Archives for July, 2013
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk wants his electric-car company to work with Google on developing autonomous cars. Bloomberg reports that Tesla is discussing driverless technology with Google, even though Musk asserts Tesla will probably create its own system.
Tesla CEO Musk said he believes the driverless or autonomous technologies are the next big development for the car because they could dramatically improve road safety. “I like the word autopilot more than I like the word self-driving,” he told Bloomberg. “Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars.”
Although Tesla has been in “technical discussions” with Google about its driverless cars, Musk believes the roof-mounted laser-scanning system used by Google is too costly and inefficient to make sense for production cars. He reportedly favors a cheaper camera-based system, “with software that is able to figure out what’s going on just by looking at things.” Musk told Bloomberg that although it is possible that Tesla will cooperate with Google, it’s more likely that the startup will engineer its own unique autonomous-car technologies.
Google has a fleet of Toyota Prius hybrids (pictured), as well as a Lexus RX450h, that can drive without a human’s input. Lawmakers have granted the Internet company permission to test its autonomous cars in Nevada and California. Lexus demonstrated a semi-autonomous LS sedan at the Consumer Electronics Show, where Audi also showed off self-parking systems.
Self-driving Teslas are some time off, however: Musk says Tesla will focus on launching electric cars, including the Model S sedan and upcoming Model X SUV, before focusing on bringing autonomous technology to production. “Autopilot is not as important as accelerating the transition to electric cars, or to sustainable transport,” he told Bloomberg.
By Jake Holmes
Making EVs more practical is one of the biggest challenges still facing the electric-vehicle market, and Tesla is once again expanding its network of fast-charging Supercharger stations.
Tesla plans on tripling the number of free-to-use Supercharger stations by the end of the month, and within two years, Tesla Model S owners will be able to travel from New York to Los Angeles using nothing but Superchargers. There are currently only nine active Superchargers, but the brand will have over 100 by 2015, as seen by the map shown above.
Within a month, Superchargers will be added to link Vancouver to Portland, Austin to Dallas, and Illinois to Colorado. Within six months, California will receive more stations, along with Texas, Florida and the Midwest. More importantly, in that time Model S owners will be able to drive from New York to Los Angeles relying exclusively on Superchargers.
In Canada, Ottawa will be linked to Montreal. Tesla says that one year from now, the Supercharger network will cover almost the entire population of the U.S. and Canada, and within two years, 98 percent of the population will be covered.
A half-hour stop off at a Supercharger will fill an 85 kWh battery pack with 150-miles worth of range, though Tesla is working on new tech that will allow the Model S to replenish three hours of drive-time in just over 20 minutes of charging.
Each Supercharger is placed close to some kind of attraction or restaurant to try and keep those 20-30 minute stops from being too boring, as a trip across the country will still require several stops.
Discuss this story at Tesla-Forums.com
Supplying energy for cars on the move is an important piece of the electric vehicle puzzle and in this regard Tesla Motors is taking a unique approach. At some time in the future – the company is not saying when, exactly – it plans to reveal what it calls its Supercharger network.
Although the company isn’t giving any details about the design of the individual stations, we expect something more than just a post with a plug. Much more. During the recent shareholders meeting where CEO Elon Musk briefly touched on the system, he declared that when people see how awesome it is and what Tesla has planned, it will blow their minds. We await this moment.
Of course, Musk can be given to a bit of hyperbole now and again. When discussing the five-star safety rating of the Model S, he said if there was a sixth star, the vehicle would have been awarded it as well. Still, hints as to what is involved with the Superchargers arose during the Q&A session after the main presentation and makes us think that this will indeed be pretty cool.
For example, we expect it to feature battery swapping. Long a controversial concept in the electric vehicle community, it is clear that Tesla is going to employ it in some fashion. Whether it will be available for every pack size – the Model S comes with either a 40-, 60- or 85-kWh pack – is not yet known, but it shouldn’t prevent you from retaining ownership of a specific pack. While fast charging your 85-kWh Model S might take around 45 minutes using the 90-kW station with its proprietary connector, the battery packs are engineered to enable a swap as quickly as one minute.
