Speed Demon

I have seen the future of the automobile – and it’s sleek, sexy and fast as hell. It’s also environmentally-friendly.

On Monday, I took part in the annual Eco-Rally from Brighton to London. It’s a showcase for the new technologies that are greening automobiles of all shapes and sizes.

On a day of wind and patchy sunshine, fifteen of us drove a convoy of state-of-the-art sedans, sports cars and vans from the south coast of England to City Hall beside Tower Bridge in London. Our vehicles were powered by everything from solar energy to electricity to vegetable oil – with petrol and diesel often playing a part, too (think hybrids). Many of the cars were built using green materials and methods.

What does all this have to do with Slow?

Quite a lot, actually. We have allowed traffic to blight our towns and cities. A central plank of the Slow revolution is to take back the streets from the automobile.

That means a lot less driving and a lot more walking, cycling, scootering, rollerblading, street football and parties, road hockey, etc. Building a strong public transport network should be a top priority for every politician. As should cutting carbon emissions.

When it comes to cars, less is more.

But let’s be honest: there will always be a need (not to mention a desire) for private automobiles that can shuttle us from A to B. The key then is to make these vehicles as green as possible. And that is were the Eco-Rally comes in.

On Monday, I drove the Lotus Eco Elise. It’s a zippy, no-nonsense roadster with an engine that growls like an irked lion. The interior is lined with hemp and eco-wool.

My passenger was the clever and rather beautiful founder of a green consultancy. So picture the scene: hot car, hot blonde, heading-for-middle-age me at the wheel.

I felt like I’d stumbled into someone’s mid-life crisis. Possibly my own.

But the highlight of the day was taking the Tesla for a spin. There is only one word for this car: Wow! It is totally electric and almost completely silent, which means zero air and noise pollution. It also looks like something James Bond would drive, neatly obliterating the old saw that eco-friendly means boring and worthy.

And did I mention that the Tesla is mind-blowingly quick? We’re talking 0-60 MPH in 3.9 seconds. I have never felt acceleration like it. This is the kind of G-force you experience in a souped-up supercar, or a jet fighter.

The Tesla is a breakthrough. Okay, it costs a small fortune. But it shows that we can build zero-emission cars without sacrificing style, performance or sex appeal. And already a cheaper four-door model is coming to market.

But what about all that speed?

As an advocate of Slow, I certainly felt a pang of guilt climbing into the Tesla. But I have to admit that the unease didn’t last long. After the first surge of acceleration, I was whooping like a teenager on a rollercoaster. It was a bit terrifying, but also hugely exhilarating.

Can drivers be trusted with that kind of power at their fingertips? Can I be trusted? I have my doubts.

Which probably means I should stop fantasizing about getting a Tesla for Christmas …