Tesla: Roadster production unit #1 completed; future models may use range extender

On Wednesday December 12, Tesla Motors held a open town hall meeting for all of its customers. The meeting was hosted from San Carlos and made available via conference call to everyone who has put down a deposit. I spoke with Darryl Siry after the meeting, and he said a full transcript will be posted on the company web site shortly. In the meantime, frequent commenter here on ABG and elsewhere Tony Belding took notes and posted them on the Tesla Motors Club discussion board. Chairman Elon Musk and new CEO Ze'ev Drori provided an update on the status of the company and Roadster.

The weak link in the Roadster remains the transmission. The problem of surviving the process of shifting gears while the motor remains at full torque is a tough one to overcome. Both of the first two suppliers proved to not be up to the task. There are now two other transmission suppliers working feverishly in parallel to develop a robust transmission. In spite of these issues, production unit number one has been built at the Lotus factory in Hethel, England. That's Musk's car and it does not have a finalized transmission. Musk fully expects to have to replace the transmission in a few thousand miles. Continue reading after the jump.

[Source: Tesla Motors Club, Tony Belding]

In fact, in order to get production going, Tesla is considering shipping early cars with transmissions that they expect to fail and a slightly reduced performance calibration. Once the final transmissions are available, these early vehicles would be retrofitted with new gearboxes and software. Speaking of software that is still being tweaked, the previous test that yielded a 245 mile range was erroneous. Latest testing now puts the range in the 220-230 mile region.

In response to a customer query about increasing top speed, the response was that higher speed stability would require more downforce. The problem is that downforce is a trade off with drag, and that would cut the range too much.

From a business perspective, the plan remains the same, with management intent on staying independent. While another funding round is in progress, Elon Musk remains committed to the venture. Even if every other investor decides to pull out their money, Musk said he would personally back the company. Until things settle out with the Roadster, plans for future cars like the WhiteStar will not be finalized. Any future products will be electrically driven but may contain a range extender in addition to a battery. Check out all of Tony's notes and the responses at the discussion board.

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