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Tesla CEO Hints at Electric Truck and Electric Supercar

Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk recently sat down with Motor Trend for an interview, and hinted that the company has plans for an all-electric supercar, as well as an electric truck.

When asked about future products, Musk said “we’d like to do an electric supercar. We have this idea for an electric truck that could really be a big improvement in truck technology.”

Tesla’s next vehicle that will hit the market is the Model X SUV, followed by a 3 series competitor that the brand hopes will be there first large quantity seller. Tesla is looking to become “more experimental as a brand,” says Tesla’s chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen.

SEE ALSO: Tesla Developing Third Model to Take on 3-Series

Also in the experimental category are autonomous vehicles, another area that Musk touched on. “I do think it will be interesting to do self-driving cars, perhaps working in conjunction with Google, who’s quite close to us in Silicon Valley,” he finished.

[Source: Motor Trend]

By Stephen Elmer

Wheelies: The Change the Batteries Edition

The Tesla Model S.Tesla Motors The Tesla Model S.

In which we bring you motoring news from around the Web:

• If Consumer Reports’ recent review of the Tesla Model S is anything to go by, the electric carmaker has produced quite the phenomenal ride. But the big drawback with fully electric cars is, of course, the fact that drivers have to sit around and wait while the car charges. But that may change. Tesla Motors has revived discussion of swappable battery packs, which could be installed at customer service centers. Tesla would not be the first to employ such technology. Better Place unveiled E.V. battery swap technology in 2009, even setting up a network of stations in Israel and Denmark. The company failed to make a splash in America and Australia, but with its supercharger infrastructure already in place, Tesla may be better positioned to make battery swapping feasible. (Green Car Reports)

• Honda unveiled the 2012 Acura NSX concept at the Detroit auto show last year, but now it’s official. The company announced plans Tuesday to produce the cars at a former logistics center in Marysville, Ohio, next to a plant that manufactures Honda Accords. The company said it planned to invest about $70 million in the new factory, which would employ 100 people. Honda produced the original NSX from 1990 to 2005. Pricing for the revived sports car nameplate has not been announced. (The Columbus Dispatch)

• In other Tesla news, the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association is pushing for legislation that will ban automakers from selling their own cars in the state. The bid to protect the business interests of conventional third party dealers flies in the face of Elon Musk’s business plan. Mr. Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, has kept sales of his company’s electric luxury cars streamlined by cutting out the middle man, so to speak. Dealership advocates say they’re protecting consumer interests and fair competition, while Tesla counters that it is difficult for an automotive start-up to do business within the established dealership network model. (Slate)

• Although Toyota agreed upon a settlement last year in the 2010 class-action lawsuit connected with claims of sudden unintended acceleration of its vehicles, a federal judge will rule on the amount next month in a “fairness hearing.” The settlement could pay as much as $1.63 billion to nearly 22 million current and former Toyota, Scion and Lexus owners. The settlement will pay $200 million in lawyer fees and another $27 million in unspecified costs. (Automobile Magazine)

• Ray LaHood, secretary of the Transportation Department, discussed talking cars at a connected vehicle convention news conference in Ann Arbor, Mich., this week. Mr. LaHood said the bottom line for vehicles that communicate with one another to avoid crashes is, well, the bottom line. He noted that while technologically advanced vehicles are safer, consumers’ acceptance of them will boil down to how much they cost. Researchers from the Transportation Department and the University of Michigan have been studying connected vehicles since August with the aim of providing information for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as it develops guidelines for avoidance technology on new vehicles. (Reuters)

By BENJAMIN PRESTON

Fisker Hires G.M.’s Former Head of Marketing

Joel Ewanick, the new interim chief of global sales and marketing for Fisker Automotive.Reuters Joel Ewanick, the new interim chief of global sales and marketing for Fisker Automotive.

Fisker Automotive has hired Joel Ewanick, the former head of marketing at General Motors, as its interim chief of global sales and marketing, the company said on Monday. Fisker informed its retailers on Monday that Richard Beattie, who had been the company’s chief commercial officer, was retiring.

Mr. Ewanick will face the daunting task of building a positive image for Fisker, the maker of the $103,000 Karma luxury plug-in hybrid. The company has sustained a sequence of mishaps since the cars were first delivered to customers last December.

Russell Datz, a spokesman for Fisker, declined to comment on what Mr. Ewanick would encounter. “Anytime you start a car company, you’re in for challenge after challenge,” Mr. Datz said Tuesday.

Mr. Ewanick is a seasoned auto industry executive who has held top marketing positions at G.M. and Hyundai. He is a somewhat controversial figure: G.M. ousted him in July after he reportedly failed to disclose the full cost of a multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal with the English soccer team Manchester United. Mr. Ewanick’s hiring by G.M. in May 2010 was also considered unusual, because he took the position only six weeks after being hired by Nissan North America to head its marketing efforts.

