Acknowledging the high cost of electric drive components and batteries, Tesla Motors' first car is a premium-priced, high-performance, electric roadster. We got a chance to test drive one fitted with version 1.5 of the power train. This new power train eliminates the two-speed gearbox from the originally launched car, replacing it with a single speed transmission.
Tesla uses bodies and chassis built by British car-maker Lotus. The carbon fiber body panels are manufactured in France, then sent to the Lotus plant in England to be fitted to the car's chassis. When the bodies are shipped to Tesla's factory, they have no power trains.
Lotus is known for building cars with precision handling, which carries over into the Tesla Roadster. During our test drive, we noticed the car had a heavier feel, but still felt tight. The short wheelbase ensures good cornering, and the car also has traction control.
The 990 pound battery pack sits right behind the cabin, helping the car maintain good fore and aft weight distribution. On top of that powerpack is a power control module that governs electricity flow and performance. There is a little trunk space, enough for a golf bag, behind the battery. The electric motor powers the rear wheels, giving the car 248 horsepower.
Just like in a Lotus, the cockpit of the Tesla Roadster is a little cramped, requiring some contortion for ingress and egress. An open roadster top makes it easier. The seats are manually adjustable, but the steering column can't be moved. Ride quality is surprisingly good, suggesting that Tesla specified a softer suspension than you would normally get in a low sports car like this.
The small sport steering wheel sits in front of an instrument cluster that includes a speedometer and tachometer, the latter a surprise to find in an electric car. The car's motor has a redline of 14,000rpm, but you won't ever run over that limit, as the power control module keeps the motor from over-revving.
The thin console includes climate controls, and houses the shifter. In older Teslas, the shift pattern would have a 1 and 2, for the two-speed gearbox, but with version 1.5 of the power train, you only need Drive, Neutral, and Reverse. The electric motor runs fine at speeds from 5mph up to the top governed speed of 125mph. This shifter is more of a cosmetic piece, as it doesn't control any mechanical elements.
This small touch screen sits down by the driver's left knee. Here it shows the main menu when the car is stopped. Touch the wrench icon and you can choose different running modes, such as Performance and Range. Each mode will alter the car's range, acceleration, and speed to achieve specific performance goals. When the car is moving, this screen can show a power usage gauge.
The Tesla has a plug-in port on its rear cabin pillar, accommodating a special three-pin plug. When the car is charging, an amber light pulses around the battery port. This light is more than just cosmetic, though, as it also turns green when it is okay to plug the car in.
Tesla provides this charging station with the car. It can be installed in a garage and charges the Tesla's battery up in 3.5 hours. If you were to charge the Tesla on a standard 110 AC outlet, it would take around 30 hours.
Tesla modeled its retail facility after Apple's stores, and prefers the term "store" rather than "showroom." Instead of franchising, Tesla will retain ownership of all future stores. The current Tesla store is in Menlo Park, California, and a New York City store will open up in the next few months. Other prospective locations include Miami, Los Angeles, and Seattle.
Tesla cars sit on the factory floor in various states of assembly. They arrive from Lotus without power trains. In the factory, workers install the battery pack, electric motor, and any other parts needed for a particular order. Tesla has a large back order list, as the car generated a lot of excitement even before it was in production.
This 400 volt lithium ion battery pack contains thousands of cylindrical cells. It weighs 990 pounds, accounting for almost a third of the car's weight. It will be installed behind the cabin of the car.