In early 2010, Tesla teamed up TAG Heuer to honor the premium watchmaker's 150th anniversary. Together, the companies created the Odyssey of Pioneers, an around the world journey in the one-of-a-kind TAG Heuer Tesla Roadster. The trip began in Basel, Switzerland, in March and over the past months, the car, piloted by Tesla Technician Luke McClure, has traveled over 10,318 miles through Europe, Russia, and Asia.
Today, the TAG Heuer Tesla Roadster kicks off the North American leg of the tour. Before hitting the California highway, Luke had some time to answer questions about his experiences so far and on what’s next.
1. What was the most memorable stop you made along the tour in Europe?
Driving onto Red Square in Moscow was a unique and unreal experience. It is very historic and has extremely high security. It felt like being in a scene from "Mission Impossible."
While I followed a federal car onto the Red Square, my Russian co-pilot received strict instructions via walkie-talkie of each movement. Suddenly, Russian undercover cops appeared from nowhere. At the same time, military troops were marching and parading with tanks and weaponry to celebrate May Day. I’ll never forget the moment a stray, scrappy looking dog strolled past the Roadster. A Russian official joked, "Do you see that dog?!? He works for the Russian Intelligence and is one of our best agents!"
2. So, Red Square or Great Wall?
Great Wall. I like the Chinese quote, "You are not a real man until you climb the great wall." I must be a real man now!
3. Which country's residents have been the most excited to see a Tesla?
People in Japan went crazy over the car - everyone wanted a picture. I won't be surprised when this car becomes the latest craze there.
4. Which country's residents have been most surprised to learn the Roadster is electric?
This technology has not truly arrived in places like India and Russia. Hybrids, while popular in the EU and US, are nearly unheard of and very rare. Showing up in an EV like the Roadster was surprising and unthinkable to a lot of people. In every country I've driven through, most people are amazed and astonished by this journey.
5. In how many languages can you say "electric"?
Électrique, Elettrico, Electrico, Elektryczne, Elektrisch...Thankfully the word electric sounds similar and is universally recognised across Europe. It wasn’t until I reached Russia and Asia that communication became difficult and language was a barrier to overcome. We'll see if the Americans can understand my British accent.
In many ways, it has been fun to overcome the language barriers when a person who doesn’t speak English wants to learn about the car. I’ve had many fun guessing games along the way, and interpreted questions with hand signals and gestures. I’ve had to be inventive with answering questions, using pictures and even tried using the translation feature on my mobile phone.
6. In the early days of the Odyssey we watched as you charged in a barn in the Swiss countryside, where have been other interesting places to charge?
Since the Roadster can charge from any outlet, regardless of country or outlet voltage (100v or 240v), I’ve found success across Europe and Asia. I charged at all sorts of locations - a church, a Solar Panel company, numerous car parks and garages, various Hotels - everywhere has electricity. I have met a lot of nice people who kindly offered to let me charge at their homes and work places. The cost of a full charge is around 5 Euros in Europe, so most people do not mind the relatively small expense.
In Russia, a hotel manager and technical staff asked to examine the car’s connector. Naively, they were adamant I was not allowed to charge the vehicle and warned me about safety regulations - they were concerned it would cause a fire. After explaining it was no different than plugging your mobile phone or laptop, they were fascinated to see charging in action.
Hotels in Europe have been very accommodating, as they are working to “green” their facilities. I happily parked at places for free and there are many allocated spaces and charging stations set up specifically for electric vehicles. The Hilton in Switzerland had a solar panel charging station and many others along the way had high power charging sources.
7. Any run-ins with local law enforcement? How did you get out of any sticky situations?
I do have lots of stories that would shock and amaze people, though I think some things are best left off the record. People love the Tesla Roadster so much they've overlooked some minor violations along the journey, and my English charm and cheekiness has gotten me out of numerous sticky situations. We'll see what works in the U.S.
8. Where are you most excited to stop along the U.S. route?
I have never been the to the U.S. and am very excited about this part of the Odyssey. I am a fan of the American movie "The Hangover" and driving to Las Vegas is going to be an adventure of a lifetime. I wonder what surprises or funny moments I will encounter - hopefully none that involve tigers in the bathroom.
9. What do you think about driving an electric car through some of the areas of the U.S. most affected by the Gulf Oil Spill?
The Gulf Oil Spill is a massive ecological disaster and a catastrophe that no-one really wants to see. I would like to think the Odyssey of Pioneers plays some part in suggesting alternatives to petrol.
When I drove through China, I saw many people wearing protective masks because there is so much air pollution. It was sad to see only smog, and no clear blue sky. I felt like I was chewing the air, not breathing it. At the same time, it was good to see they’re working to make a change for the better - I saw a lot of electric bicycles.
10. You’ve worked as a technician for Tesla for quite some time. Has that experience helped out along the way?
The Tesla Roadster doesn't need much maintenance or service like petrol cars. I have been lucky to avoid a puncture or a flat. I have mainly used my Tesla experience and knowledge to promote our technology. I can't even count the number of questions I've answered about electric vehicles - it has been quite fun to educate along the tour.
11. What have you been listening to along the way? What kind of music gets you through each leg of the tour?
I added various basic language lessons to help me along the tour. Music-wise, I added a play list to my iPod before I left with some of my own personal and favorite songs. Vivien (the French cameraman) tends to fall asleep to the music I like. To keep him awake for this leg, I am working on a new playlist for America. I pose this question to the Tesla blog readers - what should I add to my new American playlist?