Mr. Datz confirmed that the Fisker Karma has been recalled twice. He said the problems were “small compared to other things that could have happened.” He pointed to competitors that encountered similar problems. “A lot of people forget that the Tesla Roadster was recalled several times, and they had a lawsuit with a supplier, and sales challenges,” he said. “These problems are nothing new.”

Mr. Ewanick, who is not accepting requests for interviews, has been working as a consultant to Fisker for the last few weeks. The company is continuing its search for a long-term marketing chief; in the interim, Mr. Ewanick will serve under Tony Posawatz, Fisker’s chief executive, who is also a transplant from G.M. Mr. Posawatz was named to lead Fisker in August, after serving as the chief engineer for the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt and the Fisker Karma are both plug-in hybrids, which operate mostly like an electric car but use a gasoline engine to extend driving ranges hundreds of miles.

In a company statement, Mr. Posawatz praised Mr. Ewanick for his “wealth of motor industry experience and knowledge to guide us through this interim period.”

Mr. Ewanick’s and Mr. Posawatz’s experience with marketing the Volt should prove useful as Fisker tries to find its footing in the emerging electric vehicle market. The company had planned to produce a second, more affordable family-oriented vehicle, but the project is on hold as the company seeks additional financing. In the meantime, it will need to counterbalance negative stories about the Karma, a sedan designed by Henrik Fisker.

Sales of the Karma were originally scheduled to begin in 2010, but were repeatedly delayed. Soon after its first deliveries in late 2011, the company announced that some of its components were faulty and needed to be replaced. But the most embarrassing incident occurred in March, when Consumer Reports said the Karma became inoperable while being evaluated. To date, Fisker has sold more than 1,500 units of the Fisker Karma, Mr. Datz said.

Despite its technical problems, the Fisker Karma is an attractive automobile, with an A-list of celebrity owners, including the former secretary of State, Colin Powell, the actor Leonardo DiCaprio and the teen idol Justin Bieber.

By BRADLEY BERMAN

Wheelies: The Charged Argument Edition

Elon Musk, at the Tesla Motors factory in Fremont, Calif., in June.Noah Berger/Reuters Elon Musk, at the Tesla Motors factory in Fremont, Calif., in June.

In which we bring you motoring news from around the Web:

• Under scrutiny for bypassing a traditional, dealership-oriented retail model in favor of manufacturer-owned stores, Elon Musk, chairman of Tesla Motors, defended his company’s strategy in a blog post on Monday. Mr. Musk said Tesla products would be undermined in the setting of a traditional dealership, where a salesperson would be unable “to explain the advantages of going electric without simultaneously undermining their traditional business.” Mr. Musk said two lawsuits asserting Tesla circumvented state laws aimed at protecting franchisees were baseless because Tesla has not granted any franchises. (Tesla Motors)

• Facing a crisis of overcapacity at its plants in Europe and a projected loss of more than $1 billion in the region this year, Ford has called a meeting for Wednesday with union leaders to discuss the status of its plant in Genk, Belgium. Some media outlets, including the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, have reported that Ford intended to close the plant outright. (Bloomberg)

• On Monday, the eve of the São Paulo auto show, BMW announced its intention to build a production plant in the southern state of Santa Catarina, Brazil. Plans for the facility are subject to government approval, but BMW has aggressive targets, saying it would inaugurate the plant in 2014 with capacity to produce 30,000 vehicles annually. (BMW)

• Chevrolet said it would introduce the next generation of the Silverado 1500 full-size pickup truck on Dec. 13, a month ahead of the 2013 Detroit auto show. The automaker has not disclosed pricing or powertrain information for the truck, but emphasized it would have progressive design elements, including “jewel-like, projector beam headlamps.” (General Motors)

By THE NEW YORK TIMES

At Mercedes, B Is for Battery

2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive.Richard Drew/Associated Press 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive.

Introduced on Wednesday, March 27: 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive compact.

2013 New York Auto Show

What is it? A fully electric version of the B-Class luxury compact.

Is it real? Very definitely.

What they said: “While others are still talking about electric cars, we are building them and selling them,” said Joachim Schmidt, executive vice president of Mercedes-Benz Cars. “We are truly committed to emissions-free driving, and providing this in a car that offers all the comfort, quality and safety of a Mercedes-Benz.”

What they didn’t say: While many automakers have canceled or pulled back on plans to produce electric vehicles, Mercedes-Benz may have passed the point of no return – especially financially – in terms of E.V. development and is going full speed ahead. The company’s E.V. line now comprises vehicles from the tiny Smart E.V. to the 750-horsepower SLS AMG Electric Drive.

