The Citroen DS-19 and the 2013 Tesla Model S duke it out in the latest Head 2 Head episode. The pairing seems odd at first, but host Jonny Lieberman argues that the Model S and the DS are packed with innovation, making both contenders worthy of a comparison.
Lieberman argues that the Citroen might be the most innovative car in the 20th century for many reasons. For starters, the car’s futuristic body is constructed of fiberglass and aluminum, and its oleo-pneumatic, auto-leveling suspension was unlike anything the public had seen back in the 1950s. And the list of innovations continues: its Citromatic transmission (which Lieberman explains in the video), high-mounted brake lights, and lightweight chassis construction.
Next is the Model S, which was the recipient of our 2013 Car of the Year award. Most of you are probably well versed when it comes to this innovative Tesla, which provides drivers with road-trip-worthy range and supercar-like acceleration, all while producing zero emissions. Both cars are impressive indeed, but only one is declared a winner in this Head 2 Head. Watch the video, and let us know which car you’d rather own in the comments below.
Tesla has said the highest-end Model S has a range of 300 miles (at 55 miles per hour), but until recently, it’s been tremendously difficult for anyone outside the company to verify this number. When the EPA did its testing thing, it came up with a 265-mile range estimate for the version with the 85-kWh battery pack. Tesla is even offering a prize of some sort to anyone who drives a Model S over 400 miles on one charge.
Now, Motor Trend writers has had the chance to spend some time in Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s personal Performance Signature Model S to see just how far the electric car can be driven. The result? Your results may vary.
First, the good news. Motor Trend ran a battery of tests on the Model S, and its independent measurements discovered the following ways that their independent testing beat the manufacturer’s official numbers:
- 0-60 time: 3.9 seconds (Tesla official number is 4.4 seconds)
- Quarter mile: 12.5 seconds at 110.9 mph (12.6 seconds)
- 100.7 MPGe during a 200+ mile drive (EPA says 89 MPGe).
So, then, what’s the bad news? At roughly 65 mph with no A/C, MT “only” got 238 miles out of the battery. That’s less than advertised, but MT offers an important and reasonable take on this issue:
But the range that matters is really a psychological/perceptual one, not a specific number. Think about it: We drove from Fontana on the eastern edge of the L.A. basin to San Diego and all the way back to L.A.’s Pacific edge on one charge. Five hours of continuous driving. This is a breakthrough accomplishment that ought to knock down the range anxiety barrier that’s substantially limited EV sales.
Related GalleryTesla Model S
Tesla Motors Elon Musk spends about half his working life – i.e., almost all of his waking hours – in his office at SpaceX in Los Angeles. The automotive CEO is, after all, also in charge of the rocket company, which means that he’s thinking about a lot more than just ramping up production of the Model S. But he is thinking about that a lot, too. More than you might expect.
AutoblogGreen recently got to sit down with Musk at SpaceX for a one-on-one, wide-ranging interview. Musk, comfortable and relaxed in an “Occupy Mars” t-shirt, was forthcoming about most things we asked – but questions about Tesla’s upcoming Supercharger network of fast chargers, which can deliver so much more juice per minute than any other plug-in vehicle charger on the market, were deflected, since the company is planning a big announcement at the end of this month or early October – and we got into Tesla’s financial situation, why the Model X has those falcon doors and how Daimler saved Tesla. We learned a lot, including that Musk really doesn’t like the rear seat access in the Audi Q7. Not one bit.
Read the whole interview below.
ABG: What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now, with the Model S. George [Blankenship] wrote the post about 100 vehicles being produced, 74 for customers. Is that at the forefront or are you already looking at what you’re going to do next?
Every Model S needs to be exactly right, and I am literally personally looking at every car at this point.
Musk: Certainly, there’s a little bit on the back burner with Model X and a few other things, but the company’s central focus is on scaling up production of the Model S while trying to keep quality as perfect as possible, really trying to have every car that goes out the door be perfect. None of this, “J.D. Power found 80 defects” bullshit. Every car needs to be exactly right, and I am literally personally looking at every car at this point. I won’t be able to do that long-term, but the cars are held up for shipment twice a week and usually on Tuesday or Wednesday I will look at every singe car and drive one or two at random and then on Saturday I’ll do the same thing.
ABG: What does that process entail? Visual inspection, turning them on?
Musk: There is a visual inspection of the inside and outside, looking at fits and interior finish and often sitting inside and making sure that everything is put together correctly. Obviously, the software is always going to be the same, so I’m not trying to see if there’s any variation there. And then, as I said, I pick cars at random to drive and make sure that the driving feel is correct and the sound system is working as it should and if there’s an issue, I’ll trace it back to the exact place on the line where that occurred. For example, yesterday I found that the installation of the headlamp was not quite correct and there was a slight asymmetry between the right and the left. I think most people wouldn’t see it, but it seemed pretty obvious to me. So I was like, this doesn’t seem right, this is off by like three millimeters. So I literally walked over to the lead tech on that portion of the line to find out why is this three millimeters wrong and it turned out he was still operating with the part dimensions of the old part, but we had made a new part that didn’t require shimming and nobody had given him the new instructions that it no longer needed shimming to get to the right position. And that was the origin of the problem. On Saturday, I will talk to the whole assembly, metal stamping and plastics team to make sure that everybody understands that they are all empowered to be perfectionists on the line and that they should not let a car move from their station if they see anything that is slightly wrong. They must reverse the line and send it back to the prior station.
ABG: You’re talking to them on Saturday. Are they working seven days a week?
