Archives for August 8th, 2013

Tesla Expanding Supercharger Network, Introducing Faster Charging Tech

Tesla Expanding Supercharger Network, Introducing Faster Charging Tech

With sales of the Tesla Model S exceeding expectations, the automaker has been busy increasing production of the electric sedan and paying back its Department of Energy loans nine years early. While the EV maker has built just under 10 Supercharger charging stations along major corridors in California and the East Coast, this week, Tesla announced a substantial increase in the number of planned Supercharger stations.

Tesla Supercharger station 1 300x167 imageBy the end of next month, the number of operational Supercharger stations will triple, and the company claims that within six months, there will be enough Superchargers to service most major metro areas in North America. A year from now, the company says, Superchargers will provide coverage to 80 percent of the population of North America and 98 percent a year later.

The automaker also announced that new technology will significantly cut charging times. While the chargers at 120 kW are in beta test mode (versus 90 kW currently), the faster chargers will be ready this summer. At 120 kW, Tesla claims it will only take 20 minutes to replenish three hours of driving in the Model S.

Some Tesla Supercharger stations have roof-mounted solar panels (from Musk-owned SolarCity) that are said to pump more electricity back into the grid than what is used to recharge cars. Since the Tesla Supercharger has a unique charger receptacle, the stations can’t charge other EVs. Currently, Model S cars with the 85 kW-hr batteries can recharge for free, while those with the 60 kW-hr model can do the same once they purchase Supercharger capability. Musk says all future Teslas will be capable of using the Superchargers.

So what’s next for Tesla? The company is still kicking around the idea of a sub-$40,000 electric sedan as well as a high-torque electric truck and a second production plant in Texas. Of course, those models would likely arrive after the Model X crossover goes on sale around late 2014 and early 2015.

Source: Tesla

By Jason Udy

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV: Test Drive Review

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV CAPTIONS ON | OFF

If we aren’t yet past the old narrative that all electric cars are cheap and tiny egg-shaped golf carts, one trip in the 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV should put that to bed.

The new generation of the RAV4 EV is one of the best examples yet of the viability of an electric future. It combines pleasing design, build quality, driving excitement, fuel economy and – here’s the kicker – utility like no other EV has. During a ride and drive event at the Los Angeles Auto Show, we had a chance to hop behind the wheel.

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV boasts a strong physique that doesn’t differentiate much from the standard, gas-burning RAV4, expect for a few details that make it appear leaner and cleaner to the eye. The RAV4 EV is sprinkled with LED running lights, tail and headlights that mix technology and luxury.

The green push button start brings the RAV4 EV to life with a soft tune and warm glow. Like most modern day electrics, it’s a breeze to drive at a level that is still somewhat surprising; it will take a while for the public to grow accustomed to silence on the road. Set off in Normal mode to maximize efficiency, or Sport mode to take advantage of all the instant torque under your right foot.

A lithium-ion battery system with 129 kW powers the AC induction motor, which boasts 154 horsepower and 218 lb.-ft of torque (273 in Sport mode). A 0.30 drag coefficient – downright amazing for an SUV – helps the RAV4 EV achieve an estimated 78/74 eMPG with a 103-mile electric range. But how does it drive? With a welcoming battery whine, off you go.

In motion, the 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV moves quickly and directly. Reporters talk about the way that electric cars “dart” and “zip” all the time, but you don’t much expect that from a five-seater SUV.

And yet, the steering is direct and light – the RAV4 EV reacts instantly to your commands and feels confident on its feet. There is none of the uneasiness of past electrics, and none of the clumsiness of a typical SUV. It feels light – not the steering, the actual car. In fact, the RAV4 EV tips the scales at 4,032 lbs., about 100 lbs. lighter than the standard RAV4, which is astounding considering the li-ion batteries alone weigh 845.5 lbs.

Engineers skewed the system by using the heavy batteries to give the RAV4 EV a low center of gravity, which accounts for its impressive balance. They didn’t save weight everywhere, though – the hood is pretty heavy, bolstered to protect the batteries in case of low speed collisions.

With a new Sport mode and clever weight distribution, the 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV not only deals with the reality of driving an electric car, it uses it to its advantage. If you want more style and range, spring for the Tesla Model S. If you want the most efficiency, check out the Honda Fit EV.