What makes it tick? A power plant, developed in conjunction with Tesla, that generates 135 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, and provides a range of 115 miles on a single charge. Mercedes promises recharging in less than four hours. 0-60? “Under 10 seconds,” Mr. Schmidt said.

How much? How soon? Available in the United States starting in early 2014, apparently through dealer order. Mr. Schmidt said orders would be accepted beginning this fall. No pricing was announced.

How’s it look? Not greatly different from the standard B-Class hatchback. The stubby B-Class styling as a whole, to the American eye, may take some getting used to.

By JERRY GARRETT

Tesla Model X Production Won’t Start Until Late 2014

The Tesla Model X at the 2013 Detroit auto show.Paul Sancya/Associated Press The Tesla Model X at the 2013 Detroit auto show.

Tesla Motors has confirmed that production of its all-wheel-drive Model X electric crossover will begin in late 2014, a year later than the company had originally announced. The revised timing was described in the company’s Form 10-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last Thursday.

When Tesla first revealed the Model X in February 2012, the company said production would begin at the end of 2013, with deliveries following in 2014. Nearly a year later, at the Detroit auto show last January, Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, made the first public statement about the shift in the schedule. Mr. Musk said production of the Model X would begin in the second half of 2014, according to Reuters.

While Tesla has been saying since the Detroit auto show in January that Model X production would begin in 2014, “our recent 10-K was the first written verification of that,” Shanna Hendricks, a Tesla spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

“I almost have trouble calling this a delay in Model X, because that makes it sound like we’ve run into problems with Model X, and it’s taking longer than we thought, and it’s out of our control,” Ms. Hendricks wrote. “When, really, we’re consciously pushing back timing to allow ourselves to focus on its production and product enhancements in Model S.”

While Tesla did encounter production delays and problems with its first car, the Roadster, deliveries of the first Tesla Model S sedans were made in early June 2012, a few weeks earlier than originally projected. But in the first few months of Model S production, the company fell short of its own targets, delivering only about 250 cars. By the end of last year, the pace had picked up.

Converting customers with reservations into actual deliveries is critical for the company’s financial health. Tesla reported a fourth-quarter net loss of $81.5 million but says it expects to be profitable sometime in 2013. “We are very focused on achieving profitability and maintaining that profitability,” Ms. Hendricks said.

Tesla has not started putting alpha or beta versions of the Model X on the road for testing, Ms. Hendricks said. Tesla is “still finalizing the design prototype that has been on display at both Detroit and Geneva motor shows,” she wrote. The crossover’s most prominent design feature is the use of “falcon doors,” which are hinged at the top and rise like wings.

The Model X is built on the same platform as the Model S sedan. Tesla’s 10-K document provides this description of the Model X: “This unique vehicle has been designed to fill the niche between the roominess of a minivan and the style of an S.U.V., while having high-performance features such as a dual-motor all-wheel-drive system.”

Reservations for the standard Model X require a $5,000 deposit, while the Signature version requires a $40,000 deposit.

Prices for the Model X have not been announced. Tesla’s 10-K document states: “We anticipate that we will make Model X available with 60 kWh and 85 kWh battery pack options, with pricing of each version similar to those of a comparably equipped Model S.” Prices for the Model S sedan include a standard 60-kilowatt-hour version for $69,900 and an 85-kilowatt-hour model for $79,900. Many buyers are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

The company continues to state Model X production targets of 10,000 to 15,000 cars a year. There is still some wiggle room on the actual start of production with Mr. Musk stating “the second half of 2014” at the Detroit auto show while the S.E.C. documents state “late 2014.” Tesla’s Web site simply says, “Deliveries begin 2014.”

By BRADLEY BERMAN

Tesla Future Touchscreen Tech Hinted by Exec

What if you could have a 17-inch iPad built into your car? It’s almost a reality for one of the more than 250 folks who own a Tesla Model S, save a few key features.

Unfortunately, those features are probably some of the most important ones that give the iPad its massive appeal. Take the interface — it’s something Apple guards dearly. So Tesla can’t copy exactly how an iPad works, and probably doesn’t want to. Or maybe they do?

George Blankenship, vice president of Tesla sales, recently spoke with AutoGuide and hinted at some of the cool developments buyers and owners might look forward to soon. Easily topping the list, there’s a chance Tesla might open its coding crypt to outside program developers.

“Asking us is there something we will never do? That page will never fit in our dictionary,” he said. “Do I see a day when [outside app development] will happen, yes I do.”

Much like what made the iPhone so successful, Tesla wants to think “10 years into the future,” Blankenship said.  While offering an app store is hardly forward thinking when it comes to handhelds, porting that possibility into a car with a massive touch display might be.