If you can go work for another company and then maybe you can work a 40-hour work week. But if you work for Tesla, the minimum is really a 50-hour week.
Musk: Right now we’re working six days a week. Some people are working seven days a week – I do – but for a lot of people, working seven days a week is not sustainable. The factory is operational seven days a week but most people we only ask to work six days a week right now and, obviously, we want to get that to a more reasonable number. I think people can sustain a 50-hour work week. I think that’s a good work week. If you’re joining Tesla, you’re joining a company to work hard. We’re not trying to sell you a bill of goods. If you can go work for another company and then maybe you can work a 40-hour work week. But if you work for Tesla, the minimum is really a 50-hour week and there are times when it’ll be 60- to 80-hour weeks. If somebody is hourly, they receive time-and-a-half but if somebody is salary, then we do cash and stock bonuses for going above and beyond the call of duty. So we try to make it fair compensation, but the general understanding is that if you’re at Tesla, you’re choosing to be at the equivalent of Special Forces. There’s the regular Army, and that’s fine, but if you are working at Tesla, you’re choosing to step up your game. And that has pluses and minuses. It’s cool to be Special Forces, but it also means you’re working your ass off. It’s not for everyone.
ABG: When you start building more and more Model S vehicles and hiring more people, will all of the factory staff be expected to step up?
Musk: Everyone. So we will only scale to the degree that we can hire people who are willing to do that. We’re getting quite big, though. We’re at almost 3,000 people, 2,800 or something.
ABG: Roughly how many – in percentage or raw numbers – Model S vehicles do you send back?
Musk: The issue is that we need to improve the communication update frequency. That person would have learned it, but he learned it maybe two days later and we would have had to fix a bunch more headlamps. He’s a really good guy, and I was actually really impressed with his knowledge, he had it right down to the millimeter, but he just had the wrong instructions. So, the talk on Saturday is going to be: “Guys, don’t follow instructions if they don’t seem right. It doesn’t matter how junior you are, if you just came out of school and are 22 years old. Whatever. If you’re looking at something that doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t matter if you got those instructions from the vice president or from fricking me or whatever. You should say, hey, this doesn’t seem right and this is why. If you’re right, you’re right and it’s not about the position of the person, it’s about the truth of the argument.
ABG: Going back to the number of cars, do you have a number if how many you’ve noticed?
I find things wrong in almost every car.
Musk: I find things in almost every car.
ABG: Are they all worth sending back?
Musk: Yeah, absolutely.
ABG: So, pretty much every car you look at you send back?
Musk: I have corrections. (laughs) In the beginning, we have to be slightly imperfect because we don’t have everything completely dialed but our aspiration is to get to cars that are accurate to the limit of reasonable physics. What I’ve told my teams is that we want our cars to be so accurate you could use them as a calibration device. So, if I want to know how long is a meter, oh, don’t worry, I can go measure the car.
We’re going to be ordering some laser calibration devices so we can literally calibrate the entire dimensions of the car within tenths of a millimeter. If it’s wrong, let’s trace it to the origin and fix it. This is very extreme for the car business, but for the rocket business this is not, so from my standpoint, when people say you can’t do that, it’s like, “I do that every day. What are you talking about? I know it’s possible.” We’re trying to take the precision of rockets, where fractions of a millimeter can mean the difference between success and failure. We’re applying rocket science to the car business, absolutely. If you want to make the best car, that’s what you have to do.
ABG: Since you’re so involved with the Model S at this stage, will it be hard to let go, as more and more cars get built?
Musk: As our rate steps up, it won’t be possible for me to inspect every car, so then what I’ll be doing is picking cars at random and inspecting those and then, if the sample group is sufficient and I’m not seeing any issues, then that means the most likely thing is the greater population is good, but [my involvement] is most important in the beginning because once we get instructions correct and the feedback loops in the system correct, then I think that pretty soon I won’t be able to find issues.
ABG: Have you had cars come back from customers, where you noticed a mistake and then realized that that problem had been sent out to someone and you wanted to replace it?
Musk: No. Our customers are more forgiving thus far than I am. They all think it’s really great.
ABG: With all of this effort spent, I think legitimately, put into each of the early Model S vehicles, the time and money spent per vehicle is very high at this point –
Musk: It is, of course.
ABG: Do you have an idea of how long it will take for the Model S to become profitable? How many you’ll need to make? Do you even expect to make money on the first generation?
There’s no question that we have to make money on the Model S.
Musk: Absolutely. There’s no question that we have to make money on the Model S. We made money on the Roadster, as a product line by itself. We did actually reasonably well. I’m not sure what the lifetime gross margin is, but somewhere between 25 and 30 percent, which is quite good for the car business. If the Roadster was the only thing we did, then we could have achieved profitability, but we would be a much smaller company. The issue with going to the Model S is we’re going from around 700 cars a year to 20,000 cars a year. It takes a better person than me to remain profitable if you’re going to improve your volume by 30. That’s 3,000 percent. There is a pretty massive investment required. We definitely need to make money. We need to repay the government loan. In fact, my goal is to repay that loan early. I actually feel pretty confident that we will be able to repay the loan early and I take that really seriously because, essentially, the U.S. people, through their intermediaries in Congress, has been kind enough to loan Tesla money and it is our absolute duty to repay that as soon as possible.
ABG: As you’re well aware, that’s definitely a hot political topic right now, the money that the government spent on advanced technologies.
One of the requirements of the ATVMP loan was that you demonstrate viability as a company. That’s why General Motors and Chrysler were not eligible. I think there’s a slight question about why Fisker was given the money, but whatever.
