The Tesla Roadster starts with carbon-fiber body panels from France that are attached to a chassis manufactured at the Lotus factory in Hethel, England. The un-powered “glider” is then shipped to the US, where the battery and powertrain are added in Menlo Park, California. Cells from Japan are built into the battery pack a few miles away in San Carlos; the motor is made in Taiwan. It all adds up, apparently, to a “US-built” car.
Switching on the “ignition” of a 2009 Tesla—more accurately, powering up the car—lights up the instrument cluster. A “bong” tone indicates the car is ready to roll. The “shifter” has just three positions: neutral, drive, and reverse.
In front of the driver are two gauges, a rev counter for the electric motor and a 150-mph speedometer, plus a slew of warning lights. A small, seemingly flimsy JVC stereo and navigation system is mounted in the center of the dash. Just above the driver’s left knee is a touchscreen showing the state of battery charge. It lets the driver select one of five operating modes: Standard is the default. Maximum Performance allows the powertrain to run closer to its thermal limits. Maximum Range reduces power to preserve battery life; while Valet Mode cuts acceleration in half and limits both top speed and range. Finally, Storage mode keeps the pack at its optimum temperature with a high-voltage equivalent of trickle charging.
Without a gearbox, the rev counter and speedo move in sync. A motor speed of 8000 rpm corresponded to 70 mph, and 100 mph was slightly over 11,000 rpm. The motor is redlined from 13,000 to 15,000 rpm, for the Roadster’s quoted top speed of 125 mph.
Driving a Tesla Roadster requires reprogramming your old gasoline-car habits. The clever coders at Tesla have made the regenerative braking aggressive enough that you can drive the car almost entirely on the accelerator. More pressure equals more speed. Lift off, and the car slows—just like engine braking, but quieter. With a bit of pre-planning, you’ll find you only hit the Brembo brakes when you slow down to 3 mph, when the simulated “idle creep” kicks in.