Archives for August 17th, 2013

2012 Tesla Model S: Consumer Reports Joins Chorus Of Praise (Unofficially)

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It isn’t easy to impress Consumer Reports.

Fisker Automotive knows this better than most, after its Karma range-extended sedan was savaged by the magazine earlier this year.

In contrast, the 2012 Tesla Model S looks to have gone down rather well, CR describing it as “a revelation”.

High praise indeed, and it’s sure to join Motor Trend‘s ‘Car of the Year’ verdict on a list of things Tesla should be proud of.

2012 Tesla Model S: First Drive

In their test of the model, Consumer Reports describes the Model S as “the electric car that shatters every myth”–adding that range anxiety is effectively “gone” thanks to the 265-mile range.

The quick charging times, vivid performance and interior room also got plenty of praise. Only a lack of interior storage space, and the flashy but occasionally impractical door handles came in for criticism.

Of course, this test is only a brief look at the Model S, and the magazine’s normal practice is to buy a model itself–just like it did with the Fisker Karma.

Only then will we know CR‘s full verdict on the car–but we’d be surprised if it’s anything less than similarly-praised after longer exposure.


By Antony Ingram

A Lamborghini with a Flaming Exhaust Never Gets Old

Lamborghini has released the second facelift for the Gallardo at last year’s Paris Motor Show. Despite not even getting close to the first one in terms of complexity, this still brings new aprons that change the aspect of the car.

Thus, owners of the first Gallardos may be concerned that their supercars don’t looks as fresh as they used to. Well, we’ve got an idea for you – a Gallardo with a flaming exhaust never gets old!

Gift your V10 Lambo with a custom exhaust that shoots flames and you’ll be safe.

Photo via: Michael Eastway on Flickr

By Andrei Tutu

2012 Tesla Model S: Will Winter Weather Ruin Its Range?

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

HI-RES GALLERY: 2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The first two 2012 Tesla Model S all-electric sport sedans to roll off the Tesla production line last month were shipped to Chicago, where they’re presumably now tooling around in the Midwest’s record-setting summer heat.

But how will the cars’ impressive EPA range of 268 miles hold up six months from now, when the Windy City turns bitterly cold?

For now, Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] isn’t answering that question.  A company spokesperson told us that “we’re not yet fully ready to discuss” the car’s range in seriously cold weather.

Tesla’s range-calculator program  (available at its retail stores, but not yet on its website) offers some hints–but it only goes down to a temperature of 32 degrees. That’s fine for the lucky folks in California, but for many of us, 32 degrees in January would be a heat wave.

For a variety of reasons, electric cars suffer a significant loss of range in cold weather. When the temperature hits the teens, my Chevy Volt’s summer range of 40-plus miles drops to about 25 miles–a loss of 40 percent. Nissan Leaf owners report similar numbers.

Will the Model S suffer the same fate, or does Tesla know something that Nissan and Chevy don’t?

For me, that’s not just an academic question. I’m Model S owner number P 717, hoping to take delivery late this year.

I’m currently debating between the basic 40-kWh battery pack (good for 160 miles) and the $10,000-more-expensive 60-kWh battery, good for 230 miles. Those range estimates are both Tesla numbers; the official EPA ratings for range on those two battery-pack capacities have yet to be announced.

My minimum travel requirement is to New York City and back without recharging, which is about 120 miles. At  first, I assumed the 160-mile battery would be enough.

But after living through a winter with the Volt, I’m not so sure.  If the Model S suffers the same 40-percent loss as the Volt, I’m looking at a cold-weather range of 100 miles–which would leave me stranded somewhere on the Palisades Parkway in New Jersey or lower New York state.

So the $10,000 question becomes: In seriously cold weather, will the 2012 Tesla Model S suffer range losses similar to those of the Volt and Leaf?

A few months ago, Elon Musk assured me in a personal e-mail that “we are probably closer to a 20-percent drop than a 40-percent drop.”  (Pretty cool that the CEO will respond in two hours to a customer query out of the blue.)

A blog on Tesla’s website by Musk and company CTO J.B. Straubel says that under “very cold” conditions, range at 55 mph may be reduced by 10 to 15 percent.

