Archives for July 5th, 2013
Despite being called vaporware by some, the Tesla Model S electric sedan is apparently well under way in its development, and this video shows an in-the-sheetmetal Model S mule undergoing testing in the snowy landscape of Baudette, Minn.
The video starts like an intro to a spy movie, with a satellite image of the testing location complete with info about the region and graphics simulating instrument readings. From this, we learn the temperature range of the test area is -10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. The Model S prototype, which Tesla tells us is a second-gen, Beta-phase unit, is next shown conducting various maneuvers in the snow. We see the Model S quietly running a 600-foot slalom, making a quick lane change at speeds up to 60 mph, and giving its suspension and steering a workout running through a snow-covered autocross course. The EV appears to handle pretty well in the powdery stuff, though it does spin out at one point, despite the edited footage making it look like a well-executed drift.
While we don’t get to see anything new when it comes to Tesla’s upcoming sedan, it’s encouraging to see the electric automaker is hard at work testing its latest product. But Tesla had better be, if it hopes to deliver its first production models by this summer. As we previously reported, that first batch will consist of Model S sedans equipped with the 85-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, good for a claimed range of 300 miles. While we’re taking a “we’ll-believe-it-when-we-see-it” stance on those range claims, this video could mean a test of the Model S isn’t too far away.
Check out the video below to see a Tesla Model S being put through its paces.
Cold Weather Climate Testing the Model S from Tesla Motors on Vimeo.
Tesla Model S
Tesla Motors announced its fourth-quarter and full-year results late yesterday, and offered some good news to the company’s shareholders.
That would be the projection that Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] will operate at a profit in the current quarter, which ends March 31.
“We expect to be slightly profitable (excluding only non-cash option and warrant-related expenses) in Q1 2013,” it wrote in a letter to shareholders on its financial results just after the stock market closed yesterday afternoon.
The prediction advances by almost a whole year the company’s timeline for profitability, which had previously been set for the fourth quarter of 2013.
The company lost $90 million in the quarter on revenue of $306.3 million. Its losses per share were $0.65. And it repaid another $12.7 million of its $465 million low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Tesla said it built 2,750 cars and delivered 2,400 to customers from October 1 through December 31; it expects to deliver about 4,500 in the first quarter.
The company’s stock, which had opened the day at $39.30, closed down slightly at $38.54 before the results were released.
[UPDATE: Shortly after the market opened this morning, Tesla shares fell below $35–tripping a so-called “circuit breaker” designed to slow short sales of falling stocks.]
After releasing the numbers, Tesla also held a conference call in which CEO Elon Musk, CEO Deepak Ahuja, and George Blankenship, vice president of sales and ownership experience, responded to questions from industry analysts and offered additional color on several issues.
Musk summarized the company’s achievements and prospects this year as follows.
“We promised to do three things: We said we would start production in July (it was actually June), deliver 20,000 units in 2013, and by the end of 2013, we will exceed 25 percent gross margin–not including regulatory credits,” Musk added.
He said at the end of the call that he wouldn’t commit to being profitable in all quarters this year until he knew more about how the company’s production, deliveries, and sales rolled out during the first half of the year.
“Maybe I’m hedging too much, but I don’t want to be overconfident,” said the usually quite confident Musk.
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk with Tesla Roadster
“In the absence of some force majeure event–a giant earthquake, for instance–I’m confident that we will be profitable this quarter, and it’s our aspiration to be profitable in subsequent quarters as well.”
“I do think we’ll be profitable in the second quarter, and subsequent quarters too. I’m cautiously optimistic about that.”
The following points summarize other topics discussed on the call.
Reservations and waiting time
The company said it added 6,000 additional reservations for the Model S (and also Model X) during the fourth quarter, compared to 2,900 added the previous quarter.
Asked about reports that it was possible to get certain Model S configurations through a Tesla Store in about a month, Musk responded that the average wait time for a car is now about five months.
But, he said, certain high-end Model S configurations–the 85-kilowatt-hour battery model with air suspension, not in the new red paint–were available in six to eight weeks.