“What we want to make sure of before we enable something like that is that we have a complete separation between two things in the car. One is the interface where somebody could do things like that in and the other being the operation of the car itself,” Blankenship said.

With the Model S, Tesla already started offering remote updates. Customers wanted to change steering feel to offer normal, sport and comfort modes. They also wanted a “creep” feature to make the Model S feel more like an internal combustion engine (ICE) car with an automatic transmission. A few weeks after those requests came in, a remote update appeared and the car suddenly met those requests.

SEE ALSO: Tesla Flagship Store Opens in Canada

But those are only a couple of the tweaks Blankenship said customers can expect to see soon. Among the others: automatically extending door handles.

Just one of many steps Tesla engineers took to make the Model S extremely aerodynamic, the car features door handles that sit flush with the panels when they aren’t needed. With the push of a button, those handles extend to offer access, but that’s not good enough. Blankenship said owners will be able to customize their cars soon to make the handles extend automatically when the key fob comes close enough.

At launch, the car offered memory for two driver preference presets, but now there’s capacity for 10. One thing is clear: Tesla is committed to offering its customers a dynamic driving experience.

By Luke Vandezande

Tesla Motors to be ‘Cashflow Positive’ Before December

Despite skepticism surrounding Tesla Motors, CEO Elon Musk expects Tesla to report positive cashflow by the end of November.

Doubt cropped up when Tesla failed to meet the planned 500-unit delivery mark by the start of the third quarter, but Musk blamed the slowdown on supply constraints. At the end of the second quarter, Tesla had manufactured 359 Model S vehicles, of which 250 have been delivered to customers.

Musk is also commented on the company’s Department of Energy (DOE) loan. “Tesla has never asked for or even hinted at postponing repayment of the loan…Tesla has always made its DOE payments on time,” Musk wrote in a blog post.

Reports that the DOE has been pushing Tesla to repay its loan sooner than originally planned might have cast a negative shadow over the company’s future.

“The DOE believes Tesla will be highly successful and accumulate a large amount of cash, but that we may then choose not to pay off the loan any sooner than is currently required,” Musk said.

In an effort to further emphasize that point, Tesla also issued an early payment today ahead of its March, 2013 deadline. But observing on-time payments is far from enough to affirm an automaker’s future. There needs to be a solid product backing the brand, which the Model S seemed to prove during our tests.

In our test, the Model S received much praise, another solid reason to believe that Tesla will in fact be successful, thanks to a solid product.

By Stephen Elmer

Elon Musk Calls NY Times Piece on Tesla Model S a “Fake”

A recent article published in the New York Times by John Broder about the Tesla Model S is creating some fuss today, as Tesla CEO Elon Musk says it is fake. 

“NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake. Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour,” tweeted Musk.

Broder drove the car from Washington, DC to Boston to test Tesla’s new superchargers that have been set up at rest stops in Newark, Del., and Milford, Conn., about 200 miles apart from each other. He claims that the car barely made it between stops, and on one of the last legs of the trip, it didn’t make it at all and wound up on a flat bed.

Broder claims that after a cold night, his Model S test vehicle lost 65 miles of range. He was told by a Tesla representatives that he needed to “condition” the battery pack to restore lost energy, which consists of sitting in the car on low heat for about a half hour. After completing the process, he still didn’t have enough juice to make it where he was going.

SEE ALSO: Tesla Supercharger Network Launched for Fast Charging

“Tesla’s experts said that pumping in a little energy would help restore the power lost overnight as a result of the cold weather, and after an hour they cleared me to resume the trip to Milford,” claims Broder in the article. After setting out once again, Broder says that the car never displayed the amount of range he needed to get back to his destination, and that the Model S subsequently ran out of charge on the highway.

Each Model S is fitted with a data recorder that can be turned on at the owner’s request, though Musk says that every media vehicle is equipped with an active one. In this particular car, Tesla’s CEO says that Broder took a long detour which was not mentioned in the article, and that the car was not at full charge, according to the data recorded in Broder’s Model S.

The New York Times quickly issued a rebuttal: ”Any suggestion that the account was ‘fake’ is, of course, flatly untrue,” the statement said. “Our reporter followed the instructions he was given in multiple conversations with Tesla personnel. He described the entire drive in the story; there was no unreported detour. And he was never told to plug the car in overnight in cold weather, despite repeated contact with Tesla.”

A similar issue arose when Top Gear tested a Tesla and claimed that the Tesla Roadster ran out of juice. Elon Musk says that was also untrue, and that the Roadster still had 50 miles of available range.

 [Source: New York Times, Twitter]

Discuss this story at gasstinks.com

By Stephen Elmer

Ford Fusion Named Green Car of the Year

2013 Ford Fusion.Mario Anzuoni/Reuters 2013 Ford Fusion.

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.

By JERRY GARRETT