Tesla’s Model S range calculator, which I tried out in the Tesla store in White Plains, New York, predicts a loss of  about 8 percent at 50 degrees and 15 percent at 32 degrees. But that’s as low as it goes.

2012 Tesla Model S display screen [Photo: Flickr user jurvetson]

2012 Tesla Model S display screen [Photo: Flickr user jurvetson]

Enlarge Photo

If we extrapolate that curve (actually, it’s a straight line) down to 17 degrees, we get a range loss of 21 percent–only about half that of the Volt. Take the curve down to 0 degrees, and we have a 27 percent loss–giving a range of about 118 miles on the 40-kWh, “160-mile” battery. 

But how accurate is that extrapolation?  I’d rather make my $10,000 decision on the basis of real-world testing and experience. And at the moment, almost none of that is publicly available.

According to Tesla’s range calculator, cabin heating causes most of the Model S range loss in cold weather. At 55 mph, the model I’m considering has a range of 170 miles at the ideal 70 degrees.

When the temperature drops to freezing, that range goes down to 145 miles. But if you’re willing to  turn off the heater, range jumps back up to 162 miles.

So what do you think? Should I pony up the extra $10,000 for the bigger battery? Or just bundle up for my winter trips to New York City? Or, maybe just burn some gasoline in the Volt?

Leave me your thoughts in the Comments below.

David Noland is a Tesla Model S reservation holder and freelance writer who lives north of New York City. This is his first article for High Gear Media.


By David Noland

The Seven Best Post-Turkey Cars This Thanksgiving

2013 Lexus LS460 CAPTIONS ON | OFF

Whether you plan on passing out in the passenger seat, or just want a comfortable ride after loading up on stuffing, these are the new cars you’ll want for the long ride home this Thanksgiving.


Lexus LS460

Some automakers offer cars with a quiet, smooth ride. And then some hollow out their wheels with “air holes” to decrease road noise. When we drove the 2013 Lexus LS460 this Fall, it became clear we were riding in something ahead of its pillow-soft time. It’s no surprise that a Lexus makes this list, but with more noise prevention than ever before, the LS460 is an easy choice here.


Buick LaCrosse

With the optional four-cylinder engine and eAssist hybrid, the 2013 Buick LaCrosse is one of the most quiet and smooth large sedans on the market today. Its triple door seals, acoustical laminated glass and giant 111.7-inch wheelbase combine to make the 2013 LaCrosse a floating sleep vessel – especially once the tryptophan takes hold.


Tesla Model S

What you know: The electric motors in the 2013 Tesla Model S create almost zero interior noise. What you don’t know: The top-quality fit and finish in the 2013 Model S is the best ever for an EV. Combine a silent powertrain with air-spring suspension and you’ve got the perfect car for a nap on the way home.


Ford Edge

Ford engineers designed a veritable obstacle course for noise to reach the passengers inside the 2013 Edge. Re-shaped mirrors and a new rear spoiler help the Edge cut through the air, while new sound-deadening foam in the fenders and roof pillars keep you drifting off to La-La Land without being interrupted by engine noise. Go the extra mile by opting for the 2.0L four-cylinder EcoBoost engine.


Jeep Grand Cherokee

Thanksgiving is about family, and there’s nothing more familial than the Pentastar engine across the Chrysler lineup. In the 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the 3.6L V6 Pentastar turns an off-road performance specialist into a docile luxury sedan shaped like an SUV. Smooth delivery across the powerband will have you thinking about next Thanksgiving, not your newfound girth.


Kia Sorento

Unlike you, the 2013 Kia Sorento is lighter today than it was yesterday. A new, lightweight unibody structure keeps the Sorento moving firmly and smoothly across the road from Nana’s house. Newly designed suspension is comfortable under cruising and the four-cylinder engine is quiet enough to let you fall under the spell of the iPod jack in peace.


