Archives for August 9th, 2013

Electric-Car Maker Tesla Gains In Brand Awareness

2012 Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S

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If you’re reading this, you probably already know a little bit about Tesla.

Brainchild of entrepreneur Elon Musk, producer of electric vehicles, and upstart in the automotive market, Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has been one of the highest-profile new brands of recent years.

That high profile has done more than put the company on the automotive landscape–it’s also made an impact in American homes. Tesla has now crept onto the top ten list for brand perception, as ranked by Consumer Reports.

The survey of more than two thousand Americans records their perception of automotive brands, in terms of quality, safety, performance, design and other factors.

Topping this year’s list is Toyota, followed by Ford, Honda, Chevrolet and Mercedes-Benz.

But ranked at number 10 is Tesla, whose score has risen since last year, no doubt thanks to the Model S sedan, which has already received several awards over the past 12 months.

Other brands in the top 10 include Volvo, Cadillac, BMW and another new top-10 entrant, Dodge–so Tesla is in good company.

At the other end of the scale, Toyota’s youthful brand Scion ranks lowest, with small-car makers Fiat and MINI also scoring poorly–as do luxury brands and potential Tesla rivals Land Rover, Jaguar and Porsche.

Each category used to determine the position of each brand is ranked by importance by those surveyed. Quality, safety and value are all most important.

While green concerns are still a factor, it ranks lowest of all other buying decisions for those surveyed. Given that technology and innovation are just above this, it perhaps makes Tesla’s achievement all the more impressive–since it will have scored highly on less green-orientated factors, too. Toyota, Smart and Tesla all scored well on green image.

Consumer Reports suggests that brands such as Smart and Tesla must continue to work hard on building their reputation, despite being up against much larger companies.

Whether Smart can do that remains to be seen with a new Fortwo on the way, but Tesla could be very interesting to watch–will 2014 see it dip back out of the top ten, or will it have risen even higher?

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By Antony Ingram

Behold the depressingly unreal Tesla Model ST wagon

Tesla Model ST

We’ll break it to you quickly: these renderings aren’t of a soon-to-be new Tesla Model S variant. No, instead they’re simply the imaginative drawings of what the geniuses at Theophilus Chin visualize a Tesla wagon might look like.

If you’re anything like us – and since you’re reading this, we’ll assume you are – you, too, feel this is too beautiful a vehicle not to be rushed into production.

Looking a bit like combination of a Saab 9-5 wagon and a Acura TSX Sport Wagon, the rendering is so precise, one might mistake it for something stolen from the Tesla design studios.

Tesla Model ST back

Tesla does have plans for a Model X, which will be a bigger, more crossover-type vehicle with all-wheel drive. Tesla is currently taking reservations for the Model X – complete with falcon wing doors – at showrooms now but deliveries won’t begin until 2014.

Tesla Model X

Sure, we could pose the question as to why Tesla plans to sell a crossover and not a wagon, but we already know the answer: Wagons don’t sell in the US. For years now Americans have opted for either sedans or sedan-based crossover vehicles, which are essentially taller, more bulbous – and arguably much more ugly – wagons. Even Volvo, who was made famous by its wagons, has virtually discontinued the breed Stateside, while expanding its wagon offerings around the globe.

Europe, however, has a different wagon history. It would stand to reason that a Tesla ST (standing for “Sport Touring”) would do quite well in the EU.

Perhaps with enough positive buzz,  Tesla will consider at least a limited run of the Model ST. We realize, though, it’ll probably only be sold in Europe and we American wagon fans will be left drooling from across the pond.

By Nick Jaynes

Tesla's worst-case scenario

Tesla-Roadster-Top-Gear-lawsuit

As electric cars become more popular, we are learning more about what it is like to actually live with them. According to theunderstatement, at least five Tesla owners experienced a major issue: after their car’s batteries were completely emptied, the cars became immobile “bricks” that could not be started or even moved.

If the charge in a Tesla’s lithium-ion batteries is fully depleted, the batteries are essentially destroyed. They can no longer hold a charge and, in the five documented cases, there was no power available to tell the motor to engage Tow Mode. Without the Two Mode, the motor stays engaged with the driveshaft (like a gasoline-powered engine when left in gear), making it impossible for the the car to roll freely, hence the “brick” scenario.

Unlike the Nissan Leaf, which shuts down completely before the battery is fully drained, Tesla Roadsters’ secondary systems stay on regardless of the battery’s state of charge.

According to the Tesla Roadster owner’s manual, the car takes 11 weeks to fully drain its battery after being fully charged. One owner left his car unplugged while his house was being renovated; it only lasted six weeks because he had driven the Roadster before putting it into storage.

Other owners did plug their cars in, but the power source was not able to keep the batteries charged. One used a 100-foot extension cord, which apparently reduced the amount of electricity flowing into the car’s batteries. Another owner, in Japan, plugged his car in only to realize that the voltages were incompatible.

Tesla is looking to expand its customer base with the Model S sedan and Model X crossover, both of which use lithium-ion batteries. Tesla claims the Model S can be parked unplugged for long periods of time without losing its charge, saying that “Model S owners can park at the airport for extended vacations without plugging in.” The Roadster loses fifty percent of its charge after seven days.

The “brick” scenario is not covered under Tesla’s warranty; the only remedy is to pay roughly $40,000 to replace the battery pack. According to theunderstatement, the Roadster owner’s manual does not include a statement about fully depleted battery packs needing to be replaced.

Tesla is aware of the problem, telling Jalopnik that emptying an electric car’s batteries is like driving a gasoline-powered car without changing the oil. In other words, it’s a maintenance issue, not a warranty issue. The company also claimed that “Tesla batteries can remain unplugged for weeks (even months) without reaching zero state of charge.”