Another prominent feature will be solar panels. Musk is a big proponent of solar energy and it’s been reported that Tesla and SolarCity (where he also serves as chairman) are working together to create rooftop solar storage systems. What better place, we rhetorically ask with no pun intended, to implement such a scheme than atop stations stuffed with batteries. Musk says the panels will help illustrate the connection between sustainable power production and electric transport and go some way to combat the long tailpipe argument.
If you’d like to watch video of the shareholders meeting, it’s available at Tesla’s website for a while longer. Besides discussion of the Supercharger, there are a lot of little tidbits for those interested in the company and its product. More to come.
Tesla Motors has announced European pricing for the Model S all-electric luxury sedan and has given a time frame for first sales of both left-hand and right-hand-drive versions across the Pond.
Tesla is giving the Model S vehicles earmarked for the Netherlands a base price of about $96,000 and a Performance version of about $129,000. The company said on its blog that the prices, which mark about a $30,000 premium on US versions, factor in transportation costs, import duties and other “minor business expenses” and factor out the $7,500 US federal tax credit. In explaining the price jump, George Blankenship, Tesla vice president of worldwide wales and ownership experience, writes, “Our goal is to make the same level of profit per car no matter where it is ultimately delivered around the world. We do not think it is right to seek higher profits from customers in some countries just because other companies do.” Take that, other companies.
European left-hand-drive vehicles will go on sale in the late spring, while UK right-hand drive units will start being produced by the end of the year. Last week, Tesla said it was about to open its European Distribution Center in Tilburg, Netherlands, and would start bringing in parts ahead of European distribution. Last month, the company priced the Model S for the US next year, boosting the price tag by $2,500 to a base of $59,900 and a top-end maximum of $94,400. European buyers can take advantage of the pre-increase price by placing an order before the end of the year.
Related Gallery2012 Tesla Model S: First Drive
By Danny King
The Tata Technologies electric mobility concept, or Emo, is a pure concept vehicle, with no clear path to production. So why was it built?
In a word, validation.
Nigel Giddons, the chief engineer who led much of the development of the electric vehicle from Tata Technologies’ American headquarters in Novi, Mich., said the car, which is to be parked at the Michelin Design Challenge display during the Detroit auto show next week, was made to “validate our own capabilities across the board.” Tata Technologies, a free-standing research, engineering and development company that is part of the India-based Tata Group, wanted to prove that the company could one day produce an affordable electric car for the American market that offered the same capabilities as the current crop of pricier E.V.’s.
The Emo was designed as a spartan wedge, with a glass top, seating for four and front doors measuring about twice as long as the rear ones. The few performance specifications released by the company would hardly send electric front-runners like Tesla and Nissan back to the drawing board — a 100-mile estimated range on a single charge and a top speed of 65 miles per hour — but the Emo is intended to impress on two fronts in particular.
First, it was designed to pass all federal safety requirements in the United States. “To do anything less would have made it a little too easy for us,” Mr. Giddons said. Second, it would sell for as little as $20,000, before subsidies, presuming Tata, best known for its $2,500 Tata Nano microcar, were to make it. Should current federal subsidies of up to $7,500 remain available, an Emo for $12,500 would drastically remap the entry point for E.V. shoppers.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Giddons called the project “very fulfilling.”
“We’ve done a lot of concept work like this, but it was always driven by customers,” he added.
Mr. Giddons said the Emo had no mechanical relation to the Nano, unveiled to much fanfare in 2008. “We certainly applied the word ‘minimalist’ in the way the Nano did,” he said. No creature comforts, in other words, like leather seats or dual-zone climate controls.
Because reducing weight was essential to hit the team’s performance targets, the Emo does not have a rear hatch or a beefy B-pillar, the brace that creates rigidity between the front and rear doors. Instead, the rear doors swing out from the back of the car. The set-up, commonly known as suicide doors, creates a large space for entering and exiting. And though the car has four seats, it is only in “rare instances” that all four seats would be occupied, Mr. Giddons said. The team anticipated the seats to double as the main cargo component.
