2010 Tesla Roadster

The Tesla Roadster will turn any driver into an electric car acolyte. The two-seat, soft-top sports car, adapted from certain components of the Lotus Elise, will do 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, besting cars that cost twice its $109,000 sticker price. The recently released Sport Model, at nearly $130,000, shaves another quarter-second or so from the 0 to 60 performance. The Roadster’s audacious acceleration comes from a 185-kilowatt (248-horsepower) electric motor powered by a 53-kilowatt-hour battery pack that provides 200 or so miles of range. The Tesla Roadster makes shifting gears, watching a tachometer, and listening to the note of a combustion engine seems tedious and old-fashioned.

Growing Pains in the Rear View Mirror

While Tesla’s path to production hasn’t been as smooth as the Roadster’s power delivery, the company seems to be past the worst of its growing pains. After the car was revealed in 2006 amidst a media love-fest, Tesla Motors hit a number of potholes: product delays, boardroom discord (which led to the ouster of its founder and subsequent lawsuits), a product recall, a dreadfully slow production rate, and tens of millions of dollars in operating losses. But the eccentric attention-seeking primary investor and CEO Elon Musk has proven that big dreams and force-of-will can eventually pay off.

While the long-term future of Tesla is still undetermined, the company has scored a set of important recent wins, most notably the delivery of nearly 1,000 vehicles (as of late November 2009). In May 2009, Daimler gave a vote of confidence to Tesla when it took an equity stake of “nearly 10 percent” in the company. Dr. Thomas Weber, Mercedes chief of research and development, said, “As a young and dynamic company, Tesla stands for visionary power and pioneering spirit.” (Daimler will lean on Tesla to provide battery packs and charging electronics for the electric version of its Smart Car.) And in June, the US government gave its imprimatur to the company with a $465 million low-interest loan to produce the Tesla’s second vehicle, the Tesla Model S. The follow-up to the Roadster, the Model S is described by Tesla as “an all-electric family sedan that carries seven people and travels up to 300 miles per charge.” The target price for the Model S is about $50,000, after a federal tax credit.

By August 2009, the company announced that—seven years into its existence—it had reached profitability (even if temporarily). Rumors about an initial public offering were surfacing by November. If the rumors prove true, Tesla would become the first public offering from a US automaker since the Ford debuted its shares in 1956. A huge infusion of cash from the IPO would allow Tesla to get closer to competing with the big boys in the auto industry. The company is busy hiring veteran auto industry engineers and executives.

Perhaps most importantly, the company is successfully delivering its 2010 Roadster at a rate of about 100 units per month. The histrionics of its early days seem to be in the past, and the company is growing from a rebellious youth—repeatedly claiming that Silicon Valley always knows better than Detroit—to a young (still spirited) company willing to borrow from the best of West Coast and Mid-West corporate traditions, whatever it takes to deliver ground-breaking electric cars.

2010 Roadster, All About Speed

In fall 2009, Tesla began delivering the 2010 Roadster, an upgrade from the 2008 model. The 2010 Roadster replaced a stick with buttons for park, reverse, neutral and drive. The change created a narrower center console, providing much needed additional legroom. The dashboard display is enhanced; the seats are more comfortable; and there’s a glove compartment. There’s also more powerful heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

Tesla Roadster

The enhanced creature comforts are welcomed, but the Roadster’s acceleration—especially from the Sport Model—is what continues to earn rave reviews from media.

“All I had to do was step on the gas, so to speak. And that’s what’s got to infuriate all the Corvette and 911 drivers who’ve ever decided to play footsie with a Roadster off the line. While they are popping clutches and shifting madly, trying to do it with the precision required to get their vehicles to perform to their full potential, all Roadster-driving grandmas and grandpas have to do is put the pedal to the carpet to unleash maximum thrust.”

Edmunds.com

“[The driver] floored the accelerator. I was driven into the seat-back behind me—and I mean driven, like I was strapped into some insane amusement park ride—for several full seconds as the car accelerated and accelerated like a rocket up the climb. Only there was no screaming flame blasting behind us. There was no engine roaring either. I was being shot up this road so fast my emergency senses were on full alert, yet all was eerily quiet.”

Scientific America

Some Caveats

Once reviewers recover from the adrenaline rush, they do find a few gripes—mostly offshoots from the vehicle’s high power and low profile. The Wall Street Journal complained about handling. “The steering wheel fights you in an arm-wrestling match around every turn, and understeer (the car’s tendency to travel toward the outside of a curve) becomes rampant with too much power, which is all too easy to summon…Few cars demand so much of four limbs.” CNet.com echoed the sentiment: “As the car lacks power steering, get ready to build some arm muscle cranking the wheel around.”