Lamborghini Aventador

Didn’t see this one coming, did you? In the Ultra-Hypercar Smooth Ride category, the Aventador stands alone as the one track star that can get you home without rattling your stuffed insides. The reason is cylinder deactivation, which shuts down six of the twelve cylinders when running under 84 mph. The new system saves fuel, which is all well and great, but it’ll also reduce the engine roar from Mufasa to Simba levels. Worst comes to worst, dial up all 700 horsepower and your long ride should pass in no time at all.


Visit theautoMedia.comBuick Research Centerfor quick access to reviews, pricing, photos, mpg and more. Make sure to followautoMedia.comonTwitterandFacebook.


By Ryan ZumMallen

Tesla Releases New Photos of Model S Sedan as Production Nears

Tesla Releases New Photos of Model S Sedan as Production Nears

Although initially slated to go on sale this year, the Tesla Model S seems to be inching closer to production. The electric car maker has just released new pictures of its Model S Alpha pre-production test vehicle, and, at least on styling alone, it looks ready to take on the competition in the midsize luxury market.

Looking similar to the silver Alpha test car Tesla showed us a while back, this sinewy black model sharpens its sheetmetal with sleek headlamps, chrome detailing, and smoked taillights. Compared to the original concept car we first saw back in early 2009, the latest rendition of the Model S has exchanged many of its rounded edges for taught creases and a more aggressive front clip. More traditional air inlets on the lower front fascia, wheels that look production-ready, and squarer side mirrors help to better bring into focus what the final car will look like.

The Model S won’t go on sale until late next year, starting at $57,000 before a $7500 federal tax credit. That is for the 160-mile range battery pack – a 230-mile pack will run buyers $67,000, and the 300-mile range Model S will start at a cool $77,000. The first cars to roll off of the Freemont, California assembly line will all be limited-edition Model S Signature versions with the 300-mile range pack, each of which required a $40,000 refundable deposit from prospective customers; all other Model S versions require $5000 down to save a spot. As of May 2009, Tesla already had over 1000 orders for the car.

According to Tesla’s website, the second phase of the testing for the Model S — called Beta — will begin this fall with will be production-intent vehicles built at the factory, and full series production will begin in the middle of 2012.

Source: Tesla

By Donny Nordlicht

Is Tesla the next Apple?

tesla model s electric car

The only moment in last Wednesday’s presidential debate that grabbed my attention was when Mitt Romney called Tesla a loser, and implied that the government’s $450 million loan to the automaker was the worst government investment since the days of $11,000 toilet seats.

Romney’s remarks come as Tesla is rolling out its Model S, a car that Dan Neil described in the Wall Street Journal this way, “This Tesla Model S thing you’ve heard so much about? You know, all-electric sedan, Silicon Valley, that guy from SpaceX? This is one amazing car. I mean, hard-core amazing. But first and foremost, gentle reader, it goes like the very stink of hell.”

Heck, that’s never going to catch on.

Kim Reynolds, writing in Motor Trend, observed, “There just might be a revenge of the electric car after all, courtesy of the only major electric car builder producing EVs without being forced to: Tesla.”

Reynolds’ review ended this way, “Tesla — like Apple in the electronic device realm — is the sort of ambitious and fearlessly innovative company this country needs a thousand more of.”

That’s what I was thinking just after Romney dumped on Tesla. If I had to name the next Apple, the next company capable of utterly redefining the customer experience, it would be Tesla.

This potential is all the more remarkable when you consider that the car industry has been around for more than a century. It is an industry that almost by necessity moves slowly and that demands huge amounts of capital. Quick — name the last truly revolutionary car.

The electric Model S has no engine. None. The Signature Performance version can go from zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds. (Competing electrics like Ford’s Focus EV are more like 9 seconds.) The entire car is built on top a giant battery that stretches the length and width of the car, giving it an unprecedented 300-mile range between charges. Nissan’s frugal Leaf, by comparison, is lucky to make it 138 miles under perfect circumstances.

