According to comments made by Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Twitter, a “low cost, compelling electric car” is “3 to 4 years away” from being a reality.
Stating that it has always been a dream of his to create such a product, Musk also elaborated that he wished it could happen sooner. This raises the question as to whether the issue is the technology or the demand for such a vehicle. Or perhaps more likely is the possibility that Tesla currently lacks the capital to invest in such a product. The American electric car maker recently announced it would delay its Model X crossover, preferring to repay its DOE loan quicker.
SEE ALSO: Tesla Model X Delayed
In previous reports Tesla reps had indicated a 3 Series rival was in the works, priced at around $30,000. At that time the projected launch was for 2015. It now appears as though it would be 2016 at the earliest.
But if there’s any automaker that can make a compelling and affordable electric car, it’ll be Tesla. While other automakers are struggling to get their electric vehicles off the ground and into the market, Tesla has proved that there is a market for EVs with the right balance of performance and luxury.
Discuss this story at Tesla-Buzz.com
By Jason Siu
We’ve heard initial reviews of the Tesla Model S from the media as the “Get Amped” tour – a multi-city test-drive opportunity for reservation holders – kicked off at the company’s Fremont, CA factory. But what about the people who really matter? You know, the folks who’ve been waiting for as long as two years, having plunked down as much as $40,000 for a place in line. What did they think of the shiny new machines?
After reading many first-person accounts and watching a good number of in-car videos, we think it’s fair to say they absolutely love it. The sexy fastback looks, the smooth, rocket-like acceleration, the comfortable ride, and confident handling. Love, love, love, and love!
But don’t take our word for it. Scroll down for a handful of videos, starting with a relatively short one from Tesla Motors featuring footage from the official launch and customer test-drive reactions (the last in the Tesla Tuesday series), followed by full length (12-13 minutes) clips from individuals.
Attention F10 BMW M5 owners: feeling a bit inadequate now that an electric-powered new kid on the block can beat you from 0-60 mph? Then Switzer might have a remedy. With just a few tweaks, the Ohio-based tuner has boosted the M5’s power figures from the factory-rated 560 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque to nearly 700 hp and 640 lb-ft (at the crank). Switzer is calling it the “M5 BMW should have built!”
The list of modifications is relatively short. A new engine control unit squeezes more boost from the twin turbos in the M5’s 4.4-liter V-8. Next, a Switzer exhaust and high-flow air filter round off the P700 package. The tuner didn’t provide any acceleration times, but we’re guessing it should shave off a couple tenths from the 3.7-second 0-60 mph run we recently achieved in an M5 (with the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox). Better yet, Switzer says the new exhaust provides an aural benefit, with just enough punch to enter the cabin naturally, which means owners could theoretically disconnect the artificial engine noise currently produced through the M5’s stereo speakers.
The upgrade package is priced at $6995. Switzer will release more M5-specific items this summer, including wheels and carbon-nano brake pads. The P700 BMW M5 sounds promising and we’re eager to see how it performs against its German rivals and the surprisingly quick Tesla Model S.
LOS ANGELES — The 2013 Ford Fusion, in all its various iterations, was named Green Car Journal’s 2013 Green Car of the Year on Thursday, in a ceremony at the Los Angeles auto show.
The Fusion comes in five flavors, with three different gasoline engine choices including two with EcoBoost turbocharging technology, a hybrid version and a range-extended plug-in hybrid.
The Fusion beat finalists that included the 2013 Dodge Dart Aero, Mazda CX-5 Skyactiv, the Toyota Prius C and Ford’s other fuel-sipper, the C-Max. Ron Cogan, the editor of Green Car Journal, said the widely praised Tesla S electric vehicle was excluded from consideration because of its high price and limited availability, especially for its base model.
Otherwise, consideration was given to production vehicles on sale by Jan. 1 of the award year.
Mr. Cogan said the Fusion was chosen for its overall fuel efficiency, lower emissions and environmental friendliness. It was also chosen because the models are “priced to encourage the kind of sales volume that can truly influence environmental improvement.”
In addition to a starting price around $22,000 for the base model, the Fusion also earned a Top Safety Pick rating, based on crash-testing, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The base Fusion has a 2.5-liter engine rated for up to 34 m.p.g., with EcoBoost models achieving up to 37 m.p.g. highway. The hybrid, which was rated at 47 m.p.g. over all, will accelerate to 62 m.p.h. on electric power alone. The Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid can travel up to 20 miles on electricity alone, before gasoline-electric hybrid power kicks in to extend range for hundreds of additional miles.
