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The Tesla Roadster
August 3, 2006 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Nikola Tesla lends his name to an electric car that can reach 60pmh in 4 seconds and travel 250 miles between charges. Early witnesses include Arnie and Wired. An old Tesla rumour is that he made his own back in the 1930s.
posted by rongorongo (93 comments total)

 
so cool! hells yeah!
posted by punkbitch at 8:27 AM on August 3, 2006


"250 miles on a single charge". For $80,000 to $100,000 US.

Well whoop-de-doo.

You'll pardon me if I keep the champagne on ice for a while yet. I'm not about to celebrate a massively expensive set of wheels that won't even get me from Ottawa to Toronto (400 or so miles) unless I pull in overnight at the Holiday Inn in Trenton for a re-charge.

Give me a set of e-wheels with just standard street / highway performance characteristics that'll run all day on a single charge, whatever the distance, and then I'll start to get excited about electrics.

Surely that's not too much to ask.

(First person to say, "Yes it is and stop calling me Shirley" -- Bang / Zoom -- to the MOON!)
posted by Mike D at 8:29 AM on August 3, 2006


Anyone have an idea of the projected price? Will this be a $30k car?
posted by mathowie at 8:29 AM on August 3, 2006


but i don't believe for an instant that in the 30's tesla was doing 90 mph in his blackmagic mobile
posted by punkbitch at 8:29 AM on August 3, 2006


And a full charge in 3.5 hours? Niiice.
posted by NationalKato at 8:31 AM on August 3, 2006


And a full charge in 3.5 hours? Niiice.

The EV1 could charge from a special station in this kind of timeframe... except it draws about a bajillion amps. There's no way this thing will charge in your garage in 3.5 hours without rewiring your house and getting 200A service.
posted by GuyZero at 8:35 AM on August 3, 2006


pfft--i got sidetracked by the hello kitty mitsubishi on the first link. soon my car will match all my other stuff.
posted by lester the unlikely at 8:37 AM on August 3, 2006


Mike D, it's a new technology produced by an independent car company. Do you remember when 8MB of RAM cost $400? Now I'm not saying that electric cars are going to plummet in cost but once a method of production is nailed down and the production numbers are increased the cost will drop dramatically. If this company can get enough press maybe the big automakers will take a closer look at what they're doing and, at the very least, improve the efficiency of their hybrids. The market for an affordable car with that kind of range is definitely out there. I, for one, am going to cheer them on because if this car actually does what they say I'm sure they'll have no problems getting investors to help them take the next step.
posted by crashlanding at 8:39 AM on August 3, 2006


that won't even get me from Ottawa to Toronto (400 or so miles) unless I pull in overnight at the Holiday Inn in Trenton for a re-charge.

I'm convinced the key to making electric cars commercially viable is what I call the "propane tank" model. If you have a propane grill, when your propane runs out, you take it to the store and exchange it for a full propane tank. The store takes your empty tank, can refill it with propane at their convenience, and you don't have to wait around for the tank to be filled.

Similarly, if electric car manufacturers can standardize on one (or at most, a handful) of battery types which can easily be swapped out, then when your battery's charge is running low, you go into a service station where you can just swap out your battery for a fully charged one they have there. The station will take your battery and charge it on their time, then once it's fully charged they can sell it to someone else.

Seems to me this model would effectively address the "you have to wait around for the car to charge" objection.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:43 AM on August 3, 2006


mathowie, it looks like they are going after the top end sportscar crowd with a price around $80K.

GuyZero, the Wired article says it charges at 70A. So you'll have to get your power upgraded. But if you can spend 80K on a car, that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

With its two-person capacity and aerodynamic contours, the lightweight machine can go 250 miles on a single charge. (When connected to a special 220-volt, 70-amp outlet, recharging takes about three and a half hours.) Plus, the sports car class lets Eberhard price it on the high end -- in the range of a Porsche 911 Carrera S, roughly $80,000.
posted by crashlanding at 8:46 AM on August 3, 2006


Yeah, but do they have bobbleheads like in the new Jeep Compass TV spots? Cuz without the bobbleheads, they might as well pack it in.
posted by blucevalo at 8:49 AM on August 3, 2006


It is the charge time that dooms all these electric cars, isn't it? Is there any kind of battery that could be recharged in minutes instead of hours? That is the technology breakthrough we need for these things to be practical.
posted by LarryC at 8:52 AM on August 3, 2006


What DevilsAdvocate said - although for that to work, batteries will have to improve quite a bit. I guess to change a current size battery of that capacity, you will need a medium-sized crane.
posted by uncle harold at 8:57 AM on August 3, 2006


No, no, no. This sucker's electrical, but I need a nuclear reaction to generate the 1.21 jigawatts of electricity I need.
posted by kosem at 8:57 AM on August 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


LarryC: This technology from Toshiba might make the recharge time faster, but the big problem is that the wattage required to recharge that battery rapidly is absurdly large.

This car apparently charges using 70A at 220V, for 15kW x 3.5 hrs (~54 kW hr). If you could charge it in half the time, that would require 30kW during that time, or the equivalent of 140A at 220V. That's beyond enormous.
posted by JMOZ at 9:00 AM on August 3, 2006


Built by Lotus.
Sweet.
posted by fruitbat at 9:01 AM on August 3, 2006


I agree with DevilsAdvocate. The stop & swap is the only viable method for mainstreaming the quick recharge. I've been doing this with my wives for years, and it works great. Re-energizes your marriage instantaneously, and saves loads of time on attorney's fees.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:01 AM on August 3, 2006


As for DevilsAdvocate's "propane exchange" model, the issue is battery lifetime. Li-Ion/Li-Polymer batteries are expensive, and no one wants to trade their "good" and newish one for the old crappy one.