“We found that when you design an electric vehicle, the architecture gives tremendous flexibility,” Mr. Giddons said. “By fixing the rear gate, that improves the rigidity and torsion, and that minimizes the weight needed to achieve the targets.”
The body structure is conventional steel, but the panels are made from a molded polymer and do not require a trip through a paint shop, a step that creates airborne particulates.
Mr. Giddons’s team, which included engineers in Novi as well as in Tata Technologies’ offices in Britain and India, went from conceptualizing the project to the final build in just eight months. The team contracted suppliers for components like the windshield wipers and power steering, but the intent was to generate internal lessons about how to make electric cars, Mr. Giddons said, so most fabrication was kept internal.
The endgame for the car is hardly clear. “We are very keen to reinforce that there is no intention to produce this car,” Mr. Giddons said. But if the Emo is a rolling showcase of Tata’s know-how, the question facing the company in Detroit may be, “Why not?”
Tesla Motors has been spending way too much money building each Model S. That reality, and how the company is remedying the situation, was one of the main talking points during a conference call that followed the release of the automaker’s fourth-quarter letter to investors and financial results. The discussion offered a great look inside a company that is moving from its start-up stage to becoming a full-blown, car-building, money-making operation.
Tesla could bump up production to 500 Model S EVs a week, but will focus on reducing costs first.
To achieve the first-quarter profitability target that CEO Elon Musk says he expects to hit, Tesla is focusing on improving production efficiency and increasing gross margin, rather than just increasing the rate at which they turn out cars. Tesla could build as many as 500 Model S vehicles per week – instead of the current 400 – but wants to reduce the cost per car before it turns up the production volume. Musk reiterated the precise goal during the call, saying, “I’m highly confident that we’ll be above 25 percent gross margin, without considering zero-emission credits, by the end of this year”
“The amount of overtime required to achieve 400 cars per week was pretty extreme.”
There are several ways to pursue that target, one of which is reducing the man-hours required to pump out each Model S. In December, at the height of its efforts to achieve a 20,000-vehicle annualized production rate, workers were averaging something like 68 hours a week, Musk said (and also participated in). Obviously, that’s expensive in terms of paying additional overtime wages, and can lead to employee burn out if sustained. “The amount of overtime required to achieve 400 cars per week was pretty extreme. That has improved pretty dramatically,” Musk said. That number is now down to about 50 hours a week and should drop to the mid-40′s sometime next month, Musk said. At the same time, the company is working to greatly reduce the number of temporary workers it employs and increasing, somewhat, the ranks of its full-time team.
Related GalleryTesla Model S
Another area where Tesla is achieving large cost savings is in its supply chain. As a startup, suppliers didn’t offer Tesla the same sort of deals they might to an established OEM. They used industry estimates of 1,500 units per year – rather than Tesla’s figure of 20,000 – to set pricing. That’s now changing and, as the company meets certain volume targets, the prices (particularly for the all-important battery cells it’s sourcing from Panasonic) are falling to more reasonable levels.
Even the supply-chain logistics are improving as its industrial relationships mature. Musk told one anecdote that encapsulated many of the company’s teething experiences. Apparently, it was taking longer than the 30-day financial terms in place to receive 21-inch tires from a tire supplier, so that the company was overdue payment on goods that hadn’t yet been delivered. The supplier then put a hold on further shipments, creating a hiccup in the production process and forcing Tesla to ship some cars with 19-inch wheels with a promise to replace them at a later date.
“I wanted to punch myself in the face for that one.”
To get things moving, Tesla ended up flying the tires from the Czech Republic to California – not an inexpensive proposition. Said Musk, “I wanted to punch myself in the face for that one.” It was, indeed, a memorable line that helped sum up the frustrations of moving through an awkward developmental stage.