But if you need utility and still like to have fun, the RAV4 EV is an electric that isn’t just good for its owner – it’s good for the future of the EV industry.

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By Ryan ZumMallen

MT Then and Now: Tesla Roadster, Model S, Model X Prototype

MT Then and Now: Tesla Roadster, Model S, Model X Prototype

When Tesla Motors was founded in the early 2000s, many would never have guessed the company would last long enough to produce a car like the Model S. The first car to arrive was the Tesla Roadster, followed by the just-released Model S and, before long, the Model X. As we share the results of our exclusive range test of the Model S, WOT is taking a look back at the Tesla models we’ve driven and tested over the years.

Roadster

Based on the Lotus Elise chassis, the Tesla Roadster replaced the Toyota-sourced four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 248-hp AC motor that generated 211 lb-ft of torque at 0 rpm. Juice supplied by a 6831-cell lithium-ion battery pack powered the electric motor that sent power to the rear wheels via a two-speed dual-clutch transmission. We were impressed during our First Drive of the Tesla Roadster in 2008.

2008 Tesla Roadster cockpit 1 300x187 image“I’m almost grimacing as I release the brake and pound the accelerator to the floor. Whrrrrrrr…30 mph, 40 mph, 50…in the four seconds it’s taken to read this sentence, the Roadster has shrieked to 60 mph (Tesla’s claimed 3.9 seconds would seem entirely plausible in a controlled setting). There’s no wheelspin, axle tramp, shutter, jutter, smoke whiff, cowl shake, nothing. I’m being eerily teleported down the barrel of a rail gun, head pulled back by a hard, steady acceleration. Bizarre.”

During the following months, Tesla failed to deliver the first Roadsters on time and the car began to look like vaporware. After a long delay, deliveries began. The Roadster now used a one-speed transmission, which cured the ills that plagued the two-speed unit – that along with financial difficulties slowed development. Though horsepower remained the same, torque grew to 278 lb-ft of torque. The battery pack gave the Roadster a 227-mile range.

2010 Tesla Roadster Sport side static 300x187 image“Yeah, OK and driving it as intended, as a true sports car, ain’t great for range either. But boy does it lift the spirits. You know the drill: aluminum chassis, double wishbones, carbon fiber body, about 2750 pounds, excellent mass distribution and — oh joy! — unassisted rack and pinion steering. The Roadster delivers on the promises of its spec.”

In 2010, we finally tested a Tesla Roadster. Our tester came in Sport form, which bumped power to 288 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. “…its acceleration is breathtaking. Make that breath-extracting. At the track, we confirmed the car’s 3.7-second scream to 60 mph — but, that’s just a number. Three-point-seven — what’s that mean? Felt, it’s such an unnatural thrust that it actually brings to mind that hokey Star Trek star-smear of warp-speed. The quick, linear accumulation of velocity makes you smile and hold on, shake your head, and eventually learn to carve unimaginable moves through traffic that’s populated by completely flat-footed internal-combustion cars.”

2010 Tesla Roadster with 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder front view 300x187 imageWe compared that same Tesla Roadster against the 2011 Porsche Boxster S. In the end, we handed the win to the Boxster, but noted that “the Tesla is now a genuine car to reckon with on the world stage, despite its extraordinary price and limited range. Now if only it could better communicate its handling intentions.”

Model S

Unlike the Lotus-derived Roadster, the Model S four-door was fully developed by Tesla. The flat battery pack sits below the floor and the 306-hp electric motor powers the rear wheels. With no combustion engine or transmission to worry about, the design allows a small front trunk and a large rear hatch area. Optional rear-facing jump seats increase passenger seating to seven.

2012 Tesla Model S right frong motion during testing 300x187 image“The car’s acceleration — claimed to be 5.6 seconds to 60 mph — is a continuous press-the-seat-back surge that only a single-speed, big electric motor can provide. Interestingly, while the motor is quiet, its growly roar is a very different acoustic signature than the frenetic whine in the Roadster. Tesla claims that’s just how it sounds, and no acoustic modifications have been attempted. Bumps were nicely absorbed amid muted tire-impact noises, and the lateral grip seemed considerable for a car over 4000 pounds. That low battery location and compact powertrain are very helpful.”

