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Wheelies: The Corner-Office Edition

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

Scott Keogh.Audi of AmericaScott Keogh.

• On Wednesday, Audi of America announced that Scott Keogh, formerly chief marketing officer, would serve as the division’s president. The appointment followed the resignation of Johan de Nysschen, who left to lead Infiniti from the Nissan subsidiary’s new headquarters in Hong Kong. Audi credited Mr. Keogh with helping to orchestrate the return of RS and Allroad models to the American market, as well as creating brand awareness through channels like the “Iron Man” film franchise. (Audi)

• Among the extensive options available to buyers of a Porsche 911 Carrera S, the automaker has added a horsepower package, called the Powerkit, that would increase the car’s total horsepower from 400 to 430. The power bump was achieved through modifications to cylinder heads, camshafts and intakes, as well as to the electronic engine management system. Porsche claims fuel consumption on the new European cycle is not affected by the modifications, but Holger Eckhardt, a spokesman for Porsche, said in a telephone interview that fuel consumption may be slightly higher in the United States, owing to different methodologies for calculating fuel efficiency. Pricing for the system in America will be announced closer to its availability date in September. (Porsche)

• The Environmental Protection Agency has released ratings for the purely electric Tesla Model S. Fitted with the top-specification battery pack, rated at 85 kilowatt-hours — roughly equivalent to 362 horsepower — the sedan achieved a rating of 89 miles-per-gallon-equivalent, with an estimated 265-mile range. The agency did not issue ratings for the S’s other two power packs, rated at 40 kWh and 60 kWh. Tesla has claimed that traveling at a steady 55 miles per hour under ideal conditions, an S equipped with the 85-kWh pack will be capable of 300 miles of range. (Car and Driver)

• Ferrari raised 1.8 million euros, roughly $2.3 million, in a two-week online auction to support families affected by two major earthquakes that struck the Emilia Romagna region, in northern Italy, last month. The automaker, which did not report significant damage to its operations in Maranello, auctioned a 599XX, a race-ready hypercar based on the 599 GTB Fiorano, for more than 1.4 million euros to an unidentified American. The car will be delivered to the winning bidder on the weekend of the Italian Grand Prix, from Sep. 7-9, by Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, the principal drivers for Ferrari’s Formula One team. (Ferrari)


During National Plug In Day, Getting the Silent Treatment

Tesla Roadsters outside the Automobile Driving Museum on Sunday.Ronald Ahrens Tesla Roadsters outside the Automobile Driving Museum on Sunday.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — For four conspicuously quiet hours on the second-annual National Plug In Day, electric cars and motorcycles swarmed the flat, oak-shaded boulevards wending through office parks just south of Los Angeles International Airport.

From a shared starting point here at the Automobile Driving Museum, a 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner and 1959 Cadillac Series 62 convertible, two of Detroit’s most recognizable products of the late Eisenhower era, floated along the same route.

They all were participating in a promotion staged on Sunday in 65 cities nationwide by Plug In America, the nonprofit electric-vehicle advocacy group.

About 500 people took part in 300 test drives here, according to Zan Dubin Scott, a spokeswoman for Plug In America. The event is significant for the enthusiastic participation of private owners of E.V.’s, who make their cars available for brief test drives by the public.

E.V.’s from producers large and small, be it BMW, maker of the battery-powered ActiveE, to Coda, the California-based producer of a recently issued compact sedan, were on hand for display and public evaluation. Among these many offerings, a highlight was the cheekily customized Mitsubishi i-MiEV that echoed a traditional Southern California motif with simulated wood-grain siding, with the grain itself coming from the graphic outlines of digital circuits. And, naturally enough, the car was topped with a surfboard.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV, with graphics inspired by the woody wagons of Southern California.Ronald Ahrens Mitsubishi i-MiEV, with graphics inspired by the woody wagons of Southern California.

The museum, which regularly exercises the cars in its collection, provided the tailfins. The Cadillac 62 convertible driven by docent Andrew Wallace was an all-original car with 61,847 miles. Passengers entered by stepping over the low door sill. Once inside, they sat deep within the massive body and were only vaguely aware of the car’s gentle movements, because in part of its 130.5-inch wheelbase. The instrument panel and accessory controls spreading over the dashboard seemed quaint when compared with those of the Tesla Model S that also was on hand. Its display consoles appear to have come from an intergalactic command vessel.

