A Conversation with Tesla Divas Europe Founder Esther Kokkelmans
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It’s a pleasure meeting you, Esther! How are you doing these days?
Very busy with lovely things, just came back from Berlin and that was really amazing.

What brought you to Berlin?
Well, I was one of the happy few people that got an invitation from Tesla to join the Gigafest, as it was called, it was truly an amazing event at the new Gigafactory on the outskirts of Berlin (Brandenburg) Altogether, it really was mind blowing. There were a lot of fun things to do at the event and you could see the factory up close.

As we speak, Tesla is growing so rapidly, and is doing so many good things for the world. I saw that at the event they were hosting and experienced that firsthand in the factory. I also saw that not just in the people attending the event, but also from the Tesla employees and everyone who was there to explain all the details about the place, all the machines/robots and all the innovation that we saw in the in the Gigafactory.

Did you drive your Tesla from Belgium to the Gigafactory Berlin?
No, I didn’t go there with my own Tesla. But of course, I did drive a Tesla. I got one from MisterGreen, I'm not sure if you know them. It's an amazing company that started in the Netherlands where they try to help accelerate the transition to sustainable energy. They’ve also been one of the first companies to start leasing out Tesla's both for businesses as well as privately. They saw what I was doing, and their CEO Caroline  Asselberg connected with me and asked, “What is it that we can do to help you with all you are doing?”.

I mentioned that I have a couple of events coming up. One of them is the event at the Gigafactory in Berlin, another is an event I was doing where I was guest speaking (the EV Experience on the Zandvoort racingcircuit) and more importantly, the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Netherlands, that works with me if there is a request for a Tesla, had a child who’s a big Tesla fan and they requested me to drive him around on a Tesla. In the end, they were kind enough to let me have a Model X for three weeks. It was used very well. https://www.mistergreen.nl

That’s fantastic. I hope you were able to brighten his day a bit with a ride on the Model X. Was there anything that surprised you about the Giga Factory?
Not entirely surprised, but I thought to myself it's so big! I just wasn’t expecting the scale of it all as Tesla, so far, has not been very open about the factories. And they did, of course showed some aspects of the factories that they already have online. But they’ve rarely opened up to a wider audience at this level in the past. Also, the people working for Tesla that were present at the event were very impressive. They were open to answering every question about the factory, the challenges they faced getting the factory up and, of course, everything about their products. I even tested them a few times and always felt that they had the right answers… as one would expect from a Tesla employee!

From your perspective, how was the general mood amongst those attending?
That's a really nice question, because I also asked myself, what will it be like, because initially, it was an invitation for the Berliners who were invited, which I also really appreciate that Tesla did that. And so, most of the people there, most of the people present were, of course, Berliners, the locals. And of course, there's a group of people like me, who came from other countries, but also who came from all over Germany.

The crowd was very happy about everything in general. Tesla treated everyone with not just a visit to the factory but provided a very informative platform for a very wide audience, who might still be on the fence about the Gigafactory’s location, Tesla or Electric Vehicles in general. They combined the day with very good food, entertainment (I mean they had a Ferris wheel!) and we were taken on test rides on the Model Y (one of them was driven by one of the Tesla divas!). It was also very nice to see lots of kids there and young people in general, because in the end, all of this is for them. It was also very exciting to see how knowledgeable the kids and their parents were from what I overheard whenever they were talking about Tesla and electric vehicles. The kids truly know it all… And of course Elon joined us there…

Overall, it was very nice to see that the people were very much engaged and welcoming as Tesla has had a tough start to life in Germany when it comes to getting the factory up and running. They wanted to start production by September 2021 and the target now is December, so hopefully that does happen finally.

Can you tell us about Tesla Divas and your motivation in founding its European branch?
Of course, it all started when I bought my Tesla Model S a few years back, a whole new and exciting world opened up for me. I soon found out that EV ownership was a male dominated world, but at the same time, I did also notice many women being very active within the EV world on different levels. I then started thinking that I would want to have a space where women can meet and enjoy the benefits of belonging to a rather niche club.