On nearly every important metric, the Model S not only leads, it laps the competition. This graph from Motor Trend puts it into perspective.

electric car graph

Each measurement corner of the graph represents a metric, such as range or acceleration. The closer to the outer edges, the better. The Model S stats are in dark blue, at the outer edges of the chart. No other electric car comes close.

tesla s model electric car 17 inch screen

To top it all off, the car comes with a 17-inch touchscreen. Anton Wahlman, writing for The Street, put it this way. “Forget all other cars you’ve experienced to date — this 17-inch screen feels like a 100-year jump in automotive technology.”

The last time I saw as many positive reviews as the Model S has received was, well, when Apple released a new phone.

This might be a good time for a reality check. The Model S is expensive, with a base price of $49,900 that leaps upwards when you increase power and range. Tesla expects to deliver just 3,225 of these cars this year. The firm isn’t going to be mass market anytime soon.

But that’s the path Apple followed, too. Its products have long been more expensive than the competition’s. When the Apple Lisa launched in 1983, it sold for $9,995. In 1983 dollars. Of course, it was also the first personal computer to offer a graphical user interface, a quantum leap forward in design that we’re still using today.

When Apple started to open retail stores, lots of people — myself included — wondered how the hell Apple could hope to use so much floor space when all they sold was a few digital devices. Last week I walked through an Apple store near Hartford, CT and it was jammed. This is no surprise; Apple stores are always jammed.

tesla store electric carsGuess what? Tesla isn’t opening traditional parking lot-style auto dealerships. Instead it’s opening sleek retail stores that bring to mind, yep, Apple.

Justin Hyde, the first journalist to test-drive a Model S, observed that the “last successful American startup automaker was Chrysler, founded 87 years ago. Every genius, huckster, and combination thereof who’s tried since has been ground into a fine powder by massive up-front costs combined with meager profits and ruthless competition.”

Tesla has already beat them all. It’s a far smarter company than most, and I’d gladly bet on them. Now if I can only convince my wife to let me sell our SUV and minivan…

Bruce Kasanoff is a speaker, author and innovation strategist who tracks sensor-driven innovation at Sense of the Future. Kasanoff and co-author Michael Hinshaw teamed up to explore more of the opportunities unearthed by disruptive forces in Smart Customers, Stupid Companies.

By Bruce Kasanoff

UPDATED: Tesla Motors Q1 Earnings: What To Look For (Video)

Elon Musk Speaks

Elon Musk Speaks

Within the next hour, Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] will release its first-quarter financial results.

We already know the company will be profitable, and that it sold “more than 4,750″ Model S electric luxury sport sedans from January through March.

CEO Elon Musk has also said that Tesla is targeting a 25-percent gross margin on sales by the end of the year.

But here are some other things to look for:

  • Per-share profit: The consensus number on the Street is $0.04 [ACTUAL EARNINGS PER SHARE: $0.12]
  • Revenue: Expectations are that this will come in at about $500 million [ACTUAL REVENUE: $562 million]
  • Reservations: How much did the total number of U.S. reservations for Tesla cars fall?
  • Europe: As the company prepares to start selling in multiple European countries, how many reservations has it booked from there so far?
  • Revenue sources: Did Tesla break even on building and selling cars? Or was it profitable only because of two other sources of income: making electric powertrains for other car companies, and selling zero-emission vehicle credits?

We were asked to come on CNBC today to discuss the company before its earning call at 5 pm today.

The first couple of minutes of the video below shows CNBC automotive correspondent Phil LeBeau discussing some of the financials.

Then your faithful correspondent appears at the 1:44 mark, to talk more broadly about the challenges Tesla faces and what it’s accomplished to date.

Meanwhile, if you’re a Tesla Motors fan–and we know many of you are–stay tuned to the news tickers after the market closes today.


By John Voelcker

2014 Tesla Model X Vs. 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV: Electric SUV Showdown?

2014 Tesla Model X all-electric crossover with 'Falcon Doors' open

2014 Tesla Model X all-electric crossover with ‘Falcon Doors’ open

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The 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV is unique, the only all-electric compact sport-utility vehicle sold by a major automaker in the U.S.

Behind the wheel, its Tesla-developed powertrain makes it peppy but quiet, while it maintains all the cargo and people space of the original gasoline version.

There’s really only one vehicle that’s even close to comparable, and that doesn’t exist yet: the 2014 Tesla Model X all-electric crossover, of which prototypes were unveiled in February.

