Goulburn, in the NSW southern tablelands, is known for its police academy, its historic gaol and the Big Merino, the world's largest concrete sheep. It isn't exactly the first spot you think of when you imagine cutting-edge automotive engineering, but Goulburn has found itself as a critical junction -- literally -- as Australia begins to embrace the notion of electric cars.
Tesla Motors, Elon Musk's much-hyped brainchild, is beginning its expansion Down Under and has picked Goulburn as one of the epicentres of its activity. Electric cars run on electricity, not petrol -- but just as a petrol tank runs out and needs to be refilled, so does the battery of an electric car. Tesla has chosen Goulburn to host one of its handful of "Supercharger" charging stations in Australia, with a bank of outlets available right outside the visitor's centre in the town's main street.
The council's manager of marketing and events Sarah Ruberto said Goulburn is grateful for the renewed attention and the council relished having extra out-of-town visitors arrive on their doorstep.
"We're surprised at the amount of use they are getting. Often when we walk out, there are cars there using them. There are no Tesla owners in Goulburn as far as we know, so everyone using the chargers are coming from out of town," Ruberto told the Huffington Post Australia.
"There are quite a few Victorian plates, and lots of them coming from Sydney. You can get from Sydney to Goulburn on a full charge."
Tesla's charging in Goulburn
Tesla's expansion into Australia has been swift yet somewhat low-key. The American venture launched locally in December 2014, bringing its Model S sedan to customers Down Under. Heath Walker, Tesla's Australian marketing and communications manager, was cagey when asked about how many cars the company had sold here, but said the response had been "extremely good."
"We are growing quite rapidly," he told HuffPost Australia.
"The response has been extremely positive. We are doing well across the country, selling them online all over Australia."
His comments about a positive response are not unfounded; on Wednesday, Australian cars website Carsales named the Tesla Model S its Car of the Year.
"The all-electric sedan has grabbed headlines around the world. But behind the hype, the reality is it is a game-changer," said carsales CEO Greg Roebuck.
"While Tesla is a fledgling car company, it has set the tone for the next generation of automobile evolution. Tesla will change the auto industry. Companies with 100-year histories are scrambling to catch up."
Tesla currently has physical locations in Melbourne and Sydney, and its cars come with a charger that drivers can plug into the wall at home, but its Supercharger locations truly extend the range of the cars. Tesla's website currently shows five cities with Supercharger locations: Sydney and Melbourne, at its dealerships, but also at locations strategically placed on the drive between the two capital cities. Goulburn, of course, then Wodonga and Euroa in Victoria.
CarAdvice.com.au recently travelled from Sydney to Melbourne, using only the publicly available Superchargers.
Walker describes the Superchargers as "like hollow petrol pumps," where drivers can plug in then take off.
"We've put the fastest chargers in the world along the Hume Highway. We're connecting Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne now, and hope to connect Brisbane by 2016," he said.
"Drivers stop off for 20 minutes to an hour. They're in key carpark locations near amenities, near visitor centres and main streets."
Ruberto said the Goulburn chargers had had more than 130 visitors since opening just a month ago.
"Goulburn was bypassed [on the highway] a few years ago now, so lots of people are coming through that haven't come to Goulburn for years or at all. They have a coffee while waiting, maybe go shopping. It really exposes Goulburn to a new audience," she said.
"Council is in this for the long haul. We're very happy to have been able to work with Tesla."
As for Tesla's future in Australia? Continual growth, Walker said.
"We’d love to see Australia covered in chargers. We're meeting regularly with local councils who want to bring them to their local centres. We want to focus on major cities in the short term, but we’re not opposed to any other areas to grow our connections," he said.
Tesla plans to focus on their Model S sedan in Australia for the short term, but plans to begin importing an SUV -- the Model X -- then its Model 3 sedan.
"That's where we’ll see mass adoption," Walker said.