The amazing electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Paul Boutin of Slate looks at the amazing electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster — which is made by a friend of his:

Eberhard is that unsung breed of Silicon Valley genius: the hardware engineer. I crossed paths with him briefly 15 years ago when we both worked for a startup that made computer workstations. It was obvious he was the company’s secret weapon. He went on to launch one of the first e-book readers, then used his buyout money to build electric cars. Tesla operates more like a consumer-electronics maker than a traditional auto manufacturer. The company’s headquarters are in the Valley, where a team of designers creates specs for parts that are manufactured and assembled around the world. The first batch of cars is being assembled in England by Lotus, a small-volume sports-carmaker.

Eberhard says traditional carmakers have failed with electrics for two reasons. First, they market them as “penalty boxes” for environmental do-gooders and gas-mileage-obsessed penny-pinchers. Second, they just don’t understand batteries. The Tesla’s giant lithium-ion battery pack gives it the power to hit 60 in four seconds, to run 250 miles without a recharge, and to charge rapidly at its home charging base (a one-hour charge will take you 80 miles; it takes a 3.5-hour charge to go 250 miles). You can even plug into a wall socket at a roadside stop in a pinch. That makes the Roadster a viable commuter car and weekend day-tripper. The company claims energy costs as low as a penny per mile.

The two-seat debut model, a $100,000 pop-top sports car about the size and shape of the Lotus Elise, has room for two people and a set of golf clubs but not much more. Tesla is working on a 2009 model aimed at competing with BMW’s 5-series, a $50,000 to $75,000 sedan with room for five adults and a full-sized trunk. It may also license the electric-motor tech to other carmakers—an all-electric Prius isn’t out of the question.

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