Jeff Walker, the museum’s executive director, described himself as “one of the typical ‘gasser’ guys” who preferred large internal-combustion engines like the Cadillac’s 390-cubic-inch V-8 unit, but he professed to being “shocked” upon driving an electric car for the first time. “I got into a Tesla, and it shut my mouth,” Mr. Walker said. Indeed, the brisk acceleration of the company’s discontinued Roadster brought a similar awakening to other drivers. Michele Etges, 30, of Los Angeles, called the car “extremely different from anything I’ve ever driven before.”

Aside from E.V.’s of the four-wheeled variety, a number of battery-powered Zero S motorcycles were available for testing by licensed riders, and Abe Drucker took advantage of the opportunity. Mr. Drucker, 38, owner of two conventional sportbikes, had ridden from West Hollywood to the event on his electric Native Z6000 scooter with the objective of selling it there.

Riders preparing for a test of the latest models from Brammo and Zero.Ronald Ahrens Riders preparing for a test of the latest models from Brammo and Zero.

Cinching down his carbon-fiber helmet, he mounted the Zero S and glided away amid a pack of other riders. “It was stellar. Zero lag,” he said afterward, comparing the performance to that of a typical bike in the half-liter class. Describing himself as a proponent of solar energy, Mr. Drucker said he saw how an electric motorcycle could be “hyper-economical, especially if you’re tied to a solar system. If you can be off the grid, that’s being green.”

With a choice of test drives, I slid behind the wheel of the Coda sedan, wanting to see how it compared to other E.V.’s I’ve sampled, including the Ford Focus Electric, Honda Fit EV and Tesla Model S. This was my first exposure to the new sedan. The car, reviewed in The Times in June, is largely composed of systems sourced from China but is fitted with electric drive components at the company’s plant in Benicia, Calif. It went on sale last March, and a “soft launch” is in progress, according to Matt Sloustcher, my passenger and Coda’s director of government relations.

Like Bradley Berman in his review for The Times, I noted the sedan’s satisfactory acceleration and well-tempered intercession of the regenerative braking system. Aside from the tire noise that is fairly typical of otherwise very quiet E.V.’s, the experience was embarrassingly reminiscent of my early sorties in bumper cars at the carnival midway.

A bit of historical perspective was provided by the display of Steve Pugh’s 1921 Milburn Electric brougham, which he brought from Manhattan Beach, Calif. The car typifies the second wave of E.V.’s, that came into vogue after 1910, after the advent of Thomas Edison’s nickel-iron battery. (Beforehand, battery-powered vehicles were of very limited use.)

Mr. Pugh’s Milburn, built in Toledo, Ohio, had seven large batteries in the front and seven more in the rear. He said the car’s top speed was 30 miles an hour, with a range of 100 miles. The lithium-ion cells of the Coda provide the juice to take the car just 25 miles farther, but its responsiveness beyond 30 m.p.h. is something the Milburn could never show.

Dency Nelson, co-founder of Plug In America, with the 1921 Milburn Electric brougham owned by Steve Pugh. A Tesla Roadster is parked behind them.Ronald Ahrens Dency Nelson, co-founder of Plug In America, with the 1921 Milburn Electric brougham owned by Steve Pugh. A Tesla Roadster is parked behind them.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 24, 2012

An earlier version of this post misidentified the individual photographed with the 1921 Milburn. It was Dency Nelson, not Steve Pugh.


Tesla Wants Lower Cost Electric Car to Beat Nissan Leaf


Tesla Motors is enjoying new freedom after having repaid the Department of Energy.

What’s next for the small electric car maker? Without government operational covenants in place, CEO Elon Musk is in a newly liberated position. That could mean selling the company, although the 41-year-old executive seems unlikely to do that in any time soon.

Earlier this month, Musk said that he doesn’t anticipate stepping away from the company for “several years,” although he admitted that an acquisition is one of the possible outcomes for Tesla. Despite that, he doesn’t see an automaker buying the brand because it seems too expensive. Instead, he said it would have to be someone from outside the auto industry.

More immediately, he is looking at offering a lower cost car to target a broader market.

“With the Model S, you have a compelling car that’s too expensive for most people,” he said. “And you have the Leaf, which is cheap, but it’s not great. What the world really needs is a great, affordable electric car. I’m not going to let anything go, no matter what people offer, until I complete that mission.”

Musk said in an interview with Bloomberg West that the car will offer abou 200 miles of range and will be priced below $40,000, set to reach consumers in “three to four years.”

But news of future products from the maker has been fragmented at best. Updates on the Model X electric crossover have been hushed — reports earlier this year suggest the car will be delayed until 2014. Instead, recent news emerging from the company has centered on the brand repaying its government loans and announcements about the Model S.