“If we were to close all of our stores worldwide right now,” he said, “We would still sell out for the entire year.”
Tesla Model S
And, he noted, early deliveries have been of more lavishly specified cars than the company had projected.
More than half of Model S orders have specified the 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack, and less than 10 percent are for the 40-kWh version–though, he acknowledged, “that could change in the future.”
Expansion into Europe and Asia
Outside North America, the company has done a limited amount of marketing in Europe–right now, Musk said, it only has two cars there. And it has done essentially nothing in Asia.
That will change “dramatically” this year, Musk said.
Reservations are rolling in steadily from Europe, Blankenship said, despite not having cars to display and stores just clearing out the last remaining Roadsters. Asia is even less advanced.
About 25 percent of the company’s reservations now come from outside North America, according to Blankenship, and that will increase. The North American stores saw 1.6 million visitors, he said.
In December, Tesla opened a distribution center in the Netherlands and also announced European pricing for the Model S electric luxury sport sedan.
“We’ve said it before,” Musk noted, “but we expect that ultimately, we will deliver 10,000 to 15,000 cars in North America, 10,000 in Europe, and 10,000 to 15,000 in Asia–but that will take time to build up, especially China.
The export drive “doesn’t affect us this year all that much,” Musk noted. “I’m quite sure we can deliver more than 20,000 cars this year, but we want to make sure we’ve laid the groundwork for improvements above 20K for 2014.”
“It’s not really a question of demand generation for this year,” he concluded. The question is more, “How to exceed that next year?”
Quality control data
One question caught CEO Musk off-guard: What were the stats on the number of Model S cars required post-production touching up or rectification of other quality-control issues?
“I don’t have that handy,” said an obviously surprised Musk. “I wasn’t expecting that question.”
The percentage, he said, has dropped dramatically since the start of production last June. Cars that have to be pulled off the end of the line to have something fixed are now a “fairly small percentage.”
And, he pointed out, any issues related to the cars’ software can be addressed by deploying over-the-air software updates–which no other carmaker can do. That, he said, “has worked quite well.”
Reservations and waiting times
In its shareholder letter, Tesla wrote:
After deliveries and cancellations, our net reservations at year end, were over 15,000, up from about 13,000 at the end of Q3. New reservations continue at a steady, although slower pace in Q1 2013, as compared to December, due in part to the pull ahead of reservations into Q4 by customers seeking to avoid the price increase.
Q1 cancellations are likely to remain elevated as the remaining older reservation holders are invited to configure their vehicles within a set timeframe or pay the higher price just like new reservation holders.
‘Revenge of the Electric Car’ premiere: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on red carpet Enlarge Photo
‘Revenge of the Electric Car’ premiere: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on red carpet
Asked by an analyst whether the net reservations number would fall during the first two quarters as deliveries ramped up, Musk indicated that it might well do so.
In raising the price of the Model S and asking reservation holders to confirm their orders if they wanted the old price, Musk said, “we were trying to clean out anyone who wasn’t serious about buying the car.”
Tesla expects its reservation numbers to stabilize, he said, though it has “a lot of demand in North America”–more than half its production target of 20,000 cars a year.
“Our intention is not to have people wait six months for a car,” he said. “We much prefer that demand generation and production are better synced, so customers can order a car, get it in a few weeks.
“It’s not our intent to have a long waiting list,” he said. “That’s pretty inconvenient for people.”
But, he said, the company’s production numbers have been constrained solely by its ability to achieve ‘steady-state production in an efficient way”–not by demand–which he called “a really important point.”
“If we wanted to, we could raise production to 500 units a week,” Musk boasted, “but it would have a lot of expense for overtime and so on.”
It’s far more important for Tesla Motors to improve the efficiency of the assembly process at the current level of 400 cars a week, he said.
2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011
“This is our very first quarter when we’re at our target production rate,” Musk said, which has really been “very little time to work on production efficiencies.”