If you've ever exchanged your propane cylinder, you've probably noticed that everyone tries to avoid the older, rustier ones. With a battery, the quality isn't necessarily as readily apparent unless you add a huge infrastructure to monitor it and security to prevent anyone from defrauding the monitoring. Add that the batteries are generally pretty large for a practical electric car, and you have an impractical system with current technology.
posted by JMOZ at 9:03 AM on August 3, 2006


This car is clearly aimed at the money to burn crowd, but in a way that makes it cool to own and drive electric. It's a good idea - much better than having that set buy hummers and cadillac SUVs etc. Up until now it's only been 'greens' and 'hippies' buying electric and hybrids - or at least that's the way it's been perceived.

I understand Elon Musk (originally of PayPal, various space endeavours) is the primary mover on this venture. The rest of the investors list is interesting too.
posted by Zinger at 9:03 AM on August 3, 2006


Don't forget this one built by a bunch of high school students and discussed here. 0 to 60 in less than 4 seconds!
posted by caddis at 9:04 AM on August 3, 2006


The battery in this thing weighs 1,000 pounds. You're not going to be swapping those suckers casually in and out.

This organization has been doing good work in new car design for quite some time, too.
posted by flabdablet at 9:06 AM on August 3, 2006


Blarg. This organization.
posted by flabdablet at 9:07 AM on August 3, 2006


1.21 gigawatts?!
posted by BoatMeme at 9:09 AM on August 3, 2006


I don't regard recharge time as a problem for my digital camera or mobile phone. In both cases it used to be; the cross over point came when the technology allowed one chage to last for several days of usage. If we assume inter-charge mileage actually ends up at 200 miles (once I have raced a few Ferraris) that still lets me commute 40 miles a day all working week and not plug in till Friday night. More would be better but the spec does not sound too restrictive.
posted by rongorongo at 9:10 AM on August 3, 2006


Coming from an energy background, I do sympathize with the current state of electric cars, but don't think the removable battery is the way to go.
As long as the terms of the lease prohibited maintenance by other than a Hughes technician, GM's liability in the event of a screw-up was much reduced. Technicians can encounter high voltages in hybrid vehicles. In the EV1, there were _really_ high voltages present.
That shit is just dangerous. I'd rather see a gradual shift to government subsidized hybrid rebates to makde hybrids more affordable. Once people get used to having a gas/electric vehicle they'll be psychologically be prepared for a pure electric vehicle. Even if that never happens you'll still have millions of high-efficiency hybrids on the street.

The plug-in hybrid solves all these problems. You don't have to plug it in, but you can if you'd rather burn atoms than dinosaurs.

Here in hell ol' Nikola has been ranting about how these people stole his good name for what he calls an "electric ass mover." At least he's not ranting about how "Queen Bee" dominant women will someday rule the earth anymore. To be entirely fair to him both Satan and John Wayne have multiple sets of genitals so he's at least halfway correct.
posted by the ghost of Ken Lay at 9:15 AM on August 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


For Pete's sake, when did the whole world forget how to spell "brake" and "braking?"
posted by Western Infidels at 9:21 AM on August 3, 2006


If they can sell an $80k electric car as luxury sports vehicle that's on par with a top-of-the-line Porsche and priced the same as a 7-series BMW, then this IS a big deal. Their intentions are to build on popularity and release a cheaper consumer model. It certainly will turn more heads than crap electrics built for hippies that max out at 80 miles and can't go over 80mph (and those are expensive, the cheap electrics only go as far as 50 miles and can't top 40mph).

Besides, max torque at 0 RPM, 0-60 in 4 seconds, a 1/4 mile under 12 seconds, all in a nice looking, maneuverable vehicle? And priced competitively within its class? It's not even an exotic like a Bentley or Aston-Martin.
posted by linux at 9:22 AM on August 3, 2006


As for charging, the home charger is installed by a technician but otherwise no significant wiring is necessary. The mobile charger plugs into any outlet (adapters) and can handle 110/220. I'm not sure why no one is reading the FAQ -- or are they doubting the manufacturers claims, regardless of the existence of the car and charging system?
posted by linux at 9:29 AM on August 3, 2006


Style, specs, and ecological fashion are shallow indicators of success. Putting a car on the street is one thing, keeping it there is another even if owners have disposable cash.

Are mileage costs really comparable to (or better than) gasoline-fueled/hybrid cars? Are there adequate recharging locations? Recharging fees? Is any special owner maintenance required? How much/how often to replace/recycle the battery packs? Will potential dealers want to sell it? Are there enough convenient service centers and properly trained mechanics? How much more complicated are the car's mechanical/electrical systems? What's the average cost of repairs? Are cheaper aftermarket parts available? Can you get insurance coverage? What's the resale/trade-in value? Post-accident, can it sold for salvage? What will it cost to safely dispose of big, broken batteries?

Any new automobile has many, many practical obstacles to overcome. This one will just be an expensive toy.
posted by cenoxo at 9:33 AM on August 3, 2006


Check out the Wrightspeed X1 electric performance car as it beats a Ferrari 360 Modena and a Porsche Carrera GT.
posted by luckypozzo at 9:35 AM on August 3, 2006


Lithium-Ion batteries, kids.

What a BAD idea.

1) They hate hot, and rapidly lose capacity. So, don't buy this if you live in a hot climate.

2) They hate cold more, and freezing them really messes them up. So, don't buy this if you live in a cold climate.

3) They lose capacity over time. So, expect your range to drop as time passes.

4) They have very high internal resistance, so you need lots of them to enable a decent charge rate/power rate. So, you're talking about 1000 cells. (Compare the NiMH packs in the Honda/Toyota hybrids, which have about 120 cells, in series.)

5) They have this attitude problem when abuse. They catch fire...

6) ...if you are lucky. Sometimes, they explode. You've seen the exploding laptop, right? Imagine the exploding laptop with three hundred times the number of cells involved. This makes collisions interesting.

