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Tesla to make gas-electric car

For its sedan, Tesla will bring a Chevy Volt-like car to market.

Tesla Motors, the people who put the all-electric car on the map, are going to work with gas too.

The San Carlos, Calif.-based company will produce two basic types of its Whitestar sedan, due toward the end of 2009. One will run completely on batteries. The other will be a range-extended vehicle, or REV, CEO Ze'ev Drori said in an interview. In an REV, a small gas motor recharges the battery pack while the car is being driven. The battery pack on these types of cars only goes about 40 to 50 miles on a charge, but because it gets recharged while driving, the range of these cars will be longer.

"It is more than research. We intend to have it as part of the offering," Drori said. "The Whitestar can be all-electric or it can be an REV."

The idea behind coming out with an REV is to reach prospective buyers who are worried about range, said Elon Musk, Tesla's chairman. (Drori and Musk were holding a press conference at corporate headquarters to mark the delivery of the first commercial version of the Tesla Roadster. Musk owns it.). The all-electric version of Whitestar is expected to go for 150 to 200 miles on a charge.

If the competition is an indication, the REV version of Whitestar will go much further. GM was the first major car company to tout REVs with its Chevy Volt, due around 2010. The Volt is expected to go around 400 miles before completely conking.

Range has been one of the historical problems with electric cars. The distance an electric car can drive is controlled by the size and performance of its battery pack. The Tesla Roadster, coming out this year, can go more than 200 miles on a charge, but it costs $98,000. GM's fated EV1 only went 80 or so miles on a charge, CEO Rick Wagoner said in a recent interview.

The gas-electric version of Whitestar will cost a little less than the all-electric version, Musk added, but the difference will be fairly minimal. Building a gas-electric isn't cheap. Automakers have to insert generators. The battery pack also requires different cells.

A Tesla Roadster prototype Michael Kanellos/CNET

Whitestar is expected to sell in the $50,000 to $70,000 range, depending on the configuration (some of the all-electric cars will have bigger batteries than others and vary in price, for instance). The car will likely compete against luxury sedans from companies like BMW. Later, Tesla will also come out with an economy car, Musk said.

Still, the REV concept can be used to lower prices. GM wants to sell the Volt for around $30,000. The Volt is expected to go 400 miles before completely conking out.

Tesla has hinted that it might go the REV direction. As reported earlier, Tesla executives complimented the design of the Volt, calling it elegant, back in December. At that time, however, executives only said that Tesla was looking at all options.