Hopefully, these lessons learned will help the California company exceed performance expectations, just like the cars it produces. Market analysts on the call didn’t see it that way, and punched the TSLA stock price in the face – knocking it back 8.77 percent on the day following the release.
Konstantin Othmer loves his Tesla Model S. The serial entrepreneur was one of the lucky few who took delivery last Friday at the car’s official launch and as such, he is one of just a handful of people who have had more then a mere ten minutes behind the wheel.
He has spent that time well. Besides giving rides to friends and family, he’s also taken the opportunity to share with the world at large what it is, exactly, that he likes about his new all-electric ride in an entertaining video.
We won’t give it all away, but will say that he does touch on a couple of our favorite themes. No gas needed, along with lots of performance. Enough performance, in fact, that his camera person (understandably) let’s out an expletive or two during some acceleration demonstrations. Luckily for those at work or sensitive to such coarse outbursts, he’s just put up a family-friendly version.
We’ve seen initial media impressions of the Model S, as well as those from reservation holders. Now, scroll below and see what an owner makes of America’s first electric performance sedan.
Dan Neil, he of the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism fame, has made a decent living peddling his automotive snark, and for good reason, as Neil is unquestionably one of the best and funniest at what we do. Tesla CEO Elon Musk – also an outspoken salesman of some merit – differs from Neil in one primary respect, which is that Musk is worth some $2 billion and thus doesn’t have to drive someone else’s cars around.
When these two agreed to resolve their disagreement over Tesla’s seemingly pie-in-the-sky production plans by means of a wager, those of us familiar with both affable egos were deeply amused. Neil most certainly did not expect to lose his end of the bet: That Tesla would fail in its promise to deliver its second model on time. What with the prevailing view at the time being that Tesla’s game plan was merely to get bought out by some larger entity and that the Model S was just vaporware, a means to that end, we probably would have gone with Neil had someone forced us to take sides. Of course, we can all learn a lesson here, which is that you don’t bet against the guy who owns the casino.
Musk and Tesla clearly kept up their end of the bargain, so Neil’s public mea culpa ran in Friday’s Wall Street Journal. He states that he’s made his $1,000 contribution to Doctors Without Borders, the penalty for the loss being far less than Musk’s promised $1 million debit. Neil’s pride is likely hurting more from the comeuppance than the cash outlay dented his savings account, but as he writes, “I lost, and happily so. As a proponent of electric mobility, I have said many times that I wanted to lose the bet… As a critic, I’ll reserve judgment on the Model S until I get a chance to drive it.”
Related GalleryTesla Model S: Quick Spin
Hagerty has released its annual “Hagerty Hot List” of the top 10 cars the insurance company believes will become collectible in 20 years. Hagerty’s list is comprised completely of 2013 model-year vehicles that the company thinks will still be desired by enthusiasts in 20 years.
Unlike our own list of future collectibles, Hagerty’s rules are a bit less stringent. To qualify as a future collectible on the Hagerty list, the vehicle must be mass-produced, and available for sale as a 2013 model, with a base price of less than $100,000.
Here’s Hagerty’s List:
SRT Viper: The new SRT Viper is one of just three cars that made both our list and Hagerty’s. Hagerty chose the Viper for its list because it’s “one of the last living examples of the once-celebrated mantra of ‘there is no replacement for displacement.’”
Chevrolet Corvette 427 Convertible: The Corvette 427 is a no-brainer for this list. As Hagerty points out, the Corvette celebrates its 60th anniversary this year and the 427 is not only a limited-production model commemorating that fact, but also the last model year for the C6 ‘Vette, ensuring the 427′s status as a future collector’s car.
Audi RS5: Hagerty named the RS5 on its list because the collector car insurance company “think[s] the basic Audi A5 is one of the handsomest coupes on the market.”
Porsche Cayman S: According to the press release, the Cayman S made its way on to this list because it’s “Porsche’s atonement for the sin of the diesel [Cayenne].” We didn’t realize a diesel-powered SUV was such a bad thing.
