Tesla Motors

by on July 24, 2006 · 30 comments

Wired has a story about Tesla Motors, a company that’s been getting a lot of buzz lately, and is likely to get even more press when its cars launch next year. They’re launching an electric sports car. Whereas most electric cars in the past have been “punishment cars” focused on efficiency and cost at the expense of range and performance, Tesla has gone in the opposite direction, targeting wealthy buyers and focusing on building an electric car that can compete with hgih-end sports car. It can apparently do 0-60 MPH in about 4 seconds.

Their plan is to build the sports car first, and then if that’s successful they’ll branch out and make lower-cost, family-oriented vehicles. They seem to believe that Detroit has largely focused on squeezing an electric motor into a gas-powered car, and that you can squeeze considerable efficiency out of an electric car if you design it from the ground up to run off of batteries. Given the incredible improvements in laptop battery life over the last decade, it seems like this might very well be true.

I’m not convinced that they can make the things competitive with traditional gas-powered cars, though. I see three problems, all related to fundamental properties of gasoline as opposed to batteries. First gasoline has phenomenally high energy density. That is, a kilogram of gasoline contains far more energy than an equivalent weight of even the best batteries. As a result, a lot more space in your electric car has to be taken up by batteries than the volume of the gas tank in an ordinary internal combustion engine car. You can see the batteries in their diagram of the Roadster: they run the width of the car and appear to take up as much room as a row of seats.


Secondly, even at today’s prices, gas is cheap compared with the cost of batteries. According to Wired, the Tesla Roadster has 6,831 lithium-ion batteries. I have no idea what the wholesale cost of batteries is, but given that Apple charges me $50 for a replacement for my laptop battery, I can’t imagine the wholesale price is much less than $5/apiece, which would mean the batteries alone for the Roadster cost more than most people’s entire cars. You’ve got to buy a lot of $3/gallon gas to recover the cost of $30k in batteries.

Finally, there’s the important issue of charge time. This isn’t a big deal if you’re using your car for daily driving, but it will absolutely kill the electric car for road trips. My car will go 300 miles on a tank of gas. When I get low, I stop at a gas station and fill up my tank, which takes about 2 minutes, and I’m good for another 300 miles. I don’t know how fast the Tesla Roadster charges, but if it’s like any of the electronic devices I own, it’ll be on the order of hours, not minutes. That will make electric cars all but useless for road trips that exceed the one-charge range of the vehicle.

Still, there may yet be considerable room for improvement, both in vehicle energy efficiency and in battery technology. If they can improve efficiency and/or battery capacity by a factor of 3 or so, then these cars will suddenly be a serious alternative to the internal combustion engine for ordinary drivers. And if there is room for improvement, it seems likely that a company focused entirely on electric vehicles will be far more likely to find it than Detroit companies for whom electric cars are an afterthought.

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    I don’t think that the sort of people who they are targetting will be phased in the least by the cost of replacing the batteries. I also can’t imagine it being that important for them to take this thing on the road. It might actually end up being really cheap for a lot of eccentric rich people to own. If they have solar panels, they can essentially fill this baby up for free during the day then take it out on the town at night.

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    I don’t think that the sort of people who they are targetting will be phased in the least by the cost of replacing the batteries. I also can’t imagine it being that important for them to take this thing on the road. It might actually end up being really cheap for a lot of eccentric rich people to own. If they have solar panels, they can essentially fill this baby up for free during the day then take it out on the town at night.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Yeah, I agree this will probably be a hit with rich people–they don’t do road trips anyway. The interesting question is whether they can build cars that normal people can afford to own. If they can build a car that costs $25,000 and can go 400 miles on a charge, then Detroit will have something to worry about.

    I also wonder about battery life. My experience is that laptop batteries tend to last about 2 years before they need replacement. If these car batteries have a similar life cycle, does that mean you’ll need to shell out thousands of dollars to swap out your battery pack every two years?

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Yeah, I agree this will probably be a hit with rich people–they don’t do road trips anyway. The interesting question is whether they can build cars that normal people can afford to own. If they can build a car that costs $25,000 and can go 400 miles on a charge, then Detroit will have something to worry about.

    I also wonder about battery life. My experience is that laptop batteries tend to last about 2 years before they need replacement. If these car batteries have a similar life cycle, does that mean you’ll need to shell out thousands of dollars to swap out your battery pack every two years?