The award was judged by a panel that included environmentalists, Jay Leno, the television host and auto enthusiast, and Green Car Journal staffers.
Past winners of the award include the natural gas-powered Honda Civic, the Chevrolet Volt and diesels from Audi and Volkswagen.
Electric car purveyor Tesla filed paperwork for a $100 million IPO with the SEC earlier today, and after deeper perusal of the 173-page form S – 1, the company looks to be treading on extremely thin ice. The filing has revealed that not only will the company stop making its only car — the Lotus Elise-based Roadster — in 2011 because Lotus will be retooling its plant to make way for a new Elise/Exige line, but also that it has no solid agreements in place for further development or procurement of electric powertrain components with third-party suppliers. While the company hopes to have a new Roadster on the road by 2013, the discontinuation of the present car means Tesla would have no vehicle to sell for the better part of two years — unless of course its proposed Model S sedan magically appears in 2012.
The filing — specifically, the 39-page-long “Risk Factors” section — makes Tesla’s entire operation look quite shaky as it includes far more than the usual warnings about outside factors that could affect a company’s business.
It’s no secret that the future of the company rides on the success of the Model S and Tesla says that it already has 2000 orders. However, 2012 is less than two years away and the company still does not have a way of actually building the sedan. In fact, the company lists 11 assumptions that it’s operating under with regards to the launch of the Model S:
that we will be able to identify and secure an appropriate facility for the manufacturing of our Model S;
that we will be able to secure the funding necessary to build out and equip the manufacturing facilities in a timely manner, including meeting milestones and other conditions necessary to draw down funds under our loan facility with the DOE;
that we will able to develop and equip the manufacturing facilities for the Model S without exceeding our projected costs and on our projected timeline;
that the equipment we select will be able to accurately manufacture the vehicle within specified design tolerances;
that our computer aided design process can reduce the product development time by accurately predicting the performance of our vehicle for passing relevant safety standards, including standards that can only be met through expensive crash testing;
that we will be able to obtain the necessary permits and approvals, including those under the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as building and air quality permits, to comply with local zoning, environmental and similar regulations to operate our manufacturing facilities and our business on our projected timeline;
that we will be able to engage suppliers for the necessary components on terms and conditions acceptable to us and that we will be able to obtain components on a timely basis and in the necessary quantities;
that we will be able to deliver final component designs to our suppliers in a timely manner;
that we will be able to attract, recruit, hire and train skilled employees, including employees on the production line, to operate our Model S manufacturing facility;
that we will be able to maintain high quality controls as we transition to an in-house manufacturing process; and
that we will not experience any significant delays or disruptions in our supply chain.”
It generally takes established automakers that do not have to worry about supplier contracts, facility procurement, and government permits at least three years to bring a new vehicle to production, so we fail to see how Tesla is going to produce the Model S by 2012, barring a minor miracle. The company admits that it does “not have a full production intent prototype, a final design, a manufacturing facility or a manufacturing process.”
Furthermore, the production of the Model S also depends on Tesla finalizing a number of agreements with Daimler (which has a small stake in the company) that would result in the German automaker providing it with access to parts as well as engineering help. There are also clauses that would allow Daimler to terminate all of its agreements should current CEO Elon Musk leave the company or invest in another automaker.
Even if Tesla manages to overcome the multitude of hurdles in its way, it remains a mystery as to how it would make money in the time that passes between the end of the present Roadster and the launch of the Model S.
The full text of the SEC filing can be found HERE.
In the latest episode of Wide Open Throttle, Frank Markus drives the all-new Tesla Model S while host Jessi Lang takes us to electric automaker’s Northern California factory for a tour and a look at how the Model S is built.
Lang starts with 2012 Tesla Model S specs. The Model S will be available with 40-, 60- and 85-kWh battery capacities, with an estimated range of up to 265 miles. The Model S is powered by a rear AC induction motor producing 362 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque in the base model, and 416 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque in the performance model.
After Lang hands things off to Markus, he chats with co-founder and CEO Elon Musk and takes the Model S out for a spin in the city, on the highway, and in the twisties.
Check out the latest episode of Wide Open Throttle for yourself below for Markus’ full driving impressions.
Despite being called vaporware by some, the Tesla Model S electric sedan is apparently well under way in its development, and this video shows an in-the-sheetmetal Model S mule undergoing testing in the snowy landscape of Baudette, Minn.
