“Wanna try insanity mode?”
I’m driving south on New York City’s West Side Highway in Tesla’s new all-wheel-drive sedan, the Model D, when the nice Tesla employee next to me poses that question in between casual bites of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate ice cream. It’s about lunchtime, and the March sun is just beginning to poke its fingers through the cloud cover.
My test drive that day was part of a promotion put on by Ben & Jerry’s, which is partnering with Tesla to kick off this year’s “Save Our Swirled” climate change tour. Most years, the Vermont-based ice cream maker known for its kooky flavors uses this opportunity to raise awareness about local environmental issues as it tours the country in an ice cream truck. (In Vermont, for example, the company is lobbying for a carbon pollution tax.)
This year, however, that ice cream truck is a Tesla Model S—the non-all-wheel-drive version of the car I was trying out.
“Sure!” I answer, before my brain can comprehend the fact that I have no idea what he’s talking about. “Wait. What’s insanity mode?”
“Oh dude, you gotta try it. Just…”—and here, he flicks his fingers dismissively at the road—”try to get in front at a red light.”
After a U-turn and some deft maneuvering that should qualify me for a role in Fast and Furious 8—whattup, James Wan!—I finally jockey into position, staring down the stretch of pavement in front of me. “Alright,” my copilot tells me, “now, how fast you floor the pedal matters.” Navigating through the dashboard’s enormous touch screen, he flips the insane switch, a battery-guzzling mode that allows the car to rocket from zero to 60 in 3.3 seconds. My already sweaty grip tightens around the wheel. Not a nanosecond after the light goes green do I smush the pedal down. Pedestrians and buildings begin to blur in my periphery, and yet, the D’s electric engine barely purrs. Before the vehicle travels even 30 feet, I press the brake (which is smooth and buttery) to bring the vehicle to a full stop. Traffic. We’re still in Manhattan, after all.
“In the fight against climate change, Tesla really embodies what we’re going to need to do to bring out change,” says Jerry Greenfield, the ice cream maker’s cofounder, adding: “It’s really cool, too.”
Greenfield drove the Tesla down to New York City this week, making one stop at a Whole Foods in Albany to recharge. (And hand out ice cream.) In addition to the ice cream paint job, the modified Model S had its backseats stripped out to be replaced with three big freezer boxes, which will be used to distribute free scoops. In exchange, supporters can pledge their signature to Ben & Jerry’s and its partner Avaaz, the global-cause site that uses petitions to power its campaigns, in their fight to get global companies to eliminate their reliance on fossil fuels by 2050.
With its progressive hippy roots, Ben & Jerry’s says the campaign represents its own internal shift to reduce its carbon footprint. The hope is to transition the company to 100% renewable energy sources by 2020. Its biggest environmental offense isn’t its reliance on trucks to transport its products; it’s cows. Their farts in particular.
“Like 40% of our emissions come from cows,” says Sean Greenwood, Ben & Jerry’s director of public relations, who notes that the company is working with dairy farmers to implement methane separators to curb emissions.
Transitioning to renewable energy is an ambitious goal, certainly. But it falls in line with Ben & Jerry’s long-standing social mission and Grateful Dead fandom. As for the ice cream Tesla Model S, it will make its first stop in San Diego at the beginning of April before making its way to other cities, which are TBD. No word if Elon Musk will be getting his own flavor.