off but it had managed to accumulate 368kms range for a 200km journey, so was comfortable I had plenty on board with no climbs like I'd experienced this morning so now with a passenger I headed off. It was bugging me a bit so when I arrived at Freycinet I had another "if all else fails " moments so I had a look in the electronic manual and sure enough it switched the light off when the car locked but it continued to charge.

I thought I'd give the autonomous mode (remembering it needed hands on the wheel to operate) a go on a well-marked dual lane hwy. I double flipped the cruise control lever which activated full autonomous mode. Problem was it was a 110km/h speed limit so that is the speed the Tesla wanted to do, but I wasn't that comfortable doing that speed so had to quickly redress. Once it had settled to speed I was comfortable with it I let it do its business under close supervision. With radars, cameras and the latest software update to guide it was surprisingly good, but not perfect, giveway merging lanes I worked out it needed an indicator action otherwise it would try and send you off the left hand side of the road. In general cruise-control mode it would actually slow you down for corners that it thought should be taken at speed less than that set, but my experience was it slowed too much and when the corner was completed it accelerated too aggressively back to the set speed.

While I was driving my new passenger (wife) was giving Spotify a workover. Once she got the hang of it, the tunes (good and bad) were flowing. Streaming was interrupted periodically due to the lack of network connectivity. That said after two full days of the tunes from my phone, anything including conversation with a human was a pleasant change.

While on the subject of my passenger, I asked her views on ride quality. I wanted to double check my assessment that even with 21" wheels it was a pleasantly comfortable. My passenger concurred to the point where she comfortably grabbed forty winks (which gave me back control of the tunes.

On arrival at a full house at Freycinet Lodge the Tesla charge station was occupied, not by a Tesla, but a white-goods Toyota Camry. As I'd managed to arrive with just under 100kms range I wasn't too concerned to charge it immediately as it was likely they were restaurant guests and would head off after dinner.

There is nothing better than being on the deck of Freycinet Lodge sipping a beverage enjoying company and the view, but the rubbish weather which had been stalking me since Devonport didn't let up. From Sorell to Coles Bay it hit randomly torrential heavy rain and at times hail, and it was this weather pattern and a temperature less than 8Deg C that kept us indoors which was a pity, but we did patronize the Hazards bar and Bay restaurant.

After dinner the car park was free so I backed the Tesla up for connection, hooked up and pressed the button, Nothing? Did a double check and noticed the master switch on the charger installation was switched to off. I corrected that but still nothing. Stress level rising again I thought the range I had wasn't going to get me anywhere It appeared there was no power at all, so I looked a bit further and found a nearby switchboard. The circuit breaker for the charger was clearly marked and was tripped. I reset it, the lights came on and I called it a night with a 32km/h charge rate from the same device that was giving me 96km/h in Strahan. I clearly don't understand how electricity works?

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​​​​​​​Day four: Freycinet Lodge to Cradle Mountain Hotel

Weather forecast, more of the same but maybe less rain? Lazy morning, almost a brunch before we head up the road to the car park for the Wineglass Bay walks. It's still overcast, cloudy and a strong southerly breeze. It's no secret around office that wherever possible I'll drive rather than walk, and I considered a direct flight from Sydney to Hobart across the east coast enough to say I'd seen Wineglass Bay, but my better half who sleeps on planes and had never seen this iconic place  said we needed a first-hand look.

We study the trek possibilities at the foot of the Hazards deciding on the lookout walk as a starter and we'll see how we go after that. An hour or so return to the lookout sounded fine to me but I'd keep that under my hat and claim an injury or something so I didn't have to walk down the other side.  I'll leave that for another day when I have a helicopter and licence.

So we did the walk, I huffed and puffed a bit on the last 400 metres to the lookout. It was blowing a gale at the top but I now know why people head to Freycinet. The white sand, blue waters and shelter the bay provides is something to behold. I swear if the day was better, I'd have walked down to the beach, honest!

