Tesla Model S

Tesla Motors is the drama queen of the auto industry. But if you can look beyond the company’s histrionics—lawsuits, financial struggles, exaggerated promises, repeated delays, and inflated egos—the brilliance of its vehicle design shines through. So far, the best example of its ingenuity is the Tesla Model S—a bright vision of what a practical and desirable all-electric sedan should and might be.

The Department of Energy gave a powerful endorsement of the Model S in June 2009 when it awarded Tesla with a $465 million loan to build the all-electric sedan and the battery packs needed to make it go. Tesla is promising to begin production in 2011, and ramp up to 20,000 units per year by 2013. With the money in hand and the deadline set, Tesla could deliver a winner—if the company and its executives stay focused, avoid controversy, and deliver on the big promise of the Model S.

“Awesome Clean Sheet of Functionality”

What makes the Model S so cool? First of all, the visual design is gorgeous. The New York Times compares it to the striking Maserati Quattroporte sedan, which sells for more than six figures. Second, it seats five—or seven if you count the two side-facing rear seats for small children. The key to the design according to Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla design chief, is a flat floor that houses batteries, motors and the electronic module. “It’s an awesome clean sheet of functionality and available space,” said von Holzhausen. The company fondly repeats the talking point: It can fit a surfboard, a 50-inch television and a mountain bike in the car at the same time (presumably with rear seats slid forward and using the front storage compartment).

Tesla Model S

More importantly, the Model S is way more affordable than the company’s $109,000 Tesla Roadster. The current price target for the Tesla Model S is $57,900 (minus a $7,500 federal tax credit)—still not in range for most mainstream buyers but moving in the right direction. Tesla reportedly has 1,200 pre-orders for the Model S. ($500 deposit required.) That number will surely grow between now and 2011, as the company expands its dealership network. Tesla has retails showrooms in Menlo Park, CA, London, and New York City, with plans for outlets in Chicago, Seattle, Miami, Washington, D.C., Monaco, Toronto and Munich.

If the visual design, spaciousness, and relative affordability of the Model S break ground, the specs on the electric drive are a bit more familiar. The driving range will be approximately 160 miles, with a full recharge time of about five hours. The battery will have a useful life between five and seven years, after which a new battery pack will cost “well under $5,000,” according to Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive. (Considering the size of the battery pack, the cost is more likely to be $10,000 to $15,000.) Electric drive vehicles are known for speed off the line—expect the Model S, with its single-speed transmission, to deliver 0-to-60 mph performance in less than 6 seconds. Musk says that Tesla is “aspiring to have the best handling sedan on the road” with the S.

Tesla Model S Touch Screen

Tesla Model S Touch Screen, as seen in Tesla promotional video.

Then there’s the 17-inch touch screen that is “the centerpiece of the interior,” according to von Holzhausen. The touch screen provides all of the vehicle’s interface components such as climate control and entertainment, but also offers 3G or wireless connectivity for Google Maps, Pandora music, and full browser capability. “It’s the iPhone of the auto industry,” said von Holzhausen. “It’s a huge landscape that we can control and continue to update, and re-skin, and make the car feel fresh and personalized.” The touch screen is a bold step toward a future where car and info technology blend and transform the automotive landscape.

Watch Out for Hype

You might expect that a revolutionary list of attractive features would be enough to promote the Tesla Model S—but as late night infomercial hucksters say, “That’s not all.” Tesla is suggesting that it could offer quick charging in 45 minutes, and an option to extend driving range to 300 miles. But these things, and a number of other futuristic features, are examples of Tesla getting ahead of itself. We’re more than two years away from the first customer accepting delivery of the Model S.

In April 2009, when Dan Neil, auto writer for the Los Angeles Times, drove an early prototype of the Model S, he wrote, “This lovely, porpoise-sleek design study, unveiled to worldwide hoopla March 26, is just barely ambulatory—more like a glorified golf cart than a harbinger of tomorrow tech.” Neil reported that the windows were still fixed in frames and the power-steering motor groaned. He wrote, “The 17-inch, touch-screen control panel with haptic feedback in the center console may not even make it to production, concedes Tesla designer Franz von Holzhausen.”