In the same statement, the company claimed that it “avoids this problem in virtually all instances with numerous counter-measures.” Customers who bought the Roadster 2.0 can have the car alert Tesla when the battery is running low; the feature was not available on earlier models. Tesla also said that “all Tesla vehicles emit various visual and audible warnings if the battery pack falls below five percent SOC,” and that “Tesla provides extensive maintenance recommendations as part of the customer experience.”

Drivers of gasoline-powered cars never have to worry about their vehicles becoming unusable if they run out of gas, but they do have to fill them with fluids. Whether Tesla or its customers are at fault, the “brick” scenario shows that electric cars are still cars, and that they require their own unique form of maintenance.

By Stephen Edelstein

Tesla Model S Owners Crowdsource Trip To Counter NY Times Report

2013 Tesla Model S before DC-to-Boston road trip, Feb 2013 [photo: Aaron Schildkraut]

2013 Tesla Model S before DC-to-Boston road trip, Feb 2013 [photo: Aaron Schildkraut]

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It’s been a week of Tesla Model S hullabaloo, centered around last Sunday’s critical New York Times road test, Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway.

Now a set of defiant Tesla Model S owners are setting out to prove Times reporter John Broder wrong.

They will replicate his trip from Maryland to Connecticut, fully recharging their electric luxury sport sedans to show that the cars are quite capable of making the trip he couldn’t.

Three cars will set off at about 11 am tomorrow from the Tesla Service Center in Rockville, Maryland.

Two hours later, they’ll arrive at the Delaware SuperCharger site and connect with three additional Model S drivers, setting off fully charged by 3 pm or so.

They’ll stop again at the Milford, Connecticut, SuperCharger and recharge their cars to full.

Three drivers will even stay at a hotel in Groton, Connecticut, just as Broder did–returning the next morning to the MIlford SuperCharger to recharge once again.

After that, all the drivers will head home.

“We are trying to replicate the trip as closely as possible,” said driver Aaron Schildkraut, “but showing that with proper full charges (and even not plugging in overnight at the hotel) that the trip can be made.”

The owners have asked Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] for access to their cars’ data logs afterward, to provide the same level of detail that Tesla offered in Musk’s rebuttal post, A Most Peculiar Test Drive.

A Twitter account, TeslaRoadTrip, has already been set up so that team members can post regular updates during the weekend. Perhaps Tesla’s tweet-happy CEO, Elon Musk, will RT some of their updates.

The plans stemmed from various discussions on the Tesla Motors Club forum. The plan to crowdsource drives that will ostensibly disprove Broder’s reporting grew over just a few days.

We’ll bring you more details on Monday about how the trip played out.

Meanwhile, for more details on the spat, read our full account of the discrepancies between the Times and Tesla accounts as of yesterday morning.

What do you think? Will the Model S owners make it?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

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By John Voelcker

Just as we predicted, Tesla Model S wins 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year award

Tesla Model S

After picking up Automobile Magazine’s 2013 Car of the Year award, we predicted lat last week  Tesla Motors and its ambitious EV, the Model S, would invariably snatch up Motor Trend’s 2013 Car of the Year Award. And it would appear that the stars don’t lie, as the Model S has indeed been handed the coveted award, marking what is undoubtedly an exciting and significant day for electric vehicle enthusiasts and no doubt the folks over at Tesla.

For a quick recap, and for those living under a rock, the Tesla Model S is a luxury sports sedan built from the ground up by Tesla Motors, which is spearheaded by PayPal co-founder and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, and marks the first time a vehicle not powered by an internal combustion engine has won Car of the Year since the award’s inception 64 years ago.

In addition to the Model S’ electric motor, Motor Trend cited the vehicles impressive design both exterior and interior, superb handling, and outstanding performance. The California-based automotive startup managed to beat out a host of other established vehicles from the likes of BMW (3 Series), Acura (ILX), two offerings from Cadillac (ATS and XTS), Dodge (Dart), and another pure EV in the form of the Coda Sedan. Other notable contenders included the Scion/Subaru (FRS/BRZ) as well as other green vehicles like the Toyota Prius C and Ford C-Max hybrid.

By Amir Iliaifar

Meet the anti-Tesla: Terra Motors’ electric 'tuk-tuk' trike has big-name backers

Terra Motors tuk-tuk

There appears to be an ever-growing push to go ‘green’ in the emerging Asian auto markets. The latest vehicle to meet the demand is from the Terra Motors startup out of Japan. It has put together what it calls the electric tuk-tuk, which is an all-electric three-wheeled vehicle, which will be primarily used as a taxi (or “tuk tuk,” pronounced “took took”). 

First offered in the Philippines, the all-electric trike will cost around $6,300, which is far more than the $1,500 gasoline versions currently on the market.

Capable of a 31-mile range on a two-hour charge, according to a TechCrunch report, the electric tuk-tuk is estimated to save owners $5 in gas per day, which might just make up for its recharge time inconvenience.

The EV trike looks much more futuristic than its gasoline competitors but is just as versatile. At three meters long, the electric tuk-tuk can seat up to six passengers.

By 2016, Terra Motors hopes to replace as many as 100,000 gasoline-powered tuk-tuks on the streets of Asia. Looking at the Terra Motors investor list inspires enough confidence to believe the fledgling company just might have what it takes to succeed. Former executives of Apple Japan, Google Japan, Sony, and Compaq have all invested in the Japanese EV venture.

Dutch and Chinese companies have already produced similar offerings but none is as ambitious as the Terra creation.

If Filipino taxi drivers plan their day correctly, the electric tuk-tuk could save them money and also afford them a nice two-hour lunch. When you break the benefits like that, it makes us re-think our career paths.

By Nick Jaynes