Comparing a real car to a hypothetical one is an exercise in speculation.

But spurred on by a review on that suggests buyers view the Toyota RAV4 EV as a Tesla for half the price, we decided to do it anyway.

SIZE:The 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV is a compact crossover, in the popular segment that includes the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and Nissan Rogue. The 2014 Tesla Model X, on the other hand, is a segment larger, competing with the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and undoubtedly pricier and more luxurious import-brand SUVs like the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Range Rover, and Mercedes-Benz GL. Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] says the Model X has the dimensions of the Audi Q7 but 40 percent more interior space.

SEATING: The RAV4 EV seats four comfortably, five in a pinch. The electric Tesla sport utility, on the other hand, will offer seven seats (as does the Model S sedan with its optional jump seats, though the last two are only child-sized).

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

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WEIGHT: The electric RAV4 weighs 4,030 pounds, while no weight has been given for the Model X. Since it’s larger, we’d expect it to be rather heavier than the Model S sedan on which it’s based, which comes in at 4,650 pounds for the 40-kWh version.

BATTERY SIZE: The RAV4 EV has 41.8 kilowatt-hours of usable pack capacity, though oddly Toyota won’t give the total pack size. The Model X will offer 60-kWh and 85-kWh options, though unlike the Model S sedan, it won’t have a 40-kWh version.

POWER: The Toyota RAV4 EV uses the same electric motor as the Tesla Model S sedan, but its power is limited to 115 kilowatts (154 horsepower) by the battery pack output.The Tesla Model X will likely use the Model S motor–with peak power of 270 kW (362 hp)–in the standard version, and two electric motors (one per axle) of unspecified power for the all-wheel drive model. Tesla says there will be a Model X Performance edition as well.

DRIVE WHEELS: Toyota’s electric RAV4 is offered only in front-wheel drive, although Toyota’s program leader Sheldon Brown said that at least one all-wheel drive prototype was built, adding a second motor at the rear to complement the existing one up front. The Model X will be offered with rear-wheel drive standard, plus an optional all-wheel drive version that adds a second motor for the front wheels.

VOLUME: Toyota will build only 2,600 RAV4 EVs for the 2012 through 2014 model years. Tesla has said it could sell 10,000 to 15,000 Model X crossovers a year once full production levels are reached.

Tesla Model X

Tesla Model X

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PRICE: The list price of the 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV is $49,800, with a $2,500 California purchase rebate, and buyers may qualify for a $7,500 Federal tax credit. No price has been announced for the 2014 Model X, but Tesla says prices will be “comparable” to the base prices of the Model S sedans with equivalent battery packs–which are presently $67,400 and $77,400.

In the end, we think we agree with writer Anton Wahlman, who suggests that (California) buyers who are eager to drive a Tesla as soon as possible consider the less glamorous, far less sexy RAV4 EV for its powertrain and electric performance.

He also suggests that it would be the perfect complement for the Model S owner who doesn’t want to wait two years for a Model X.

Ah, if only we lived in THAT world ….


By John Voelcker

2012 Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S Front On Road

2012 Tesla Model S Front Three Quarter 1

2012 Tesla Model S Rear Three Quarter 1

2012 Tesla Model S Interior

See All 22 Photos

2012 Tesla Model S Front Three Quarter 1

As clean-sheet designs go, this one was penned on a bleached Pantone 9010 Pure White satin king-size. It’s Silicon-Valley fresh — no precedents or paradigms to shift and the air is filled with fresh thinking. Elon Musk’s goal in founding Tesla here in 2003 was to hasten the transition to affordable carbon-free transportation. His foundling company learned to crawl and walk first, bolting electric drivetrains into some 2250 Lotus Elise rolling chassis, and now with the 2012 Tesla Model S, the pace is picking up to a healthy saunter, leading up to next year’s production “run” of 20,000 cars. Musk’s goal for the Model S? “To be the best car in the world and to show that an electric car can be the best car in the world.”