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Walk done and it's back to the real business, driving. A full charge of 509kms would be needed to do the 300 plus kms to Cradle, and that is what I had. The flat road out to the Tasman Hwy put me ahead of the game. Unfortunately a few kms down the road towards the Lake Leake Hwy the red "you aren't going to make it" warnings began. With total confidence from the Strahan leg I just ignored them, and it wasn't until 20kms from Campbell Town (on the downhill run) that I started to see amber warnings and eventually they disappeared. Unlike the Strahan to Hobart leg where the backend was easy Freycinet to Cradle was the opposite so I needed to gain some credit along the way and it hadn't started all that well.

I made a decision to get the credit from the hwy but that meant slower speeds. Full autonomous mode at 85km/h on the midland Hwy I was getting a 1:1 burn, which was putting me ahead for later in the drive. Incredibly a B-double managed to pass me safely on Illawara Rd. Luckily the Bass Hwy was quiet which allowed me to continue to accrue km credit without pissing too many people off.

We headed inland on the Railton Rd from Elizabeth Town I continued to get in the positive but I knew I'd need it. It was along this stretch that the sun came out, almost the first time since I left Melbourne last Thursday.

With under 100kms to go and 225km range I reckon I had enough. The run down to Cethana Dam got me big numbers but the climb up the other side cost me double. I managed to get the Moina turnoff to Cradle with 150kms range but still had the Climb from there, then the rolling run to the Cradle Mountain Hotel and the last charger on my tour.

The hotel gates met us with 80kms range which was so much more  than I was anticipating when I was on the Lake Leake Hwy. Hotel Staff made sure the Telsa charge station car park was left clear , I hooked up and was getting 90km/h, so less than five hours and we'd have full charge again for what was an easy run back to Devonport  to catch the ferry.

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​​​​​​​Day five: Cradle Mountain Hotel to Melbourne via the Spirit of Tasmania

Finally clear skies and the sun. Cradle Mountain Hotel presented a picture perfect morning to admire over breakfast. You can sometimes be fooled by these types of mornings in the highlands, but not today, but not on this occasion outside temperature was a balmy 12Deg C.

We headed down the road to the Parks offices, received a comprehensive overview of what we could do for the day, purchased our passes and headed down to the gate. I was warned if the lights were flashing at the gate the road beyond had reached its quota of cars as it was virtually a single lane with the odd wait area while a vehicle in another direction passed. Sure enough the light was flashing so we headed back to the main car park and grabbed the shuttle bus which was included in our park admission.

We virtually hopped straight on a bus and headed beyond the gate. On the 20 minute trip into Dove Lake my wife mentioned that four letter word again, “walk”. I thought I’d had my quota the day before, but apparently not. We got off at Ronny Creek which left around a 3kms walk to Dove Lake. We commenced on a well-constructed board walk which is incidentally the start of the famed overland track, the first kilometer was easy going through button grass plains, then an intersection that sends those wanting to spend six days walking the overland while those wanting something shorter a turn left.

The boardwalk turned to a track but it was still pretty easy going. The further we went the more interesting the scenery became. Creeks running beside the track with the clearest water you have seen, a sort of mini waterfall at Lake Lilla which also gave our first glance of Cradle Mountain. A little further on and we caught a glimpse of Dove Lake and soon enough we were there. Was it worth the walk? Definitely and made some much better with the weather so perfect. Getting into this walking thing I thought we could extend a little so we made our way around Dove lake to Glacier Rock. Wildlife was a little light on today but we did see lots of evidence that wombats are flourishing, (did you know wombat droppings were sometimes cube shaped?) and the tail of a smallish tiger snake making its way away from the path no doubt looking for a quiet place to get some warmth into his body after recent snow. We headed back to the Dove Lake car park to grab the shuttle back, but decided to get out at Ronny Creek again and walk in the other direction to Snake Hill, another 2.5kms all on boardwalk with bridges traversing river crossings on bridges, again a pretty easy walk. We grabbed the shuttle from Snake Hill back to our starting point and called it a day. Would I have preferred to drive in? Yes. Would I have experienced some of Tasmania’s best scenery? Probably not, so my recommendation is to leave the car and catch the shuttle.