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible: We might prefer the hardtop Camaro ZL1 (which made it on last year’s Hagerty list) to its portly soft-top sister, but Hagerty nevertheless expects the ZL1 drop-top to command a premium among buyers in 20 years’ time.
Tesla Model S: This list wouldn’t be complete without the revolutionary new Tesla Model S. The Model S earned its spot as a future collectible because it’s one of the first electric cars built with enthusiasts in mind.
Mini John Cooper Works GP: Hailed as “the fastest Mini ever built,” the John Cooper Works GP’s future as a collectible is ensured by the fact that it’s limited to just 500 units in the United States – well that, and the fact that its $39,950 base price is likely a little too dear for all but the biggest Mini fans.
Subaru BRZ: Hagerty reasons that the Subaru BRZ will be a future collectible because the rear-drive sports car injects a bit of “tire-smoking” adrenaline into the Subaru brand.
Volkswagen GTI: The latest version of the original hot hatch gets a spot on this list because of theGTI’s “cult-like following,” and because “the 2013 version may be the best yet.”
Ford Focus ST: The final spot on Hagerty’s list goes to the Focus ST, because it’s one of the first European Ford products we’ve gotten in the U.S. in a long time, thanks to Ford’s One Ford global initiative.
Do you agree with Hagerty’s picks? Who had the better future collectibles list, Hagerty or us? Sound off below.
“There is a learning curve to taking long road trips in an EV, especially in the cold.”
In the last week, we have read and written many thousands of words about the Tesla Model S road trip that The New York Times writer John Broder could not accomplish. Thanks to a critical tweet by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, a digital firestorm erupted about the electric vehicle test drive (if you need a refresher, please read these posts in order: one, two, three and four). In all those passionate paragraphs, nothing stood out quite like this little understatement: “There is a learning curve to taking long road trips in an EV, especially in the cold.”
That’s from an open letter to Broder written by Peter over at Electric Road Trips. Peter recently drove his own Model S almost 5,000 miles from Portland, OR to New York City. Despite the reality that most EVs aren’t particularly suited for long drives, the truth is that it can be done, and a group of Model S owners set out to prove that fact once again this weekend.
We’ll spoil the story now: all the drivers made it. From a report by Xander over at Strassenversion, a small number of Model S owners (something like six, but at times there were over a dozen vehicles together) spent Saturday and Sunday recreating the east coast drive that Broder attempted and failed. In his honor, as it were, they came up with the term Brodering – “running out of power due to human error, or generally dropping the ball when dealing with electric cars” – along the way.
Two special firmware updates (delaying one driver by an hour) were required to set things right.
Still, despite the drivers being well in tune with their EVs, the drive wasn’t 100-percent easy. One Model S plugged into a Supercharger just stopped charging and wouldn’t fill up past 180 miles of range (the target at that point was 270). Strassenversion reports that two special firmware updates (delaying the driver by an hour) were required to set things right.
Late last night, the official Tesla Road Trip group tweeted, “The trip was a success and everyone has diverted to their homes” (see the official twitter feed here). Thom Landon tweeted, “This is an amazing show of solidarity. Hopefully an antidote to the crummy he said/she said coverage of NYT.” Two short videos of the trip are available below. We expect more to surface soon.
In other Tesla/The New York Times spat news, the Atlantic Wire threw some cold water on CNN’s recreation of Broder’s drive, saying it was done in “a Tesla-controlled PR bubble. Yes, it proves the car can do the coastal trek. But it doesn’t mean that Broder did everything in his power to sabotage the trip. Nor does it signal much for consumers. Some people spending $100,000 on a car might not want to drive it up the coast without going above 65 miles per hour or, on a particularly bitter day, turning the heat up.” The Oroville Mercury-Register talked to some experts who agreed that Musk was well within his rights – and was smart – to respond to Broder’s article. And, let’s admit, Musk certainly has gotten a lot of mileage out of 140 characters. Too bad you can’t power a car on tweets.
Related GalleryTesla Model S Owners Road Trip