Those efficiencies include reducing the number of staff hours per car produced, and cutting the number of temporary employees at the Fremont, California plant.
Factory workers averaged almost 70 hours a week in December, which Musk noted cost the company a great deal of money. “It’s over time above 40 hours a week,” he said, “but it’s double time above 60 hours.”
Today, workers average almost a 50-hour week, and Tesla’s goal is to drive that down to the mid-40s during March.
“The labor hours per car are dropping dramatically,” Musk said, saying that “may be the single biggest factor” in the company’s drive to Q1 profitability.
Tires from the Czech Republic
Close behind cutting staff hours per car are improvements in logistics, and efficiencies in the parts from suppliers for the Model S.
“We had to fly in a lot of parts in December,” Musk said ruefully, at a cost up to 10 times the standard price. “We had to do dumb things like fly in tires from the Czech Republic.”
Tesla Model S
Tesla had to fly in the 21-inch tires from Europe because it took longer than 30 days for the tires to arrive from the maker–which required payment in 30 days.
The company, unwilling to pay for goods it hadn’t received yet, held its payments until the tires arrived–which caused the tire maker to cancel its credit line. Mayhem ensued.
Once the situation got sorted out, the halt in sea shipments meant Tesla had to pay to fly in the tires to keep its production lines rolling.
“I wanted to punch myself in the face for that one,” Musk said.
Slamming an analyst
And he had specially harsh words for one industry analyst, IHS Automotive, which had projected that Tesla would build 1,500 cars a year–not the 20,000 it projected and is now working toward.
With Tesla an unknown quantity to the auto industry’s parts suppliers, those companies tended to rely more on third-party estimates than on the volumes of their parts Tesla had actually ordered.
“Suppliers looked at that forecast, and tooled up for some puny number of parts,” Musk said, and were “caught flatfooted when we said, ‘No, we really did mean the order we sent you’.”
Tesla Motors had a number of conversations with suppliers where they “realized we really weren’t kidding about that.”
Now, Musk said, suppliers are more ready to believe that the company’s production goals are serious–and price breaks for higher volumes of parts are kicking in as well.
That includes the price of the lithium-ion cells for its battery packs, supplied by Panasonic (which also owns part of Tesla Motors).
The cost of its cells will fall this spring, Musk said, which will have a beneficial effect on profitability for all Model S variants.
While Tesla already has a leasing partner–Athlon–lined up for its European customers, in North America, all deliveries are now outright purchases.
Leasing is something the company wants to offer, Musk said, and it could arrive in the second half of this year. Tesla wants to make sure the terms of the lease are “compelling,” and talks with financial institutions are “progressing in a good direction.”
Large banks, he noted wryly, tend to like the notion that Tesla will be profitable in Q1–it gives them “greater confidence” that the startup carmaker is a company they would want to partner with.
Next year, Musk concluded, “leasing will be a big factor” for Tesla. In Europe, it will be “at least a moderate factor” this year.
Tesla Road Trip from MD to CT, Feb 2013 – Tesla Model S cars at Delaware SuperCharger location
SuperCharger announcement coming
Musk nodded briefly to the existence of the controversial review in The New York Times, in which a Model S ended up on the back of a flatbed truck.
He acknowledged that in colder regions, the SuperChargers should be more closely spaced–120 to 150 miles apart, perhaps, rather than the current 200-mile separation between SuperCharger locations in Delaware and Connecticut.
The company is rapidly deploying more SuperCharger stations, he said, including in Texas, the Chicago area, and other East Coast locations.
And he hinted at future upgrades to the SuperCharger system. “We’ve got a fairly meaningful announcement about a step change in SuperCharger technology coming later this year,” he said.
That had originally been what the company wanted to have the New York Times review cover–so, Musk said, “Who knows?” Tesla might invite the Times to do another review later in the year.
Acknowledging hard work
During the call, Musk paid tribute to the hard work of the entire Tesla Motors team.
