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Tesla delays its battery business, but test drives begin

There's a reason Think switched battery providers. Tesla delayed its program.

As part of its effort to get its first cars out of the door, Tesla Motors is putting its battery business on ice for a bit.

Michael Kanellos/CNET Networks

The electric car company back in January said it was going to sell its battery pack--composed of thousands of lithium-ion battery cells--to third party manufacturers. Interim CEO Michael Marks, however, made the decision to suspend the program in September when he also decided to push out the release of the car and scale back production a bit. Although a few Tesla Roadsters may come out this year, the bulk of the first cars will come out next year. Fifty are due in the first quarter. The delays in the battery program, however, were not flagged then.

Tesla's first and so far only announced customer was going to be Think Global, which is trying to come out with an electric town car.

"We delayed the program with Think until we had roadsters on the road," said Darryl Siry, vice president of sales and marketing at Tesla.

As a result, Think has been lining up alternative battery suppliers. A deal with EnerDel was announced yesterday. EnerDel will be the "supplier of choice" for Think.

It is unclear if the switch in battery providers will delay Think's car, but it could. It's a major change. In September, the company told The Norway Post that it wanted to get the initial cars out in November. Think has made cars with other types of batteries--the company grew out of a dying electric car project from Ford. EnerDel won't deliver prototypes until next March and preproduction batteries until July 2008. Still, Think is not aiming to get large numbers out of the factory at first anyway. The company in July, a few months before Tesla changed management, said it only planned to start producing 250 cars a month by mid-2008.

On a happier note for Tesla, it has also started to let customers who have put down deposits on the $98,000 Tesla Roadster take test drives with the latest prototype. They are doing 12 a week and many of the drivers are posting blogs about the experience (see link above). The test drives are taking place in the Skyline Drive and Highway 84 area. You know, the Alice's Restaurant intersection in the Bay Area.

Despite a few nitpicks here and there, the reviews are all fairly positive. (I've ridden in one and they are a lot of fun, particularly the subtle "whoosh" sound the electric engine makes.)

"I've certainly faced some raised eyebrows at my decision to write a check for $100,000 to purchase a car I've never driven, so if nothing else my thrilling test drive of VP10 was worth it just to explain that I have been behind the wheel, and come away impressed," wrote Josh Hannah.

Hannah, though, did get passed by a Subaru Roadster. He wanted to be cautious.

No entries yet from Sergey, Larry, George Clooney or San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom yet, who have all allegedly put down deposits.