Airbag Waiver Keeps Tesla Roadster Alive

Tesla Motors won a waiver for its all-electric Roadster on Monday from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulators. NHTSA recognized that Tesla might be forced to cancel all pending projects and go out of business, if the California electric vehicle company was required to meet federal air bag standards. Tesla’s $43 million operating losses from 2002 to 2006 were a major consideration in the decision. The reprieve allows Tesla to build the Roadster without advanced, occupant-sensing airbags for the first three years of production, but the car will still be equipped with lower-cost standard dual-front airbags. Tesla has said it plans to produce 625 Roadsters this year, and another 1,600 annually for 2009 and 2010. The waiver will cover an estimated 3,825 vehicles.

The all-electric Roadster is powered by lithium-ion batteries that are expected to carry the vehicle approximately 200 miles on a single charge. Based on the two-seater Lotus Elise sports car, the Tesla Roadster is the poster-child for a new sportier generation of green motoring. “The Tesla Roadster is one of the most advanced fully electric vehicles available,” NHTSA said in its decision. “We believe that the public interest is served by encouraging the development of fuel-efficient and alternative-fueled vehicles.”

Breathing easier from the decision, Tesla can now head more confidently toward its March 17 target date for the start of production. The Tesla Roadster sells for $98,000.

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  • Skeptic

    Vaporware. Just like the Chevy Volt.

  • Andy

    Well I’m no fan of governmental favors, but the big three have been getting plenty of much bigger ones for decades, so this seems an odd stroke of being reasonble for the NHTSA. Call my a cynic, but I’m surprised the big guys aren’t twisting some arms to keep it as tough as possible for Tesla to make it.

  • Andy

    No, not vaporware. Struggleware. Vaporware exists to discourage people from buying their competitors’ products. Tesla has only ONE product so has nothing to gain by vapor and everything to lose. The guys running the show there are hard core electric lovers, having built them from scratch for themselves in their previous lives. I’ve been in a Tesla and seen it drive.

    Electric is disruptive techonlogy though so Chevy has no reason to want the Volt to exists or succeed as long as they can continue selling their current line of ICEs. The longer they keep the Volt in vapor, the better off they are.

  • CLD

    I wouldn’t call the Tesla Roadster vaporware. Tesla has working prototypes, including–as Andy alluded to–cars that have been road tested by customers who placed the requisite deposit. The car has been crash tested by NHTSA and passed with flying colors. That’s hardly ‘vaporware.’

    The launch delay has been due entirely to durability issues of the original 2-speed transmission. Tesla has decided–at least for the immediate future–to ditch to 2-speed in favor of a one-speed unit. This has required modification to the cooling of the electric motor, which has been the primary source of delay.

    The NHTSA airbag waiver is not unusual for small-volume manufacturers. The Lotus Elise–on which the Roadster is based–was granted the same waiver in 2006.

    I believe Tesla is on track for their announced March launch. I won’t be able to afford one; but I figure the faster they get the roadster out, the faster they get to WhiteStar.

    As to the Volt: yes, the prototype unveiled at Detroit last year was definitely vaporware. GM admits that. But I would not discount their efforts to get this car on the road. By all counts, they’re putting a lot of manpower and money behind this project because they fear Toyota getting there first with a plug-in car.

  • Jon

    GM has no interest in producing a viable Volt. They’ve been dragging their feet on innovation for deacdes. I would love to believe them, but their production timeframe is always about four years from now. Doesn’t matter if the year is 2008 or 1990, just add four years and that’s when they’ll be rolling out some greener car.

    Tesla on the other hand does have every incentive to move as fast a possible and appears to be. I also will not be able to afford a roadster but am hoping that some day in the not too distant future there will be a similar car further down-market. If Tesla fails that will be a shame, but there will be others, like Fisher perhaps, poised to develop the upscale green car market.

  • Janie

    I tried to buy an EV-1 in 2000. Only leases were available and the dealer tried to talk me out of that and into another GM model. So I bought a Prius. Seven years and 160,000 miles later, I have averaged 45 mpg. The body is a little beat up but it still does everything it ever did. I will drive it into the ground and wait for the first affordable plug in.

  • Semi

    Kudos to Uncle Sam. This could have easily killed Tesla and discouraged future entrepreneurs from putting their arses (and ideas) on the line. Yea for America!