The video starts like an intro to a spy movie, with a satellite image of the testing location complete with info about the region and graphics simulating instrument readings. From this, we learn the temperature range of the test area is -10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. The Model S prototype, which Tesla tells us is a second-gen, Beta-phase unit, is next shown conducting various maneuvers in the snow. We see the Model S quietly running a 600-foot slalom, making a quick lane change at speeds up to 60 mph, and giving its suspension and steering a workout running through a snow-covered autocross course. The EV appears to handle pretty well in the powdery stuff, though it does spin out at one point, despite the edited footage making it look like a well-executed drift.
While we don’t get to see anything new when it comes to Tesla’s upcoming sedan, it’s encouraging to see the electric automaker is hard at work testing its latest product. But Tesla had better be, if it hopes to deliver its first production models by this summer. As we previously reported, that first batch will consist of Model S sedans equipped with the 85-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, good for a claimed range of 300 miles. While we’re taking a “we’ll-believe-it-when-we-see-it” stance on those range claims, this video could mean a test of the Model S isn’t too far away.
Check out the video below to see a Tesla Model S being put through its paces.
Cold Weather Climate Testing the Model S from Tesla Motors on Vimeo.
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.
Proof That An Impressive Sport Sedan Doesn’t Need To Burn Dead Dino Juice
One-hundred years from now, the Smithsonian museum at our nation’s capital will host a display of history’s most revolutionary automobiles. The collection will include the 1866 Dudgeon steam wagon (one of the earliest self-propelled vehicles), the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen (recognized as the first combustion-powered automobile) and the 1908 Ford Model T (the first automobile mass produced on an assembly line).
Most certainly included, among the dozen or so other pioneering automobiles, will be a 2012 Tesla Model S.
Slightly more than a few years after the first prototype debuted in March of 2009, Autoblog was able to spend an evening with an early production model of the innovative all-electric sedan touted as “the next step to accelerate the world’s transition to electric mobility.” Much has been said and written about Tesla’s enormous undertaking, but we brushed off the hype, ignored the rumors and cut through the layers of misinformation. It was time to drive.
After several inquisitive hours behind the wheel, we were smitten – the Tesla Model S really is the world’s first practical, no-compromise, non-combustion automobile.
Related Gallery2012 Tesla Model S: First Drive
The last time we were in a Model S was October of 2011 when Tesla invited us to its Fremont assembly plant for a ride in an early beta model. It is hard to judge a vehicle from the passenger seat, so the exercise left us more frustrated than appeased – we needed time behind the wheel.
It didn’t take long. Elon Musk (Chairman and CEO of Tesla Motors) delivered the first ten production vehicles to customers in June of this year. Unfortunately, with vehicles exiting the plant at a relative trickle, the company still wasn’t lending out cars to the media for extended reviews.
Circumnavigating the dilemma, we called Jason Calacanis. The Internet entrepreneur founded Weblogs, Inc., in 2003. The publishing company is credited with starting Engadget, Joystiq and Autoblog – yes, he’s our founding father. Jason was fortunate enough to take delivery of VIN S00001, the first Signature Performance model handed to a customer, a few weeks ago. A happy customer of Tesla from the early days (there is also a Roadster in his garage), he was generous enough to allow Autoblog an extended test drive.
Jason’s 2013 Tesla Model S is the range-topping Signature Performance model. While Tesla offers the sedan with a standard 270-kW (362-horsepower) electric motor and a base 40-kWh battery (good for a range of about 160 miles), the Signature Performance features a 310-kW (416-horsepower) three-phase, four-pole AC induction motor with copper rotor generating 443 pound-feet of torque. Powered by an 85-kWh microprocessor-controlled lithium-ion battery, it promises a range of about 300 miles on a charge. For those keeping score, those numbers put the Model S in an A List performance category.
The Model S cheats the wind with a stunningly low .24 drag coefficient.
When ordering his Model S, Jason went click-happy on the options and purchased just about every accessory. Base price of the Signature Performance is $97,900 – Nappa leather with carbon fiber interior accents, active air suspension and 21-inch alloy wheels are all standard. The black paint is a no-cost item, as is the black upholstery with contrasting piping and gray wheel finish. However, add-ons such as the all-glass panoramic roof ($1,500), anti-chip paint armor ($950), rear-facing seats ($1,500) and high power wall connector ($1,200) will push the price into six-figure territory. As configured, Jason’s car was about $103,050 before incentives and credits. (Jason ordered the third row option, with two rear-facing seats bringing total passenger capacity to seven, but the module has not been installed in his vehicle yet.)