Musk: I don’t regard this as a political thing. I just think that we have an obligation to do right by them. People have made it a political thing, yes. I want to take the opportunity to clarify the nature of the loan, which a lot of people confuse with the bailouts, because they were occurring at approximately the same time. But, in fact, one of the requirements of the ATVMP [Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program] loan was that you demonstrate viability as a company in your own right, and that’s why General Motors and Chrysler were not eligible because they were going through bankruptcy. I think there’s a slight question about why Fisker was given the money, but whatever. (laughs) The value of the money was really as a catalyst. The DOE money did not, as many people think, save Tesla. That’s not what occurred. The credit for saving Tesla should go to Daimler. It was the Daimler investment that saved Tesla in early 2009. We didn’t get any DOE money until almost a year later. Around March 2010 was the first time we got DOE money, and the DOE money was specifically for Model S-related activity and moreover, had to be audited by [Price Waterhouse Cooper] and then we have to submit audited statements after having paid people. It’s not like we could pay money in advance. We had to pay suppliers and then get an invoice and then PWC would check that the invoice was correct and applied only to the Model S program and then we would get reimbursed, so there was a three-month gap between when money was spent and we would get reimbursed for it. So it was impossible to consider it a bailout for Tesla. If we’d needed money to be bailed out the Roadster, we’ve have been screwed.
ABG: That leads to my next question, which is that especially start-ups, but every company walks that line on the edge of bankruptcy at certain times.
Musk: 2007 and 2008 were especially bad for us.
ABG: So that’s the question, how close was that? Without Daimler, it probably would have stopped?
There were a couple of near-death situations. One is where I had to basically take all of my personal reserve capital in 2008 and invest that in Tesla. I literally had to borrow money for rent.
Musk: Extremely close. There were a couple of near-death situations. One is where I had to basically take all of my personal reserve capital in 2008 and invest that in Tesla. I literally had to borrow money for rent. And that’s a whole saga that eventually should be told. It was a difficult thing that was made more difficult by one of our investors who was just an absolute bastard, nobody should ever take money from them. So I was totally tapped out. That was enough to get us through the second half of 2008 and into early 2009 and then, thankfully, Daimler, with whom we had a small deal to produce battery packs for the Smart [ED] actually invested $50 million into Tesla in the nick of time. It wasn’t some huge altruistic gesture, but nonetheless, they had to have faith that their $50 million wouldn’t go down the drain.
ABG: At that time, did they know how in trouble Tesla was?
Musk: Yes. They had total access to our financials, sure.
ABG: Even with that they said this was worth it because they liked the technology?
Musk: Yeah. There was the potential to get an investment from another car company – not Toyota – but I don’t know if they would have actually followed through or not, but they did express interest. I think Daimler was maybe aware of that. Either way, they put $50 million into Tesla at a time when they themselves were cash strapped. Dieter Zetsche had to go to Abu Dhabi and raise emergency cash for Daimler and then reserve $50 million for Tesla. When someone is hungry themselves and they give you a bit of food, you’ve got to be grateful for that.
ABG: What would you say is Tesla’s financial situation now?
Musk: I actually think Tesla is in a pretty good position. In principle, if we raise no further funding, Tesla should be able to reach cash-flow breakeven, so that’s kind of where we are right not. It’s a public company, so you can see our financials. We’ve got a couple hundred million dollars. If we make a bunch of screw-ups, then we’ll be in trouble, but if we execute reasonably well, then we’ll be in good shape. As I mentioned in the last earnings call, we are considering doing a small financing round just to improve the cash cushion, just in case bad things happen, but hopefully that’s money we’ll never use. We might go something like that, but it’s not yet approved by the board.
ABG: You’ve talked about the Karma, both today and recently in very clear statements and you can see how things can spiral out of control.
Musk: It’s a bit ridiculous, because my opinion of Fisker and the Karma has not changed in the last two years. It’s been exactly the same thing. Automobile just asked me for my opinion, it’s not like I was volunteering it or sort of intentionally lobbing stones. If I’m asked a question, I try to give an honest account of how I feel. But a lot of people in the media treated it as if I, of my own accord, launched some missile at Fisker. It was part of a longer interview. This is really not news. This is an opinion that I’ve expressed in the past, but I guess there were a lot of people who were not aware.
ABG: Plus it’s August…
It’s a slow news day when Bloomberg reports that Tesla opened a service center in San Rafael. I mean, c’mon.
Musk: It’s a slow news day when Bloomberg reports that Tesla opened a service center in San Rafael. I mean, c’mon. It was on Google and Yahoo Finance that we were opening a service center in San Rafael. We’re opening twenty.
ABG: Speaking of the media, so far, everything about the Model S, from the media who got to drive it at the launch to customers, has been entirely positive –
Musk: 99 percent positive.
ABG: Yeah. But the overwhelming message is that this is a great car, so wouldn’t there be a great incentive to try to get even more people into the car?
Musk: Yeah, and we just did 5,000 test drives. That’s pretty significant. But there is a shortage of cars. We need to provide cars to all of our stores for customer test drives, then we need cars for service, cars for endurance and quality and then we need to deliver cars to customers who have been waiting for a long time. So we just don’t have a lot of cars to lend for days on end. We will do that, increasingly in the coming months. This is not in any way trying to hold back. We’re trying to make each car as perfect as possible. Since each car is literally like 98 percent new. Usually, when people say it’s the all-new blah-blah-blah, whatever car, that’s bullshit. 40 percent of that car, if not 60 percent of that car, if coming from some parts bin. In our case, two percent is coming from the parts bin. There are some Mercedes components, like the steering column and the light switches and some of the internal bits but, literally, 98 percent is totally new, the components are in nothing else on earth. So, of the 98 percent new stuff, 90 percent of those components, no problem, we can scale up to high-volume immediately. Five of those are slightly problematic. Two percent are problematic and one percent are really problematic and causing us headaches. Putting it all together and making sure you assemble this incredibly complex puzzle in the right way, is tricky.