The biggest doubts relate to timing. Unlike the Roadster, which Tesla heavily relied on UK’s Lotus Cars to create, the Model S is a completely original ground-up design that will be manufactured in-house. The company is promising delivery—from prototype to release—in about 30 months. Neil describes that breakneck production pace as “an audacious timeline that makes many in the car industry roll their eyes…And people inside Tesla are leery.”

You should raise your eyebrows when Tesla suggests a 45-minute charging time or the notion that battery swapping might be built in. Don’t count on it. But again, that’s okay. We were already sold at “sleek spacious $50,000 five-seat all-electric sedan.” Bring it on.

 


Price quote for Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S
Base MSRP: $57,900
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  • Samie

    Here is the competition, the Volt, EV Focus, & Nissan (what???) Also a Plug-in Prius w/ real gains in mpgs, not the junk they are saying right now.

    They have a few years before the large car markers apply EV technology to luxury vehicles. If If they can create the touch screen, mileage extender, & rapid charging the vehicle will be a huge hit & they will have to find ways to meet demand. As I see it this car will have the luxury EV market cornered for a year or two, will they recklessly give that up to delays & too many promises, who knows but this vehicle shows promise if they really want to compete w/ the Big Boys.

    0-to-60 mph performance in less than 6 seconds. Sounds Fun!
    People will love the torque in EV vehicles. American’s will get it, it just takes time to replace the V8 macho tough guy attitude.

  • Doubter

    Vaporware.

    I can’t believe US taxpayers loaned $465 million to these turkeys. Expect congressional hearings when these guys go belly up when they can’t deliver in a couple of years. Sure they might make a produce a few hand made cars for sale, but getting into full scale production is a whole different league.

  • ACAGal

    There is another USA car company offering a EV-plug in Sedan and convertible: Karma, and Karma S by Fisker

  • RKRB

    Hmmm… given GM’s track record of botching new designs (like the Vega, the passenger diesels, the X-car, the EV-1, the Saturn, the Hummer, the quickly-canceled Solstice and GTO, the recent hybrid trucks, the … ) I’m afraid I’d as soon bet on Tesla’s “S” as on GM’s Volt for a successful eco-vehicle.

  • DC

    Why do people seem to keep confusing Fisker with EVs? Unless someone can sow me otherwise, fisker is firmly in the HEV business, not BEV, rather large difference there. As far as compareing this future EV to the POSEV volt, well, im not too sure about that. It seems a bit premature to compare the vaporware POS-Sorta-but-not-really-an-EV Volt to the yet-to-be-produced-model S, anyone that has money to spend would have to be either a fool or someone that feels giveing GM 50billion dollars just wasnt enough and feels that they really need to make it 50billion +40K. The model S is the superior car no question. One thing about the Model S that seems a little odd to me, only $500 for a deposit seems a little on the low side. Almost as if there saying, ” Where not really serious about this right now and neither is our deposit”. Just MHO. When I was selling I would secure 50% deposits as standard, of course I wasnt selling 57k cars, but then again, my delivery date for the product was usually 2-3 business days tops, not 2-3 years :)

  • Nelson Lu

    I’ll believe that Tesla is actually capable anything more than broken promises and unbearable arrogance when I actually see it. My guess is, Ford will sell more Transit Connect EVs than Tesla will ever be able to sell.

  • Mr. Fusion

    Tesla has a Roadster that is out and kicking butt.

    No vaporware, no broken promises, just a great little ride. Why would anyone call THEM Turkeys or arrogant? They’ve produced a great car and are gearing up for a second. Sure the roadster is expensive but they’re breaking new ground.

    $465 million compared to what the other big companies received is chump change.