DSC_0479.JPGThe run back to Devonport to catch the Spirit is virtually the only time on this trip I’ve been able to access the potential of the Tesla without fear of getting caught short. We had virtually a full charge and less than 100kms to use it with some fantastic roads along the way. The Cradle link road starts off as a rolling relaxing drive on a fantastic road surface, I muted the music, tyre noise was low and the Tesla almost silently snaked its way along. I was wary of wombats on this section of road as we had seen at least three wandering across the road on the way in. We again saw a few, but this time they were in the paddocks away from the roads. The last 10kms down to Moina provide plenty of challenging corners. Some have you as low as 30km/h, but its exhilarating to blast out of them with the Tesla’s huge torque. Then it’s down to Cethana which is a Targa Tasmania stage in the other direction. As I’ve found before I almost immediately pull up behind a truck slowly navigating its way down to the bottom of the hill, I thought my day was ruined however I got a passing opportunity and shot past the truck in the blink of an eye. This has to be the best car for passing ever produced. The run to the bottom and back up the other side is a combination of slow in fast out which suits the Tesla perfectly. The regenerative energy system helps reduce momentum as do the huge front and rear brakes, the massive 21” tyres offer plenty in the way of grip and never once complained (squealed).

Despite the extensive use of aluminum in the construction of the Tesla it’s still a heavyweight  2,100kgs because of the batteries located under the floor area. You sometimes get a feel for this in some of the tighter bits, but their placement under the floor helps a low centre of gravity. The combined power output of the front and rear electric motors is a thumping 568kW with a massive 1,000Nm of torque available immediately you stamp your foot on the accelerator so it deals with the weight effortlessly. Just to put that into comparison, a V8 SS-V Commodore weighs around 360kgs less, and has engine output of 304kW and 570Nm.

We work our way back to East Devonport and the Spirit terminal; we pass through check-in into Quarantine. I’m immediately recognized as that guy who came over the other day to drive the Tesla around Tassie. Doesn’t buy me any special treatment, can I check under the hood and in the back? Mmm… the back is easy, but I might have to have another look in the “if all else fails” to find how to lift the bonnet. We have a look in the back and have a chat about the electronic manual and decide I’m probably OK.

In the lineup waiting for the Spirit I park among a large group of early R and S series Valiants that had been doing an eleven day tour of the state. We exchanged stories about our travels, a couple had said they had been to Mona and seen two Teslas in the car parks marked “God and God’s Mistress” and that they belonged to David Walsh and his wife. Acting surprised I asked what they thought of Mona, the reactions were many and varied, but overall massively positive as was the rest of their tour of Tasmania despite some pretty challenging weather conditions.

So what is my verdict of Tesla touring in Tasmania?

Firstly the car is great and I was getting to know something new about every hour I drove it. I think you would still be learning new things about the car three months into ownership. It is absolutely comfortable, 1,200kms+ over five days and not one complaint from me. Autonomous mode is good but not perfect, I don’t like the cruise control activation and resumption all that much but could get used to it. The electronic interaction whether it is the mapping/navigation, vehicle management and settings, or the multimedia, it is first rate.

To the range, on a full charge it says it has a range of just over 500kms, I’m not sure where you would get this, maybe a flat road driving at 90km/h? In Tasmania I put the range limit not much more than 300kms for anything that includes serious hills which is a lot of roads down here. Even at this range it’s going to be a conservative drive which isn’t the way these vehicles need to be driven. So how do we fix it? A charger on the west coast around Tarraleah providing up to 90km/h range in an hour would give you that security you need to drive normally, a cuppa and a scone, a quick tour of the old hydro village and you’re away again with more than what you need to get to Hobart.

The other obvious one for me is a super charger at Campbell Town. This could service vehicles from the east, north and south providing enough range to get them where they need to be. Would I have one? A tentative yes at the moment, if they could guarantee me another 90kms range allowing me to drive those 300km Tassie stretches at a speed I want to drive then I’d have one in a heartbeat.