The Tesla Model S sedan from Tesla Motors is, in a word, stunning. The aesthetics of the vehicle place it in the upper echelon of luxury sedans and it is sure to turn heads once it hits the streets in 2011. It’s not just about looks, though, the car also has 402 horsepower. And it’ll cost under $50,000. And it runs entirely on electricity.
Tesla Motors is already a big player in the EV (electric vehicle) world. Their Roadster, which shares its platform with a Lotus Exige and provides plenty of power and fun without the need for any gasoline. The Model S sedan is an entirely unique vehicle designed by Tesla, and one could be forgiven hyperbole when saying that this car really is the future of automobiles. The Tesla Roadster proved that all-electric cars could be made, and they could be fun to drive. The Model S looks to add everyday practicality to that list.
First, let’s talk price. The Roadster costs $109,000, making it a boutique automobile for the rich. The Model S has a planned price of $57,400, and a federal tax rebate of $7,500 for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicle will bring the price down to $49,900. Still pretty expensive for your average driver, but much more affordable than the Roadster. Also, Tesla has a revolutionary idea for the Model S: different battery pack trim levels. The top level battery pack will be able to deliver 300 miles of range per charge. This is a good distance, but is really more than most people need. After all, the average driver doesn’t do much driving other than to and from work each day, with a few errands to run here and there. So, Tesla is offering a battery pack that has a 160 mile range, and one that has a 230 mile range. This will allow consumers to pick the right distance, and the right price, for their needs.
As mentioned above, the Model S has 402 horsepower, paired to a weight of about 4,000 pounds. This is a good power-to-weight ration that will provide for some fun driving. Also, the battery pack (which weighs accounts for about 1,100 of those pounds) is built into the floor. This drastically lowers the Model S’ center of gravity, which increases handling abilities.
So, you have relative affordability and good performance, but what about practicality? The main design principle that Tesla focuses on when designing the Model S was to make it useful to the average person. To that end, the car has plenty of interior space. It is comparable in size to a Jaguar sedan and can fit five people comfortably. Also, the prototype model had a flip-up rear seat facing rearward, which is reminiscent of station wagons from the late ’70s and early ’80s. This feature may not make it to the final production model, but Tesla is leaving their options open. Also, the rear seats fold down, and Tesla representatives say that they took a 50″ flat screen TV and fit it into the trunk with the seats folded down, and there was room to spare. So, it’ll cover any cargo needs.
Also a concern is recharge time. If an internal-combustion engine vehicle runs low on gas, you can head to a gas station and refuel in a matter of minutes. But if the batteries go dead in an electric car, you have to plug it in and wait. Tesla is mitigating this problem by implementing a newly designed lithium-ion battery pack that is optimized for fast charging. The 300-mile range battery pack can reportedly acheive full charge within 45 minutes. Although, it wasn’t specified what outlet voltage is required, whether the standard 110-volt, a 220-volt like that which powers a refrigerator or clothes dryer, or a 440-volt mainly found in industrial applications.
The biggest problem of all, of course, is getting the Tesla Model S to production. The company currently is seeking a loan from the Department of Energy to finance the construction of a new factory, and if that goes through (which it almost certainly will), then the car is on track to hit the streets in 2011. The practicality, relatively low charging time, and the ample power and fun factor will make the Model S a viable force in the marketplace. However, by that time, big automakers like Ford, General Motors, and Nissan also plan on having electric vehicles available for sale, so Tesla may be lost in the shuffle. One thing is for sure, though. No matter what EVs those other companies release, there’s no way they’ll look as good as the Model S.