Tesla Roadster at PARC

Tesla Roadster Standing room only today during PARC’s Forum. The speaker was JB Straubel, CTO and part of the founding team of Tesla Motors, creators of the all-electric sports car Tesla Roadster.

Update: this PARC forum is now available online can be viewed or listened to by following this link.

The Tesla Roadster is an ‘electric car for people who like cars’ – hence the chassis and suspension setup, licensed from Lotus (cfr. the Elise), and the gorgeous body and styling. Add a three phase AC-induction motor, not much different from what Nicola Tesla came up with more than a hundred years ago, with a flat (up to a point) torque curve and 248 hp peak power, and you go from 0 to 60mph in 4 seconds.

Straubel explained the radical and enabling idea behind Tesla Motors was to make use of… laptop battery cells. Most modern batteries used in laptops and electronic equipment are lithium-ion based and consist of many smaller individual lithium-ion cells that are packaged together to form a larger unit. These cells make up a huge market, and a whole industry is continuously improving their performance and lowering their cost. By using these cells as components in their battery packs, Tesla Motors can basically piggy-back on the lithium-ion cell industry and offer much better performance, energy density and range (up to 200 miles) than was the case for earlier generation electric vehicles.

And they don’t intend to remain a sports car company (the Roadster goes for $100k and will be deployed starting in the fall of this year): a (luxury) sedan is in the making as well, which will go for $50k.

Some questions in the audience pointed to the typical shortcomings associated to electric vehicles, such as the fairly large charge time required to recharge the battery pack (3.5 hours using the grid, 1 hour using a higher voltage source), making the car not suitable for road trips. I don’t think this will be an issue for the Roadster (a toy car really, be it a gorgeous one), but perhaps it will be for the upcoming sedan, which will be competing against plug-in hybrids, that obviously don’t have this problem – all-electric on the other hand will have lower maintenance requirements and costs.
Tesla Roadster and JB Straubel
Another question was whether a $100k car can really be considered fully ‘green’ (or, CO2 neutral) even if you assume that you’ll charge it exclusively with a ‘green’ electricity source such as photovoltaics – basically questioning whether the capital cost (energy that went in to create the car) will really be offset by the car’s use over its lifetime (it’s warranted for 100k miles or 5 years). Straubel (in the picture on the right, standing next to the Roadster) replied by pointing a.o. to the fact that a lot of ‘expensive’ materials are in fact recycled (e.g. the cobalt in the battery cells) and I do indeed think that the car can be safely considered ‘green’ – a lot of the cost is in the materials themselves (which can and will be reused), not necessarily in energy required to fabricate or machine them.

A concern I have is that the car is totally silent – just like hybrids when they’re in slow traffic, but unlike the latter the Roadster will be used to race up and down hilly roads frequented by bicyclists and motorcyclists, who won’t hear a thing when one of these beauties is about to zip by. I mentioned this to one of their engineers on site but they didn’t seem too concerned; I can only hope they’re right.

Finally, pictures say more than words, is the motto of the extended post.

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Tesla Roadster cockpit
Inside the cockpit.

Tesla Roadster
Two gears.

Tesla Roadster
The ‘gas’ cap.

Tesla Roadster
Pretty face.

Tesla Roadster

Tesla Roadster
Don’t plan on taking too much stuff along.

Tesla Roadster
Beautiful rear, too.

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