One should approach the Model S from the side to appreciate its enormity. Even in flattering black, pictures don’t do its stage presence justice – the flagship Tesla is five inches longer than a BMW X5 sport utility vehicle and one inch wider. The styling is very European, with more than a hint of Jaguar in its lines. Sleek and sexy from just about any angle, the Model S cheats the wind with a stunningly low .24 drag coefficient.
With the sleek car-like black key fob in pocket, a quick tap of any of the recessed door handles will awaken the sedan. After a momentary pause, the requisite door handle extend slowly. The procedure is impressively futuristic to onlookers, but the process is slow and the door still requires a slight manual tug to open.
The center stack’s stunning 17-inch capacitive touchscreen flat panel captures everyone’s attention.
Unlike the RAV4 EV, Honda Fit EV, Coda sedan or even Tesla’s own Roadster (itself built on a modified Lotus platform), the Model S was engineered from the onset to be an electric vehicle (EV), it’s not constructed on a modified internal combustion engine (ICE) platform. Instead of putting the battery down a spine, or eating up space in the trunk, the four-inch thick battery pack is bolted beneath the chassis. This location keeps the space-devouring energy storage below the passenger compartment. It also delivers more room for passengers and cargo.
At first glance, the cabin appears overly simple (many would consider it spartan). By design, it lacks most of the traditional switchgear, buttons and knobs found in today’s vehicles. However, once the key-wielding operator drops into the driver’s seat, the Model S comes to life – there is no ignition switch – as multiple glass panels are energized. While the primary flat instrument panel (viewed through a sculpted three-spoke multi-function steering wheel) is impressive by itself, it is the center stack’s stunning 17-inch capacitive touchscreen that captures everyone’s attention. The oversized rectangular piece of glass, stretching from the top to the bottom of the dashboard and bordered in aluminum, effectively eliminates all mechanical switchgear for the climate controls, infotainment, navigation, ride height, heated seats, defrosters, moonroof, door locks, truck, frunk, vehicle configuration and more. Although intimidating initially, it is very intuitive and easy-to-use in practice – no owner’s manual required. It is, without question, brilliantly executed.
The only physical buttons or knobs, besides the tiny hazard switch and glovebox releases on each side of the flat panel, are the window switches on each door, the obligatory steering wheel stalks and the column-mounted transmission lever. Even then, all are very high quality components taken straight from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin (keep in mind that the German automaker is a key investor in Tesla).
Unlike most of the EV models we’ve recently piloted, the Model S has no “creep.”
As mentioned, the operator does not “start” the Model S in the traditional sense of turning a key or pressing a button. Instead, proximity sensors acknowledge that a fob is within the cabin and that an adult’s derrière is in the driver’s seat. Once these two requirements are met, the vehicle automatically boots up, just like a quick computer. It’s a bit awkward unlearning decades of conditioning about how to start a vehicle (and a real pain-in-the-ass when moving a car around for a photo shoot), but after a dozen times, we became comfortable with the process.
The parking brake (clamping those additional sets of calipers on the rear rotors) is electronically actuated when the transmission is moved in and out of a forward gear. Unlike most of the EV models we’ve recently piloted, the Model S has no “creep” – the term applied to automatic transmission-equipped combustion-powered vehicles when they edge forward slowly when in gear – but an upcoming software update will include that option. Instead, for now, the driver must apply gentle pressure to the accelerator to move the Tesla at slow speeds. Thankfully, the engineers have done a very good job tuning throttle sensitivity. After a few moments, low speed parking maneuvers become very natural. Unfortunately, we found rearward visibility challenged, even with a high-definition reverse camera. Audible parking sensors at each end and a forward-looking camera to alleviate some of the blind spots are on our wish list.
Those who expect the Tesla Model S to drive like a large version of the company’s Roadster will be wrong. Instead, it behaves like a well-honed European sport sedan.
It is indisputably quick whether pitted against EV, hybrid or ICE vehicles.
While the Roadster makes muted electric motor gear noises, like a zippy golf cart on steroids, the Model S is eerily silent. Only the g-forces of acceleration and the blurring outside scenery give hint of the change in velocity. The single-speed fixed gear (with a 9.73:1 reduction ratio) makes quick work of accelerating the sedan off the line. There is no exhaust note, or even an electric whine, to mask the sound of the rubber tires squirming under the stresses of torque. It is indisputably quick whether pitted against EV, hybrid or ICE vehicles (recent testing by Motor Trend pegs the Performance Signature Model S at 3.9 seconds to 60 mph). Top speed, according to the automaker, is 130 mph.