Indeed, Lithium Ion batteries will hyperreact if you over charge them, drain them flat, charge them too fast, freeze them too long, overheat them too much, or impact them too hard. Good thing none of those things ever happen to a car, esp. a sports car.

There have been five or six hybrids that were announced as using LiIon batteries, and in the end, they shipped with NiMH batteries instead. LiIon's energy density is amazing, but there's more to choosing a battery than energy density. In low power applications, they win -- witness the takeover of LiIon and LiPoly batteries in portable devices and notebooks, but in high power applications, esp. high power applications in uncontrolled enviroments, they're a very bad idea.

The ultimate answer to electric cars isn't going to be batteries, IMHO, it is going to be capacitors. The real problem isn't the range. There are lots of cars that have real problems going 300 miles on a tank. The real problem is recharge time. I'm betting you could sell an electric with a 120 mile range, if you could have a 5 minute charge time.

Capacitors can handle that kind of current. You'd need service stations, because handling that kind of current at home would be dicey (we'd be talking 500A or thereabouts.) But with a properly designed plug, with the proper fault circuits (start with 1A, if current appears in certain places, shut down, ramp current up.) this could be done safely.

Alas, the capacitors aren't there yet. They're getting better, indeed, how about 2600F@2.5V? Put 50 of those together, and you're looking at 2600F@125V -- more than enough to move a car, but alas, 2600F isn't quite enough storage -- much less than an AA battery.

But they're getting close. Get that number up to 10KF, and suddenly, you have near NiMH storage potential (about twice the space, but less mass) and much faster recharge. 30KF per cell means you have LiIon energy density, and fast recharge.

Of course, lick the terminals of that capicitor pack, and *you* explode.
posted by eriko at 9:39 AM on August 3, 2006


I'm not about to celebrate a massively expensive set of wheels that won't even get me from Ottawa to Toronto (400 or so miles)
posted by Armitage Shanks at 9:49 AM on August 3, 2006


Oops. Ottawa to Toronto is about 400 km, not 400 miles. It should get you there on a single charge. Maybe.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 9:51 AM on August 3, 2006


What is the average journey per day for a passenger car? In my country it's just 5 kilometres. So 250 miles is definitely sufficient for average use, but clearly this car wasn't built for the average use or user in mind.

Really. You should be using trains or aeroplanes (public transportation) for longer journeys. When was the last time you needed to go more than 250 miles with your car on one go? If the recharging time is 3,5 hours you could easily travel (with one stop) over 500 miles (that's 804km) in one day. I can remember only one occasion during the last 10 years when I needed to drive that far in a single day.

And this is a sports car. How far could you drive with a normal sedan that doesn't need to go from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds? Probably the range could be around 300-350 miles. More than enough for 90% of the population.
posted by hoskala at 9:53 AM on August 3, 2006


Public transportation in America? Hah!
posted by luckypozzo at 9:58 AM on August 3, 2006


Capacitors can handle that kind of current. You'd need service stations, because handling that kind of current at home would be dicey (we'd be talking 500A or thereabouts.) But with a properly designed plug, with the proper fault circuits (start with 1A, if current appears in certain places, shut down, ramp current up.) this could be done safely.

yes, you would need a station. In Detroit, over a hundred years ago electric is what people drove, more like had "their Man" drive them around...well for the most but it was expensive you would have to leave your car at a charging station overnight. Then the Persian Basin discoveries and the improvement in the gasoline car, say 1908-09, made gas cars more...viable. Its all about viability people. the infra to switch to alt fuels is inevitable as it was over a hundred years ago, the "system" adapted.
the question is what about the planes, trains (well most are electric) and ships... personal transport is one thing but we need alt-transportation across the board. Been over a hundred years and the world has had plenty of time to switch over (dont tell me couldnt been done because conjecture is an iffy business)... except WW II, tricky there since the whole thing basically about OIL. At least for our end. Hey, he who holds the last of the oil can dictate terms....got that from "Danger Man" circa 1960.
The real kicker is if the oil companies are making more then U.S. car makers...why make cars?
yes i know the industry is "adjusting itself" but come on where talking no more UAW.

so get your Phaeton on.
posted by clavdivs at 10:12 AM on August 3, 2006


Hoskala, 250 miles is not a 'once in 10 years' type of journey in the US. The distance from NYC to Washington DC is about 250 miles and I make that trip pretty frequently to visit family. Luckily there is the public transportation alternative but that is more expensive, cramped, and stressful than just driving. Plus, this is the northeast I'm talking about, most of the country does not have any type of commuter train service. Flying 250 miles is pretty much out of the question and nobody wants to ride on a bus for four hours so having an alternative that allows people to drive is a big deal.
posted by crashlanding at 10:13 AM on August 3, 2006


The ultimate answer to electric cars isn't going to be batteries, IMHO, it is going to be capacitors.

I've seen some press regarding ultracapacitors and other articles on advances in nanotechnology that, if they panned out, would mean that you might recharge in roughly the same time as it now takes to fill the tank of your average Lincoln Navigator.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 10:16 AM on August 3, 2006


Telsa?
posted by Phantast at 10:17 AM on August 3, 2006


luckypozzo that electric car built into a British sports car would also do circuits way faster than either of those supercars - it certainly could with the supercharged civic type-r engine.

But that video for me highlighted a big problem with electric cars. They dont make any noise. Or at least not an interesting one.

Maybe its because I am a child of my times or something and so this will be generational - but listening to that Porsche and that Ferrari being gunned made me smile.

Hearing an Aston Martin v8 or v12 makes me smile too.

Hearing a Prius running on batteries, nay seeing a Prius or any jumped up prick driving one stirs no (nice) emotion at all.

That love of the roar of an engine will be hard to take away from me and many other people.