About how many members do you have now? Do they also come from other parts of Europe?
Yes, we have 600 now, which is, a good size, but It's never enough! Our members are mostly from Western Europe. We do have some from other regions as well like Australia, the US and the United Kingdom. Though they might not always be here, they find it very interesting to see what’s going on in this part of the world when it comes to women’s involvement in EVs.

The great thing is that Tesla Divas is just one outlet for females to get involved. I have been in meetings online with two other women from the Electrified Women group. They are open to members who might not be Tesla fans or owners and that makes it a bit of a bigger setup and obviously makes it more accessible. For me, it’s nice to see that there are other groups of women out there apart from Tesla Divas Europe that are increasing the level of awareness, level of education for people interested in EVs.

Tesla Divas Europe Founder Esther Kokkelmans © Esther Kokkelmans

What kind of events can members expect from the group? Are there special themes you try to focus on during these meetups?
I try to organize at least one international event per year but would prefer two or more. These events take place in different countries and we’re very much open to every region in Europe, as long as we can reach it with our cars! It is a moment where women can come together, enjoy themselves, socialize, create new networks, and learn from one another. Whether that is EVs, careers, and other topic, we kind of leave it open at the moment as long as we have electric vehicles as an initial basis of discussion. Sometimes people or companies are invited to join us so we can learn and network. I also especially try to include topics about making the switch and organize events for women who haven’t made that next step into going electric yet.

You recently went on a S3XY road trip across the Netherlands, can you tell us about the event? (Was that a part of Tesla Divas? Feel free to plug that project too if not!)
It was the first Tesla road trip that I organized in a long time. It was fully booked almost immediately! We included two very interesting visits in this road trip: First, was a visit to Eindhoven University where they are building a quantum computer that can help tremendously with Full Self Driving development. You see, with the existing technology we have now, full autonomous driving’s safety will be extremely difficult to guarantee. If we were able to have quantum computers that bring processing power to a whole new level, would be able to dramatically increase the ability to make autonomous driving safer. Click here to find out more about the project.

We also visited Inmotion, a group of dedicated students from the university that just built their first electric racecar with a fast-charging battery. The VPRO joined me that day because they are making a documentary and wanted to include me in it. It was interesting to see how the whole team fitted in my Model X. It was indeed organized by Tesla Divas Europe, but also all inclusive, meaning men were also allowed to join us.  

Can you tell us about the documentary? Do you know when it will air and where our readers can find it?
A film crew followed me around for a day to get the female perspective on the topic of Tesla and electric vehicles as a whole. They were quite interested in learning how I got into the topic and how one of our events look like. The documentary should air in March 2022 and it's going to be broadcasted in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

We always find it fascinating to hear about the background of people making the electric and smart mobility revolution tick. Do you mind sharing with us what you did previously?
I have been working as an advocate for women giving birth in Western Europe. I have been teaching couples about their rights when they are giving birth here and have also accompanied them during the birth of their children. I have done this for 17 years now.I am downsizing this part of my life and am more dedicated, when it comes to time and energy, to moving within the world of electric vehicles. I would like to build something so I can make a living out of it.

How did the switch come about?
When buying my first Tesla, the change was set in! My Mindset has been towards doing my best to make the world a better place for a longer time though. I kind of became more aware of things after my first child was born.  

It must be rewarding to see Tesla Divas and your personal reach and network grow these past few months/years. How do your friends and family react to your newly found passion?
They support me in every way. My kids love every aspect of what I do and let’s be clear about this; they are the future. How cool is it that I can add to their perception by doing what I do?

Let’s quickly pivot to Eindhoven. How is electric vehicle acceptance looking like at the moment?
Well, I live in Belgium, right across the border, but I am Dutch. However, I'm very active in the Netherlands for work. And so the city that I now live in, it's not even a city!

I'm very connected to Eindhoven in the Netherlands. It is a big university town that is incredibly innovative on many different levels. It has the automotive campus, which is becoming to get more known worldwide thanks to the battery and other smart mobility development that goes on there. Inmotion is also located there. And so is Lightyear. Lastly, the city of Eindhoven is working hard on bringing the Formula E championship to the city. That is looking very promising, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed!

Thank you very much, Esther, I am looking forward to hearing more about your activities in the world of EVs.