Tesla has used an extraordinary amount of aluminum in the construction of the Model S chassis. Peel back the painted aluminum sheetmetal to find lightweight alloy stampings, alloy castings and alloy extrusions everywhere. All are designed to keep mass to a minimum (the effort only helps so much with an EV, as the Model S still comes in at a rather portly 4,647 pounds). The low mounting position of the batteries, the necessary unwieldy part of an EV, keeps the center of gravity just above the pavement.
The rigid chassis, featuring double-octagonal alloy rails running lengthwise and high-strength steel optimally placed for bracing, forms a solid platform for the sedan’s active air suspension. Damping is fixed, but as the Model S accelerates, the chassis is automatically lowered to optimize aerodynamics (the center flat screen may be used to alter ride height when approaching obstacles, such as driveways). Chassis flex is non-existent and we didn’t hear a single panel utter a peep or squeak. The bane of EVs is often numb electric steering. Again, the Model S seemed to pass with flying colors (the steering effort is adjustable, also through the flat panel – no surprise, we liked the Sport setting best).
Chassis flex is non-existent and we didn’t hear a single panel utter a peep or squeak.
Thanks to the powertrain’s rear-mounted configuration, the five-door boasts a very favorable weight distribution for handling (about 52 percent of the vehicle’s mass is over the back wheels). We didn’t have a chance to tackle any canyons, but we did dart through plenty of traffic effortlessly. The chassis felt heavy and solid, like the large sedan it is. Body roll was minimal and the sedan felt very stable and comfortable regardless of how quickly we transitioned from one lane to the other.
Placing the electric motor in the rear has other advantages too. With the propulsion system mounted far from the driver’s ears, the sedan is ghostly quiet at cruising speeds. Add in arrow-like wind resistance and the sound attenuating effect of that thick layer of batteries between the passengers and the road, and the cabin becomes as peaceful as a yoga studio.
Battery-powered vehicles use regenerative braking to recover some of the energy wasted during slowing or stopping. To prevent an unnatural feel (many overly aggressive systems cause excessive drag to extract as much energy as possible), Tesla engineers deliberately toned-down the amount of regenerative braking to ensure the Model S retained a sports car feel from the driver’s perspective. The sedan, from our seat-of-the-pants impressions, reacts much like a six-cylinder ICE sports car when downshifting a gear. It is so familiar that we frequently forgot we were driving an EV. Regenerative braking traditionally has another drawback, of course. Most of the time, it delivers an odd pedal feel, when the system transitions on and off, but none of that was apparent with the Model S.
The ICE-like range of nearly 300 miles completely eliminated our EV anxiety.
Unlike most EVs that are fitted with undersized brakes to take advantage of regeneration, Tesla has engineered its Model S like a high-performance sports car. All four corners feature thick ventilated disc rotors, with massive multi-piston monobloc calipers clamping down on each. Braking is a non-event, especially with sticky high-performance Continental Extreme Contact DW summer compound tires (size 245/35ZR21) at all four corners.
Design, chassis and driving dynamics aside, the real game changer for the Model S is its available 85 kWh lithium-ion battery – the ICE-like range of nearly 300 miles completely eliminated our EV anxiety. Jason brought the car to us with less than half a charge. We understandably fretted, until noticing that the numbers weren’t falling rapidly like prices at Wal-Mart. They were holding steady, with real-world estimates based on driving style that were accurate and, well… comforting. Jason was not the least bit concerned over how much battery we were using either, even though he still had another appointment to get to after our drive. And, for the first time in recent memory, our eyes were not locked on an EV’s battery gauge.
While this first attempt is impressive, Tesla has also left room for improvement on future models. In addition to the aforementioned need for backup sensors we would like to see additional cameras to ease parking. More importantly, second-row occupants deserve their own climate control in the spacious rear half of the cabin as this type of passenger pampering is all but expected at the price range.
Tesla’s all-electric sedan excels at being an impressive and engaging sport sedan first.
But skeptics of the Tesla Model S need just to take one for a spin.
We frankly approached our first drive with leeriness – after piloting dozens of advanced-powertrain vehicles over the past few years, we’ve been let down more often than not. But it took only ten minutes of jockeying though congestion, and a few foot-to-the-floor acceleration runs, to erase our doubts. The Model S truly is truly revolutionary. Unlike all if its predecessors, burdened with concessions, trade-offs and compromises in the interest of technology, Tesla’s all-electric sedan chooses to excel at being an impressive and engaging sport sedan. The fun-to-drive four-door then seals the deal with its powerful, long-range and emissions-free powertrain.