Also. Looking at $80,000 puts it around the £40,000 mark (har har your currency sucks) which in this country will buy you BMW M3. So comparing Tesla's torque (180 ft lbs) to that of a 4 cylinder engine as they do seems a bit silly when the M3 for the same cash peaks at 269 ft lbs and will go on to a restricted 155mph (170mph+ without). I cant think of any £40,000 4 cylinder cars but many more V6 or V8 ones.

And the M3 sounds glorious when being booted.
posted by 13twelve at 10:18 AM on August 3, 2006


I'm convinced the key to making electric cars commercially viable is what I call the "propane tank" model.

I'm convinced that what would make them viable is being able to drop a probe into a rail under highways and freeways and draw power from that. Then it doens't make much of a difference what the range is, because you only ever drive it on batteries for a couple-few miles from the offramp to work or offramp home. And recharge time will be irrelevant if it can charge as you drive.

Downside: an Everest-sized pile of money to get the rails put in.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:18 AM on August 3, 2006


As for charging, the home charger is installed by a technician but otherwise no significant wiring is necessary. The mobile charger plugs into any outlet (adapters) and can handle 110/220. I'm not sure why no one is reading the FAQ -- or are they doubting the manufacturers claims, regardless of the existence of the car and charging system?

Sure it plugs into any 220V outlet - that can draw 70A! Go to Home Dept and even FIND an outlet rated for 70A. The standard home has 100A service and probably draws about half to 3/4s of that. (An electric stove or dryer typically sits on a 220V 20A circuit.) Ergo, the average home will have to get an electrical service upgrade, which is not a big deal is the scheme of things, but takes a day and costs a few hundred bucks or so. But a single-outlet 70A circuit is in the realm of heavy industrial electricity usage. That's alot of juice. Even so, it would probably take a day and a thousand bucks to get a house upgraded to handle recharging one of these things. Not a deal stopper, but it's not plug & play either.

JMOZ runs the numbers - it's about 54 kWh to recharge. On a standard household circuit (110V, 15A) that would take 32 hours to totally recharge. They're playing a little fast & loose with numbers when they claim a 3.5 hour recharge time.
posted by GuyZero at 10:25 AM on August 3, 2006


When was the last time you needed to go more than 250 miles with your car on one go?

At least five or six times a year, which I think is pretty normal for American's. I'm driving to Cape Cod in a couple of weeks which will be over 1000 miles round trip. I could fly but that would cost me something like $1200 for three tickets and then I'd still have to rent a car when I got there. Driving will cost me about $100 in gas, there's just no way that public transportation is ever cheaper than driving for most family trips.
posted by octothorpe at 10:38 AM on August 3, 2006


13twelve: speak for yourself. not everyone needs some lame engine noise to prove that the engine works. personally, I'd rather have a car that makes as little noise as possible, from the engine to the tires. one could make the noise pollution argument, as well as it'd be easier to tell when something is wrong with the car, since you'll hear your rattle or what have you faster. Beyond that, I'd rather hear my stereo. Fuck engine noise. It's like having a window in your PC case.
posted by cellphone at 10:46 AM on August 3, 2006


I think people complaining about drive distances need to remember this is a roadster, and not a frickin' minivan.
posted by cellphone at 10:47 AM on August 3, 2006


I think people complaining about drive distances need to remember this is a roadster, and not a frickin' minivan.

Right, but that only emphasizes that this technology is not really generalizable yet. It's only really useful for a very expensive toy car for folks with enough money to throw away on such a thing.
posted by octothorpe at 10:55 AM on August 3, 2006


When was the last time you needed to go more than 250 miles with your car on one go?

We do 1500 mile trips six or so times a year, and 1200 mile trips 2 to 4 times a year, and 200--750 mile trips probably another five or so times a year.

In all cases, driving is cheaper than two airline tickets and a fee to ship the dog, or even just two airline tickets. It's especially cheaper when you just do the 1200 miles in one day.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:56 AM on August 3, 2006


Yes, the sound. There is something about the sound of a supercar.

The Telsa only weighs 2500 lbs. The M3 weighs 3415 lbs and does 0-60 in 4.8. The Telsa would beat it, but the M3 is only $50,000, which puts it well below the Telsa's price point.

For $89,000, which Tesla Motors Chairman Elon Musk alluded to, you could buy an M5, which would give you 507 brake horsepower, naught to 60 in 4.1 seconds, and an SMG. But none of the environmental benefits.
posted by luckypozzo at 10:57 AM on August 3, 2006


I do 150 miles every day. That's my commute rom southern new jersey to midtown.
posted by trol at 10:57 AM on August 3, 2006


A Prius will easily make it from Ottawa to Toronto on a single tank of gas. I just got my Prius last week and I love it.
posted by mike3k at 10:57 AM on August 3, 2006


Sure it plugs into any 220V outlet - that can draw 70A!

The Wired story does not say that recharging requires a 220/70A connection. It says that recharging in 3.5 hours requires a 220/70A connection.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:00 AM on August 3, 2006


I own a Mazda RX8 that gets a whopping 14mpg tops which has a range of about 200miles give or take on a tank of gas and it's really not that big of a deal. So 250 miles on one charge really doesn't sound so bad.
posted by zeoslap at 11:12 AM on August 3, 2006


Cellphone said: ...I'd rather have a car that makes as little noise as possible, from the engine to the tires.

Design is always a tradeoff. From the 2/3/2006 Mercury News article, Quiet hybrids pose an 'invisible' risk:
Jenny Sant'Anna was so excited. She had waited months for just the right hybrid, choosing a Toyota Highlander because, though she wants great mileage, she also needs space to cart around her two elementary school kids and three classmates.

It was during her first trip out of the driveway on a warm August morning that Sant'Anna learned about one of the dangerous drawbacks of driving a hybrid: It's so quiet that pedestrians can't hear it when it's starting up or idling, and they often walk right into the path of the moving vehicle.
...
A hybrid emits less than three decibels of noise when starting up, a level hard to pick up with the human ear. A hybrid clipping along at 35 mph emits 75 decibels -- about as loud as a vacuum cleaner.