    I believe we will se great things from Tesla and they should be commended not belittled.

  • Nelson Lu

    Redbeard wrote:

    Tesla has a Roadster that is out and kicking butt. [] No vaporware, no broken promises, just a great little ride. Why would anyone call THEM Turkeys or arrogant? They’ve produced a great car and are gearing up for a second. Sure the roadster is expensive but they’re breaking new ground.

    Nothing about the way the Roadster was delivered – price, timeframe, or performance – was in accordance with what Tesla promised. It’s an expensive toy for people who have too much money to spend rather than anything that is a solution for any practical concerns (including any practical concerns for even the aforementioned people with too much money to spend).

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  • ROBERT the Brute

    What if electric cars got their electricity from the road they drive on? Like subway trains. Wouldn’t that be unlimited mileage? It’s just a thought I had today. Let’s hear you come up with a better idea.

  • Peter

    Just a minor correction, the deposit on the Model S is (and has been) $5,000 not $500.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s face it: the Volt will NEVER happen. This Model S is a really nice car, and I don’t doubt Tesla when they say it’s going to happen, but It’s just too pricey. For the average consumer, I’m betting the Nissan Leaf will be a natural choice.

    And, Robert, about your idea: Chicago’s roads look like the crater-covered surface of Mars with all those potholes, and the City doesn’t appear to be fixing them anytime soon. There is NO way the government would be able to mantain a cross-country electric track network.

  • Walt

    I have reserved a Tesla Model S and have installed a solar system to offset its power consumption.

    The Model S has over 1,200 reservations two years in advance of production. Proof enough of Tesla’s veracity.

    There is nothing on the market right now that compares to the Roadster. Only Tesla has proved that it can deliver great electric cars. Don’t waste your time on the big auto makers … alll they deliver are concept cars.

  • Herby Sagues

    I understand your skepticism related to timing and some other details. But for big mechanical changes, your skepticism is based on a long experience with petrol-powered cars and not warranted for an EV.
    Batteries that can be charged in 45 minutes are already in the market, and they are expected to reach high production volumes well within the two year timeframe. And unlike petrol powered cars, swapping the existing battery for a new one based on different technology (like LiFePo chemistry) does not require any design changes at all, it’s a bolt-on plus some software changes (and maybe changes in the charger circuit cabling at electronics, at most).
    Replacing the V6 in a current car for a V8 takes months in the drawing board and huge amounts of effort. Replacing the motor in an EV takes minutes and no design changes at all. Replacing a battery design, capacity and chemistry is a no brainer.
    I’m pretty confident they can get the 45 minute charging (maybe with a 30% tradeoff in single-charge range) not more than one year after release of the original, and offered as a swap-on upgrade.

  • Tom

    Walt

    Congrats on ordering the Tesla Model S.
    That is awesome.
    Hope it works out for you.
    You will have a SOLAR car when all is said and done!

    Tom

  • EVcosImFree

    @Anonymous, The average consumer is addicted to Debt and Oil. If they SAVED from now 2/24/2010 until 2013 when they would be able to receive the car, (“Model S won’t be out until 2nd quarter of 2012″:Elon Musk@Detroit Auto Show) + Pre-orders. I’m sure anyone could at least make a dent in the price of the car. Not to mention that over the life of the Model S it becomes a 30,000 dollar car because of the price of electricity. Opportunity comes very few times in life, this is one. Start Saving!!

    I’m reminded of a quote by the Author of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”. Robert Kiyosaki
    Most people say “I can’t afford that” but the wise say “How can I afford that” then they get to work figuring out how.

    Think and grow Rich my friend.

    -EVcosImFree

  • brickhugger

    I am cautiously optomistic about this car. It looks great, and yes they are building and selling the Roadster, but as we have all seen, the hype is often just that: hype, all smoke and no sizzle (remember the Moller X400 anyone?)

