It's hard to believe, but we're dipping into technologies once thought to be science fiction. It may not be as cool as the recycling flux capacitor featured in Back to the Future, but Tesla Motors' '08 Roadster runs on the same power source as your laptop, cell phone and camera. Yes, a lithium-ion powered, two-seat, Lotus-designed coupe that accelerates 0-60mph in less than 4sec, with a top speed of 125mph. Who needs a gas station when all you need is an outlet!
The fascinating story that lies behind this revolutionary automobile focuses on the motor developed by Tesla, a startup company from Silicon Valley (San Carlos, CA). And while electric vehicle concepts have been around for years, Tesla has developed the first example with the performance, fashion and endurance auto enthusiasts desire.
Browse for electric cars online and you'll find odd-looking shapes and sizes - think about the ugly Prius and Insight... Then take a look at the Tesla Roadster and you can tell it has style with the power to back it up.
One of the project's most significant advantages is that the Roadster was designed and assembled in England. Final assembly is carried out by Lotus Cars in its Hethel plant. That explains the striking resemblance to the Lotus Elise, except the Tesla is stretched 12", has more cargo capacity and uses an electric motor in place of the Toyota engine.
The mind-boggling powerplant is a three-phase, four-pole electric motor that imitates 248hp. Unfortunately, it isn't as light as you'd hope because the battery source weighs 950 lb and uses 6831 lithium-ion cells, each similar in size to a typical AA battery.
Tesla claims the Roadster can drive over 200 miles with a fully charged battery. Recharging is done via a home charge station, which takes approximately 3.5 hours to complete. The technology allows the battery to recharge during deceleration, but there's also a mobile charger that stores in the trunk and plugs into any 110 or 220v outlet. The lifespan of the battery is expected to be 100,000 miles or ten years.
The transmission is just as fascinating. It's an electric motor with a two-speed manual electric-shift. First and second gears redline at 13500rpm. The transmission works like a conventional manual because it uses a Power Electronics Module to provide the driver with a familiar driving experience.
Tesla explained it's still perfecting the transmission and software, which has delayed full production of the car. However, all the Roadsters scheduled for production are spoken for, despite retailing for $98,000, with manufacturer options pushing the car over $100k.
The Tesla Roadster is a great leap in the right direction, not just for European cars, but for all automobiles and driving enthusiasts. It represents the sort of car we want to drive with the dynamics and aesthetics we cherish.
However, we'll have to wait a while longer for Tesla to impact the way we drive and our dependency on oil. The company is preparing concepts for a $50k five-passenger luxury sedan, as well as a $30k medium-size sedan with the same powerplant.
So we can sleep well tonight knowing our future isn't Prius-shaped!