...the National Federation of the Blind raised concerns that electric cars and hybrids pose special dangers to people who rely on their hearing to cross a street. The group asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to research the effect of quiet cars on pedestrians. The group suggested some sort of noise be added to hybrids, perhaps by having the radiator fan switch on whenever the car is operating by battery, to alert people walking nearby. So far, no federal studies have been undertaken.
Full electrics might be even less noticeable.
posted by cenoxo at 11:26 AM on August 3, 2006


a very expensive toy car for folks with enough money to throw away on such a thing

...which is probably what was said back in 1991 when these first appeared on the market, but somehow they became the 'gotta-have' vehicle. Yeah, the Tesla would be a lousy grocery-getter and horrible for taking the family and two tons of camping gear on a month-long cross-Canada trek (so's a Lamborghini), but feature a high-profile movie star or sports celebrity as a devotee and it'll find a niche (probably among guys not much older than me who are buying that performance roadster they wish they could've afforded in their twenties).

Apologies to octothorpe for the somewhat out-of-context quoting. I agree that the Tesla's market will be a small one, but the exclusivity could be leveraged to add to its appeal.
posted by hangashore at 11:30 AM on August 3, 2006


I no longer give electric supercar companies any benefit-of-the-doubt at all. Far too many of these things have been written up in Popular Science and drooled over by gadget bloggers and then never actually made it to market at all.

The Tesla FAQ is typical of the breed. They're gonna have cars for sale in early '07! No, they are! Really!

What'll they cost? Uh, despite that 80-to-100k figure batted around above, they're actually not sure.

Can you buy one if you live outside California?

Well, sure, for another $10,000 on top of whatever number they eventually decide to put on the sticker. It's a dumb idea, of course, since you should never buy a bespoke car if the mechanic doesn't live down the road from you.

Anyone remember the AC Propulsion Tzero? You should, since people are still using it as an example of how amazing electric (or, in this case, electric/gasoline modular) cars are going to be.

According to AC Propulsion's official FAQ, the Tzero is "being readied for production, and is expected to begin deliveries in 2002".

Maybe the Tesla guys actually will come up with a sellable product, for Jay Leno to buy and forget about. I guess that'll be some sort of vague philosophical step forward.

But, as mentioned above, until we come up with a high-energy-density battery that doesn't wear out and leave you buying a new one for $15000-plus every two years, the whole concept is just stupid. You can keep making Teslas and Fetishes and so on for as long as you like and it'll make no difference whatsoever to the lack of feasibility of the fundamental idea.
posted by dansdata at 11:50 AM on August 3, 2006


eriko: How much do capacitors cost, comparatively? (Not trying to be snarky or anything, I'm genuinely curious.)
posted by insomnus at 11:52 AM on August 3, 2006


The Tesla Roadster is only the first step in the master plan. The have cheaper and family oriented vehicles coming later. The Tesla Motor's blog explains the details:

So, in short, the master plan is:
1. Build sports car
2. Use that money to build an affordable car
3. Use that money to build an even more affordable car
4. While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options

As far as sportscars go, 4 second 0-60 and instant torque response is awesome.
posted by jsonic at 11:58 AM on August 3, 2006


Just did a bit more reading, and discovered that Tesla are using AC Propulsion electrics. So perhaps the Tesla will carry on the proud cursed history of the Tzero :-).

Re capacitors: Not much use. Energy density remains pretty miserable - though, as mentioned above, it's definitely improving much faster than batteries are - you still need a rather expensive beer-can cap that costs a fortune to replace two AA NiMH cells at the moment, but there's room for improvement.

The big problem with caps is that their terminal voltage varies directly with charge state. Half charge means half voltage. They're still good for use in "buffer" applications - regenerative braking, for instance - but even if you solve the capacity problem, you end up needing very serious DC-to-DC conversion hardware if you want to use them for main power storage in human-scale vehicles.
posted by dansdata at 12:02 PM on August 3, 2006


I think people complaining about drive distances need to remember this is a roadster, and not a frickin' minivan.

Huh? I'd much prefer a roadster over a minivan for my long-distance road trips. Five or six of them a year, on average. But I might be willing to cut down on that number and rent a car or go by train when required, for the sake of having a nice electric car when they eventually come down in price to something reasonable, ... if only batteries weren't such an inadequate way of storing energy, for some of the reasons eriko described. Having used lithium-ion batteries to power computers for many years, I am too familiar with their drawbacks. All the other commonly-available types of batteries have their own problems. There are several promising new developments, including that Toshiba one, that might solve all those problems. Wake me up when there's an electric car that uses those.
posted by sfenders at 12:04 PM on August 3, 2006


Jsonic: Your point 2 assumes that Tesla will by some means be able to make money from their sports cars. Since, thus far, the natural course of an electric vehicle business has been to go bankrupt - just like at least 19 out of 20 of all exotic car companies - I think I see a flaw in the plan.
posted by dansdata at 12:06 PM on August 3, 2006


I do 150 miles every day. That's my commute rom southern new jersey to midtown.

Unsustainable behavior that will be economically unfeasible 10-15 years from now.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:11 PM on August 3, 2006


that will be economically unfeasible 10-15 years from now

... but with the car of the future, there's no need to wait. You can do something economically unfeasible today! (or early 2007, supplies may be limited, offer not valid outside the continental US)
posted by sfenders at 12:14 PM on August 3, 2006


Someone's going to kill it. And we may never know who.
posted by redbeard at 12:15 PM on August 3, 2006


I think I see a flaw in the plan.

My post was providing information to those in the thread who wanted a normal priced, normal performance electric car with longer range. Tesla Motors is planning for that as well. The post made no claim as to the potential success of the endeavor.
posted by jsonic at 12:21 PM on August 3, 2006


re: capacitors.

caps are good at delivering energy -fast- but their energy density is really quite low. a friend of mine had a kooky idea of buying and selling energy from the grid at spot prices and storing in the meantime in a gigantic capacitor bank.

it saddened me (and him, alas) that when i did the calculation, an aircraft hangar filled top-to-bottom with banks and rows and rows of capacitors operating beyond their rated voltage capacity would store about as much energy at once as a small tank of gasoline. (course it could discharge it ALL very fast, which would be neat, but not the point)

2600 farads is really very remarkable though.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 1:21 PM on August 3, 2006


OP: an electric car that can reach 60pmh in 4 seconds and or travel 250 miles between charges.

There. Fixed that for ya.

While it's true that most daily commutes are less than 10 miles, car owners generally want to be able to take that 50-250 mile trip without procuring alternative transportation (plane/bus ticket, ride from a petrol-head friend....).

I offer this solution: Buy (or rent!) a towable gas-powered generator -- basically a small trailer that hooks to the vehicle via a special connector and "trickle charges" the vehicle's battery pack while you're driving. Shouldn't cost more than a couple thousand bucks. It's not something you'd want to use every day, but if you could, say, double the vehicle's range that'd be just the ticket for those long-range trips. Plus you can recharge it at any gas station.

Warning: this MSME has not run the numbers, but I would love to see the idea explored further.

Or, I suppose, you could tow 500lbs worth of batteries and extend your range by, say, 125 miles.

Of course, the reason why this is a sports car is that light weight is essential for both handling/acceleration/braking as well as energy efficiency. Making a 4500lb luxury car fully electric would be quite a different challenge.
posted by LordSludge at 1:57 PM on August 3, 2006


"But that video for me highlighted a big problem with electric cars. They dont make any noise. Or at least not an interesting one."

No, this is going to be turned into a big advantage - by the time electric cars are consumer, you'll have a selection of engine noises to choose from, and at the flick of a switch you could turn your car into a Ferrari, or hell, something completely different, like a stampede of horses, or Ride of the Valkyries :-)

I think that even for this Tesla car, they've got a system where you can download your desired engine noise like custom cellphone ring-tones.

I suspect that a lot of people will pick electric over gas for that feature alone :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 2:06 PM on August 3, 2006


Whatever all the doubters say, I think they'll sell them here in LA about as fast as they can build them. No shortage of wealthy people who want status symbols here, and one that says "Look at me, I'm GREEN too!" will be a hot item.

There are people here who commute in Modenas and Murcielagos. Those will be the first to grab this one, too.

And of course Jay Leno will buy one.

It still can't beat my bike in a drag, tho. I've got 0-60 in 2.8 seconds - just shy of a full G. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 2:19 PM on August 3, 2006


eriko: How much do capacitors cost, comparatively?

Right now, way too much. You can get a D cell NiMH (what the Honda Hybrids use) for $6-10 at retail. A capacitor that size will have twice the voltage, but vastly less total energy, and cost at least ten times as much. A rough rule of thumb is a AA battery is about 10,000F -- so these 2600F capacitors, while impressive, hold a quarter of the charge in a much larger volume.

But that D-cell NiMH cost $60 ten years ago, and cost infinite fifteen years ago. Most battery technologies are somewhat to very mature, supercapacitor tech is very new, and ramping rapidly. For many years, the focus on capacitors was breakthrough voltage, so we got smaller capacitors for a given voltage rating, but not dramatically increased capacitance.

Ten years ago, a one Farad capacitor was a very rare thing indeed, nowadays, ten farads is trivial to buy, and costs five bucks retail.

Given that in electronics, the normal capacitors used are rated in microfarads and picofarads, the idea of a kilofarad capacitor makes one pause -- but there they are, and they are rapidly shrinking in farad per cubic centimeter.

The real magic is if they could get the breakthrough voltage up. Energy storage in capacitors would dramatically increase if we could store 200V, rather than 5V.

Of course, the guy who hooked up a 2kF@200V cap backwards would regret it -- briefly.
posted by eriko at 2:29 PM on August 3, 2006


An M3 is nice. An M5 even nicer. But max torque at 0 RPM isn't nice, it's awesome (it's also why only 160lbft can give you 0-60 in 4 seconds versus almost three times that in an M5 that gives you... welll... 4 seconds).

I love my cars. I especially love hearing a turbo spool. But I would gladly trade in a GCE for an EE if it means it delivers superior performance with less power. 80% over 20% = win, even if electricity is generated mostly by coal -- at least it's 4x efficient.

The mobile charger for sure will not charge in 3.5 hours since it'll have to draw less amps, but the home charger will (they do say a technician has to install it, so this means installing a fat piece of wire to give you the optimistic 3.5 hour recharge mark).
posted by linux at 2:43 PM on August 3, 2006


Someone's going to kill it. And we may never know who.

Hmmm. Maybe these guys...
posted by subaruwrx at 3:01 PM on August 3, 2006


The plug-in hybrid solves all these problems. You don't have to plug it in, but you can if you'd rather burn atoms than dinosaurs. - ghost of Ken Lay

A huge portion of our electricity comes from fossil fuels here, so you're still burning dinosaurs.

When was the last time you needed to go more than 250 miles with your car on one go? If the recharging time is 3,5 hours you could easily travel (with one stop) over 500 miles (that's 804km) in one day. I can remember only one occasion during the last 10 years when I needed to drive that far in a single day. - hoskala

This is different in North America. In a lot of places here there are large distances between cities.

I own a Mazda RX8 that gets a whopping 14mpg tops which has a range of about 200miles give or take on a tank of gas and it's really not that big of a deal. - zeoslap

But it takes you about 4 minutes to fill 'er up and be ready to head out again. We're talking about hours and hours before you can drive these after they're drained.

And I suspect harlequin is right - the new noises it can make will be a 'feature'. It would be nice if vehicles were less noisy. But I wonder about the safety of that - we do use the sound somewhat as pedestrians and as drivers to alert us to other vehicles.
posted by raedyn at 3:02 PM on August 3, 2006


Screw supercapacitors, I want my car to be powered by superinductors
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:31 PM on August 3, 2006


I hate to rain on the parade. Electric cars look great, especially when they’re hot sports cars... but just where is all this freaking electricity going to come from? More than a few power grids have been wiped out the in last couple of days by people running air hot/ballsout conditioners that can do zero to sixty in about 75 years.
posted by Huplescat at 4:49 PM on August 3, 2006


OK... I meant to say hot air ball conditioners. Sorry.
posted by Huplescat at 4:53 PM on August 3, 2006


AC Propulsion, who make the electric drivetrain for the Tesla car, also make a trailer fitted with a little gasoline generator. The generator uses a properly managed vehicle engine.
posted by ryanrs at 4:59 PM on August 3, 2006


Which brings us back to gasoline, with another step added, to further increase the overall loss of efficiency The only way we can get to electric cars on any sort of manageable scale is to either build a lot of nuke plants or find and implement better ways to generate a lot of electricity.
posted by Huplescat at 6:12 PM on August 3, 2006


Which brings us back to gasoline, with another step added, to further increase the overall loss of efficiency

The efficiency gains of a properly managed combustion engine over one that is directly driving wheels, can be greater than the loss of adding an electricity generation step.


The only way we can get to electric cars on any sort of manageable scale is to either build a lot of nuke plants or find and implement better ways to generate a lot of electricity.

More nuclear plants isn't a good solution (global uranium production couldn't keep up). But there are lots of other ways to build more power stations, (usually pretty green too). Most of them are either somewhat new, or obscure, or previously offered poor profitability, but now that there is the need for them, and the money, and some enthusiesm, I think more types of plants will come online in coming years than the usual big three.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:25 PM on August 3, 2006


As soon as the realization that oil production is on the decline sinks in we will see 50 new nukes built in the US alone within ten years. Don't kid yourself. Wind, water and solar are not energy dense enough, even with higher efficiencies and coal is dying out too. We will exploit some lower grade coals, shale oil, etc. but nukes are coming back, guaranteed.
posted by caddis at 7:03 PM on August 3, 2006


Got $18,700 for an electric car? Maybe not as sporty, but it takes two. If you got 80 Grand it will do 0-60 in 4 sec also.
posted by infomaniac at 7:41 PM on August 3, 2006


The Tango is essentially an electric motorcycle with a roll cage, a very dumpy looking roll cage. Can you imagine the fun of pulling up next to a Corvette with one of these at a light and then blowing its doors off? This thing looks like Fred and Barney are propelling it with foot power but it moves. Stealthy fast cars are the best fast cars.

by the way that first link isn't working infomaniac
posted by caddis at 7:54 PM on August 3, 2006


Safety of the Tesla questioned
posted by caddis at 8:06 PM on August 3, 2006


Previous post on the Tango.
posted by homunculus at 9:08 PM on August 3, 2006


caddis: I think the possibility of nuclear power coming back is real, but ultimately not too realistic. The problem is if peak hits in the next 10 years, how is the US or any other oil-dependant country going to be able to take on the MASSIVE task of building the hundreds of extermely expensive, complex plants when oil is extremely expensive and the markets are going nuts due to instability. Imagine oil at $150 to 200 a barrell, driving costs of everything thru the roof - construction, transportation, retrofitting the existing system to somehow rely on electricity instead of oil. For something like nuclear to work, we'd have to be doing a manhatten style project _now_, not after the shit hits the fan. Not to mention if we somehow did ramp up nuclear power, the uranium would last 10 to 20 years at best.

I think we're going to see a massive change back to coal, and it will be done in a frantic, chaotic way. You can forget all about "clean coal", as just keeping the grid up will take priority over protecting the ozone.
posted by rsanheim at 11:15 PM on August 3, 2006


The battery in this thing weighs 1,000 pounds. You're not going to be swapping those suckers casually in and out.

You are if the car is designed to work with a large automatic mechanism. You pull up on to a ramp and the battery-swapping mechanism takes over like an automated pit crew. It would remove a spent battery (and skid plate protecting it on the bottom if the battery is removed from the bottom) and insert a charged battery in a few seconds. Spent batteries would be inspected, recharged, tested, and sent out again. At first, every dealer in these cars would have to double as a battery station and maybe create one or two other battery stations in town to encourage sales. But build a network of stations along popular highways and it could work.

Gas stations are equally elaborate -- large fuel trucks coasting down the highways everywhere to refill a worldwide network of large underground tanks full of explosive fuel, and a series of special pumps and counters over each tank farm delivers this fuel through little hoses to each car that pulls up -- but we don't think about gas stations because we've grown up with them.

Still, I wish people would just get over their obsessions with cars as gadgets, as recreational vehicles, as status symbols. Instead of planning new ways to depend on cars, think of ways to get us around without having to depend on cars.
posted by pracowity at 1:01 AM on August 4, 2006


Huplescat wrote: Which brings us back to gasoline, with another step added, to further increase the overall loss of efficiency

The generator trailer is designed for occasional long trips. I understand most people prefer their $100k sports cars sans trailer.
posted by ryanrs at 1:53 AM on August 4, 2006


Something I'm surprised that nobody's playing with, now that we have large enough capacitors -- Gas Electric.

This isn't a hybrid. The idea is you run a gas engine to turn a generator, which then drives the motors. Why the extra step? Making a gasoline engine that is efficent at variable rpm and power loads is hard. Making one that is efficient at a given speed and load is much easier. So, gas engine starts, runs generator.