2012 Tesla Model S Rear Three Quarter 1

You’re probably snorting and rolling your eyes at the hubris of a guy who daisy-chained a bunch of laptop batteries together to make a Lotus run silently, but trust me — after a walk through the factory, a visit to a dealer showroom, and an hour-and-a-half spent driving the car on a mix of roads, my eyes are wide and my jaw has dropped. Remember, Musk’s Space-X operation just launched a commercial rocket that successfully docked with the international space station. Don’t underestimate his determination, or his ability to lure talent. Examples? In the chassis department, Huibert Mees did the Ford GT’s suspension and Graham Sutherland spent 23 years tuning Lotuses. Manufacturing boss Gilbert Passin ran Toyota’s North American manufacturing engineering operations, and sales veep George Blankenship designed the Apple Stores.

2012 Tesla Model S Interior

2012 Tesla Model S Rear Trunk Seats

2012 Tesla Model S Front Trunk

This team has conceived a different kind of car, one that has more than 250 patents issued for it already with more pending. It’s a hatchback sedan with an optional ($1500) third-row of child seats, that can still accommodate 8.1 cubic feet of luggage under its “hood”– a difficult task for many three-row SUVs, but not for an EV with a 4-inch-thick battery pack under the floor and an its electric motor tucked between the rear wheels. There’s no engine-start button — climb aboard with the key and it’s ready to go; walk away and it powers down and locks up. There’s no parking brake handle or switch, it just automatically engages when you select park. A gigantic vertical touch screen uses Navigon/GoogleMaps with a browser interface, and as browsers evolve so too will the downloadable software, so your car always looks current. A built-in SIM card allows web surfing, and yes, it works in motion so the passenger can operate it (and as Musk points out, if a driver is determined to surf while in motion, it’s safer to do so on a 17-inch screen than a 3-inch one).

Tesla Model S Key In Elon Musk Hand

Design chief Franz Von Holzhausen’s shape is not as “disruptive” as the rest of the car’s technology. He opted for classic beauty along the lines of the Ford Fusion and Aston Martin Rapide, though neither had appeared when it was first drawn. It does, however, boast the lowest drag coefficient (0.24) of any current production car.

The aluminum structure of stampings, die-castings, and extrusions utilizes expertise from the rocketry division. Extruded rear suspension links (as strong as forgings) and hollow-cast front knuckle designs are claimed automotive innovations, each of which also lowers unsprung weight. Double-octagon extrusions form the front and rear crumple-zone structures, which are claimed to outperform federal standards, especially in back, where the car was impact tested at 50 mph as well as the mandatory 35. The roof crush resistance is also double the requirement (it broke the crush machine), and the rigid battery pack greatly restricts side-impact intrusion.

Frank Markus With Tesla Employees

Tesla acquired the 5-million-sq-ft former NUMMI factory in Fremont, California, that GM and Toyota once occupied — complete with conveyor equipment and stamping and injection-molding machines — at a yard-sale price during the economic downturn. Other machinery was nabbed from ailing automakers and suppliers so that now the vast majority of the stamped and die-cast aluminum parts are made on site. To make these tools pay off on a low-volume product like the Model S, the Tesla team has had to develop quick die and tool change processes that allow one tool to make many parts in smaller quantities. Similarly, the robots that frame the unibody structure are all multi-taskers that can spot-weld, MIG-weld, bond, rivet, and even move parts around. Owning all this tooling favors in-sourcing over out-sourcing. Over 90 percent of all the plastic parts in the Model S are made onsite. More of the Model S’s parts are made in the building than was the case with the Corolla that was made here previously.

Frank Markus And Elon Musk Inside 2012 Tesla Model S

Elon Musk In 2012 Tesla Model S

Tesla Factory 1

Tesla Factory 2

Frank Markus With Tesla Factory Head Gilbert Passin

2012 Tesla Model S In San Jose Tesla Store

Okay, so it’s cleverly conceived and safe, but you’d be forgiven for remaining skeptical of that world’s-best-car claim. Humor me a bit longer. Performance-wise, that rear motor makes 362 hp at 6-9000 rpm and 325 lb-ft at 0-5000 rpm in the base model. Performance versions make 416 hp at 5-8600 rpm and 443 lb-ft at 0-5100 rpm. A front-mounted motor as found in the forthcoming AWD Model X would fit but is not yet planned for the sedan. By using an AC-induction type motor (which Nicola Tesla helped develop) instead of the typical permanent magnet type, Tesla needs not fret about rare-earth metal supplies and prices.