Pioneering vehicles end up in museums – expect to show your great-grandchildren a Tesla Model S someday.
- 310 kW AC Motor
- 416 HP / 443 LB-FT
- 0-60 Time:
- 3.9 Seconds
- Top Speed:
- 130 MPH
- Rear-Wheel Drive
- Curb Weight:
- 4,647 LBS
- 89 MPGe (EPA)
- $97,900 (base)
Research the 2012 Tesla Model S »
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To start off, let’s see a show of hands for how many of you have watched both of Chris Paine’s EV documentaries, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and “Revenge of the Electric Car”? I’m going to turn on your computer’s Web cam for a moment and take a count.
Hmm, that’s not very many.
If you’re one of the few who have seen them both (like me), then you might be getting the idea that the battery-electric car’s storyline has now pulled out of its post-EV1 nosedive and is winging its way toward a sky-blue future, with squadrons of Nissan Leafs coming to the rescue as “The Ride of the Valkyries” blares in the background, “Apocalypse Now”-style.
Reality check: The Leaf’s sales have been as brisk as soggy leaves on a damp lawn. And the electrified versions of the Ford Focus, Honda Fit, and Toyota RAV4 — despite incremental improvements — aren’t likely to fare much better. If their project managers were interrogated with the aid of smoldering cigarette butts, they’d confess that these cars are basically money-sieves necessary to satisfy the influential Golden State’s zero-emissions vehicle mandate. Meanwhile, the controversial growth of fracking is pushing the electric car’s peak oil justification farther into the future. The headwinds are strong.
But before anyone demands a refund from Mr. Paine, let me direct you to the following spider graph, plotting a few of the more significant attributes of battery-electric cars: their range, recharge rate, cost, 0-60 mph time, and gas-equivalent mpg. The better the car is in each attribute, the farther out it goes on the graph. Other than price, the Tesla gets out to the edges.
As you can see, there just might be a revenge of the electric car after all (the revenge of the revenge?), courtesy of the only major electric car builder producing EVs without being forced to: Tesla.
Last month, our technical director Frank Markus took the 2012 Tesla Model S out for a spin in the environs around Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory and walked us through the car’s technological particulars. Now, I’m standing next to the dragstrip at Auto Club Speedway and across from me in a black Model S Signature Performance 85 (I’ll explain all that later) is Carlos Lago, who’s readying himself to put down our first official test numbers. Did I mention this is Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s personal car?
And just like that, Carlos and Musk’s car are gone. Like, gone. Without a tire chirp. I’m rotating my head at an unusual rate to track him. Were I in a dark, cool movie theater, I’d pass the spectacle off as Hollywood special effects. But looking around — yep, there are damp patches under my armpits and the sun overhead is like in an old Western where the lost cowboy drops to the desert sand in delirium. I’m definitely in Fontana in August. And that big sedan quietly teleporting itself to the far end of the dragstrip is actually happening. Moreover, had I been looking in a different direction I might have missed everything, because the car’s soundtrack is no more than a hushed ssshhhhhh. It’s as if you’re listening to a fast gasoline car while wearing Bose noise-canceling headphones.
When we crunched the numbers (with no weather correction because the car doesn’t ingest air), the car’s 0-60-mph time was 3.9 seconds, and it ssshhhhhh-ed past the quarter-mile mark in 12.5 seconds at 110.9 mph. We’re on the bleeding edge here, kids. Sedans of this performance caliber are as rare as netting Higgs bosons in the Large Hadron Collider — and in this case, all of them but the Tesla speak with German accents:
|Base Price||Weight||Power||0-60 mph||60-0 mph||Lat grip|
|BMW M5||$92,095||4384 lb||560 hp||3.7 sec||110 ft||0.94 g|
|Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG||$96,805||4256 lb||550 hp||3.9 sec||113 ft||0.92 g|
|Porsche Panamera Turbo S||$176,275||4388 lb||550 hp||3.5 sec||105 ft||1.00 g|
|Tesla Model S P85||$105,400||4766 lb||416 hp||3.9 sec||105 ft||0.92 g|
And were we to have measured those 0-60 mph times from the first twitch of accelerator movement instead of after the standard 1-foot roll-out, the Model S would be already off and away while the gas cars were still reacting to their suddenly opened throttles. It’s a startlingly instant shove into the seatback. Measured by our classical methods, the Model S P85 is now the fastest American sedan, and close to the fastest anywhere. And in the real-jousting that sometimes erupts on highways (you know what I’m talking about), it’s probably the quickest.