The results being reported today, he said, are due to “an enormous amount of hard work by a really dedicated group of people. We’re going to be profitable, which is a pretty big deal, but it took an enormous amount of blood, sweat, and tears to get there.”
“It’s difficult for me to overstate the level of difficulty,” he said, “but we’re going to do it. I’m really proud of that–and we can say that with confidence.”
2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with Tesla Motors delivery driver
HI-RES GALLERY: 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with Tesla Motors delivery driver
2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with Tesla Motors delivery driver
News In Your Inbox
After 1,386 days of waiting, I first glimpsed my new 2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan at a local discount tire store.
The Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] delivery rep who was bringing the car up from the New Jersey distribution center to my house in New York’s Hudson Valley had called me from the road, to say he was going to be late.
The car hadn’t yet gotten its New York state inspection, so he was stopping by the tire store, about three miles away from my home, to get the inspection and sticker for the Model S–sitting on a trailer behind his truck.
I sat in my kitchen twiddling my thumbs in frustration for about five minutes. Then I jumped into my Chevrolet Volt and raced over to the tire store.
I couldn’t bear to wait any longer.
Trying to be realistic, I had steeled myself for a tinge of disappointment. After nearly four years of anticipation, hype, and acclaim, my expectations ran so high that it seemed no car could meet them.
“Get real, man,” I cautioned myself. “It can’t possibly live up to the hype.”
My visceral reaction upon first seeing my Model S there in the tire store parking lot was a jolt of euphoria. The car was freaking gorgeous.
I’d seen many Model S cars in captivity, so to speak, at Tesla stores and events. But in the wild, surrounded by the mundane, everyday cars parked at a drab strip mall, the Tesla Model S radiated an extra presence, a feline grace and power. It was a cheetah among wildebeests and water buffaloes.
And it was mine.
I’d worried about my choice of color. Seeing swatches at a Tesla store and playing with the color selector on the Tesla website, I’d specified the metallic green without ever seeing an actual car in that color.
Again, euphoria. The color was perfect: a dark, rich, British racing green with extra sparkle and luster.
After its state inspection, the car was loaded back onto its trailer for the brief drive to my house. I followed in the Volt.
The Tesla rep, an outgoing young fellow who’d given up a successful Broadway acting career to join the Tesla team, rolled it off the trailer and began the exhaustive briefing that every owner gets before the final handover.
2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland
That was when I learned two unexpected pieces of good news.
First, my car included electrically adjusted and heated seats, which I hadn’t known came with the leather interior option. Second, the car had Internet connectivity, despite the fact that I hadn’t ordered the optional high-tech package.
With built-in Slacker, that meant essentially any music, instantly. Eddie Cleanhead Vinson? Done.
This was turning into a very good day indeed.
My first solo spin was a five-minute drive to the local high school to pick up my daughter. She was impressed, but I’m not sure her friend noticed.
The second outing was to show off my Tesla to my buddy Chris, a fellow e-car enthusiast.
Pulling onto a local two-lane road with a 40-mph speed limit, I floored it briefly. We both giggled uncontrollably as the car shot silently ahead, touching 70 mph within three or four heartbeats before I quickly backed off.
2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland
Too late. I saw flashing red lights in the rear-view mirror.
Damnit. He must be after somebody else. I was only over the speed limit for a few seconds.
How could this be happening?
It was happening. A local town cop happened to be parked precisely where I began my acceleration run.
“Sorry, officer, I couldn’t resist,” I said. “I just got the car an hour ago…I had to see what she’d do.”
“Sir, do you know how fast you were going?”
“Maybe 60 or 70?”
“Seventy-two. In a 40-mph zone.”
He took my license and disappeared into the police cruiser for a very long time.
When he came back, he said sternly, “Sir, I’m going to cut you a break this time. But from now on, don’t use the public roads to test out your car.”
And he handed me back my license.
Yes, it was a very good day–hopefully the first of many with my Tesla Model S.
David Noland is a Tesla Model S owner and freelance writer who lives north of New York City.
