Next time you’re behind the wheel, don’t be surprised if the 100% electric Tesla Roadster pulls up next to you. According to Tesla Motors president and CEO Ze’ev Drori, 12 production Roadsters have arrived in California, and 27 more are in various stages of assembly. Drori also expects four more to arrive each week through August.
“In large measure we deliberately limit the production until we install our own born and bred final transmission by mid-September, at which time production will start to ramp up leading toward a monthly rate of over 100 cars in December,” Drori said.
Tesla planned a slow production rate at first so it could “work out the kinks of production prior to increasing the rate,” Drori said. These issues included the development of the Roadster’s transmission, since there were questions that the original two-speed version could handle the motor’s high performance, which includes 0- to 60-mph acceleration of 3.9 seconds and a 13,000-rpm redline.
“The development of ‘Powertrain 1.5’ is progressing very well. We have the newly designed PEM (Power Electronics Module) running at the higher 850-A level in a prototype car being used for durability and other testing,” the company said in a letter to customers in May.
“The higher torque is really phenomenal,” said Tesla CTO J.B. Straubel. “I have many hours behind the wheel of the 1.0 powertrain, and this is simply much better. The motor torque is improved by a bit more than 30% beyond what was already great, and the quarter-mile time for the car is now in the 12.9-second range.”
The Powertrain 1.5 technology includes a single-speed gearbox that will be inserted into the production schedule in September, somewhere around the fortieth car. All of the Roadsters produced prior to this switch will be eligible for an upgrade, which the company expects to take about two hours, free of charge.
Now, Roadster owners have more options for getting this and other service on their cars. In addition to its Santa Monica store, which opened in May, the company will open its second store soon in Menlo Park, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley. Tesla plans on additional stores in New York in the fourth quarter of 2008 and in Chicago, Miami, and Seattle throughout 2009. European delivery will begin in April 2009.
If the Roadster’s $109,000 price tag is beyond your budget, though, just wait until late 2010, when the company expects to release its “Model S” four-door, five-passenger electric sedan with a target price of $59,000. Last week, Tesla Motors hired Mike Donoughe as executive vice president, vehicle engineering and manufacturing, to oversee the Roadster and the Model S programs.
“Mike is a very valuable addition to our leadership team. His track record, expertise, and leadership will help Tesla as we prepare for significant growth,” Drori said. “Mike’s immediate priorities are to ensure that production of the Tesla Roadster runs smoothly and efficiently and to drive the continued development of our next car.”
Previously, Donoughe was vice president of “Project D” at Chrysler, leading the design of the company’s global mid-size vehicle portfolio. During his 24-year career there, his work included the Stow N Go minivans and the Jeep Wrangler and Dodge Ram programs. He was director of passenger car development with Mercedes Benz for three years as well.
“I joined the Tesla team because I am enthusiastic about Tesla’s objective to integrate their disruptive EV technology into mainstream automobiles,” Donoughe said. “Tesla is creating vehicles that appeal to customers looking for environmentally sound and energy-efficient solutions without compromising on functionality and performance. I look forward to contributing to these efforts as part of the Tesla team.”
The Model S will be built closer to home as well. Last month, Tesla Motors and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that the company will build its Model S manufacturing facility in California. While original plans called for a factory in Albuquerque, N.M., the company decided it would be more beneficial to construct its plant near its engineering and R&D headquarters in San Carlos, Calif.
“Today’s announcement is incredible news for California’s economy and its environment. If California was a baseball team, this would be like winning the first-round draft pick and recruiting a player who is a perfect fit on our roster because Tesla Motors and its all-electric cars belong in California,” Schwarzenegger said.
The California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority sweetened the pot last month by approving a new program that exempts new zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) manufacturers from paying sales and use tax on the purchase of manufacturing equipment to encourage ZEV manufacturing in the state. Tesla also will be eligible for at least $1 million in Employment Training Panel Workforce Development funds to train employees.
“Make no mistake. We are not a niche player with a car only for the rich and famous. As our agreement with the state clearly demonstrates, we are building a high-volume ZEV, manufactured in California for mid-range family use. And we aren’t going to stop there,” Drori said. “We will continue on and build even more affordable cars.”