Recently, we got another drive in the Model S. Horsepower has climbed since our first drive in the Model S, now at 362 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque while Performance versions make 416 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. Depending on the size of the battery pack, the Model S’ driving range is said to be 160, 230, and 300 miles, the last of which was EPA-rated at 265 miles. “I’d advocate for a bit more rear seat space, comfort, and lateral support, and of course more range for less money would be nice,” Frank Markus concluded after his stint in the car. “But the dynamic performance, equipment level, and style nearly justify the price — even if you don’t care about the electric drivetrain. I don’t. And I want one.”

2012 Tesla Model S cockpit and center screen 300x187 imageWe traveled 233.7 miles during a recent trip in a Tesla Model S from Los Angeles to San Diego and back before stopping to recharge when the onboard range meter said we would be 1.7 miles short of reaching the office. Despite that, we were impressed by the energy cost to make the journey, “During our drive, we used 78.2 kW-hrs of electricity (93 percent of the battery’s rated capacity). What does that mean? It’s the energy equivalent of 2.32 gasoline gallons, or 100.7 mpg-e before charging losses. That BMW 528i following us consumed 7.9 gallons of gas for a rate of 30.1 mpg. The Tesla’s electrical energy cost for the trip was $10.17; the BMW’s drive cost $34.55. The 528i emitted 152 lbs of CO2; the Model S, 52 — from the state’s power plants.”

In our latest real-world range test of the Model S, we drove the electric car from the edge of Los Angeles to Las Vegas, then back to our El Segundo office. After these tests – which used Musk’s personal car, we developed some conclusions about the Model S.

Tesla Model X left rear doors open 300x187 image“The take home message isn’t whether or not the Model S meets the EPA’s range rating of 265 miles. We’ve proven that it does and does not. The takeaway is that the Tesla Model S is not a real electric car, it’s a real car that just happens to be electric.”

Model X Prototype

If all goes well with the Model S, a production version of the Model X prototype — a three-row, seven-passenger SUV with gullwing style doors — is next from Tesla. Before volume delivery of that car begins in the 2014 calendar year, though, Tesla will depend on the sales of the Model S, a car that’s progressed quite a bit from the company’s beginnings with the Roadster.

By Jason Udy

Coolest cars of CES 2013

TVs, tablets, and smartphones might take center stage at CES, but cars put in a good shift, too. This year’s selection of sweet rides may have been rather tame when compared to years’ past, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t an eye-catching array of autos to feast upon. From Nvidia-powered Teslas to LADAR led Lexus, be sure and rifle through our gallery of the coolest cars from the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show.

By Amir Iliaifar

Tesla Model S Sales Exceed Expectations, Low-Range Model Axed

Tesla Model S Sales Exceed Expectations, Low-Range Model Axed

Tesla Motors announced today that it will report profitability for the first quarter, after sales of the Model S electric sedan exceeded expectations. Tesla has sold 4750 units of the car thus far, up from the 4500 units previously planned.

The announcement is good news for Tesla after a disappointing year in 2012, when the company lost almost $400 million. Last year, Tesla sold just 2650 units of the Model S while it ramped up production of the car.

Tesla Model S interior 300x187 image“There have been many car startups over the past several decades, but profitability is what makes a company real. Tesla is here to stay and keep fighting for the electric car revolution,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a statement.

The company also announced two changes to the model lineup. First, Tesla has killed the low-range, 40-kWh version of the Model S. Only four percent of customers asked for the smallest battery, making it financially difficult for Tesla to build that version. Customers will receive the next largest battery pack, with a capacity of 60 kWh, but the car’s software will keep range equivalent to that of the 40-kWh pack unless owners pay for an upgrade.

In addition, Tesla revealed what it calls an Easter egg in the new Model S. Although the hardware to use Tesla’s Supercharger fast-charging network was supposed to be optional, it has actually been included in all versions of the Model S. Customers can simply pay for a software update to “unlock” the function if they need to use the Supercharger network.