ConsumerGuideAuto complained about cramped quarters. “At 5’9” and 145 pounds, I’m not a big guy, but while I quickly mastered stepping over the tall, wide door sill and falling into the low-set seat with something approaching grace, getting out required bending and folding like a human origami project.” The reviewer concluded, “This is not a car for linebackers.”

Driving range continues to be a concern. According to EPA numbers, the Tesla Roadster goes 244 miles on a full charge. With careful driving, that number can be met and raised. In fact, in October a driver in South Australia’s Global Green Challenge set a new Tesla distance record of 313 miles on a charge—but he achieved the number by babying the batteries with an average speed of around 35 miles per hour. The Wall Street Journal’s Clifford Atiyeh had a different experience: “I never got close to Tesla’s claimed 244-mile range in which the car can drive without a recharge. Had I driven like a maniacal hypermiler and avoided highways, which drain the battery much faster than back roads, I might have hit 200 miles.”

These are nitpicks. Mr. Atiyeh concedes, “Regardless [of the driving range], this car has helped foster the EV renaissance, and shown that speed and green can coexist in a vehicle.”

Sales and Service

In November, Tesla Motors opened a regional sales and service center in Monaco, bringing the number of its European showrooms to three. The other two locations are London and Munich. In addition to it European stores, Tesla has “galleries” in Menlo Park, California, Los Angeles, New York, Colorado and Washington. Financing is now available through Bank of America. (Incentives help lower the six-figure price tag. There’s a $7,500 federal tax credits—and New Jersey, Arizona and Washington waive sales and use taxes on electric vehicles.)

Tesla is also innovating with service, by offering “house calls” so customers can enjoy service at their home or office. Professional technicians—or “Tesla Rangers”—travel to customers’ homes and perform annual inspections, firmware upgrades and other services. House calls cost customers $1 per roundtrip mile from the nearest Tesla service center, with a minimum charge of $100.

It’s important to note that electric cars require less routine maintenance. The Roadster doesn’t have spark plugs, pistons, hoses, belts or clutches to replace. It doesn’t need regular oil changes or exhaust system work. Tesla recommends a standard service and diagnostic inspection once a year or every 12,000 miles. The owner’s manual does recommend changing the antifreeze serving the battery pack’s cooling system—once every five to seven years.

Model S in Sight

With production and sales of the Tesla Roadster on an even keel, Tesla Motors will continue to slowly increase production numbers, until it reaches its goal of 1,600 units per year. Mission accomplished. But the company’s larger ambition is to work down the cost of its expensive electric drivetrain, so that more affordable—but no less beautiful—zero-emission vehicles can be offered to mainstream buyers. After all, a pair of sport cars selling for $109,000 and $128,500 will only have so many takers.

The lion’s share of Tesla’s $465 million loan from the US government will be applied to building a plant to produce the Model S—the company’s first vehicle built from the ground up by Tesla. The prototype is gorgeous, and is loaded with high-tech goodies.

With the company on more solid footing, perhaps Tesla can avoid the pitfall of committing to an overly ambitious production schedule for the Model S, as it did for the Roadster. But it may already be too late. Tesla is promising to begin production in 2011, and ramp up to 20,000 units per year by 2013. That’s a leap of about 20-fold compared to today’s Roadster production. That sounds like a very ambitious target—but Tesla has already proven that dreaming big, and not being afraid to make mistakes, can produce remarkable results.

 


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2010 Tesla Roadster
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  • RKRB

    Thanks for the informative review of this fascinating new car.
    For a slightly different view of the Tesla Roadster, visit timesonline.co.uk, then hit “driving,” and then key in “tesla” for Jeremy Clarkson’s 1-11-09 review (these are the people who do the infamous “Top Gear” program seen on BBC). They found the Tesla immensely fast in a straight line, quite entertaining to drive, and the subject of great onlooker curiosity, but impossible to recharge in a realistic time frame and somewhat indeterminate with regard to assembly quality. Tesla did acknowledge the defects as reported in the story, which is a step above the Normally Provided Standards for honesty, and a refreshing sign (it’s surely easier to improve defective batteries than to try to improve defective corporate or government honesty).
    Hope they do well.

  • Skeptic

    I hope they do well, too. Although they are further along than GM’s VaportVolt, I still think this whole thing is set up solely to get government money.

    What are they claiming for recharge time?

  • mpower830

    But where does the electricity in the wall come from? Oh wait, nevermind….