  • http://tieguy.org/ Luis

    Tim: you might want to read the coverage from Jalopnik for a little more info and some amusing Guvernator pictures. The article cites a 3.5 hour charging time using the special charger (presumably for your garage) but also overnight charging from a standard plug. (This is something the GM EV1 could not do at all- it only charged from the special charger.) So you could take road trips, but only in 200 mile increments, basically.

  • http://tieguy.org/ Luis

    Tim: you might want to read the coverage from Jalopnik for a little more info and some amusing Guvernator pictures. The article cites a 3.5 hour charging time using the special charger (presumably for your garage) but also overnight charging from a standard plug. (This is something the GM EV1 could not do at all- it only charged from the special charger.) So you could take road trips, but only in 200 mile increments, basically.

  • Paul Slater

    Greetings: You cannot imagine the pleasure that this geezer experienced when learning in the Economist of the Tesla car. Finally, the brilliance, the genius, of Nikola Tesla will be getting the recognition he so clearly deserved. (I am assuming, of course, that the name was chosen in recognition of Tesla’s prodigious accomplishments and, that she is powered by an AC motor.) Surely any people will learn about the genesis of the company name. My personal experience was with 2 cycle (Winton type) Diesel engines. I often hoped that this engine could be downsized for passenger car use and also fantasized that this engine could be modified for use w/ gasoline or natural gas.Mine was the MacArthur approach, incremental forward motion. Yours is the Admiral Nimitz approach, move ahead, skipping unimportant (di)versions. I was Navy and agreed w/ Nimitz. Sad to say I am well into geezerhood so I may not get to see the Tesla out on the roads. Even sadder, of course, there ios no way I could afford one. But don’t rule me out. Tomorrow I start buying lottery tickets! Regarding engine sounds my favorite car of all time was a ’64 Volvo 122S with a B18D engine The sound she made as I moved up thru the gears was marvelous indeed. Paul Slater 88 Maynard Road, Northampton, MA 01060 mslater@hampshire.edu.

  • Paul Slater

    Greetings: You cannot imagine the pleasure that this geezer experienced when learning in the Economist of the Tesla car. Finally, the brilliance, the genius, of Nikola Tesla will be getting the recognition he so clearly deserved. (I am assuming, of course, that the name was chosen in recognition of Tesla’s prodigious accomplishments and, that she is powered by an AC motor.) Surely any people will learn about the genesis of the company name. My personal experience was with 2 cycle (Winton type) Diesel engines. I often hoped that this engine could be downsized for passenger car use and also fantasized that this engine could be modified for use w/ gasoline or natural gas.Mine was the MacArthur approach, incremental forward motion. Yours is the Admiral Nimitz approach, move ahead, skipping unimportant (di)versions. I was Navy and agreed w/ Nimitz. Sad to say I am well into geezerhood so I may not get to see the Tesla out on the roads. Even sadder, of course, there ios no way I could afford one. But don’t rule me out. Tomorrow I start buying lottery tickets! Regarding engine sounds my favorite car of all time was a ’64 Volvo 122S with a B18D engine The sound she made as I moved up thru the gears was marvelous indeed. Paul Slater 88 Maynard Road, Northampton, MA 01060 mslater@hampshire.edu.

  • Robert

    The problem is that many people think that gas will ALWAYS remain at $3 a gallon. What will they say when it will reach 6 or 8 buck a gallon ? PETROL HAS A LIMITED FUTURE because petrol has a limited quantity. Don’t make comparaisons saying “today my car makes 300 miles with a fuel tank.” In 20 years from now you will have to sell your house to pay for the same fuel tank.
    20 years ago, you had not many people driving cars in India, China, Eastern Europe and the ex-USSR. Not to think other emerging markets. Today these nations want the same ever-shrinking quantity of petrol. Now think about having a little wind turbine or solar panels that will give you FREE energy for your vehicule, that is why Teslamotors has a future. “Normal humans” will accept the fact that in order to commute they have to plug-in their cars. “$uper humans” will likely pay $600 000.00 to fill up their cars and show off how much “in a hurry” they are.