Maybe you’ve also noticed the Model S’ 400-500-pound weight penalty over those Germans. Its lithium-ion battery pack, which resides like a great slab beneath the car’s floor, is enormously heavy. The car’s maximal use of aluminum partly mitigates this, but one senses that Model S’ interior materials (door panels, in particular) are deliberately lightweight. They don’t have the solid heft of those German sedans’ baroquely detailed, old-world cabins, but on the other hand, you might picture the design as an ascetic, Apple-esque absence of unnecessary adornment, too. After Carlos finished his brake stops (great grip with no oddball shuttering or fade), the Model S was handed over to me and our 1/3-mile figure-eight handling test.
Building up speed around the infinity-symbol course, the car’s minimal roll isn’t surprising, what with its low-slung battery. But its 0.92 g of grip is great for a 4766-pound sedan. As I mentioned, this is a top-drawer Signature Performance version, meaning it carries the big 85-kW-hour battery (the upcoming entry 40-kW-hr car will be $57,400; the 60 kW-hr version, $67,400; and the 85-kW-hr basis for our test car is $77,400 — all before the $7500 federal tax credit). The SP model we’re testing adds extra power (416 hp and 443 lb-ft versus 362 hp and 325 lb-ft), sport-tuned traction control, nicer interior materials, and carbon-fiber aero trim. Add to that two significant option boxes checked for our test example: a $1500 giant glass sunroof and no-cost Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires wrapping 21-in wheels — hence that lateral grip.
As I pour more of the car’s power into the figure eight’s corner exits, it becomes a little difficult to keep the steering corrections ahead of the tail’s waggings. The problem is a slightly aggressive accelerator response. For performance driving, this should be toned down a bit.
Take a second to think about that spider graph and the performance chart above. The Model S is either dominant — or at least thoroughly competitive — in two diametrically opposite automotive worlds. It embarrasses its high-efficiency, electric car peers with one hand, while happily trading steel-knuckle punches with Germany’s mightiest warp-speed heavyweights with the other.
With answers in hand about the Model S’ performance, the other empty check-box to explore is just how far this big battery version can actually travel on a single charge. According to the EPA’s 5-cycle test procedure, it’s rated at 265 miles in its extended range mode, which fills the battery nearly to its brim. But after our testing wrapped, and we plugged it in to recharge, I happened to glance at the car’s big, 17-inch, multi-touch display and its energy-use data. Eeek — all of our testing, including a few dragstrip runs just for photography, had consumed 13 miles. And the car’s computer was predicting that at the abusive rate we were going, our Model S was only good for another…40 miles. A 265-mile range? Is this really possible?
After a full, extended range charge at the track, navigator and data collector Benson Kong and I left the Speedway and aimed south towards San Diego over the inland hills via Interstate 15, hoping to touch that major metropolitan base before swinging north again on the I-5 and peeling off on the Pacific Coast Highway for a slow, stoplight-punctuated march back to our El Segundo office. Start to endpoint, it looked to be about 240 miles.
Even with the A/C off (but with ventilation on), cruise control set at 65 mph, and the body lowered on its air suspension, the car’s range prediction quickly went sour. Out came the iPad and iPhone maps to nervously ponder shortcuts to the I-5 prior to San Diego.What was happening?
The passing tree tops were noticeably stirring and the occasional flag was pointing at us at three-quarter headwind angles. But there’s also something that’s underappreciated by these laboratory tests: the impact of ordinary driving chaos, even in moderate traffic. Time and again I had to override the cruise control and punch the brakes because of a lane-changing car or sharply accelerate to get around somebody who seemed to suddenly fall asleep directly in front of us. Every time, Benson, watching the numbers like a broker on the floor of the Stock Exchange, would admonish me, “smoother, smoother, don’t be so jerky,” but there was nothing I could do. Eventually, the car’s range prediction seemed to brighten and as we arced through San Diego, we even punctuated the point by dog-legging down the 163 toward downtown.
“My leg is starting to hurt,” Benson suddenly said, and I was simultaneously thinking that I wouldn’t want to drive much more than 265 miles in these seats anyway. They’re beautiful, but the seat bottoms are too thin and firm. On the other hand, the car’s mammoth and marvelous multi-touch screen is a happy distraction, with the sort of brilliant resolution and cool features that might have had Steve Jobs uttering “Insane!” (Think 3G Internet access, a giant back-up camera screen, and swipe-able icons.) Indeed, the whole car is a compellingly imaginative re-thinking of how we interact with cars in the first place. For instance? There’s no actual ‘on’ button. The Model S ‘knows’ you’re ready to drive by recognizing that you’ve gotten in (door opens and closes, weight on the driver’s seat), are ready to drive (seatbelt latched), and are taking action (tapping the brake pedal). That’s it.
