There are many different visions of our automotive future, but one of the most appealing variants finds us all in sharply styled, very fast sports cars with zero emissions. The Tesla roadster, based on the tiny Lotus Elise, is just such a vehicle, and its California-based manufacturer is putting them on the road soon.
Some 560 of the 2008 Teslas (800 are planned) have already been reserved -- for $100,000 each. Of course car nuts are putting their money down -- the thing does zero to 60 in four seconds, while getting the equivalent of 135 miles per gallon at a cost of less than two cents per mile. But the salivating customers will have to wait while Tesla gets the bugs out. The company says, We are currently in the midst of important and time-consuming safety and durability testing" -- and the timeline for delivery of the actual cars is uncertain.
I did get to sit in a Tesla roadster during a recent trip to California. It's really small, making a Miata look like an SUV. I didn't have time for an actual ride, but I was left with the impression that entry and exit will be awkward for tall people, but once you're in it's a snug fit. What's important to me is the Tesla's range. The company first announced that it could travel an impressive 250 miles on its lithium-ion batteries. Given the car's extremely rapid acceleration, I never thought that was realistic. Tesla has since revised the range down to 200 in a letter to customers, and if it drops any further the company will face credibility problems.
There's little doubt that the Tesla will be fun to drive. Just ask TV host and head-over-heels car nut Jay Leno: If you like sports cars and you want to be green," he wrote in England's Sunday Times, this is the only way to go. The Tesla is a car that you can live with, drive and enjoy as a sports car. I had a brief drive in the car and it was quite impressive."
The Tesla roadster has certainly gotten the press excited about battery electric cars, but it's not the only game in town. Major carmakers are getting involved, and some showed off their wares at the deeply green Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany last week. Nissan unveiled its Mixim, a tiny urban pod with a unique four-seat driving configuration and a vague resemblance to the Smart Car. Nissan claims a 90 to 125-mile range and 112 mph. With lithium-ion batteries like the Tesla, the Mixim offers four-wheel drive and electric motors at both the front and rear wheels. Judging by the super-silly video, it also has a dashboard styled for the Sony Playstation.
It's unlikely the Mixim will go on sale soon. BMW also showed off a hybrid concept version of its X6. More exciting was the Volvo Recharge, a concept plug-in hybrid variant of the C30 with an electric motor at each wheel that can supposedly go 60 miles on just battery power. See the plug in the photo below? If Volvo were to get this on the market before the GM and Toyota plug-ins it could make history, but the company is saying after 2015." So maybe the future really is electric.
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