The Desmarais von Berg's BMW i3 in Chicago
The Desmarais von Berg's BMW i3 in Chicago.
InnovationIssue 2 2021

I Didn’t Think I Could Drive an Electric Car

Buying her first family car, Creative Director Kate Desmarais wasn’t convinced an electric car was an option. But now she’s in love with Tuna. 

Kate Desmarais is not a car person. If you ask her what car a friend drives, she’ll most likely tell you the colour before the make. Her first car was her sister’s old white City Golf, which she drove to college in Cape Town. She remembers the wire daisy she had wrapped around the rear-view mirror and the subtle daily panic of doing hill starts.

That was something she didn’t have to worry about for a while after moving to Hong Kong for her career in advertising where she navigated the city using the Mass Transit Railway. A car still wasn’t a consideration after moving to Chicago with her husband, Tristyn von Berg, as they could take the bus. The bus commute to her job as a creative director at Ogilvy Chicago was how she first got to know the city where they’ve lived for four years.

Kate Desmarais
Kate Desmarais.

It seemed very fancy, like that was for other people.

– Kate Desmarais

First set of wheels

Tristyn, who works at compost start-up WasteNot, was the one to suggest getting a car once the COVID-19 pandemic hit the States and they stopped taking public transport. But an electric car didn’t cross Kate’s mind, “I think my expectation was, ‘Oh, we’ll get what everyone else is getting,’ which is an SUV with a big boot and space for kids. I know what cars my parents drove, so I guess that was my frame of reference.”

The only person Kate knew who had an electric car had bought a Tesla with Bitcoin money and spent a hefty sum installing a Tesla charger in their garage. “It seemed very fancy,” she says, “like that was for other people.” Once Tristyn introduced her to the BMW i3 though, she realised they wouldn’t need a charging station, a personal garage or Bitcoin money after all. They’d charge their electric car using a regular plug point in the parking garage of their apartment block. “We weren’t paying an exorbitant amount in electricity bills,” she says. “That was a huge surprise to me.”

Say hello to Tuna

Tuna is the Desmarais von Berg’s BMW i3, and they’re obsessed. They take photos of it whenever it’s parked in good light. It’s named for its colouring, stump nose and fluid weaving through the city like a fish through water. 

“I’m really happy that we ended up getting an electric car,” Kate says. “I 100% think it was the right decision, and I’m quite embarrassed that I never thought that was something I could do. It seems like such a simple choice to make, and if more people made the choice, or were able to make the choice, it would make a big difference.”  

The BMW i3 is a car that reflects Kate’s values as well as her personal style. “It’s kind of an unusual looking car, but at the same time, it’s quite understated,” she says. “It doesn’t shout. It’s just kind of weird and quirky and cute,” though it’s not delicate by any means. Moving apartments recently, it was an impressive workhorse for them. “It’s super compact, but we literally did most of our move in the back of the car.” 

It seems like such a simple choice to make, and if more people made the choice, or were able to make the choice, it would make a big difference.

– Kate Desmarais

Tuna in good light
Tuna in good light.

E-mobility on the open road 

On a recent road trip to Virginia, the Desmarais von Bergs discovered the world has a way to catch up with this new technology. Halfway they spent an hour eating lunch in the car while it charged in the empty parking lot of a Walmart in Cleveland. “It was not scenic,” Kate laughs, “but it worked.” And once they got to Virginia, Tuna was a conversation-starter with the neighbouring farmers who all drove pick-up trucks. “They all thought it was very cute too,” Kate says. 

“There are definitely things you have to consider like how far you can drive and how often you have to charge it and where you’re going to park and all of these things that the world isn’t completely geared towards yet,” she says. “But if you just expect those things as part of your car-owning experience, then they become so second nature that it doesn’t feel like an extra effort.” 

Tuna after a road trip from the big city to farmlands in Virginia
Tuna after a road trip from the big city to farmlands in Virginia.

There’s lots of camaraderie.

– Kate Desmarais

Driving the city

There are now electric buses doing rounds in Chicago. Tristyn pulled up to one the other day and had an exchange with the bus driver through the windows. “They shouted, ‘Yeah, let’s do this! Electric, let’s go!’” Kate recalls. “There’s lots of camaraderie.”

Driving Tuna has changed Kate’s experience of Chicago, even through something as simple as choosing different routes to the way the bus goes. Thinking about it reminds her of something a mentor told her, “She said that when you live in a place for a long time, it’s as if all of your routines create the grooves of a record and you get so used to hearing the song of your life. Then when you move to a new place, you have a new record without any grooves in it yet. So I think that’s what driving does, in a way. It lets you create your own map of the city.”

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