The Tesla Roadster
You may have heard of Tesla Motors, a Silicon Valley start up that has designed an electric sports car that delivers stunning numbers. While the doomed GM EV1 had a range of just 60 miles per charge (or 120 miles with the second generation, NiMH battery version) and performed like a typical Saturn grocery-getter, the Tesla Roadster has a range of up to 250 miles per charge, with a 0-60 of roughly 4 seconds and a top speed in the 130’s (although you wouldn’t get 250 miles on a charge going that fast).
When I first heard of this, I was delighted, and then a bit skeptical. In my research of alternative fuel cars, the one lesson I have taken away is that all of them have a drawback. Nobody’s worked out a 100% great replacement for gas-powered cars (not that gas-powered cars are 100% great, either). Naturally, there are some huge downsides to the Tesla.
Downside number one: the cost will be between $80k and $100k for the car. Only the rich will be able to get this little toy. Yes, it’s a sports car, one designed largely by Lotus and former Lotus folks. But it’s no supercar, and I doubt it will really warrant the price tag. The bigger problem is: how do you take on the Big Three and change the world when your main product is a rarified, low-selling specialty vehicle? They say they are going to create a more affordable electric sedan, too, but will Tesla Motors survive long enough to pull that off? Their idea is to change the way people view electric cars. But how can that be done when most people will never even see one?
Downside number two: More expense, in the form of a crapload of batteries. The Tesla Roadster uses 6,381 Lithium Ion cells. That’s great in that Lithium Ion batteries are lighter weight and can be recycled, unlike regular car batteries or NiMH batteries. But they have a shorter lifespan and are wickedly expensive. Anyone with a laptop or cellphone knows that when those batteries age, they lose their max charge too…meaning your range would drop over time until you replaced the batteries. I heard a marketing guy for Tesla on the radio today, and he said the batteries have a lifespan of 3-5 years or 125k miles. The cost to replace those batteries? $20,000.
Marketing guy argued that by the time you replaced the batteries, they would be cheaper. But how much cheaper? I don’t think it will drop to any reasonable amount in less than 20 years. So you’re going to be dropping the price of a small new car every 3 years, just to keep this thing going. Once again, putting it firmly out of the grasp of most people.
Tesla Motors thinks it is going to change the way people think about electric cars. I think they’ve shot that chance in the foot, because they won’t be reaching many people.