  • Robert

    The problem is that many people think that gas will ALWAYS remain at $3 a gallon. What will they say when it will reach 6 or 8 buck a gallon ? PETROL HAS A LIMITED FUTURE because petrol has a limited quantity. Don’t make comparaisons saying “today my car makes 300 miles with a fuel tank.” In 20 years from now you will have to sell your house to pay for the same fuel tank.
    20 years ago, you had not many people driving cars in India, China, Eastern Europe and the ex-USSR. Not to think other emerging markets. Today these nations want the same ever-shrinking quantity of petrol. Now think about having a little wind turbine or solar panels that will give you FREE energy for your vehicule, that is why Teslamotors has a future. “Normal humans” will accept the fact that in order to commute they have to plug-in their cars. “$uper humans” will likely pay $600 000.00 to fill up their cars and show off how much “in a hurry” they are.

  • david Frank

    Very excited about the styling of the Tesla. Too often breakthroughs mean “bland” styling or taste like the beginning days of health foods and early laptops. These guys got it right, it seems to me.

    But, the serious questions do remain. (1) Can’t they get the recharge time lower? (2) Extended range: I hear that Tesla may be offering a “spare” power source to extend the range a bit….but how far? (2). What is the battery life and cost to replace? Perhaps if battery life is low, they can include another set in the warranty and by playing the numbers and pricing and warranty game, may be able to include spare battery set (when needed), as part of the purchase price.

    I’m presently living in Las Vegas. If you look at the graphic representation of the vehicles range, you’ll notice that it is just outside the Los Angeles home range. If you took off from LA to Vegas, you would end up, out of power somewhere around Baker….OK, so you’d get to see the World’s Largest Thermometer while you charged up and waited at Denny’s with a Burger and fries! Seriously, if they can extend the range to LV from LA, they would get a serious boost in orders as our tourism continues to climb and the LA/LV freeway provides a significant percentage of the activity.

    Overall, I’ve been waiting for a car like this for 30 years. I do hope they get to the next level of battery technology, but the styling is already here!

  • david Frank

    Very excited about the styling of the Tesla. Too often breakthroughs mean “bland” styling or taste like the beginning days of health foods and early laptops. These guys got it right, it seems to me.

    But, the serious questions do remain. (1) Can’t they get the recharge time lower? (2) Extended range: I hear that Tesla may be offering a “spare” power source to extend the range a bit….but how far? (2). What is the battery life and cost to replace? Perhaps if battery life is low, they can include another set in the warranty and by playing the numbers and pricing and warranty game, may be able to include spare battery set (when needed), as part of the purchase price.

    I’m presently living in Las Vegas. If you look at the graphic representation of the vehicles range, you’ll notice that it is just outside the Los Angeles home range. If you took off from LA to Vegas, you would end up, out of power somewhere around Baker….OK, so you’d get to see the World’s Largest Thermometer while you charged up and waited at Denny’s with a Burger and fries! Seriously, if they can extend the range to LV from LA, they would get a serious boost in orders as our tourism continues to climb and the LA/LV freeway provides a significant percentage of the activity.

    Overall, I’ve been waiting for a car like this for 30 years. I do hope they get to the next level of battery technology, but the styling is already here!

  • Julian Klappenbach

    The battery revolution that lead to the Tesla Roadster was driven by the demand generated by laptop computers. Over the past few years, batteries have seen a growth that, while not matching the curve of Moore’s “law”, has seen improvements resulting in a doubling of capacity and power.

    Over the next few years, I should expect this trend to continue. The net result is that battery cost should decrease accordingly. What this means is that after 3 generations of doubling (about the limit that we may see for energy density possible through nano-technology), our Tesla’s batteries would cost around $3,000 in todays dollars. But at that point in time, the top-of-the-line batteries would give a 1,600 mile range.

    Companies like Tesla are poised to ride this curve, and will have a lead in both technology R&D as well as a lock on the world-wide capacity that will make it difficult for any car makers not wise enough to establish partnerships out in the cold.

    Bottom line, this is going to come on like a freight train.

    How long will this take? While computing power doubles around once every 18 months, we’ve seen battery designs double every 36 months. So, 3 generations would put us out at about a decade.

    10 years from now, the automotive marketplace is going to look quite different.

    It’s about time.

  • Julian Klappenbach

    The battery revolution that lead to the Tesla Roadster was driven by the demand generated by laptop computers. Over the past few years, batteries have seen a growth that, while not matching the curve of Moore’s “law”, has seen improvements resulting in a doubling of capacity and power.