ABG: What are some of the parts on that one or two percent list?
Musk: Well, I don’t want to get suppliers mad at me, but some of them are some pretty big name suppliers and you think, “How the heck can this big-name supplier not get their shit together?” and I call the CEO and he’s like, “I promise I’ll get my shit together,” and I’m like, “Your shit is not together.” It’s quite vexing. In some cases, we’ve got some small suppliers where they’re going their absolute best but we’re asking them to do things they’ve never done before. One example is the bright molding around the window of the Model S. We have a continuous arc all the way to the back. It’s really big. It goes all the way from the A pillar all the way across to the C pillar and then under. It’s this huge, single piece part. If we did it like other manufacturers, we’d have seams, and seams suck and I was unwilling to have seams. So it was quite tricky to make that whole thing as one piece and then ship it and not have any warping or damage and then put it on in the right way. It’s awesome, because it’s the best bright molding of any car. Go and look at the bright molding on a BMW or something and you’re like, “that sucks.” So that’s pretty hard to make this huge continuous piece and not just have some crap that is usually done. Normal suppliers couldn’t do it, so we went to a specialty supplier and we worked with them to figure out how to get us a special weld in there and they are really doing a good job and they’re good guys, but it’s just tricky to scale that up. Everyone else just takes the easy path and has gaps in their bright molding.
ABG: You mentioned Mercedes. There was also talk about the B-Class E-Cell. We haven’t heard much about that? What’s the status of that program?
The B-Class E-Cell is not a marketing or a demonstration program. It is a serious, high-volume program.
Musk: Tesla policy is, when we’re supplying powertrains, we take a back seat on PR. It’s about our customer in that case, so it’s really up to Mercedes and Daimler how they want to portray things and what announcements they want to make, whether they even want to talk about our stuff or not. We’re just trying to be helpful to the electrification of cars and it’s whatever our customer wants in that case. We never want to be out in front of our customer since it’s really, fundamentally, their car. I can repeat the stuff that they’ve said, which is that it’s a big program, it’s not a marketing or a demonstration program. It is a serious, high-volume program.
ABG: I know it’s bigger than the Smart ED program.
Musk: By an order of magnitude.
ABG: How about work on future projects. I know Model S is the focus, but what about the Model X and the pickup truck? And we also have the next-gen roadster?
Musk: (laughs) I think we definitely want to avoid talking about distant products too much. In the case of the Model X, the reason why we unveiled that relatively early was just to show that Tesla is not going to be a one-trick pony but, in general, we’re going to make product announcements a lot closer to product introduction.
ABG: I haven’t seen that car and those doors in action, but the intent is still to bring them into production?
Musk: Oh, yeah, absolutely. You should see it. It’s a double-hinged gull wing – falcon door, whatever, it literaly looks like a bird of prey when the doors are open, it looks like a falcon in a dive – and the reason that works, while a regular gull wing doesn’t work, is because in a regular gullwing we’d have the problem that the arc goes out too far and then too far up. But if you double-hinge it, it does this (makes a motion with his hands, similar to the video here). If you can physically fit between the next car and the Model X, like maybe a foot-and-a-half, you can open the door. In fact, you can open the door in tighter spaces than a minivan door, because a minivan door, when it opens, it’s going to come out and slide. If you’re trying to come at if from the back, you can’t get in. You have to go past the door and then press the button and, if anyone is behind you, they can’t get in.
ABG: Who’s idea was the door? Was it Franz [von Holzhausen, Model S chief designer] or was it an older idea that was never used or is it a Tesla original?
This is a problem I’ve had with all SUVs. You can’t get to the damn third row. The Audi Q7 is particularly horrendous. Even in the best case scenario, you need to be dwarf mountain climber to get into the back seat.
Musk: The desire to have that kind of door opening is coming from me because it’s important to frame the problem correctly. The problem is, how do you have a door that opens in tight spaces and is also able to access the third row without changing the seat back position of the second row. This is important because if you have a baby seat in the second row, you can’t get to the third row. This is a problem I’ve had with all SUVs. You can’t get to the damn third row. The Audi Q7 is particularly horrendous. Even in the best case scenario, you need to be dwarf mountain climber to get into the back seat. It’s ridiculous. It’s the most comically ridiculous third row I’ve ever seen. So, I wanted to be able to access the third row even if you have a child seat in the second row. I wanted to be able to step into the second row, so if you’re trying to put a baby or a toddler into the child seat in the second row – right now you have to do some backbreaking thing where you have to hold the kid and cantilever yourself over the back seat. For me, it’s fine, but if you’re a five-foot-six woman and you weigh 130 pounds and you’re trying to take your 30 or 40 pound kids and do this, it’s really hard. On the other hand, if you can step into the car and put the kid down, it’s much easier. There are a few ways to accomplish that. One is to do the double-hinge and the other is to do a double door, so you have part of it go down. It may have been Franz who came up with the double-hinge approach, I’m not sure, but the double-hinge one work better than the double opening. And so when I was shown the options, I said let’s do that one.
ABG: Shifting topics to Supercharging, we’ve heard about this for a while. Can you talk about why you’re going your own way and also the idea behind it?