2012 Tesla Model S With Frank Markus And Elon Musk

Feeding electrons to that motor is a choice of three lithium-ion battery packs (using Panasonic cells with nickel-cobalt-aluminum cathodes) sized to assuage differing degrees of range anxiety. Range is money, how far do you want to go? For $58,570 before tax credits, short-haul drivers can get a 40-kWh pack good for about 140 miles of EPA 5-cycle range (official numbers are not yet available). By comparison a Nissan Leaf’s 24-kWh battery propels the 1300-pound lighter car 73 miles. The 60-kWh battery should take you 200 miles on a charge for $68,570. The 85-kWh pack has just been EPA-rated at 265 miles and 89 MPGe and costs $78,570 (the Performance package adds $15K, the Signature package, built on the first 1000 cars, adds $18K). As for charging, the 10-kW 110/240-volt charger lives in the Tesla, not on the wall. An identical second charger (nestled beside the first under the right rear seat costing $1200) allows 20 kW to flow into the battery pack via Tesla’s unique connector from a special 100-amp wall charger. Tesla’s charging socket is smaller than the SAE J1772-spec socket (adaptors are provided) but can accept up to 90 kW from roadside Supercharger units Tesla will install between key cities capable of putting 150-miles worth of range into the battery in 30 minutes.

2012 Tesla Model S Front 1

2012 Tesla Model S Right Side

2012 Tesla Model S Front 2

Before we buckle in for a romp through the hills above the East Bay, let’s talk chassis. The under-floor battery is a stressed member, and helps lower the center of gravity to just 17.5 inches high with two occupants — about the same as the Ford GT’s. The front control-arm rear multi-link suspension is nearly all aluminum. Performance and Signature cars get a four-position height-adjustable air suspension (down 0.8 inches at speed or for egress, up as much as 1.2 inch for clearing steep driveways). The anti-roll bars are solid steel and look surprisingly thin, but that low CG means the body mass never gets much leverage for body roll. In the rear, a wide control arm includes a curious vertical link to the knuckle at the rear. This provides caster control and distributes the brake-reaction torque among the control-arm bushings for greater comfort.

2012 Tesla Model S Front On Road

Alright, time to put this world’s-best notion to the 100-mph highway and twisty-road tests. The Model S bolts away from a stop like any EV, but it accelerates from 60 to 80 mph like a big gasser, continuing to pull strongly past 100 mph (top speed is 130 on Performance models). Sound levels are amazingly low, with just a whisper of wind at the pillars. The heft and communication coming through the electrically boosted steering does a Rich Little-grade impersonation of an Audi helm. As we head up and over the hills the brake pedal feel stands out as better than most Toyota hybrids, with no obvious handoff from regen to hydraulic retardation. The 48/52-percent front/rear weight distribution, low polar-moment of inertia (all the heavy bits are between the wheels) rear-drive, and aggressive Michelin Pilot Sport rubber help this 4650-pound sled corner sharply with no squealing. Ride quality is also impressive, in that it traverses bumps smoothly with no head toss. The Tesla team iterates at a blinding pace by car industry standards: Just six weeks ago independent evaluators complained about the car’s flinty ride, and in response the nimble team made over 100 tuning changes to the tires, bushings, anti-roll bars, shock valving, and more.

