Instead, Tesla relied on its reputation to continue the impressive publicity since the company first formed in 2003. Even when PayPal founder ElonMusk invested millions into the ambitious electric car start-up, he may not have predicted it would go on to become one of the world’s most prolific makers of electric vehicles (Mini is vying for the title with a promise to have 500 electric cars on lease in the US by the end of the year).
Already some 250 Teslas-named after Nikola Tesla, who discovered AC current-have been sold in the US, with another 1000 ordered, stretching order banks to 12 months.
It’s become the vehicle of choice for many tech-savvy Americans, no doubt helped by the fact other owners of the Roadster includeMusk, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and celebrities including George Clooney.
The Silicon Valley company is establishing itself in Europe, where half of the 250 cars planned to be sold there this year have been snapped up. Not bad considering the economic crisis, a A100,000 ($200,000) price and many more-fancied sports car brands in Europe.
Tesla is backed by serious money-and brains. Craig Davis is a man with experience in establishing brands. A former Coca-Cola manager, he helped establishMini in the US and is now the sales and marketing director for Tesla, working in Europe.
He’s confident it will establish a niche, something he acknowledges could also happen in Australia but not for a while.”We’ve had interest from Australia but we’re currently not working on right-hand drive,” Davis says.
While the Tesla has in some ways shocked the automotive world into fastforwarding electric vehicle plans, it’s surprising in its simplicity.It starts life in the Lotus factory, where it shares parts with the Elise-although Tesla says only 7 per cent of the components are shared with the British sports car-before being shipped to California, where the electric motor and batteries are fitted.
Unlike the hundreds of components that make up an average internal combustion engine, the Roadster’s electric motor uses 12 moving parts. One of the electric car’s party tricks is that there’s no exhaust pipe.The electric motor and 450 kilograms of batteries mean the Tesla Roadster weighs some 400 kilograms more than an Elise, at a nuggetty 1.2 tonnes.
Then again, there’s ample power to shift the tiny sports car, with 185kW to play with.
But it’s the 375Nm of torque (comparable to an average V6 engine) available as soon as the motor starts spinning that makes the Tesla so spritely.It’ll accelerate to 100km/h in a claimed four seconds, giving it genuine supercar performance. While the asking price amounts to a hefty $200,000, it costs about $3 in electricity to cover 100km, just a quarter of an average family car.
Despite the publicity, Tesla was by no means the first electric-car maker.
Electric cars have been around for more than a century but the availability of oil and issues associated with battery weight, cruising range and recharging times has meant they’ve never been a threat to the success of the internal combustion engine.