[Source: The Detroit News]

Discuss this story at Tesla-Forums.com

By Luke Vandezande

Father and Son Drive 423 Miles on One Charge in Tesla Model S

David Metcalf and his son, Adam, achieved a record-setting 423.5 miles in their Tesla Model S Signature.Jeanee James Photography David Metcalf and his son, Adam, achieved a record-setting 423.5 miles in their Tesla Model S Signature.

Last spring, Tesla Motors speculated in a blog post that “it could even be possible” to drive a Model S more than 400 miles on a single charge and offered an unspecified prize for the first person to do so. Last weekend, the challenge was met by a father-and-son team in Florida.

David Metcalf, a senior researcher at the University of Central Florida, and his son, Adam, achieved 423.5 miles in their Model S Signature model (with the larger 85-kilowatt-hour battery) on a trip that took them — slowly — through the Everglades and around Lake Okeechobee. The journey was documented by Tesla, which tweeted its congratulations.

Shanna Hendriks, a Tesla spokeswoman, said in an interview, “At Tesla, we’ve set the bar about what an electric car can be, and this is verification and proof of that. Range anxiety is not something our owners need to be concerned about.”

A slow, steady pace was the key to the Metcalfs’ achievement, which has not been independently verified. Mr. Metcalf said in an interview that he averaged 25 or 26 miles an hour, with a top speed around 37 m.p.h. The pair set off from their home on Merritt Island soon after midnight on Saturday to avoid traffic and concluded the trip in just under 17 hours. They also drove on slightly over-inflated tires with the climate control off in an effort to increase range.

Mr. Metcalf uses his Model S mainly for a round-trip commute of more than 100 miles and has had no problems other than a faulty door handle. The car, he said, “is incredible, absolutely incredible — everything is either to spec or better.” Mr. Metcalf said that for the record trip he chose rural roads that were less likely to be crowded with traffic and that this “allowed us to see some fascinating parts of wild Florida, including Alligator Alley.” Adam, 12 at the time but now 13, sees the trip as a great birthday present. “It was a lot of fun, and I had a great time with my dad,” he said.

The car might have gone slightly farther without Adam’s added weight, though the pair was right around Tesla’s recommended limit of 300 pounds of vehicle load. Mr. Metcalf says he thinks 450 miles of range is achievable with such changes as 19- instead of 21-inch wheels and better conditions. Their trip was hampered by 4.5 hours of rain and some construction delays, as well as a takeoff from their congested home neighborhood.

Add in some other performance enhancers, like drafting behind another car or choosing a largely downhill route, and Mr. Metcalf sees the possibility of even greater glory. “I’m wondering if 500 miles isn’t possible,” he said.


Leaving Baggage On the Dock, a Flagship Departs From California

A Model S leaving the Tesla Motors factory floor on Friday.Paul Sakuma/Associated PressA Model S leaving the Tesla Motors factory floor on Friday.

FREMONT, Calif. — On a Friday filled with press conferences, roundtable discussions, production-line walk-throughs and chaperoned test drives, it was only at a concluding pep rally, held on the Tesla Motors factory floor here, that the mood became palpable. As executives for the electric-vehicle start-up handed keys to the first Model S sedans to retail customers, the sense of a victory, to some an improbable one, came across as loud and giddy as any celebration of a basketball championship.

Wearing cherry-red polo shirts, Tesla employees whooped, whistled and hollered as executives recalled the journey to Tesla’s first retail-ready, baked-from-scratch electric car, starting with a meeting in 2008 in which Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive of Tesla, presented “a laundry list of things that didn’t equal a sedan,” to his newly hired chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen.

It should seat seven people, have the best zero-to-60 time of any sedan on the road and be the “best-looking car in the world,” Mr. von Holzhausen recounted to the crowd.

By the rally’s conclusion, 10 vehicles had been released into the wild, most of them painted Signature Red. Mr. Musk and Steve Jurvetson, an early investor, received the first two earlier this month. Five cars were handed over to customers onstage on Friday. And two additional vehicles departed Tesla’s plant for delivery to buyers in Chicago. One Model S was to be taken just across the bay to Palo Alto.

Each car that rolled out of the factory — a former General Motors plant that had become a Toyota plant — had a glossy, 17-inch touchscreen control panel that resembled an enormous iPad. Fortunately, the screen has a night mode, which switches most of the bright whites to black, dimming the display enough to reduce the eye-magnet effect. In a move that may please Tesla’s Silicon Valley constituency but rile safety regulators, it is technically possible to use the built-in Internet browser while driving.