Musk: The Supercharger will be available to both the 60-kWh and the 85-kWh packs. The 40-kWh pack is really designed for people who never expect to do long-distance journeys. And on the 60-kWh pack, it’s offered as an option and on the 85-kWh pack it’s offered as a default because, presumably, someone is buying it for potential long-distance trips. The reason for the Supercharger – we hope to do a big unveiling in late September or October, and I’ll fully articulate it then – but, essentially, the other charge systems don’t have enough power and in order to really charge fast, the charger needs pretty advanced technology and it needs to exactly match the pack. It’s got to be hand-in-glove. So we couldn’t use some generic system because it doesn’t really understand our battery pack and there’s a quarter as much power as we need. So we want to recharge at a rate of over 300 miles of driving per hour. That means you can stop for 30 minutes and charge almost three hours or driving.
ABG: Which is so far above what anyone else is even talking about.
The Tesla Supercharger is on the order of 100 kW. The Leaf has like a 6 kWh. So we’re talking about something 12 to 15 times more powerful.
Musk: Exactly. There’s nothing even close. The Tesla Supercharger is on the order of 100 kW. The Leaf has like a 6 kWh, that’s their high-speed charger. So we’re talking about something 12 to 15 times more powerful than the Leaf’s fast charge. That the approximate convenience inflection point for long-distance driving, three hours of driving for a 30-minute stop. Most people, if they time themselves, will find that’s their ratio, it’s three hours to 30 minutes. So, you’ll start a trip at 9 am. By the time you get to noon, you want to stop and gas up, use the restroom, grab a bite to eat, grab a coffee and then go on your way. If you actually time yourself, you’ll see it’s about 30 minutes. People always think it’s less than that, but it’s not. Occasionally, somebody’s a super-hardass and they want to drive for like six hours and wear diapers or something, I guess that’s not our target market. So that’s our target inflection point, 30 minutes of charge for three hours of driving. Over time, we’re going to make that better. We’ll get down to 25 minutes, 20 minutes, eventually under 20 minutes for three hours of driving.
ABG: Is that part of the excitement for you, to again be pushing what EVs can do?
If we can make an electric car that people think is better than any gasoline car, then they’ll buy it just because it’s the best car. Then we’re way beyond people who just care about the environment.
Musk: That’s our goal, absolutely. The fundamental good that Tesla will serve is as a catalyst for the advent of electric vehicles. We’ve got to address all of the concerns that people have about electric vehicles and the reason that the Model S be the world’s best car – not for some ego reason – is it’s got to show that an electric can can be a better car than any gasoline car. I wouldn’t actually care all that much about making the best gasoline car in the world. That’s, eh. But if we can make an electric car that people think is better than any gasoline car, then they’ll buy it just because it’s the best car and then we’re way beyond people who just care about the environment. That’s great, but for a lot of people, it’s just not their top thing, so that’s why it’s very important for us to achieve that, which means our quality has got to be fantastic, our safety has got to be top of the line and we have to address the long-distance travel issue, and that’s what the Supercharger is about. I certainly hope people copy us, that’d be great.
ABG: What does the actual physical charger look like?
Musk: Well, we’re going to unveil it, so I can’t tell you what it’s going to look like. The thing that’s awesome is that the socket on the Model S that is used for home charging, that same socket can take 100 kW, which is amazing. We’re designing sockets and plugs the way they should be designed. This has got to be the best power rating of any plug-socket combination in the world. But then there’s the charger itself, which has a shape that’s really cool.
ABG: Can you talk about any of that stuff right now?
Musk: We’ve had the Supercharger in testing since September of last year  and it’s working really well. We keep refining the technology and this is the most advanced charging device on the planet. I think it’s appropriately named, recycling the term, obviously, from the gasoline world.
ABG: Where do you see the Superchagers being built?
Musk: Places where there’s pretty good food available. Existing highway rest stops. So you just park, plug it in, go grab a bite to eat and a coffee and you’re on your way.
News flash: Elon Musk is thinking big.
The Tesla Motors founder has never been conservative with his hopes for his electric-vehicle company, and he didn’t disappoint at Tesla’s recent annual shareholder meeting, forecasting 2013 vehicle sales of the Tesla Model S sedan at 20,000 units, Automotive News reports. Musk went further, forecasting 35,000 sales in 2014, when Tesla adds the Model X crossover to its lineup.
Additionally, Musk says Tesla can achieve positive cash flow with annual sales of just 8,000 vehicles. Tesla hasn’t exactly been swimming in profits. It widened its first-quarter loss by 84 percent from a year earlier to $89.9 million as it ramped up production of the Model S.
Musk, who said Tesla’s 2012 revenue will more than double to somewhere between $560 million and $600 million, added that the Model S will debut in Europe and Japan in six months and will go on sale in China next year.
To put Musk’s 20,000-vehicle forecast in context, BMW moved about 50,000 units of its 5-Series vehicles in the U.S. last year, while Mercedes-Benz sold about 70,000 C-Class models. Still, the Model S’s 20,000 sales would be about double what Audi sold of its slightly cheaper A6 last year.
Tesla previously forecast Model S sales for 2012 at 5,000 units. The company said in May that a test of its longest-range Model S produced a single-charge trip of more than 300 miles, beating the company’s goal. The Model S’ starting price is $57,400, though getting a top-of-the-line version will cost nearly double that. The Model S may be pricey, but it’s also popular. Tesla said earlier this week that it has already sold out if its top-of-the-line ‘Signature’ version, which costs $105,400.
