Monday, March 10, 2008

Break-through for all-electric sports car

There are only six days to go before the first Tesla Roadster, an all-electric sports car, is scheduled to roll out from its San Carlos, California plant. The car is an important experiment in the shift towards all-electric, zero-emission automobiles.

Series production is re-scheduled to commence on March 17. Tesla Motors, a private company funded in part by a founder of Paypal, was
supposed to start production in October of last year, but problems with its car's transmission system delayed release. Laurie Yoler, a board member of Tesla Motors, confirms the introduction schedule in an interview with InnovationBeat.

The Tesla Roadster is a unique experiment, combining the style of a top-line 2-seat convertible sports car with the environmental profile of a sensible hybrid. The company wants to lead the changeover to electric cars without compromising on elegance.

Tesla plans to build only 600 cars this year. Every car is delicately put together with inputs from suppliers and partners scattered around the globe. Design and most of the assembly is made by Lotus Cars in England, motor production takes place in Taiwan, the brakes come from Germany and the chassis is Norwegian.

On a single full charge, the Tesla Roadster can roam for 220 miles. This is a little difficult to imagine, as it runs on exactly the same litium ion batteries that you find in your MacBook. Tesla's battery capacity equals the power of more than 1,000 such computer batteries. Just the battery costs more than $20,000, corresponding to one fifth of the car's selling price.

The Roadster holds a top speed of flabbergasting 125 mph. Initially it was supposed to go from 0 to 60 mph in merely 4 seconds. The car that is rolling out on Monday will take 5.7 seconds to do that move, however, in order to meet the strict durability standards. Despite missing its initial acceleration target, the Tesla Roadster still accelerates better than most cars on the road.

Ms. Yoler, the board member, is a managing director of the investment bank GrowthPoint Technology Partners. It helps entrepreneurs raise capital for their ventures and later take them public or strike merger deals. Her involvement in Tesla Motors dates back to her former colleagueship with Tesla's founder Martin Eberhard. The two assoicates went for a joyful lunch ride in the first Tesla prototype that was made in 2002.

"I believed strongly in the entrepreneurs", says Ms. Yoler. "When they asked me to take a test drive it was amazing. The sheer innovation behind it was unbelievable."

As part of Tesla's high-end marketing strategy for the car, celebrities like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Google founder Larry Page are among the first buyers. The price starts at about $100,000, which makes Tesla more than double the price-tag of Norwegian electric car brand Think. However, Tesla prefers to be compared to traditional sports cars like Porsche, Lotus and Lamborghini rather than the other electric carts for sale so far.

To distinguish themselves further, the Tesla team will not have a traditional dealer network. Instead, the car will be sold on the Internet, with showrooms in Menlo Park and Los Angeles.
"High end sports cars do not normally test drive", explains Ms. Yoler, making it very clear in which lane she wants to steer Tesla.

No doubt there is still a long road to success for this venture. Ms. Yoler is one of 20 private investors who together with another 10 institutional investors have put in a total of $150 million.

No comments: