Here we have a first-hand review of the pre-production Tesla Roadster. First of all, I would like to thank Myles H. Kitchen for this review, and Steve Souza for the pictures. Myles belongs to the Ferrari Club of America, and was invited to visit Tesla Motors in California. As an added bonus, he was one of six members of the club to get a test ride. Please, take a moment of time to reflect on my envy of Myles at this time. And a moment for yours as well. OK now, moving right along.
So, what did Myles think? Well, one thing that stands out is his impression of the sheer acceleration of the Roadster. Coming from a man who owns a Ferrari F355, that is definitely saying something. Another consideration of the acceleration, it was all in second gear, first is available only to 60 mph, Myles points out, and was non-functional in the development prototype he rode in. Myles also noted that much finishing work was needed before the cars reach consumers. This is to be expected, however, at this point, but worth noting. If you happen to be on the waiting list, be watchful for reports of first-hand sightings.
Myles also noted that the suspension was very stiff; Tesla responded that it was not the finished setup. The brakes, however, were up to snuff. Riders of many different sizes fit well, although, as in the Elise that the Roadster is related to, ingress was not the easiest. Myles gave many more notes in the story, which I will include in unedited form after the break.
The most outstanding point of the whole article, in my opinion, is that Myles' wife would like to trade in her Jaguar XK8 for a Tesla Roadster. I have ridden in an XK8 and found it to be a rather satisfying vehicle. If the Tesla compares favorably with that car, as well as beating out the Ferrari F355 in acceleration, I predict a winner.
I suggest you read all his thoughts, which are included after the break, and view our Gallery
[Source: Myles H. Kitchen, Ferrari Club of America]
A Visit to Tesla Motors
By Myles H. Kitchen
One of the perks of belonging to the Ferrari Club of America is access to places where the general public just can't go. This past Saturday, (thanks to the organizing efforts of Dane Conklin) I was one of approximately 40 members of the Pacific Region of the Ferrari club that visited Tesla Motors, and became one of the first members of the public to experience an "at speed" ride in a Tesla Roadster (more on that in a moment). After some introductions and a brief presentation by Tesla Director of Product Marketing, Rick Vieth, we learned that we were not only the first car club to visit Tesla, but the first group to have such unprecedented access. We quickly learned that most of the Tesla employees were also fellow car enthusiasts like us (including one recently hired away from the Ferrari F1 team), and the experience was quite unlike my visits to other auto manufacturers (which I do regularly as part of my business), as I discovered that the product team at Tesla truly has a visible passion for what they're doing.
We learned about the Tesla Roadster that's about to enter production. First deliveries are expected in late summer to early fall of '07 from the production lines in the UK. At the San Carlos headquarters, there were 4 cars in evidence, the first mule (which was a cobbled-up Lotus Elise with fiberglass bodywork that is now largely a cosmetic sample only, and has essentially served its purpose), and a second, wind tunnel development chassis wrapped in carbon fiber body work, and did not appear to have running gear. Two drivable, pre-production, developmental prototypes were in the shop, a black one that six of us got to ride in, and a red one that was disassembled for component testing and development. We were told that approximately another 8 cars exist that are now in Europe undergoing pre-production testing (check on YouTube.com, or Tesla's website at www.teslamotors.com for video of one of them being tested on a frozen lake in Sweden).
The Tesla Roadster obviously has a lot of the character of the Lotus Elise, on which it is loosely based, although it would seem that Tesla's styling is more pleasing, and at least the red car showed evidence of more luxurious fit and finish than your standard Elise. As an electric car, the Tesla concept is very consistent with Lotus's long strong suit, that of making everything as light as possible. At a curb weight of approximately 2,500 lbs, the Tesla is one of the lightest cars available. We saw plenty of evidence of the extraordinary steps taken to keep weight down; carbon fiber was everywhere, in the bodywork, the interior, and even the hood hinges, and lightweight materials were being used throughout.
Rick explained how the entire Elise chassis was re-engineered for the Tesla, getting it down to a mere 160 lbs. An important part of its charm and technology is its simplicity. There are only 17 moving parts in the drivetrain, for example, and the watermelon-sized "motor" only weighs about 70 lbs. Elise suspension is being retuned for the Tesla, with a Tesla advantage of designing and placing the large battery pack in such a way as to provide optimum center of gravity and front/rear weight bias, something much more difficult to do in conventional vehicles. The battery pack is comprised of more than six thousand Lithium Ion cells, each individually fused, and protected by the on-board electronics, as well as design and manufacturing techniques that prevent any errant internal shorts. Rick emphasized that this would make a Tesla melt-down, similar to those of recent Dell laptops, a near impossibility.