Related GalleryTesla Model S
By Danny King
If variety is the spice of life, then Tesla’s Model S should have even more zest next year. Speaking during the company’s third quarter financial results conference call, CEO Elon Musk dropped a bit of news that has raised our curiosity to levels of unmitigated distraction. Said Mr. Musk whilst speaking of R&D efforts currently underway:
There are a few other variants of the Model S that we’ll come out with next year that I think are going to be pretty exciting, in addition to, of course, really getting into the Model X and starting the initial design work of the 3rd generation mass market vehicle.
Sounds interesting, right? While we can only speculate as to whether these variations on the Model S theme might include changes as drastic as a drop top, we wouldn’t be hugely surprised by the addition of all-wheel drive and, perhaps, a more energy-dense battery (100-kWh packs, anyone?).
What is clear is that these future alterations will go beyond just the addition of more options, since those are also in the works. While speaking about the uptake of options in the current offering, Musk revealed that in response to customer demand, the automaker will make available additional features that could be ordered with the car, as well as others that could be installed retroactively.
So, join us, if you will, in an exercise of conjecture and tell us what kind of Model S you would like to see in your garage? A superleggera? A gran turismo? A cabriolet? Go ahead, surprise us!
Yo, Elon, can you spare a few?
Since Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk was asked – and responded positively – to help fund a museum dedicated to Nikola Tesla, here’s another way he could boost the history of the man who gave his name for Elon’s company.
“Electricity: The Story and Life of Nikola Tesla” is a planned television docu-drama about the life of the Serbian-American inventor. Tesla, among many other inventions, patented the alternating current (A/C) power generator. He died in 1943.
Here’s the hook: “In the late 1890s, Tesla’s name was virtually removed from history and buried by the Gilded Age’s most wealthy and powerful men. Until now!” That’s the line that is being used to gather funds on the microfinancing site Kickstarter. The film is being promoted by engineer and entrepreneur Wilhelm Cashen. So far, Cashen has raised almost $24,000 of the $35,000 he says he needs, and the rest of the money needs to be pledged by September 9. Think it’s a worthy goal? Head over to the Kickstarter page to show your support.
By Danny King
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VIEW OUR EXCLUSIVE MOTOR TREND VIDEO OF THE TESLA ROADSTER IN ACTION.
So how fast is the Tesla Roadster really? In a few seconds, we’re gonna find out because framed by its porthole-size windshield is a deliciously straight stretch of Skyline Boulevard, a knockout snake of a road we’ve never heard of before in the coastal hills above San Carlos, California. San Carlos, in case you’re not Google-Earthing at the moment, is the inviting, northwestern Silicon Valley ‘burb where Tesla decided to settle its unpretentious research and development quarters about four years ago. Through the trees, we occasionally glimpse Stanford’s 285-foot-tall Hoover Tower some seven and a half miles away.
Okay, then, I’ve got the brake pedal stapled to the floor. The mirrors are scoped for innocent traffic. Coast is clear. Dip into the accelerator and…remember that Mark Twain quip about the coldest winter he ever knew being a summer in San Francisco? Ditto that for this San Carlos place. Except it’s now December, the Roadster’s top is AWOL, and an Arctic front is leaning in from the gray Pacific. But back to business.
Can an electric sports car really deliver sports-car thrills? Absolutely-though its dynamics are velvety in their violence and its silence is almost snakelike.
I lean into the accelerator, brace myself and…er, hold on, we’ll get to that. I first want to tell you about the irony of this car’s name. Haven’t you wondered where “Tesla” comes from? Automotive historians might be acquainted with the story about Thomas Edison famously giving encouragement to a young employee named Henry Ford (“Young man, you have it. Keep at it. Electric cars must keep near to power stations”). However, the reality is that cantankerous Tom would soon embark on thousands of experiments aimed precisely at cracking the automotive battery nut, and in 1904 finally introduced-amid much stage-managed hoopla-his nickel-iron battery for electric cars.
It didn’t work out, at least not automotively. But the tie-in with the 2008 Tesla Roadster is that, a year before the Ford conversation, Edison had a giant row with another employee, a curious Serbian immigrant named Nikola Tesla. Depending on which story you like, Edison either did or didn’t renege on a $50,000 payment to Tesla. Edison’s version was that he meant it as a joke. Either way, the historic champions of direct current, Edison, and alternating current, Tesla’s baby, were pretty much at each others’ throats after that. So what gets me is that now, a century later, the first popular electric car to crack the battery nut is called a Tesla, not a Tom. Sure, Tesla was a genius. But did he even try to make car batteries? Nooo.
All right, then, back to the car-specifically, its batteries. The reason I’m braced for a wallop when I nail that accelerator isn’t the watermelon-size electric motor’s 248 horsepower. What’s worrying my neck is the combination of the motor’s 211 pound-feet of zero-rpm torque and the ease with which its 6831-cell, lithium-ion battery pack can juice the little banshee. Note that, at an estimated 2690-pound curb weight, the Tesla Roadster has a weight-to-torque ratio of 12.7 pounds/pound-foot. By comparison, it’s natural reference, the sizzling Lotus Exige S (with 165 pound-feet of torque and 630 fewer pounds) offers 12.5 pounds/pound-foot-but only when you finally reach 5500 rpm. Notably, that’s not zero rpm.
Although the battery pack contains the equivalent of just 2.1 gallons of gasoline (before recharging losses), Tesla claims the Roadster’s efficiency is six times that of rival sports cars, and it contributes ten-fold fewer CO2 emissions. Perhaps. What’s painfully apparent as you delve into the world of battery EVs, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles is that everybody’s sequence of PowerPoint charts, funnily enough, favors themselves.