Up the 5 we went, briefly grinding to a halt in late afternoon traffic, but after that, sailing along until we exited for Highway 1 North in Dana Point, where we pulled into a Starbucks to consider the situation. Would we make to the office? Benson’s numbers were close, but the experience Benson and I have had with EVs is that they love this slower-speed stuff. No sweat, I’m thinking. In Laguna Beach, the Energy Czar himself suddenly said “nail it” — and I obliged, warp-speeding us to the next block. A little further, photographer Brian Vance (in a BMW 528i chase car) barks from the walkie-talkie, “Why don’t we do a lap around your old magazine workplace?” Why not, I think, but as I crank the wheel up the hill, Benson shouts, “Noooo!” “Relax,” I reply, “we’ve got plenty of battery. Plenty.”
A few minutes later, Benson somberly calculates that we’re running a mile short of making it to the MT garage. I’m silent. And slow down a bit. Crap.
To break the tension, we discuss the car’s ride, which is firm but appropriate for a performance car like this. And it’s difficult to keep that in mind, since its quietness suggests more of a Rolls-Royce than an AMG Mercedes. Benson frequently asks if I’m braking. No, I’m doing lift-throttle regen, but it’s a strong enough tug to make him wonder if I’m touching the brake pedal.
The range number finally drops into the single digits. “How far do we have to go?” “Seven-and-a-half miles,” Benson reports. The display says we’ve got a range of six. I call Tesla and nonchalantly ask, “So, uh, I’m just curious — what happens when the car gets to zero miles?”
“It stops,” was the reply. Hmmm. We turn off the ventilation completely and dial down the instrument panel’s illumination until we can barely see the range number. I remind myself this is Elon Musk’s personal car. Do I want to be the famous bozo who conks out in it on Pacific Coast Highway in traffic? No way, brother.
With 4 miles of remaining range we pass a public ChargePoint station on the opposite side of the road. I grit my teeth, wheel around, and plug in. Benson is broadcasting telepathic messages I can’t repeat here. One lousy detour…
We’ve traveled 233.7 miles and wind up short by 1.7.
The total range — adding the unused 4 miles, would be 238. Yes, 238 is 11 percent short of 265. Moreover, it was done while being very stingy with performance (for the most part). Is that 265 actually valid? If you drive predominately at highway speeds, then probably not. But were we to have included more medium-speed roads (long stretches at 45-50 mph) well, possibly.
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. (Tesla is also preparing to deploy a network of super-fast chargers to supply some 150 miles worth of range in 30 minutes along many common long-distance driving corridors). Using Tesla’s home charger (240 volts at 80 amps) a full extended-range battery refill requires 6 hours (4 hours for standard-range recharge).
During our drive, we used 78.2 kW-hrs of electricity (93 percent of the battery’s rated capacity). What does that mean? It’s the energy equivalent of 2.32 gasoline gallons, or 100.7 mpg-e before charging losses. That BMW 528i following us (powered by a very fuel-efficient, turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine) consumed 7.9 gallons of gas for a rate of 30.1 mpg. The Tesla’s electrical energy cost for the trip was $10.17 (at California’s average electrical rate); the BMW’s drive cost $34.55. The 528i emitted 152 lbs of CO2; the Model S, 52 — from the state’s power plants.
For sure, it’s a game-changer of a car, then. But a car isn’t really metal and glass and rubber and leather at all. It’s people. With dreams, brains, and drive. And from Musk to Boaz Chai, who oversaw our garage charger installation (and like many of them, is a Stanford engineering grad), Tesla — like Apple in the electronic device realm — is the sort of ambitious and fearlessly innovative company this country needs a thousand more of.
We’ve got even more to come this week on the new Model S! Stay tuned next Thurs., Sept. 6, for another extended range feature here at MotorTrend.com, along with a special episode of Wide Open Throttle at our Motor Trend YouTube Channel at: motortrend.com/youtube.
|2012 Tesla Model S P85|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$106,900*|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Rear-motor, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|MOTOR||416-hp/443-lb-ft AC electric|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4766 lb (47/53%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||196.0 x 77.3 x 56.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.9 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.5 sec @ 110.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||105 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.92 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.3 sec @ 0.70 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||88/90 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||38/37 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.00 lb/mile (at car)|
|*Before $7500 Federal Tax Credit|
By Kim Reynolds