Source: Tesla Motors

By Jake Holmes

Tesla Hires New Engineering VP From Luxury Maker Aston Martin

Tesla owners & supporters gather in Statehouse in Austin to support company [photo: John Griswell]

Tesla owners & supporters gather in Statehouse in Austin to support company [photo: John Griswell]

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While CEO Elon Musk is doing another tweet-hyped conference call today, Tesla has a lot going on in the background.

Not only is it building and selling Model S electric luxury sport sedans, but Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has quietly hired a new vice president of vehicle engineering.

That new VP is Chris Porritt, whose previous job was chief platform manager for British luxury sports-car maker Aston Martin.

He led the development of the Aston Martin One-77 supercar in 2009, and is intimately familiar with developing fast, luxurious vehicles for wealthy, demanding customers.

Porritt’s appointment was first hinted at on Tuesday by British magazine Autocar, in an article on the likely departure of Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez, who has led the company since 2000.

Shanna Hendriks, Tesla’s communications manager, confirmed the news when contacted by Green Car Reports.

“Yes, Chris Porritt has joined us as VP of Vehicle Engineering,” she wrote in an e-mail.

“Chris is the first VP in that role,” she continued, “since Peter Rawlinson left” and returned to the U.K. to tend to personal matters in January 2012.

Until Porritt’s arrival, she said, “Jerome Guillen had been overseeing some of the Engineering responsibilities in the interim.”

Porritt will not be the first former Aston Martin executive involved with Tesla, however.

Chris Porritt

Chris Porritt

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The company contracted with noted designer Henrik Fisker to develop concepts for the large electric luxury sedan that became the 2012 Tesla Model S.

Fisker had styled the Aston Martin Vantage V8 before founding his own coachworks.

The Danish designer worked for several months during 2006 and 2007 on the large luxury sedan project, then co-founded his own startup: luxury green-car maker Fisker Automotive.

That company is largely defunct now, though it has not as yet declared bankruptcy.

Tesla sued Fisker in April 2008 for theft of confidential design information and trade secrets; the matter was settled that December when an arbitrator ruled largely in Fisker’s favor.

Let us hope Porritt has a considerably happier and less contentious tenure at Tesla.

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By John Voelcker

Tesla Sued Over New Mexico Model S Factory That Never Was

2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011

2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011

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Tesla Motors’ decision to purchase the former NUMMI automotive manufacturing facility in Fremont, California might have been one of its shrewdest business decisions to date. 

Not only did Tesla Motors [NASAQ:TSLA] obtain a pre-built facility –complete with the essential machinery it needed to build its 2012 Model S Sedan — at the heavily-discounted fire-sale price of $59 million, but it helped offer skilled jobs to those who had previously been made redundant when the factory closed under General Motors’ bankruptcy

But now a developer in New Mexico, where Tesla had originally planned to build a factory, is suing the electric automaker for picking California over New Mexico.

According to Gigaom, the claimant in the case, Rio Real Estate Investment Opportunities, filed a law suit back in May against Tesla for fraud, breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation and negotiating in bad faith.

The developer claims it entered into a binding development agreement with Tesla in February 2007 to build a new factory in New Mexico that Tesla would then lease from it for $1.35 million a year for ten years, plus a 2 percent annual increase. 

In early 2008, the deal became public when New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson publicly announced Tesla had chosen the Cactus State as the home of Model S manufacturing. 

NUMMI plant in Fremont, California

NUMMI plant in Fremont, California

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Less than six months later however, the then-Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger leaked the news that Tesla had decided to build the Model S in California, scuppering New Mexico’s hopes of being home to Tesla.

In the official court filing with the New Mexico State Court, Rio Real Estate Investment Opportunities claims it spent money on creating environmental reports, obtaining relevant government permits, and drawing up engineering designs for the site as a consequence of signing the 2007 contract with Tesla.

When Tesla changed its mind about where to site its Model S factory, Rio Real Estate Investment Opportunities said it suffered financially. 

Tesla Motors does not comment on pending litigation, as it has consistently told reporters.

At the moment, Tesla has mad no official statement concerning the case, other than to deny the allegations. 

It has also sought to move the trail from New Mexico State Court to Federal Court. 

The first hearing is on September 18, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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By Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield