Tesla Roadster as used by videogame designersEnlarge Photo
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Well, maybe you actually knew some of these seven if you're a true Tesla enthusiast. But we bet you didn't know every single one ...
# 7: ORB SEALS
What are OrbSeals, you ask? Why, they're special pellets pumped into the side rail of the Tesla chassis. When they're heat-treated, they expand in volume 50 times, to absorb noise and vibration.
# 6: LITHIUM-ION CELLS
It was the very first production car to use lithium-ion cells*, which pack roughly twice the energy into a given mass as do the nickel-metal-hydride batteries used in almost every hybrid car for the last dozen years. More energy = more power = more driving fun. Case closed.
# 5: TAKE 6,831 CELLPHONES AND ...
Those lithium-ion cells? The Tesla Roadster uses exactly 6,831 of 'em inside a big black battery pack that weighs 900 pounds. Unlike other electric cars that use larger lithium cells specially designed for auto use, Tesla bases its battery on "commodity cells" that are made by the millions and power such mundane items as mobile phones and laptop computers.
The plus: They're cheap, they're readily available, and they're a very well-known quantity.
The minus: It takes a hellacious amount of of wiring, cooling, instrumentation, control software, and safety features to ensure that even if one of them short-circuits, the others don't.
# 4: SOFTWARE THAT TEACHES ITSELF
The algorithm that calculates the state of charge of the battery pack--a very important number, since that's what gives you the "range remaining" number--in each individual Tesla keeps learning and gets more accurate over time, by comparing its calculations to the actual behavior of the pack as it discharges.
# 3: CARBON FIBER
A lot of enthusiasts don't realize that the Tesla's body panels are made of carbon fiber. You know, the lightweight, ultra-strong material used in fighter jets and other very fast moving objects.
# 2: ON-THE-FLY PERFORMANCE MODE
Sure, you can use the Tesla touchscreen to select the software mode for "Performance". But there's also a cool trick that only the Tesla cognoscenti know: Turn the key one extra click, any time, at rest or on the move, and it's on. Instantly. Which is very handy for those last-minute stop-light drag races with annoying Porsche owners who think electric power is for wussies.
# 1: NO MORE GOLF CARTS!
Even if the company were to vanish in a puff of dust tomorrow, Tesla's place in history would be secure.
Why? Because it accomplished something that a century of hapless green-car enthusiasts never quite managed: It got rid of the tiny, geeky, golf-cart image that came to mind every time someone said the words "electric vehicle".
* If you want to quibble, there were at least two previous vehicles that used lithium-ion cells. But neither really qualifies as "production". In 2004 or so, Toyota built a few hundred Vitz (Yaris to us) subcompacts for Japan only that used four lithium-ion cells to power an engine stop-start system. But those cells didn't power the car.
Then there's the 2005 Venturi Fetish, conceptually similar to the Tesla Roadster with a large lithium-ion pack powering a 180-kilowatt electric motor. But it cost roughly $700,000, and the company only intended to build 25 of them anyway.