  • Like-Cars

    Good luck!

  • AP


    Sit up and look around. GM’s cars of the last couple years have little resemblance to the ones before, as far as quality, technology, and feel. Lutz has given them an innovative attitude. The only time I’ve seen him disagree with environmentalists is when they rightly deserve it (free with criticism, short on useful science). You’re free to be skeptical, but it appears GM has been putting its money where its mouth is.

    People criticize GM for killing the EV1, but where was anybody else’s EV? California killed the electric car by not holding to their ZEV mandate, which NO manufacturers were thrilled about. GM’s was the best, but too expensive to be viable at the time.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    “where was anybody else’s EV? “

    All of the majors had an EV during the late ’90’s. Toyota – RAV4EV, Honda – EVplus, Nissan – Altra and Hypermini, Ford – RangerEV and Think, Chrysler – EPIC minivan, GM – EV1, S-10EV. None, except for a small handful of the RAV4EV’s, a few S-10EV’s, and RangerEV’s were ever sold, only a few of the GM EV1, EVplus’s, Think’s, RangerEV’s, and RAV4EV’s were allowed into private leases and only in California (a few EV1’s were available in AZ and there were a few of fleet EV1’s in MA and GA). At the end of most of the leases, after the shills inserted into California’s Air Resources Board managed to kill the ZEV mandate, they were destroyed except for a few RAV4EV’s, RangerEV’s, and S-10EV’s.

    A movie was made (“Who Killed the Electric Car”) to describe a lot of what happened since the press was squelched from actually printing the story through pressure from their largest advertisers (guess which industry). You can buy “WKtEK” online or rent it from Netflix or other outlets.

    GM’s Lutz is certainly talking a lot now but, I can assure you, he was at the helm of GM when they killed the EV1 as well.

    What do we believe? Their actions have killed great vehicles with excellent potential. Their talk sounds a lot like it did in the early ’90’s when they actually did build the EV1 – and incredible 1st generation vehicle and a testament to the engineering genius that is in Detroit.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I forgot to add: I drove a Tesla Roadster prototype on Malibu Canyon Road in Malibu, CA. I can assure you that I’ve never encountered vapor that accelerated or cornered that well so I’ve concluded for myself that the Tesla Roadster is NOT vapor.
    I hope the Volt isn’t either but I don’t know of anyone who has ever driven one.
    I’m glad to hear they’ve gotten around the airbag issue and can start delivering roadsters. Hint to all. Some day, “ex-EV1 driver” will suddenly go silent here and “Tesla driver” may appear 🙂

  • Anonymous

    yeah nice car if only a little cheaper i mean were here to help save the enviorment but why make them so expensive! then no onw can buy them except the rich people.

  • jman

    I think the idea is that the rich people buy them and drive them all the time and this proves that lithium batteries works good for ev’s. Plus economies of scale or something like that, the more ev’s we have the cheaper they are to make.

  • TheFlyingDutchman

    How many electric cars are Toyota or Honda or any other non-GM manufacturer selling? None. So send some of your “GM doesn’t want an electric car” their way. And while you are at it, send some to US consumers since the vast majority would not want an electric car. Most would prefer to fill up at a gas station, particularly a gas station hundreds of miles from their electrical outlets.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    You folks might be interesting to know that the first production Tesla Roadster was delivered on Friday 2/1/08 to the company’s chief investor and chairman of the board. My understanding is that they will build a few more prototypes for testing on the line and then, on March 17, they will begin full production. Production will begin at a slow 1 vehicle per week rate, then ramp up.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    For TheFlyingDutchman’s concerns about the abuse going unfairly to GM: this is probably true. The movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” did slap Toyota and Honda a bit not as much as GM. When confronted by owners who didn’t want to lose their RAV4EV’s, Toyota agreed to sell the leased ones and stop crushing them as they came off lease if they were still serviceable.
    Honda sort of got off easy. I guess they were a bit more subtle about their EVplus destruction and the EVplus drivers didn’t put up as much of a stink. Of course, the EVplus wasn’t nearly the awesome car that GM’s EV1 was so it probably wasn’t as painful to give up either.

  • Anonymous

    Incase some of ya might not no but when you see the advert of the Audi A8 when it says “Its the $lowest car we built it means they were building it but slowly!!!