And the car manages to accommodate seven people, but just barely. The front seats are cushy but plenty supportive, and two passengers can sit comfortably in the second row (three adults, however, would be a squeeze). Two rear-facing child seats, which fold neatly into the floor, are tiny and cramped beneath the sloped roof.

Tesla recommends these seats for children up to age 10. Combined with increasingly stringent rules for child safety seating (California law, for example, requires children up to age 8 or a height of 4-foot-9 to ride in a booster seat), this suggests limited utility.

The sloping roof, designed to help minimize wind resistance, also hampered rearward visibility during a brief test drive on the roads and highways near the factory, leaving just a narrow slit of glass in which to view approaching traffic.

Nancy Pfund, a managing partner at D.B.L. Investors, an early Tesla backer and a former managing director for JPMorgan Chase, was one of the Model S customers presented with keys (electronic ones, of course) by Mr. Musk. On the sidelines of the event, she said the car would become her daily driver.

“I’ve been driving — keeping my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t break down — an old Mercedes,” Ms. Pfund said. She plans to retire the 2000 Mercedes-Benz and use the Model S for errands and her commute: 14 miles across the bay to San Francisco, and south to Silicon Valley, “about 100 miles round-trip,” she said. “They do have two charging stations at my office, so they’re all excited to have me come in on Monday.”

Of course, as any Tesla employee would argue, the Model S is not intended for such narrow use. The versions that went out on Friday were built with the Signature Performance package, and priced from just under $100,000 after applicable tax credits. This package comes with an 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack, rated by the Environmental Protection Agency for up to 265 miles of driving on a full charge.

According to JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technology officer, the pack consists of more than 7,000 battery cells. Later this year, Tesla plans to begin offering versions of the Model S with smaller battery packs, including a 40 kilowatt-hour choice starting at $57,400 and a 60 kilowatt-hour pack starting at $67,400, excluding a maximum $7,500 federal tax credit.

Tesla’s executives expressed gratitude to the 2,300 buyers of the company’s first vehicle, the Roadster sports car — built on a chassis from Lotus — as well as to investors, the raucous crowd of employees and perhaps the most polemical honoree of all, the federal government, which provided Tesla with $465 million in loans through the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program.

“We hope to do really good by the Department of Energy, and show that the support was warranted, and there is a fundamental good that’s been achieved,” Mr. Musk said.

Gov. Jerry Brown made an unannounced appearance at the event. “California has its issues, but all of you are part of a state that is leading the country, if not the world, and this car is just another example of boldness,” he said.

“I certainly had nothing to do with this,” Mr. Brown added. “I love it when people spend their money and make great stuff.”

Under Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Brown’s predecessor, the state approved $28.8 million in tax breaks for Tesla in 2009 in an effort to keep the company in California.

“Hopefully these cars will keep coming,” Mr. Brown said. “By the millions!”

Tesla vehicles, he added, might even make their way into the state fleet, “as we get a little more money and the price comes down.”


Wheelies: The Damage Control Edition

Tesla Model S alpha build, on view at the 2012 Detroit auto show.Fabrizio Costantini for The New York TimesTesla Model S alpha build, on view at the 2012 Detroit auto show.

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

• Tesla Motors Chief Executive Elon Musk held a conference call on Tuesday morning to allay concerns that the departures of two executives indicated broader problems within the California-based company. Tesla announced last Friday that Peter Rawlinson, the company’s vice president and chief engineer, left for undisclosed personal reasons. Mr. Musk said on Tuesday’s call that Nick Sampson, a chassis engineering supervisor, was dismissed. After falling 19 percent on Friday afternoon, Tesla’s stock was rebounding on Tuesday morning. The company still intends to sell its Model S sedan this summer and reveal a prototype of the Model X, Tesla’s third vehicle, on Feb. 9, Mr. Musk said.