Performance figures of 0 – 60 in 4 seconds are certainly impressive, however keeping your foot in it will have the impact of decreasing your "approximately" 250 mile range on a charge. This one characteristic is the most troubling for me personally in considering an electric vehicle. I take issue with having a $100K car that you can't drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or even possibly Reno, without a mandatory overnight stop. The options for recharging is to plug-in to 220V (preferred, for a 3-4 hour recharge, but where?), or 110V (taking as long as 30 hours for a full top off). And, while the car will give you MANY warnings of your impending lack of electrons, not having an emergency reserve to get you out of harm's way also causes me some concern. Once the battery is depleted, a flatbed tow to the nearest AC outlet is your only alternative, and fortunately Tesla includes a Roadside Assistance program with the Roadster. Future Tesla Owners Club outings will undoubtedly not hit some of the further destinations the Ferrari club presently does, but wherever they go, they will get there quickly!
What the Tesla does best is accelerate! With maximum torque available at 0 rpm, the full-throttle launch is described as similar to a private jet. While I didn't get to experience the claimed 4 second zero to sixty times, due to the test car not having first gear functioning, I did have a hoot as my driver took me on a fun city street and freeway loop. As often happens when a Tesla leaves the confines of the building, its presence draws "flies", as they call them, other car people who want a look and want to test their ride against the new electric hot rod. Such was the case this day, as a late model, modified "Fast and Furious" wannabe Nissan 350Z quickly attached itself to us, wanting to see what we had. Even using only second gear (First gear is good up to 60 mph, second up to triple digits), from rolling starts we quickly dispensed with "Z Boy" opening up as many as 8 car lengths before the Z spooled up and caught us as we slowed for traffic. Three torque infused blasts, and three times the Z got smaller in the mirrors. It simply wasn't a contest. I don't believe that even my 375HP F355 could come off the line this quick, but the rolling start acceleration pull in the Tesla felt very similar to a full throttle blast in the Ferrari. Yeah baby, that's what we're looking for! Smiles on all faces! Mission accomplished!
I should mention that I was one of only 6 lucky participants that day that got to ride in the Tesla. A random drawing of names was pulled, and I happened to have the electric car gods smiling on me. The car I rode in I'd have to characterize as a well-used (i.e. abused) pre-production prototype. I was told that the suspension tuning was not yet settled, and by any standard, this car was STIFF. To me, it felt more like a track car or race car suspension (as some of you know, I also race), and was far too stiff for my taste for a street car. It would be GREAT for auto-crossing, however. At present, a cockpit adjustable suspension is not planned as an option. The up-rated brakes Tesla specs felt very adequate from my perspective in the right seat, although our loop didn't require any serious panic situations. The car felt like it was cornering very neutral and flat and while the roads were damp from prior rain, it never felt loose, or engaged any noticeable traction control effects (which I'm told it has). Fit and finish in this car were clearly not yet up to production standards. With the ultra stiff suspension, there were lots of rattles and groans, and parts like the carbon fiber center console seemed loose, and various wires were seen dangling from under the dash. The gauge cluster was functioning erratically, and generally not up to the level of other technology evident in the car. The cooling fan for the batteries ran continuously and was an unpleasant annoyance in a $100K car. This car was equipped with a Blaupunkt radio; and Tesla's website indicates that iPod connectivity is available. Also, I was informed that an optional 3.5" navigation screen package will be available for production that was not in the prototype. (Note: Tesla officials have since assured me that most of my gripes and concerns are due to the pre-production nature of this particular development car, and that the production version will not disappoint.)
The seats were firm, and had good side to side, and lumbar support. Some of the riders were large and/or tall, but everyone seemed to fit, although ingress and egress was not always graceful, and possibly made more challenging with the hardtop fitted this day.
Did I come away convinced to spend $100K on this car? Hmmmm, I'd have to think on it more. I do love the looks, performance, and cache of the new technology, but the limited range and lengthy recharge times are very real concerns. My wife, on the other hand, thinks it would be the PERFECT commuter car for her daily trip over twisty, winding highway 17 in the Santa Cruz mountains. Her Jag XK8 drinks lots of premium fuel, and she'd enjoy the advantages and "greenness" of electric power, not to mention the seemingly unlimited torque. It's certainly an attractive and viable alternative for her situation. So, while I'm not ready to sell the Ferrari just yet, the Jag could very well be "at risk"! While the first two production lots are sold, they are still taking orders for 2008 models. So, just visit this link and click the boxes if you want one. I believe they do expect a sizeable deposit, however.
Finally, we were teased by the announcement of Tesla's new electric sedan that is now under development, code named, WhiteStar (the Roadster was originally code-named DarkStar). While we didn't get to see any drawings or real hardware, we were told to think BMW 5-Series. With the same drivetrain as the Tesla Roadster, a target 5.7 second 0-60mph acceleration has been set for the sedan that will obviously be considerably heavier than the Roadster. The same 250 mile range was mentioned again, and I personally think that's an even bigger issue for a family-style vehicle. But, then again, there are those who just don't drive that far that often. For now at least, Tesla seems to want to focus only on electric drivetrains, and did not mention or acknowledge the possibility of gas or diesel hybrid, or even fuel cell solutions in their future (yet). The WhiteStar is targeted for introduction in 2009 as a 2010 vehicle. So, I guess the future of transportation is really here, and it's coming from Silicon Valley this time, not Detroit, Tokyo, Munich, or Modena!