Still, the Tesla is undeniably, unbelievably efficient: Given its miniscule ration of “electric” fuel on board and its 220-mile, combined-cycle range (recently reduced due to a subcontractor’s miscalculation), the Roadster delivers roughly 105 miles per electric gallon. Assuming that electricity is (optimistically) sourced from a highly efficient combined-cycle, natural-gas-fired powerplant (which Tesla claims can provide an efficiency of 52.5 percent from well to outlet), the Roadster’s gasoline-equivalent well-to-wheel mileage works out to something like 55 mpg. That’s roughly 1.5 times (or higher, by Tesla’s calculations) that of the Prius, the green standard of current automobiles. By the way, there’s little cause to fret about laptop-scenario battery infernos, either-the battery is liquid-cooled by the same refrigerant used by the air-conditioner; all those cells are bathed in a total of 27 square meters of surface-area to squelch any troublemaking hot-spots.
Tesla’s real troublemaker hasn’t been batteries but its transmission. Or make that, transmissions. An electric car, even one with a 13,500-rpm redline needs at least two cogs to get lickety-split to 60 and still top-out at 125 mph. Transmission Design One proved unreliable; Transmission Two, which is fitted to the car I’m in, operates nicely but isn’t lasting more than a few thousand miles. Presently, two more subcontractors are simultaneously going full-bore on transmission designs Three and Four to accelerate the development. Confronted at a recent Tesla Town Hall Meeting attended by still enthusiastic, but detectably restless deposit-placers (there are some 600 of them at the moment), Chairman Elon Musk predicted production would start slowly but ought to reach full tilt by summer. When a questioner queried if Tesla’s investors were getting skittish, Musk (who sold PayPal for several hundred million dollars) replied, “Unequivocally, I will support the company to whatever extent is needed. I [Musk's bank account] have a long way to go before [money's] a problem.” Optimistically, Musk noted that their painful transmission development is preemptively smoothing the road for the next Tesla, the code-named “WhiteStar” sedan.
The current transmission is a two-speed, DSG-like double-clutch design, with the motor automatically spinning up or down to match revs. Move the lever and you’re actually just throwing a switch; there’s no clutch pedal and the sound is akin to an electronic yelp. Think of C3P0 being kicked.
Although it’s a prototype I’m driving, the differential is going to need a lot less lash when you snap on and off the accelerator, which presently elicits a nasty drivetrain buck (this probably isn’t helping the brittle transmission, either). “Drop-throttle” basically tailors the car’s inherent mild understeer, but what’s interesting is the regen’s strong drag when you lift. In fact, often the friction brakes aren’t really needed at all, and when they are, your right foot gets to enjoy old-fashioned sports-car braking feel because the regen isn’t concomitantly ramped up. On the move, the Tesla’s ride is surprisingly supple. Lotus has done a laudable job of stretching its Elise chassis two inches and accommodating a near-1000-pound battery (offset by a carbon-fiber body) while keeping this thing a frantic road dart on twisty roads.
I check the mirrors again. Still no traffic. I’m almost grimacing as I release the brake and pound the accelerator to the floor. Whrrrrrrr…30 mph, 40 mph, 50…in the four seconds it’s taken to read this sentence, the Roadster has shrieked to 60 mph (Tesla’s claimed 3.9 seconds would seem entirely plausible in a controlled setting). There’s no wheelspin, axle tramp, shutter, jutter, smoke whiff, cowl shake, nothing. I’m being eerily teleported down the barrel of a rail gun, head pulled back by a hard, steady acceleration. Bizarre. And before too long, profoundly humbling to just about any rumbling Ferrari or Porsche that makes the mistake of pulling up next to a silent, 105-mpg Tesla Roadster at a stoplight.
|2008 Tesla Roadster|
|Vehicle Layout||Mid-motor, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door roadster|
|Motor||AC synchronous, 248-hp/211-lb-ft|
|Curb Weight||2690 lb|
|Length x Width x Height||155.4 x 67.8 x 44.4 in|
|0-60 mph||4.0 sec|
|Fuel Economy||105 mpg gas equivalent|
|Range, Combined||220 miles|
|Recharge Time||3.5 hrs @ 220 volts/70 amps|
|On Sale In U.S.||Currently/delivery in 2008|
IS TESLA IN TROUBLE?
After our pleasant visit to Tesla’s San Carlos tech base, we began intercepting ominous signals about Tesla throughout the EV blogosphere. Most notable, Martin Eberhard (pictured), a Tesla founder, was forced out and has subsequently begun his own blog, www.TeslaFounders.com. In a recent entry — which has since been removed after pressure from Tesla — Eberhard enumerated the series of sometimes abrupt and random-appearing firings that have been taking place at his former company (among them, Wally Rippel, a genuine EV visionary).
Tesla fans have consequently been on red alert, some tea-leaf-readers going so far as to say the company is going under or preparing itself for sale. We, obviously, have no idea what all this means. But as students of the car business, none of us is raising eyebrows just yet. Startups are brutal. Few succeed. And it’s not unusual to see periodic chaos among those who do. Elon Musk, Tesla’s chairman, has stated that the company needs to trim its sails toward producing cars and fulfilling orders, and not everybody’s cut out for letting go of their baby, transmission reliable or not. A Tesla spokesman has also enumerated various personnel overlaps that needed inevitable paring. Let’s hope that’s all we’re seeing because the Roadster is a cool automobile technically, a cooler automobile to drive, and an historic game-changer in our perception of battery-electric vehicles.