    That being said, they’re building (and selling) one electric car, so the initial learning curve has been met. Certainly there are differences between a roadster and a sedan, but those are more of degree than of scope.

    If they can stay focused and deliver on time and on budget, then this could get real interesting. And if, down the road, they can get the beast to the $40k price point and 400+ miles range, then they’re in the mainstream. No, I’m NOT saying $40k is ‘cheap’, but it’s just low enough that a large segment of the population can get one with some savings (think about the cost of SUV’s, F-150’s Ram Pickups, Lexus’, Acura, Infiniti, etc…)

    We’ll just have to wait a year or so and see what they do.

  • GIZMO

    NICE Thought about EV’s getting their power from the road like subway trains, but we need to be a little careful here. Have you ever the admonition to “not touch the third rail.” That means that the so-called “third rail” or middle is “hot” and that if you touch it the authorities will likely soon be notifying your next of kin, that your life-time warranty has just expired. Seriously that is why unauthorized access to the rails is prevented.

    Alternately any such subway trains can be self-propelled, not requiring external power. In the past many street cars and even a few buses got their “juice” from overhead wires, with connection via long trailing arms extending from top of the vehicle in question.

  • yumaslim

    I’m somewhat hopeful for the model S. However, the whole thing seems too good to be true. A good looking electric car that doesn’t sacrifice power, functionality, space or fun. There is a bit of sacrifice in cost; until you consider that the model S is the size, and just as luxurious, as an A6. Since it competes with a gas luxury sedan that starts in the mid 40’s; so $60,000 for an all electric luxury sedan seems great. That seems far too good to be true.
    I’m actually expecting is a 0-60 time in the realm of 7 seconds, which is still good, a top speed of about 100 mph, also good enough, and a base range of 60 miles, pushing it for good enough. This will happen because the car WILL be overweight, every company making EVs always brings them in overweight and that hurts performance on all levels. And of course I expect the price to come in at just under 70k for the base and the company to rely on larger rebates to get the price near their advertised price. Of course the 17″ touchscreen has to go; it’s an expensive fancy option that you may be able to order with a $5,000+ option package. The car will also be very late, think just before 2013 or even into 2013; missing being in the market all by themselves in the EV market.
    Even with all of my expectations listed above; I’d still buy one if I had the income to justify buying one. I have to down payment on hand, but In about a month I will be another unemployed college graduate looking for a job, though technically I’ve been a college graduate looking for a job for about a year now, just my job as a student is over (turns out they don’t like have non-students have student positions).

  • Dean Alan

    I have been in conversations with Tesla for the last year and the deposit was $5000 last time I spoke with them. I believe I am their target customer and will get rid of my BMW 5 Series for it. They invite you down to the the dealership to test drive the roadster if you show enough interest. What a car. It is hard not to put down the deposit.

  • Anonymous

    The biggest problem with this is charging. What makes electricity? Most homes are still powered by coal which releases carbon into the atmosphere. If you ask me this isn’t much better than what we’re doing now. Good attempt but try again.

  • little anton

    Not all true about the carbon release. Just put a 6.44 KW Solar PV system up.

    It will be plug and play.

  • Anonymous

    “What makes electricity? Most homes are still powered by coal which releases carbon into the atmosphere.”

    A coal power station is much more efficient than a car motor.
    I think they already did the math. even if you consider all the energy would come from coal power it would still produce only half the CO2 than a Hybrid car!

    please read more before you hate on new technology…

  • EVMAN

    The electricity used by EV’s produces much less carbon dioxide than even hybrid cars.

    The roadster for example has a 56 kilowatt hour (KWH) battery back that will take the car 220 miles. With the current mix of electricity production in the U.S., .95 lbs of CO2 are produced for each KWH of electricity. So that is 53 lbs of CO2 for 220 miles or about .24 lbs/mile of CO2.

    On the other hand, gasoline when consumed produces 19.3 lbs of CO2 per gallon. That means that a gas powered car (hybrid or otherwise) would have to get about 78 miles per gallon to achieve the same emissions per mile.