2012 Tesla Model S Front 3

So is it the best car in the world? This fourth production example built may not be, but I’d rank it among the top few percentile and at the rate these automotive greenhorns are improving things, it might well be the best car in the solar system by version 2.0. 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. 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 Front Three Quarter 3

2012 Tesla Model S Rear Three Quarter 2

2012 Tesla Model S Left Side

Exterior Details

Charge Port is concealed in driver rear side reflector lamp, like 1950s GM cars.
Flush handles pop out when the key approaches, or when shifting to park, or when pressed.
Finishing Panels for both B-pillars are made of glass.
No seams in upper chrome daylight-opening molding for luxury look.
Choice wheels. 21-inch slicer wheels shown are for Performance models (dark gray finish is standard); others get 19-inch design for better ride (19s are 4.4 pounds heavier).
Flat underbelly pan smoothes airflow, contributes to record low drag coefficient of 0.24.
Panorama roof boasts industry’s largest opening (at least until Lincoln MKZ arrives).

Interior Details

Familiar Switches for the power windows come from the Daimler bin, but nearly all other functions are controlled by the touch-screen.
Dashing display in front of driver shows speed and power use in center digi/analogue gauge, and your choice of navigation, energy use, audio track, or phone info on either side.
Steering column and stalks are familiar pieces purchased from investor Mercedes Benz.
Console bin shown is open and flat on the floor—no drive shaft or exhaust pipe tunnel needed, but cubbies for iPhones and other personal items are in the works.
Largest ever 17-inch automotive touch screen controls headlamps, trunk/hatch releases, sunroof, seat heaters, suspension height, steering effort, regenerative braking strength, audio and climate systems.
Décor Accent options include Piano Black, Lacewood, and Obeche Wood (shown).

BASE PRICE $96,570-$106,570*
VEHICLE LAYOUT Rear-motor, RWD, 5- or 7-pass, 4-door hatchback
MOTOR 362-416-hp/325-443-lb-ft AC electric
TRANSMISSION 1-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4650 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 116.5 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 196.0 x 77.3 x 56.5 in
0-60 MPH 4.4-5.6 sec (mfr est)
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 38/37 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0 lb/mile (at car)
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently
*Before $7500 Federal Tax Credit

By Frank Markus

Self-Driving Tesla Electric Cars Coming, Courtesy Of Google?

Google's Self-Driving Toyota Prius

Google’s Self-Driving Toyota Prius

Enlarge Photo

Love or hate Tesla Motors (NSDQ:TSLA) and its CEO Elon Musk, it’s hard to deny that he’s ahead of the curve when it comes to developing new cars.

So when Musk says self-driving or autonomous technology is the next logical step in the evolution of the car, you take notice.

According to Bloomberg, Musk is considering the potential of driverless technology for Tesla’s vehicles, and has even spoken with Google about it.

Google’s own self-driving fleet of cars have hit headlines worldwide over the last few years, the technology now advanced enough that some states have legislation in place for the cars to drive without drivers, even though no production model is currently available.

Musk says he prefers the term ‘autopilot’ to self-driving, though.

“I like the word autopilot more than I like the word self- driving,” he said in an interview.

“Self-driving sounds like it’s going to do something you don’t want it to do. Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars.” He added, “Self-driving cars are the natural extension of active safety and obviously something we should do.”

He hasn’t made it overly clear that Tesla is working on such a system–with or without Google–but it’s certainly a possibility. “I think Tesla will most likely develop its own autopilot system for the car… However, it is also possible that we do something jointly with Google” he said in an email to Bloomberg.

Affordable electric cars: More important

At the same time, it’s unlikely to appear any time soon. He later tweeted, “Creating an autopilot for cars at Tesla is an important, but not yet top priority. Still a few years from production”

“Am a fan of Larry, Sergey & Google in general, but self-driving cars comments to Bloomberg were just off-the-cuff… No big announcement here.”

If Tesla goes its own way with autonomous technology, it’s because Musk prefers a more cost-effective camera-based system, rather than the LIDAR (effectively light-based radar) used by Google.

He deems the sensor system “too expensive”, at a time when Tesla’s priority is to bring down the cost of its electric cars to make them more accessible–a plan which also involves bringing a smaller, $30,000 electric sedan to the market in the next few years.

The company is also thought to be developing interim technologies like lane departure warning, blind spot detection and cruise control, as revealed on a Tesla Model S menu graphic.

The prospect of an autopilot mode on Tesla’s products is certainly an interesting one–but not quite as interesting as the company’s future product line…


By Antony Ingram