Finally, after reading through the cottage industry of blogs orbiting Tesla Motors, I’m amused to discover that Elon Musk’s (wanted or unwanted) nickname is “Edison.” So maybe my tongue-in-cheek speculation that the car might be better named “Tom” wasn’t so far off! - Kim Reynolds, Technical Editor
AND THERE’S MORE…
Just as we posted our Tesla feature and video to the Web, more news regarding the company’s transmission conundrum appeared on Tesla Motors Web site. As speculated in our feature, there will in fact be an interim, one-speed transmission. The bad news is that its compromised ratio (needed to achieve a sports car-like top speed) will temper the car’s acceleration rate to 5.7 seconds to 60 mph, instead of the 4-flat (or less) that was originally promised (and recorded by us from a prototype two-speed transmission car).
The twist is that the “permanent transmission,” which will appear later this year as production really ramps up, will also be a one-speed. Huh? Does this mean Tesla is permanently lowering its performance targets?
No — due to an unexpected solution. Instead of achieving their original acceleration bogey via a two-speed tranny, they’re simply beefing up the motor’s power by enhancing the PEM (Power Electronics Module) and adding an advanced cooling system to the motor. Folks who are delivered early cars with the interim hardware will be called in (coincident with the production increase) for an update to the latest spec, free of charge. What isn’t clear is whether this hardware swapping will include a new, cooling-enhanced motor as well, or instead see a client’s existing motor somehow retrofitted.
What all this suggests is that the problems with the two-speed transmission must have been onerous indeed. This is a costly fix. Moreover, the motor is already at the technology’s power density fringe; getting more out of it can’t be easy. And, to be honest, I’m a little saddened to see the two-speed go as it was rather interesting to drive, though its relaxed shift time would probably be difficult to ever trim due to the giant ratio gap a two-speed necessitates. On the other hand, Tesla rightly points out that the car’s quarter-mile times will benefit with the elimination of the time-wasting gear shift at 65 mph. Furthermore, a one-speed works to an electric car’s inherent advantage in drivetrain simplicity.
Tesla says all regulatory approvals for sale are now in place, including EPA, DOT, and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Moreover, Elon Musk, Tesla’s chairman, will be receiving the first production next week (time to park the McLaren, Elon), with series production starting March 17. - Kim Reynolds, Technical Editor
By Kim Reynolds
Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach auction set for next month just got a little more interesting, with George Clooney’s very own Tesla Roadster added to the docket. Finished in Obsidian Black Metallic paint, Clooney’s Tesla is number eight of the original “Signature 100″ built in 2008 and comes with the premium two-tone leather interior.
Clooney isn’t selling the electric roadster to get some extra cash, though. The Academy Award-winning actor is well known for his philanthropic exploits, and the full proceeds from the auction will be given to one of his charities, the Satellite Sentinel Project. Co-founded by Clooney and human rights activist John Prendergast, the non-profit organization aims to prevent a return to civil war between Northern and Southern Sudan.
“We admire and respect Mr. Clooney’s talent and dedication to making a difference in our international community, and hope his fantastic car will attract great support for the Satellite Sentinel Project and recognition of the lives his work saves every day,” said company president David Gooding.
The auction house estimates the value of the Tesla Roadster at $100,000 to $125,000. Scroll down to read the official announcement from Gooding & Company.
Elon Musk is the brash CEO of Tesla Motors, and he has been known to make some bold statements. Whether he’s talking about the price of li-ion batteries in the coming years or when his own company would deliver the now-available Model S all-electric sedan – to say nothing about leaving the planet with SpaceX – he thinks big. He’s usually entirely optimistic, but recently he was downright cautious. Speaking at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, he said that:
The challenge that Tesla faces over the next few months is scaling production enough to achieve a certain gross margin on our product so we can be cash flow positive. That’s extremely important. If we’re unable to do that, we’ll enter the grave yard with all the other car company startups of the last 90 years.
Sounds like Musk is saying that if Tesla can’t ramp up production to meet certain internal targets (we’d guess something around the previously mentioned 5,000 units by the end of 2012), then the company could fold. As GigaOM put it, getting to 5,000 in the next four-and-a-half months, is “like the Monster Truck version of ramp ups: totally extreme.” Combine this drive with the pressure to not make any mistakes, and you’ve got the ingredients for another Musk quote. From the Summit, he said, “It’ll definitely be a very tough road over the next 6 months. We can’t afford to make a lot of mistakes.”
Six months, four and a half months, a few months, what’s the difference? The real question is whether Tesla can achieve the goals that Musk himself says are vital to keep the company out of the automotive graveyard.
Related GalleryTesla Model S
Tesla’s stock price rose 24 percent Wednesday after the electric car maker reported its first quarterly profit.
The maker said that it’s first-quarter net income totaled $11.2 million, up from a $89.9 million loss a year before. Tesla’s revenue grew from $30.2 million in the same time period last year to $561.8 million in this quarter on sales of the Model S sedan.
A total of 4,900 Model S sedans were sold in the first quarter, and the maker said it raised the full-year sales forecast to 21,000 from the previous 20,000 figure.
But the brand’s success isn’t as straightforward as car sales translating to income. It gathered $68 million in zero-emissions vehicle credits sold to other automakers. Brand boss Elon Musk said the ZEV credits were a one-time-time gain.
Despite that, he also expects Tesla to manage a 25 percent gross margin return by the end of the fourth quarter.
[Source: Automotive News]
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