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Mr. Green Car: Tesla Roadster comes to Rockford

October 21, 2009

By Allen Penticoff

Free-lance Writer

The Tesla Motors “Roadster” is coming to town. This all-electric hot rod of celebrities is nearly a clone of the awesome Lotus Elise. The Tesla Roadster “Sport” makes not a sound while it quietly shoves the two occupants back in their seats with rocket sled acceleration of 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. That’s within .3 seconds of the 638-horsepower 2009 ZR-1 Corvette. Pretty impressive for a car that burns no fuel (directly). Both of these cars will cost you well more than $100,000, so they are not quite for everyone. Nor can everyone get in and out of these low-slung cars.

You can check out one of the few Tesla Roadsters around by coming to the Green Communities Coalition “Green Ball” Oct. 23 at Cliffbreakers on Riverside in Rockford beginning at 5:30 p.m. Other “green” cars will be on display as well. For more info, go to www.GreenCommunitiesCoalition.org. While you’re surfing the Web, Tesla’s Web site, with plenty of info and photos, is www.teslamotors.com.

The Tesla Roadster has 6,800 “laptop” lithium-ion batteries and a built-in charger that lets you recharge from any 110-volt outlet or 220-volt “dryer” outlet (faster). Overnight, you have a full tank of electricity with a real-world range of 244 miles that costs about $4 to fill. That’s more than enough for a drive to a pretty, curvy road and come back. The handling is said to be as good as any similar sports car. The difference is the quiet sound and lack of pollution.

Tesla Motors started with an expensive roadster to prove an electric vehicle (E.V.) need not be an overgrown golf cart. In the world of two-seat expensive sports cars, you can build and market to those with deep pockets and don’t have to worry too much about setting up all the expensive facilities needed for true mass production. Tesla just recently made a profit on selling more than 80 cars in one month; so, even down-in-the-dumps General Motors need not worry about competition from Tesla just yet. However, Elon Musk, founder and C.E.O. of Tesla Motors, foresees the company expanding to build millions of cars as the price of batteries declines and they move into third-generation E.V.s selling in the $30,000 range.

You won’t sell millions of $100,000 two-seat roadsters. But you might sell a lot of four-door sedans. Thus, Tesla has been working feverishly on their new “Model S.” The Model S is a four-door hatchback, with seating for five adults and two children, an arrangement that harkens back to the old station wagons. No station wagon—the prototype photos show sleek Jaguar styling with darkened glass covering the roof as well as the hatch. A 15-inch, touch-screen “infotainment” panel replaces gauges and dials.

The Model S can haul your groceries or soccer players in quiet style for up to 300 miles with its water-cooled batteries. The battery pack is in the floor, and is designed to be swappable or fast-charged in 45 minutes. A problem with electrics on long trips is, even if there were charging stations, it would take the power supplied to a 100-unit apartment building to charge in the time it takes to fill a normal gas tank. Some are planning to have swappable batteries that can be exchanged by a robotic machine in the time it would take to fill a regular vehicle—but that’s a ways off. The Model S is designed with this feature in mind.

The practical Model S will have pretty impressive 0 to 60 times as well. Tesla Motors predicts it will be 5.6 seconds—on par with a Porsche Boxster. The reason for tremendous acceleration of electric cars is that electric motors deliver maximum torque as soon as they begin turning. No waiting for “power” to build up as rpm’s increase. This allows one-speed transmissions, with speed being varied by slowing or speeding up the motor. The problem lies in the complex electronics that control the massive amperage and voltage in these systems. This is the area where the new E.V. cars experience their failures. They won’t run badly—they won’t go at all if the controller fails. Keep your cell phone handy. (Most modern cars will not run, either, if the computer dies—but that happens infrequently.)

The Model S is proposed to sell for $57,400, but you can claim a $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit, as you can with the Roadster. So, the price is down to Lexus GS460 or Jaguar country at $49,900. You can put a down payment on one now and start saving, as deliveries are predicted for 2011. Or, got $125,500? Be the first on your block to have a Tesla Roadster Sport now.

From the October 21-27, 2009 issue

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