By David Noland
Tesla isn’t ready to let journalists drive its new Model S, but it did give the media a chance to ride around the grounds of its Fremont, California, factory in beta prototypes of the all-electric luxury sedan with a company employee at the wheel. First impressions?
The Model S is a big car, 196 inches long, or almost exactly the same length as a Jaguar XF, to which it bears more than a passing resemblance. The Model S is significantly wider, though, at 77.3 inches compared to 73.9 for the Jag. Actually, that width is not only significantly wider than the Jag, but significantly wider than a Mercedes-Benz S-class and most anything else on the market that doesn’t have off-road pretensions. A flat floor helps create a sense of minivan-like openness, but the large cargo area—which, like a 1970s station wagon, can be fitted with two rear-facing kid-sized seats—intrudes somewhat on cabin space.
There’s no excess head- or legroom inside, mainly because the flat floor is rather high due to the massive battery tray that lies beneath. Taller rear passengers rub their scalps on the headliner, while the front passengers have to sit somewhat close to the dash to give those behind adequate knee clearance.
The Apple (Imposter) of My Eye
The Model S has the dashboard Apple would have designed, with just two visible physical buttons, for the hazard lights and to release the glove-box door. Every other function that isn’t handled by steering-column stalks, from climate to radio to navigation to cell-phone and internet connectivity, is concentrated in a huge touch-sensitive flat-panel display in the center of the dash. It’s as if the whole car is run off an iPad glued to the dash. A bank of four USB ports along the bottom allows you to plug in various devices for file sharing and recharging. The gauges are likewise virtual, with a central speedometer and a running graph indicating power consumption. We’re told that the display in the prototype is different from what will eventually appear in production cars. The final version will use a capacitive touch screen, the type of technology also found in the iPad, iPhone, and most similar smartphones.
The car we rode in was a Signature Series model, a loaded-up trim that will be applied to the first 1000 cars built. The Signature Series won’t be cheap: Company execs hint that it could cost as much as $20,000 more than the Model S’s advertised base price of $57,400. As such, it was painted in Signature Red and had a full Zuma White leather interior, with cowhide wrapping the dash and even the A- and B-pillars. Most important, this special introductory offer will include a stouter battery pack that almost doubles the range of the base car, increasing maximum travel distance from 160 miles to 300.
If the copious use of animal hide makes your inner environmentalist flinch, take comfort in the fact that cloth will be available, and the wood-like dash trim of the Signature Series actually is pressed banana leaf taken from the forest floor after it has already fallen. You can also spec piano-black or lacewood trim, the latter gray and mottled and, yes, made of trees.
The car uses a current Mercedes-Benz steering column only thinly disguised by a Tesla-branded wheel, so the park/drive/reverse selector stalk on the right and cruise and signal/wiper stalks on the left are very familiar. In motion, the 4150-pound car seems much lighter than it is, leaping quickly off the line as the 362-hp electric motor’s 306 lb-ft of torque are available from rest. Like most other electric cars, the Model S uses a single-speed gear-reduction transmission. Tesla pegs the 0-to-60-mph sprint at 5.6 seconds, the top speed at 130 mph.
The electric-assist steering rack seemed to respond eagerly to steering inputs, and there was hardly any body roll around the factory’s banked dog-bone test track. Our driver, development engineer Graham Sutherland, formerly of Lotus, claims that this is due to the concentration of mass in the center. The battery pack may weigh 600 pounds, but it lies at the bottom of the car, as does the motor. Sutherland figures that the center of gravity will be 16 to 16.5 inches high once final measurements are done. That figure is substantially lower than all but the lowest ground-sucking sports cars; the lowest CG height in our recent test of the best-handling cars for less than $40,000 was the Mazda Miata’s 19.0 inches.
Even with its suspension compressed in the banked turns, the Model S rode smoothly, soaking up the many fissures in the plant’s old and cracking pavement. Chief engineer Peter Rawlinson says the low center of gravity helps out here, too, allowing the Model S to run much thinner anti-roll bars than would be normal on a two-ton sports sedan. That helps reduce impact shock and ride harshness.
