Electrifying - New Tesla Roadster.
Perry Stern - MSN Autos - August 27, 2006
Photo: Eric Bellscheidt. Tesla Roadster can reach 60 mph in just four seconds has a top speed > 130 mph.
We go for a fast cruise around Pebble Beach in this revolutionary sports car without burning a drop of fuel.
There are a number of sports cars on the market that can reach 60 mph in around 4 seconds-Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, Vipers, Corvettes-and all of these cars make this acceleration run with great fanfare. With their powerful V8s, V10s and V12s, roaring sounds come from the engine as the gas pedal goes down, and the waste from burning fuel is expelled out as exhaust.
Imagine a car that can provide that same acceleration and performance, yet there's no powerful rumble from under the hood, no burning fuel and therefore no exhaust. This car is real and it's called the Tesla Roadster.
"The dream behind this car was to build an electric car for people who like to drive," Martin Eberhard, CEO of Tesla Motors told MSN Autos. "The result is a very high performance roadster that gets the equivalent of about 135 miles per gallon."
The Tesla is quite different from the most recent U.S. production electric car, the EV1 from General Motors. That car went on sale in the late 1990s, could travel about 100 to 120 miles on a charge, reached 60 mph in around 8 seconds, and had a top speed of 80 mph. Special low-resistance tires made for a better economy, however they did not help in the car's handling ability. But the EV1 was not built as a performance car, and while it was advanced for its time, it became too expensive for General Motors to support.
The idea of the electric car is nothing new. In fact, on the green at this year's Pebble Beach Concours was a 1913 Waverly Electric. At that time, electric cars were quite popular, especially with women as they were easy to start and run. They were not cheap, however. The owner of the car told us that, in 1913, the new Waverly would cost about $5,000 at a time when a new house cost around $500.
The Tesla Roadster will not cost ten times more than the average house, but it's not inexpensive. Expected price when the car goes on sale next year is $100,000. Tesla has already presold the first 100 vehicles. These "Signature One Hundred" series models sold in just three weeks, with buyers paying for the cars in full.
"Buying a 'Signature One Hundred' Tesla Roadster provides entry into a very exclusive group," said Eberhard. "These early customers are pioneers, helping lay a foundation that will make electric cars possible for everyone—enabling Tesla Motors to develop future models at price points that eventually work for every budget."
Tesla's Speed and Power
But for that money, you get a true high-performance sports car. Sixty mph is reached in just four seconds, and top speed is expected to exceed 130 mph. Tesla points out that these figures are all preliminary, as the cars currently being driven are still prototypes.
The Tesla Roadster's electric motor produces 248 horsepower. Unlike a standard transmission, a 2-speed gearbox is teamed with the electric motor-first gear is for strong acceleration, second is used to reach the top speed. The prototype we rode in was using just second gear, but that did not seem to inhibit acceleration, which was quite impressive, yet an unusual experience.
Strong acceleration in a typical sports car is usually accompanied by the sound of a high-revving engine with a lot of drama. When your foot goes down on the accelerator in the Tesla (can't really call it a gas pedal), the sound is more like that of a jet turbine as the electric motor instantly winds up towards its maximum speed at 13,500 rpm. With almost no delay, the car leaps forward with speed climbing at an amazing rate.
To compliment the strong acceleration, the Tesla is equipped with highly capable brakes. Discs are cross-drilled, 300 mm in front and 310 mm in the rear. Stopping power is helped by the two piston aluminum fixed front calipers and Brembo single piston sliding rear calipers. Regenerative braking is used when the batteries are in need of a charge.
Longer Battery Life
In addition to offering the performance of a small sports car, the Tesla has a claimed range of about 250 miles. This addresses the range problem that has plagued past electric vehicles which typically could not go half this far between charges.
The extended range is made possible with Tesla's Energy Storage System (ESS), which features 6,831 lithium-ion battery cells about the size of a AA battery. The large number of battery cells allowed engineers to better distribute the weight as well as optimizing their storage.
In addition to the cells, the ESS includes a mechanical structure to mount the batteries, electrical interconnection between the cells, interconnection to the power electronics unit, a network of microprocessors for maintaining charge balance and temperature monitoring, a cooling system, and an independent safety system designed to isolate high voltage.
Tesla Motors Chief Technology Officer JB Straubel said, "Maximizing battery run-time is critical for an electric vehicle, but we've been able to do just that with the Tesla Roadster while minimizing weight and maximizing safety. The proprietary technology developed at Tesla Motors for our Energy Storage System is critical to the success of the Tesla Roadster."
Tesla claims that the batteries are good for 500 recharges, or approximately 100,000 miles. A full charge is expected to take about three hours, and this can be done using a portable charger that can adapt to any available power outlet, or a garage-based charger.
Similar to the Lotus
The styling of the Tesla is often compared to another small sports car, the Lotus Elise. As it happens, Lotus is the contract manufacturer for the Tesla, and will be building the new electric sports car on the same assembly line as the Elise in Hethel, England.
While the styling is similar to the Elise, which shares a windshield and windshield surround with the Tesla, the new car is unique. The Tesla is about six inches longer and wider than the Elise, and the two cars are easily distinguishable.
There are still a number of challenges that Tesla will need to deal with before coming to market with this sexy, but quiet roadster, but the first sales are planned for summer, 2007.