The Unplanned Target

Last Wednesday night (June 5th), my husband and I ordered a Tesla Model 3. It wasn’t a simple decision.

On April 1, 2016 we put down a $1500 deposit and registered our interest. And then we waited and waited. But Australia only gets (of course) the base range or the most expensive range – none of the in-between stuff. And for us, the most basic version didn’t seem like an option (because of the battery range). So to buy a Model 3 is to commit to spending nearly double what we have ever spent on a car.

Furthermore, we had to borrow money to buy it which goes against every grain of sense my parents ever imbued me with. I have this mantra in my head saying “Don’t borrow to buy cars. They are liabilities, not assets.”

But you see, unexpectedly, we are suddenly achieving a target. A target we have been working towards without even planning it, since about 2006, when I first moved into this house.

It all started with realizing that, in winter in our living room, the air on the top of the cats’ scratching post was 4 degrees warmer than the air at ground level. This was not comfortable. And to be warm at all, we had to be within about 1.5 metres of the gas furnace on the wall. So the first step was roof insulation. We installed the batts ourselves. I remember the horrible masks, the dark, the cobwebs and the decades old rat poop up there. But we had fun. And we had already made a difference to the comfort of our home.

Then, the local government put in place an incentive to get rooftop solar and we snapped it up – 3.5 kw on our garage roof. It was an investment – not an environmental consideration (although we were certainly pleased with the environmental side effects) – and it has paid itself off in spades. Later we added another 4 kw on the house roof in a much less generous deal although still better than you can get these days.

The next step was getting professionals to put in wall insulation and then my husband and his father retrofitted double glazing in our cedar-framed windows. Then we could put in reverse cycle ducted air-conditioning which kept the house temperature very even and made clothing the babies at bedtime much less challenging.

So far, this has all taken about 6 or 8 years. Every single decision has been made because it made our house more comfortable or made financial sense. My husband does a lot of reading and a lot of thinking and I feel so lucky to have been guided by him.

It’s 2014 and now we have two kids under 4 and a much beloved Subaru WRX. Trips away are an exercise in packing for my husband. Furthermore, every time I have to load the kids into the car, I have to bend pretty low because I’m quite tall. As the kids get heavier, my back begins to complain. One night, my husband is scrolling through a list of the “most efficient” cars available in Australia. He discovers a new Mitsubishi entering the market – a plug-in hybrid SUV. It’s perfect. It’s taller, it has a bigger boot, it suits our driving needs and it’s absolutely streets ahead (in terms of efficiency) of the WRX. Its battery only has an estimated range of 50 kms but we soon discover that, around town, we don’t need much more than that as we live in a small city. And for highway travel – it’s got the petrol engine. We buy it and sell the WRX.

In 2015 we renovate our kitchen and living room to make it more open-plan and lighter. In the process, we put in all electric appliances (supported by the 7.5 kw of solar panels). We did the renovation cheaply thinking it would be an interim measure before a knock down and rebuild. But it transformed the house from poky and awkward, to pleasant and very livable.

Our second car is my husband’s first love – a little 1975 Fiat X19. When I first moved in I tried to persuade him to sell it, not realizing how deep the bond was. Since then I have come to realize that it’s a fixture. In 2016, there began a long search to find a way to “electrify” the Fiat. P (my husband) searched high and low for cheap motors, lighter batteries, etc. Eventually he gave up. But what he found was a wrecked 2011 Alpha Giullietta in Sydney. Careful measuring indicated that the engine would fit in the engine bay of the Fiat. Project Alphalfi began. It’s not finished yet. And meanwhile, we only have one car. My generous father-in-law loans us his big old Magna for over a year. But a comment he made lead us to think that we were disadvantaging him by keeping hold of it and P began doing sums to figure out whether it would be better to buy the Magna for a pittance and sell it when the Fiat was done or whether it would be better to buy a second hand electric car. The electric car won hands down because of petrol and maintenance costs.

Luck lead us to a great deal – a 2012 Nissan Leaf owned for 6 years by Origin Energy and with only 6000kms on the clock. We gave my Father in Law his Magna back and got the Leaf shipped down from Brisbane. We all fell in love with it almost instantly. It’s nippy and responsive and clean and cute and the boot is surprisingly capacious. It has become P’s commuter car and I do the school run in the Mitsubishi. But the Leaf is ONLY for around town and can’t tow a trailer. So in that way, it’s limiting. Also, the range predictor in it can be terrifyingly erratic. Great commuter car but not the final answer.

Even with the two cars being charged at home every day/night, our 7.5 kw of solar panels produce more electricity than we use.

And that pretty much brings us to now. If we buy this Tesla (and we think we have buyers for the Mitsubishi) and we get rid of our last gas appliance (our hot water service), we will be almost entirely fossil fuel free. My husband will keep the Fiat (with its super duper new engine) because he loves it and he will occasionally take it for drives on the weekends or to Italian car shows. We value it for its history and we think that’s okay.

Fossil fuel free. That’s the target we didn’t know we were aiming for. Every decision was made for practicality and comfort, the Tesla being the sole exception.

The Tesla is absolutely a luxury. Imagine Fossil Fuel Free is a ball game with a 13 year long season. We are winners. The Tesla is our trophy.

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