    And the roadster is a very high performance car. Other EVs are likely to be even lower emission.

  • freecleansolar

    it’s great that no matter the topic these days, there are always doubters and naysayers. To them i say, real americans don’t blog and complain; They take action and make things happen.

    Along those lines, here’s a cool story by an LA times reporter who is charging her electric car using home solar panels. Think about this future… no more trips to the gas station. no more oil changes. Save a ton of money in fuel costs. See the video here, http://blog.freecleansolar.com/2010/05/06/charging-your-electric-car-with-home-solar-power-can-save-thousands.aspx

    I’ve seen the model S and think it is indeed the real deal.

  • Rico

    Thanks for the education. It’s a lot of money for me. And, feel the future is worth the money. So, I believe in the future. Belief is an irrational thought not based on proof. But, it’s all we have sometimes and it’s gotten us many places. When belief finally proves true, I will be glad to have been a believer.

  • BGT

    Congratulations, Walt!
    May you soon find yourself rewarded with great news of progress!
    You have taken a step forward, and the day will come when you’re glad you took action. One thing’s for sure, you’ll be given first priority when deliveries begin.

    The combination of solar power and electric car is something to anticipate with enthusiasm!

  • Booker

    yep that’s always the best way. Bet against new technologies especially when they come from american workers.

  • bart snart

    I like to pour warm soup on my head.

  • hybridcar148

    This car looks so nice!!!!

  • GustoGuy

    Magnetic induction could be a way to power cars from the road. There would be a trasmitter built into the road and a reciever set up under the car that would convert low level electromagnetic forces into electrical current that could recharge the battery while you drive. Theoretically its possible but putting in lanes that would allow it would be costly. I could only see it happen if certian lanes are set up for EV only and you pay for the recharge using a smart chip built into the reciever on the car that calculates and pays for the electricity derived from the charging lane. This would pay for much of the infrastucture costs of building these lanes.

  • Max Mindel

    If you’re tired of paying for gasoline, and excited about EVs (electric vehicles), and in particular what Tesla is doing, you should go to Tesla Rumors for articles and economic comparisons of the Tesla Model S to other vehicles.

    http://teslarumors.com

    You can also get there directly by going to

    http://teslanomics.com

  • Anonymous

    karma has smaller range

  • tapra1

    Tesla could deliver a winner—if the company and its executives stay focused, avoid controversy, and deliver on the big promise of the Model S.Best Windows Hosting

  • Anonymous

    I like how all the haters of American entrepreneurship that posted two years ago are completely false with their claims.

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  • Steveb61

    They left out a zero. I was just on the Tesla website. The deposit is $5000, not $500.

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  • ToddRLockwood

    Before writing off the Model S as another U.S. taxpayer boondoggle to benefit the wealthy, let’s not forget that flat screen televisions that now cost $500 were $10,000+ when they were first introduced. Tesla is already supplying some of its EV drive train technology to Toyota, so the benefits for the average car buyer may happen sooner than you think. The $450 million that the government loaned to Tesla was not a “bailout.” The money came from the Department of Energy, for the sole purpose of developing the Model S sedan. It would appear that Tesla has exceeded DOE’s expectations. With the Model S, Tesla has demonstrated that electric powered cars can dramatically save on fuel cost and help the environment. The argument that the pollution problem is just pushed off to the power plants is false: a gas-powered car produces substantially more pollution in 300 miles than a coal-powered power plant does to propel a Model S for the same distance. As for energy cost, a 300-mile “fill up” in the Model S costs about $7 vs. $75 for the typical luxury performance sedan. If you commute between 50 and 100 miles every day, there will most definitely be an EV in your future.

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  • Tom

    And don’t forget to add the polluting oil industry to get the gasoline to the consumers. I bet this is much worse than the production of let’s say batteries and the other car parts

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