Lots of things get easy. Want 4WD? Put a motor at each wheel -- much easier to run a power cable than an axle connected to a differential.

The big problem -- you have to size the engine/generator train for max power, which means you'll be throwing away power most of the time, unless you have some form of storage for burst use.

Current NiMH batteries and supercapacitors don't have enough storage to be the primary energy storage mechanism in transportation. But they certainly can be a boost pack -- gas/electric hybrids prove that.

So, a small gas engine, tuned for maximum efficency, driving a generator. Most of the time, you're running one-to-one, or charging the boost pack, but at times (merging, pulling off from a dead stop), the caps or batteries switch in. This lets you spec a smaller main engine, which will use less gas. This, BTW, is the hybrid trick. A 1.3l engine in a Honda Civic would have real drivability issues in merging and such, but with a 10KW electric motor added in for boost power, it become a very driveable car indeed.

Gas Electric takes this one step further. Many trains use diesel electric power, as do many ships. Without power storage, it is ideal in cases of very long runs at constant speed -- perfect for long-haul trains and ships, but bad for cars. Add in electrical storage, and that changes. Better -- no transmission, because you don't change gears, since the gas engine spins at one speed, and the right electric motors don't have the torque issues that gas engines do.

Actually, thinking about it, you'd probably want two speeds from the gas engine, a normal max-efficency cruise, and a "charge more" higher RPM. We're talking a difference of 300 or so rpm.

I wonder what I'm missing -- this seems to obvious to not look at, which means that somebody must have, an found a real problem with it.
posted by eriko at 5:29 AM on August 4, 2006


The hybrid I linked to above uses capacitors. Ultimately I think we will see some very efficient caps replacing batteries in some uses. There was an interesting story in BoingBoing today about seaweed being used to juice up the efficiency of some capacitors.
posted by caddis at 6:53 AM on August 4, 2006


There is no magic solution to our energy needs-- actually there was one, called fossil fuels, but they won't last for ever.

The key will be a huge mix of various technologies. Solar, wind, and recycling for your home, electric and gas for your transport, nuclear to keep the grid going, and a huge change in consumption patterns including harnessing much more lost energy.

I say that because I think projects like this, regardless of their eventual outcome, are a step in the right direction. Sure it's easy to point out what sucks about this car, but let's look at what doesn't suck-- mainly that a desirable electric car may go on sale next year.
posted by cell divide at 8:10 AM on August 4, 2006


Speaking of M5 doing 4 seconds: Nope, it doesn't. Take it from me. I own one. The US version at the very least is not capable of going faster than 4.4 seconds from 0-60. They crippled it for us due to californian emissions laws and to be able to offer a more comprehensive warranty that includes clutch wear. For emissions, they put a filter on the exhaust! a FILTER, poor thing chokes, literally and for saving the clutch, they modifed ECU programming to disable clutch slipping and automatic upshifts during high speed launches - a bloody 100 grand car that won't do what it said on the tin!
posted by trol at 9:12 AM on August 4, 2006


Tree Huggers Delight - 157 mpg, no electric motors, no batteries (well except in the starting system) and $13,000. Suck it Tesla. :)

(I might be tempted to trade in my pocket rocket for one of these - this is cool).
posted by caddis at 6:58 PM on August 6, 2006


crashlanding writes "GuyZero, the Wired article says it charges at 70A. So you'll have to get your power upgraded. But if you can spend 80K on a car, that shouldn't be too much of a problem."

Most new housing comes with at least a 200A service. Your electric dryer (30A) and range (40A) alone add up to the 70 amps required for the recharging load. It would be simple to design a device that charged your car whenever your dryer and/or range was not in use.

flabdablet writes "The battery in this thing weighs 1,000 pounds. You're not going to be swapping those suckers casually in and out."

Simple engineering problem, I've thought of three possible designs while reading the comments. Something like the cable operated spare tire mechanisms could be designed with the requestite reliability.

Mike D writes "You'll pardon me if I keep the champagne on ice for a while yet. I'm not about to celebrate a massively expensive set of wheels that won't even get me from Ottawa to Toronto (400 or so miles) unless I pull in overnight at the Holiday Inn in Trenton for a re-charge."

So it doesn't work for everyone. If this concept could replace half of the cars in 50% of the two car families in Canada we'd have a significant change in the market.

uncle harold writes "I guess to change a current size battery of that capacity, you will need a medium-sized crane."

500 kilos is nothing. You can buy any number of hydrolic jacks at the local borg that will handle two times that for $20.


GuyZero writes "Sure it plugs into any 220V outlet - that can draw 70A! Go to Home Dept and even FIND an outlet rated for 70A. The standard home has 100A service and probably draws about half to 3/4s of that. (An electric stove or dryer typically sits on a 220V 20A circuit.) "

You are mistaken. Few if any new single family dwellings are built with 100A mains services, haven't been for years. Even my modest house built in 1960 has a 125A mains service. The standard home range has a 40A/220V circuit. The standard electric dryer is 30A/220V circuit. Central Air? 20-30A/220 circuit. Electric water heater? 15-30A 220V.

octothorpe writes "At least five or six times a year, which I think is pretty normal for American's."

Probably. But there is always the possibility of just renting a vehicle for those occasions. We often do this when going on long vacation trips because with unlimited mileage it is cheaper to put a 2-3K on a rental over the course of a couple weeks than to pay for all that wear and tear on our own vehicle. Plus we get a vacation from our car at the same time and if the car blows up or we're in an accident the rental company brings us a new car.

pracowity writes "You are if the car is designed to work with a large automatic mechanism. You pull up on to a ramp and the battery-swapping mechanism takes over like an automated pit crew"

Yep, lots of possibilities.
posted by Mitheral at 1:11 PM on August 8, 2006


I figured that there's no need for a new thread: a test drive of the Tesla.
posted by GuyZero at 2:40 PM on August 23, 2006


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