  • RKRB

    Recharge time for the lithium batteries?
    The Top Gear article said it should take about 16 hours from a British standard 13 amp plug, about 3-1/2 hours from a 3 phase plug (you could put one of these in your garage, for a price), and about 600 hours from a home wind-turbine (for the purists). They did not like the car, but that’s their opinion and not mine.
    A hybrid system may have a clear advantage because its motor can fire up and charge the batteries when needed. You could theoretically hybridize the Tesla with a gas (or diesel) engine, but it wouldn’t be practical because the batteries are already heavy and voluminous.
    It seems the Roadster is a better bet than the sedan, because you could take it out for a fast romp around town (if it isn’t too cold for the batteries) and then bring it back to your garage (although Top Gear would say to make sure you are friends with a tow service in case the batteries run out of juice too quickly).

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I hesitate before dignifying Top Gear’s myriad of displays of ignorance, especially because at least one of you actually confuses Top Gear with being knowledgeable car experts.
    Why not ask an old film photographer to help you get better digital pictures or a horse drover how to fix your car.
    Facts:
    - The Tesla Roadster can do a full charge to in under 4 hours using the High Powered (single phase) charger that can easily be installed in most houses. Older houses may need an upgrade to be able to pull the 70 Amps necessary or one can charge in 8 hours using 30 Amps (similiar to an electric range or dryer requirements). Standard household outlets (120V/12A in the US or 220V/12A in Europe) will allow the Tesla to charge in about 30 hours (US) or 15 hours (Europe) but only an idiot (Jeremy Clarkson) or desperate person would actually try to do this on a regular basis.
    - The Roadster tells you how much range you have left, both in the ideal case (ie buddy, start behaving if you’re 40 miles from home and the ideal range is only 40 miles) and a predicted case (ie buddy, the way you’re blowing the doors off of all the Porche’s you’re only going to go another 100 miles even if a calmer driver could go 150 miles on a charge).
    - The electricity in the wall comes mainly from Coal, Gas, Nuclear, and hydro. Even if it comes 100% from coal (like in some backward states), the extreme efficiency of Tesla’s electric motor and the power grid combine to make the total Greenhouse Gas and other emissions of a Tesla Roadster (including upstream ones) about the same as a Prius – except that the Tesla can still blow the doors off of a Porche if it wants to >:-)
    Great update on the Roadster though! I saw the Model S last night and it, too, has great promise.

  • nycsolar

    If you watch the TopGear review, please make sure you do some research. Apparently the part where the car “runs out of juice on the track” is faked. It did not run out of power as claimed. The part where it is pushed off the track is staged. Electricity can come from many many sources and can be generated with renewable energy such as solar. The amount of power it holds can be charged with about a $15-20,000 setup of solar power. ( I think 6 kwh)

  • Emmess

    Jeremy Clarkson wanted to love the Tesla and he did when he first drove it. I don’t believe conspiracy theories that faked the break down. Good luck to Tesla motors but unless your super rich do not I wouldn’t buy one until there are vast improvements with the reliability

  • Mr. Fusion

    I’m sure there were similar debates between horse-and-buggy enthusiasts and proponents of the new Mercedes and Ford motor cars.

    Go Tesla!

  • john iv

    I can take 8 out of 10 people off the line in my stock Corolla CE! Most people don’t know how to maximize speed from a gas-clutch. Most people don’t know how to drive a clutch! The Tesla Roadster is the kind of car that is fun to drive even if you don’t know very much about cars – which is 97 out of 100 drivers out there.

    Top Gear is the same folks who said the Prius is not very eco-friendly. (Then they proceeded to blow it up with different guns!) They suggest buying a Jetta instead. CR disagrees. I’ll take facts over show boat (not a bad play, though).

  • YoureanIdiot

    hey idiot, most power is produced from coal. transportation is 98 percent fueled by oil. stats are from lawrence livermore national laboratory. idiot!!!!!!! IT WILL HELP. IDIOT!

  • mar-10

    Some Car

  • Anonymous

    sweet

  • Scott

    From the solar panels on my roof smart guy.

  • ed

    All I hear these days is solar power, solar works very well in the summer when the days are long and filled with sun shine. Now the down side, it`s called night time, and in the winter when, if your lucky you might get 6 hours of useable sun. Better keep those old power plants on line, solar and wind only go so far. Hydro is the best providing the power plants have enough water. The best all around power producer is nuclear since it works 24/7/365.

  • tapra1

    and tens of millions of dollars in operating losses. But the eccentric attention-seeking primary investor and CEO Elon Musk has proven that big dreams and force-of-will can eventually pay off.Tech Blog

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