• General Motors announced Saturday that Tom Stephens,  chief technology officer and a 43-year employee of the company, would retire effective April 1. Mr. Stephens led development of the Cadillac Northstar engines in the ’90s and later worked on advanced propulsion projects, including those that led to the Chevrolet Volt. “Tom Stephens is an engineering icon within our company and within our industry,” said Daniel F. Akerson, G.M. chairman and chief executive, in a statement. (General Motors)

• The British government has announced a new incentive program to encourage the adoption of plug-in delivery and passenger vans. The purchase of vans that meet emissions criteria will be subsidized by up to 20 percent of the van’s price, up to a maximum £8,000, or about $12,000. To qualify, vans cannot expel more than 75 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer and be capable of at least 60 miles of range between charges, or 10 miles in purely electric mode for plug-in hybrids. (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders)

• In an interview with the German business magazine WirtschaftsWoche, Matthias Müller, the Porsche chief executive, said the company’s plans for a small midengine roadster to slot below the Boxster, which was refreshed for 2013, were on hold. “Possibly we need to wait until the next generation of customers before the idea of a small roadster will work for Porsche,” he told the magazine. The model was to be co-developed with the Volkswagen Group subsidiaries Audi and Volkswagen. (WirtschaftsWoche, via Car magazine)


Tesla pickup truck could be a sweet ride for electric cowboys

Tesla Model X photochopped into pickup truck

Talk about burying the lede.

Autocar published a short piece the other day about Tesla Motors releasing its third-generation vehicles – mass-market models that we believe will come in both sedan and crossover flavors with starting prices in the $30,000 neighborhood – in 2015. Cool, but we knew that.

Speaking with Tesla’s chief designer Franz von Holzhausen, the publication was also told that future models would feature more distinctive styling compared to the Model S. Those familiar with the man’s work (see the Mazda Taiki and Kazamai concepts, as examples) don’t doubt his ability to create a unique design language and it’s nice to know he will be allowed to spread his artistic wings somewhat. This was also pretty cool.

The best part of the dialogue for us, however, was at the very bottom of the page where Holzhausen disclosed that Tesla is thinking about building a pickup truck. He said, “There will be a time and place for us to develop something around a pickup. That’s a market for which the torque of an electric motor would be ideally suited.”

Now, how awesome is that? (Answer: Very, very awesome!) Pickups account for a large portion of the market – June 2012 saw 924,129 162,527 units sold – and most currently suffer from horrible fuel economy. An electric drivetrain would certainly improve on its environmental impact and also give drivers an improved experience behind the wheel.

While it’s likely to be a while before we see such a beast from the California automaker (and when we do, we’re certain it will look better than our admittedly poor photochop of the Model X above), those of us who have occasion to haul firewood, go kayak fishing, help friends move, etc., are happy to have an electric vehicle to at least daydream about.

By Domenick Yoney

Elon Musk: At Tesla, “you’re choosing to be the equivalent of Special Forces”

elon musk

Lots of people are looking for jobs these days, and if you’re interested in seeing just how many work hours you can pack into a week, then perhaps you should apply at Tesla Motors. The electric vehicle automaker is hiring like mad – CEO Elon Musk told us recently that “we’re at almost 3,000 people” – but they’re only looking for people who dislike having time off.

Musk told us that he works seven days a week, and his employees, well, they have to work hard, too. Other companies might ask you to just work 40 hours a week, he said, but at Tesla, “the minimum is really a 50-hour week and there are times when it’ll be 60- to 80-hour weeks.” He said he recognizes that working seven days a week is not sustainable, but he does think that 50 hours makes “a good work week.”

Musk, like all good salespeople, tries to make that extra work sound like a good thing. To wit: “The general understanding is that if you’re at Tesla, you’re choosing to be at the equivalent of Special Forces. … 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.”

Tomorrow, we’ll publish the full transcript of our one-on-one interview with Musk. We’ve teased a few things he said, but we’ve saved some good stuff, too. Stay tuned.

By Sebastian Blanco

Tesla Makes First Profit: $11M in Q1 2013


Tesla has formally announced its first quarter 2013 results, reaching profitability for the first time in the American electric automaker’s 10-year history.

According to the report, Tesla generated a profit of $15 million excluding non-cash warrant and stock option items. Its GAAP profit was $11 million, and a total of 4,900 vehicles were delivered in the first quarter of 2013.

SEE ALSO: Tesla Talking with Google About Autopilot Systems

The numbers are impressive for the electric automaker, with record sales of $562 million, up 83 percent from last quarter. Over 5,000 Model S cars were produced during the first quarter, undoubtedly contributing to the successful sales figures. The automaker recognized 4,900 units as revenue and exceeded its Q1 guidance of 4,500.

Looking into the future, Tesla hopes to build 5,000 Model S vehicles in the second quarter with some being exported to Europe starting in Q3. North America will see around 4,500 Model S vehicles delivered in Q2 while the automaker ramps up production in hopes of exceeding 20,000 deliveries by year’s end.

Discuss this story at Tesla-Buzz.com

By Jason Siu