Tesla Motors and the Model S Prepare To Take on the World

December 31, 2009

When electric car company Tesla Motors officially arrived on the scene in March of 2008, their first offering, the Roadster, definitively put to rest the long held notion that electric cars cant make your pulse race.  Since its debut the six figure carbon fiber bullet has been busy dismantling the bar set by previous EVs while serving as a show piece for what could be Americas next great car company.  

In the past 20 months, however, Tesla has come under mounting scrutiny.  With Roadster orders still trickling towards one thousand and a business model entirely dependent on early adopters, Tesla has seen its image squeezed between sports car enthusiasts who arent interested in giving up audible throttles and environmentalists who point out the hypocrisies of going green one millionaire at a time. 

But now Tesla looks to time the leap from the niche market into the automotive deep waters with its second offering, the 2011 Model S.  A sedan built to function in the real world, the car will also need to produce real world dollars if the company plans to survive long enough to release a third model.  These days, finding claims that the much publicized sedan will be the last car Tesla ever builds is about as difficult as finding little rocks at the beach.  And with the EV revolutions great bright hope spending half a billion government-funded dollars to knock on a door that the world may or may not choose to answer its a very interesting time for Elon Musk and company.

Unlike the Roadster, the Model S will be a vehicle capable of addressing the everyday realities of the average American family.  Judging from its March 2009 press release, Teslas aim was to design a vehicle cable of refuting all the usual objections to electric cars.  Capable of charging for a 128 mile trip in 45 minutes, doing the 0 60 in 5.6 seconds, with space for seven passengers, rear seats that fold flat and leave enough room to house a set of drums the Model S blueprint is part Starship Enterprise, part station wagon.  Simply put, Teslas wide release game plan for its first sedan is nothing if not monstrously ambitious.

Whereas the Roadster is based on the platform of the Lotus Elise, the Model S represents a fresh shell for the companys one thousand pound, liquid-cooled, lithium ion power train.  With smooth midlines reminiscent of Bentleys Continental series giving way to a stunning full glass retractable canopy, the model S, despite its commitment to utility, looks the part of high end sports sedan.  Tesla hopes the package will be enough to poach the fickle customer base away from better knowns like BMW, Audi and Lexus.   From the promises being made, the sedan appears to be on par with these rivals in terms of performance and cost.  This becomes a grand feat when considering the battery systems alone are said to cost $36,000 per vehicle. 

Unfortunately for the company, grand feats will be required if Tesla intends to knock the auto industry from the rails its been riding on for the past century. With Nissan representing the only major company set to deliver an electric vehicle prior to the release of the Model S, and most others just now dipping their toes into hybrid technology, Tesla Motors is the experiment automakers are watching.  They know the future of electric cars is hazy for the time being and its anybodys guess as to whether Teslas stated goal of selling 10,000 units per calendar year is realistic.  Of the 1.1 million luxury vehicles estimated to sell in America in 2012, just one of every hundred would need to be a Tesla in order for them to hit their mark.  But with little in the way of existing EV infrastructure and only a handful of showrooms across the country the shadows begin to loom.  Take into account that this will be an expensive and relatively untested vehicle produced by a company whose future is ripe with uncertainty and the whole thing becomes a coin toss. 

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