"I said ooh girl
shock me like an electric eel
turn me on with your electric feel." --MGMT
When Tesla Motors chief Elon Musk went on the Dave Letterman show last week to showcase the concept vehicle for the 2010 Model S electric sport sedan, the gap-toothed host pretended to get a frightful shock from touching the steering wheel. It was a funny moment, but of course that's a worry that's beyond unlikely. It reminded me of the fears folks had about internal combustion (fiery explosions several times a second??) back in the early 1900s.
The real electric feel of Tesla's cars is a perfectly continuous, smooth acceleration, and at breakneck speeds. Although some have criticized Tesla for its initial emphasis on the luxury market, various growing pains and quibbles over engineering (check out this comment on Jim's article), there's no denying that they have genuine electric cars on the road before many other startups and competitors.
In fact, at the NYC launch of the Model S the other day, Elon Musk told me and a few other green journalists that his company has been delivering about 20 Roadsters every week to paying customers, working their way through the impressive list of pre-orders. The $100,000 Roadster is a beautiful piece of machinery, no doubt about it. Not only does it have a hot, Lotus-designed body, but the two-seater takes off more like a rocket ship than any wheeled vehicle I've ever been in (I got a quick ride around an empty Chelsea Piers parking lot by a company rep).
The only time I experienced a sensation that comes close to riding in the Roadster was at an amusement park, in the front seat of a "sling-shot" style roller coaster that whips the train out of the gate. Plus, the low, sleek profile of the Roadster, combined with its nearly body-hugging cabin, make for an intimate experience of the road just a few feet below. I felt like Jason Calacanis!
The Model S concept is also a gorgeous car, with the sport sedan body calling to mind the Maserati E drove on Entourage. The supple leather seats can fit five comfortably (the company claims 7, but I'm not quite sure about that), with more leg room in the back than I expected (think of a mid-sized Mercedes sedan). The central electronics console reminded me of a giant iPhone -- but there was little time to try to decipher the various flashing lights while being pushed back into the seat upon a jackrabbit start (and no worries, there's no gas to worry about using up!). The car seemed to make tight turns from where I was sitting. After quite a number of laps around the parking lot, the batteries were still at 78%, according to the Tesla-employed driver.
Back inside the Frank Gehry-designed IAC Building on Manhattan's west side, hip Tesla customers (and rag-tag green journalists) sipped cocktails and munched vegetarian sushi and upscale macaroni and cheese. Flash bulbs glinted off the white Model S mockup in the room, its heavily tinted windows masking the fact that there were no seats inside (there is exactly one working prototype, and it was busy providing oohs and ahs in the parking lot).
"I've always thought electric cars were the future of transportation," Elon Musk told me. "I never thought hydrogen was a viable alternative for automobiles."
Want a Tesla Model S? You can get on the pre-order list for a deposit. The final car is expected to cost around $50,000, once you subtract a $7,500 federal tax credit. The projected specs are that it will go from 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds (not as quick as the Roadster, but pretty impressive). It's said to be twice as efficient as current gas-electric hybrids. The Model S will boast a handy hatch, flat-folding rear seats and extra storage space under the hood (cool!).
The battery details are still being worked out, though Musk told us that he expects the range to be as much as 300 miles (extremely impressive) -- with an optional super-sized pack. According to observers that kind of battery power doesn't currently exist off the shelf, but Musk said he is confident it will soon be available, and that he hopes to start offering that kind of juice through a lease program, so customers can have the power they need for a weekend trip to grandma's.
The factory-shipped Model S battery is more likely to have a range around 150 miles, though the good news is Musk said it will be chargeable up to nearly 80% capacity in only 45 minutes (several hours for complete charge). Users can take advantage of 120V, 240V or 480V options, with less time for higher power.
"The plug hasn't been designed yet, but it will be distinctive," said Musk.
If the Model S can be delivered in a timely fashion, and with all the specs Tesla advertised, it will be an exciting car. It will still be for a luxury market, but if the company can sell enough, and stay solvent, then observers predict the next model will be even more affordable. It is an exciting time in the history of the automobile.
In case you missed this delightful video:
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