Feels Like a Keeper
Though it may be just a preproduction “beta,” the sample car had tight panel gaps and a quiet cabin free of squeaks or rattles. This is even more important than usual in an auditory environment that offers no engine rumble for cover, just the distant whine of the electric propulsion unit.
Despite being electric, the Model S looks like a conventional car, with a long hood capped by a blacked-out snout that gives the impression of a large radiator grille. In fact, just three small heat exchangers sit behind the front bumper; one is down low in the center for motor and battery coolant and one lies below each of the headlights for cabin cooling. A computer-controlled shutter system blocks off the radiator openings when they’re not needed.
Chief designer Franz von Holzhausen says the Model S has a conventional “face” and proportions—never mind that freakish width—to make customers who might be cross-shopping the car against a BMW or an Audi more comfortable with the Tesla. Once the brand is established, he hopes to push the design more to take advantage of the unconventional powertrain, and “expand the notion of what a car is supposed to look like.”
Similar to Traditional Luxury Cars, but Very Different
The hatchback Model S will have a range of luxury-car options when it debuts, including a sunroof, the leather interior, and an air suspension. Also, buyers will be able to select from three battery sizes. The battery on the base $57,400 Model S will provide a 160-mile range, while Tesla says a 230-mile range will be available for perhaps another $10,000 (a figure yet to be finalized and which may include other package extras). At the top of the line, a 300-mile range will cost perhaps $20,000 extra and open up the option of special aerodynamic wheels that stretch range to 320 miles.
While those are some big leaps in pricing, a 300-mile car, at about $77,000, undercuts the base price of the Tesla’s most direct competitor, the equally all-new $96,895 Fisker Karma, by almost $20,000. They’re different beasts—the Fisker, with a gas engine onboard to recharge the batteries, is conceptually more like a Chevrolet Volt—but both present an interesting and very attractive way to experience a possible future of transportation.
VEHICLE TYPE: rear-motor, rear-wheel-drive, 5- or 7-passenger, 5-door hatchback
ESTIMATED PRICE AS RIDDEN IN: $77,000 (base price: $57,400)
ENGINE TYPE: 3-phase AC induction electric motor
Power: 362 bhp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 306 lb-ft @ 0 rpm
TRANSMISSIONS: 1-speed gear-reduction
Wheelbase: 116.5 in
Length: 196.0 in
Width: 77.3 in Height: 56.5 in
Curb weight (C/D est): 4150 lb
PERFORMANCE (MFR’S EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 5.6 sec
Top speed: 130 mph
View Photo Gallery
Tesla got a lot of flack when it opened its showrooms inside of malls, turning the entire dealership and car buying process on its head. Though Tesla has been banned from such sales in a couple of states including Texas and perhaps soon in North Carolina, the idea has apparently inspired others, notably Rolls-Royce.
Rolls officially announced today that it has opened its first-ever boutique showroom in Bangkok, Thailand, of all places.
Just like the Tesla showrooms, customers can come in an experience the full Rolls-Royce experience from the comforts of a luxury shopping mall.
In the lounge, Rolls invites customers to take the time to customize their Rolls-Royce model, to feel the actual materials, and immerse themselves in the bespoke buying experience.
Rolls will even let buyers specify virtually every part of their car from the treadplate to the headrest. Rolls offers over 44,000 leather colors and will even install the wood from a buyer’s orchard, should they choose.
We sort of wonder why Rolls-Royce has chosen to mimic Tesla and why in Bangkok. Perhaps it was the easiest place to initiate such an ordering experience, as Tesla has had an uphill battle here in the States.
Frankly, we love the idea and wish all cars were sold this way. Do away with the triangular flags that encircle the multi-dozen-acre car lots staffed by nincompoops and their brothers. We’d much rather take the time to quietly spec our next car than be pushed into the first thing we see by a guy with a dead tooth and a chinstrap beard.
By Nick Jaynes