Electric cars have come a long way, but one company still leads the pack when it comes to pure electric vehicles. That company is Tesla Motors.
Today, I had the opportunity to visit one of Tesla’s newest stores in Newport Beach. In a place like Orange County, where we don’t have to worry about 12 inches of snow, most of our worries are over traffic and where we left our sunglasses. Newport Beach is a great location for Tesla to have a store, right on the water, not far from Fashion Island, and close to the innovative companies headquartered nearby in Irvine. Tesla doesn’t call them dealerships, but uses the term stores, as they are more then just a place to purchase a car. They welcome the public to come and visit and to learn more about electric vehicles. Walking in to the store, you’re greeted by a clean and crisp showroom with the Tesla Roadster 2.5 and the Roadster Sport 2.5 presented in the middle. The maintenance bays are surrounded by glass and are visible from all angles (missing the noticeable stains of grease and oil that one would find in a high school auto shop). If you treat your roadster right the only time it will ever see these bays is for the once yearly check and every ten to replace the battery pack. In addition to the services at the dealer, for those of us who live busy lives, Tesla will come to you for servicing of your roadster and will work with your electric company to install a high-power wall charger (similar to a high power outlet for a dryer) for you to “top-off” your roadster with electricity.
Since one of my favorite shows is Top Gear, let’s talk numbers. The Tesla Roadster 2.5 and the Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5 both only have 12 moving parts. That’s right 12, that last line was not a typo (you can even fact check it here). I can say from a test drive that 12 moving parts was more then enough to fling my athletically-average American male body down the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), slingshot it through Laguna Canyon, and then back up PCH, but more on that later. Both of the Roadsters are a marvel of modern engineering, but the third generation on display today is even better.
Right, so you want numbers, the motor kicks out the gasoline equivalent of 248 horsepower and 276 foot-pounds of torque, which powers the rear wheels via a single-speed direct-drive transmission. The Roadster Sport has 288 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque. All of this equals a 0-60 time of 3.9 seconds in the Roadster and 3.7 seconds in the Roadster Sport. Trust me, it was more then enough to beat a gas-powered Lotus off the light near Fashion Island, but more on the test drive in a bit.
Both roadsters include a special system to keep the Panasonic 18650 battery pack (which contains 6,831 individual cells and are much like the type of battery found in a laptop) at a constant “room temperature” instead of using traditional air-cooled systems. Air-cooled systems may prevent an electric car from starting in extremely cold or extremely warm weather environments (so if you ever take it up to Big Bear or to Las Vegas, the Tesla Roadster can handle it). The Sport also has three way adjustable roll bars and a mostly carbon-fiber body, which did seem to flex occasionally on tight turns, but when you have a thousand pounds worth of batteries you have to cut weight where you can. If a catastrophic event occurs the car will disconnect the power system immediately. Braking in the car also took me less then a minute to learn, but once you do, you’ll rarely touch the brake pedal as the Roadster captures energy while slowing to a stop. Both Roadsters also offer various settings via a center touch-screen console to improve the range of the charge in the vehicle.
The presenters of Top Gear may have an abandoned airfield in the United Kingdom to test cars, but nothing compares to the Pacific Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon for a test drive. Top down, temperatures just two-degrees below seventy-Fahrenheit, clear skies, and very little traffic were ideal conditions to test the Roadster Sport 2.5. Before pulling out from the store, I was even given a briefing on the on-board navigation system, the sound system, and the essentials in a car: the iPod/iPhone dock and the cup holder (which is more like a foldout claw). *The map was updated after noticing that google maps showed a different road then where I actually drove the Roadster Sport.
Three minutes into my drive in the Roadster Sport, with the amplified 400–watt 7 speaker sound system playing a song by Flogging Molly from my iPhone, the inevitable happened, a person stopped to gawk. Yelling down from his Escalade he asked how I liked it. I told him so far it was great, and then he stated how he was excited to buy stock in Tesla. After basically making a stock-sale for Tesla, by just driving the roadster (no actual sale was made), I gave the Roadster Sport more juice to the rear wheels and cruised down the Newport Coast towards Laguna Beach where I rolled up the windows to hear the distinct-roar of the car. While making the bank curve downhill into Laguna Beach I decided to test the Roadster Sport out on the roads of Laguna Canyon.
Leaving the coast behind and charging inland, the flexibility of the carbon fiber paneled frame disappeared at sixty-five mph while the low frame hugged the curves of Laguna Canyon Road. After reaching the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, I made a tight u-turn back through Laguna Canyon to PCH where the car handled the tight turn with ease and flung my body right back through the canyon.
When I mentioned that braking in a Tesla is different then a real car, it really is. In a normal car, energy is wasted when you hit the brakes and the car slows down with your foot off the gas but not enough to stop. In the Tesla taking your foot off the gas kicks in the roadsters braking system, which captures the energy that is being spent from the motor sending it back into the battery packs, It’s not a sudden stop, but if you plan it right you can take your foot off the gas and come to a stop for a light with only a light tap of the brakes. The energy being returned to the battery (or “regen” as it is called by Tesla) is the energy from the cars torque and not the action of the four-wheel disc brakes. The positive to this system is seeing the needle on the dash go from the discharge to the green charge zone as you brake showing that some power is being returned.
While Tesla only has two roadster models in production, the future for the Palo Alto based company is starting to take shape in the Model S and at the former NUMMI plant, which is now known as the Tesla Factory. Once the Tesla factory opens it will eventually produce 20,000 vehicles. The Model S, when it enters full production, will have a 17-inch infotainment cluster with wireless Internet access allowing for connected navigation, Internet radio, and points of interest. Sedan sized with room for seven, five adults and two children. The battery pack system will be a liquid cooled, floor-mounted lithium-ion battery pack with a single speed gearbox. 3,000 reservations have already been placed for the Model S, which entered the Alpha testing phase in 2010. With all of these improvements the base price for the Model S will start at $49,000. When it finally hits the road it will be the perfect environmentally friendly sedan, with the 0-60 time of a roadster, and a dashboard that looks straight out of Star Trek.
What was once science fiction became science fact today on the roads of Newport Beach the moment I looked up and noticed, right off the light, that the gas powered Lotus Elise in the lane next to me, was square in my rear view mirror.
It has been a while since I have written a substantial post here on the MDLU. Life has a funny way of getting in the way of things. If you happen to follow my blog you may have noticed that a large amount of content has been shifted off to twitter or other twitter-based services (such as Instagram).
Part of the hold up has been my decision to move to a wordpress based blog, hopefully I'll be able to make a move on that soon.