What happens when you take an electric car into a town full of petrolheads and coalminers, and film them planting their steel-capped boots on the accelerator?
“Fuck me … it’s like a rocket ship,” says one miner, who usually spends his time driving V8s or manoeuvring a giant coal scoop.
YouTube and Twitter channel Coal Miners Driving Teslas is the project of 39-year-old mechanical engineer-turned climate change activist Daniel Bleakley.
Other reactions – heavily spiced with unbridled swearing – range from “it’s like taking off in an aeroplane”, to three cowboy-style “yee haws” from the veteran independent Australian federal MP Bob Katter.
Bleakley owns a performance version of the Tesla Model 3 that can go from zero to 100km/h in about 3.3 seconds (0-60mph in 3.1s).
For non-car enthusiasts, Bleakley’s Model 3 will leave most production Porsches and BMWs in its wake. The Model 3 is considered Tesla’s entry-level vehicle, costing between $65,000 and $90,000 new.
The location for most of Bleakley’s videos is the coal town of Clermont in regional Queensland, where he grew up and where his parents and brother live. The people he lets drive his car mostly work in the mines and drive powerful petrol cars and utility pick-up trucks.
But Bleakley wants to convert them, and sees the power in showcasing their unexpected amazement at the technology.
It is safe to say, Clermont is not the sort of place you would find enthusiastic backing for electric cars, which in Australia have been politicised as a cause célèbre of environmentalists.
“People up here love cars,” he says. “My mate is a massive petrolhead and he has rebuilt V8s. All his family love cars. When they sit in the Tesla they are completely blown away.”
Bleakley has worked in the oil industry in Scotland and in mining in Western Australia, but now lives in Melbourne where he ran a printing business. But he has always been worried about the climate crisis.
“I thought it was a future problem. But in the last few years I’ve realised it’s here and now, and we have to act.”
Two years ago he decided to focus full-time on climate change and environmental activism. In 2019, he glued his hand to the window of a Siemens office in Melbourne over the technology company’s contract to provide technology to a rail line for the controversial Adani coalmine. The mine is close to his hometown.
But seeing his friends go crazy in an electric car “has been a real eye opener”.
“Traditional activism is about saying stop, or saying no,” he says. “But this is saying: ‘here’s an incredible space ship from the future and you can drive it’. It’s a future we can all have if we choose it.”
Last week Bleakley took a 375km drive from Clermont to Charters Towers on a single charge to meet the inimitable Katter – a silver-haired independent MP whose Kennedy electorate covers more more than 500,000 sq km – an area slightly bigger than Spain. (Bleakley arrived with only 13km left in the battery and had to sleep overnight with his motel room door open to run an extension cable to charge the car.)
“Yee haw,” screamed Katter three times as the car’s instant torque pinned the 76-year-old to his seat. “That’s so exciting – it’s so thrilling.”
Is Katter converted? Not entirely.
He tells the Guardian he thought the car was “a bit small” and while the acceleration was “fantastic” he insisted the big drawback was that it takes “two and a half hours” to charge (charging times actually depend on the battery, the car, and the charging station but modern chargers can add 175km of range or more in about 10 minutes).
That said, Katter wants to see an Australia-based electric vehicle and battery industry, and is working with other independents on a fuel security bill that will include his ideas – alongside securing oil supplies and increasing renewable liquid fuels.
What became Bleakley’s first video was actually taken by his brother, who had borrowed the car and filmed a workmate driving it.
But his favourite is a video of a childhood friend and “Clermont’s biggest car nut” who says on camera it is “like a rocket ship”.
“I’ve known him since I was a kid. He owns these incredible high-performance V8s. To see him drive the Tesla and love the car for me was really special. That was when I realised I was really onto something,” Bleakley says.
Australia is lagging well behind other developed countries for electric vehicle take-up.
The EV industry in Australia – which constituted just 0.6% of new car sales in 2019 – blames a total lack of federal government support.
In 2019 the prime minister, Scott Morrison, claimed the opposition’s pro-electric vehicles policy would “end the weekend” for Australians who loved to tow a trailer or a boat, or go camping.
Last week, Ford in the US launched a full-electric version of its market-leading F150 truck (it can tow 10,000lb or 4.5 tonnes, according to Ford).
EV manufacturers have said Australia’s lack of policies to encourage sales means the country is missing out on an ever-increasing range of vehicles, as manufacturers target more welcoming markets.
Bleakley says he’d like to get Scott Morrison into his car, but thinks the chances are unlikely. So next on his radar is the independent Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie.
“She’s a real person and she represents her people,” Bleakley says. “I want to see her do a quarter mile on a drag strip. I want to see her feeling it.”