    Over the next few years, I should expect this trend to continue. The net result is that battery cost should decrease accordingly. What this means is that after 3 generations of doubling (about the limit that we may see for energy density possible through nano-technology), our Tesla’s batteries would cost around $3,000 in todays dollars. But at that point in time, the top-of-the-line batteries would give a 1,600 mile range.

    Companies like Tesla are poised to ride this curve, and will have a lead in both technology R&D; as well as a lock on the world-wide capacity that will make it difficult for any car makers not wise enough to establish partnerships out in the cold.

    Bottom line, this is going to come on like a freight train.

    How long will this take? While computing power doubles around once every 18 months, we’ve seen battery designs double every 36 months. So, 3 generations would put us out at about a decade.

    10 years from now, the automotive marketplace is going to look quite different.

    It’s about time.

  • http://www.bluntinstrument.net Salil Maniktahla

    Battery design doesn’t hold to any sort of “doubling law” like Moore’s Law, which also isn’t a law. I agree, though, that battery design should make some major leaps ahead thanks to market impetus like it’s currently enjoying.

    So how about someone starts working on airplanes, now? Those things take about 30,000 lbs of fuel each trip. That’s a lot of JP-5…blimps, anyone? :-)

  • http://www.bluntinstrument.net Salil Maniktahla

    Battery design doesn’t hold to any sort of “doubling law” like Moore’s Law, which also isn’t a law. I agree, though, that battery design should make some major leaps ahead thanks to market impetus like it’s currently enjoying.

    So how about someone starts working on airplanes, now? Those things take about 30,000 lbs of fuel each trip. That’s a lot of JP-5…blimps, anyone? :-)

  • Brian C

    As an electrical engineer I think electric don’t add up. The range is much less than the manufacturers claim. GM claimed that the EV1 could do 150 miles on a charges. Drivers got more like 45 miles. Batteries are very expensive. To get any range you have to crawl along. Widespread use would put a strain of the power infrastructure. It might lead to more nuclear ststions, they very things that ‘greens’ would least like to see. Please don’t believe all the hype.

  • Brian C

    As an electrical engineer I think electric don’t add up. The range is much less than the manufacturers claim. GM claimed that the EV1 could do 150 miles on a charges. Drivers got more like 45 miles. Batteries are very expensive. To get any range you have to crawl along. Widespread use would put a strain of the power infrastructure. It might lead to more nuclear ststions, they very things that ‘greens’ would least like to see. Please don’t believe all the hype.

  • Brian C

    As an electrical engineer I think electric don’t add up. The range is much less than the manufacturers claim. GM claimed that the EV1 could do 150 miles on a charges. Drivers got more like 45 miles. Batteries are very expensive. To get any range you have to crawl along. Widespread use would put a strain of the power infrastructure. It might lead to more nuclear ststions, they very things that ‘greens’ would least like to see. Please don’t believe all the hype.

  • Brian C

    As an electrical engineer I think electric don’t add up. The range is much less than the manufacturers claim. GM claimed that the EV1 could do 150 miles on a charges. Drivers got more like 45 miles. Batteries are very expensive. To get any range you have to crawl along. Widespread use would put a strain of the power infrastructure. It might lead to more nuclear ststions, they very things that ‘greens’ would least like to see. Please don’t believe all the hype.

  • Brian C

    I think the Tesla is basically a stupid idea and can only fail.

  • Brian C

    I think the Tesla is basically a stupid idea and can only fail.

  • http://http:/0zu.tw/ short url

    eee921c2c15a Good work http:/0zu.tw/ short url

  • short url

    eee921c2c15a Good work http:/0zu.tw/ short url

  • Nel

    Well, on the contrary – I think that the grid and electric cars can actually help each other. Most cars will be charged at night during low consumption. This will allow a larger percentage of the electricity to be produced by nuclear which needs extended periods to change their output power and cannot follow the day and night fluctuations in consumption. Nuclear is actually greener than coal since the volume of waste is small and due to this reason can be well contained. (most of it being solid) While a potencial risk is present using nuclear, the alterative – coal is destined (not potencially but surely) to cause problems. Carbon dioxide acts as a trigger mechanism causing the initial global warming providing for the release of the captured in ice methane (in Siberia) during melting – thus further and much more violently accelerating the green-house effect due to methane. Think about it! Going electric may be positive after all.

  • Nel

    Well, on the contrary – I think that the grid and electric cars can actually help each other. Most cars will be charged at night during low consumption. This will allow a larger percentage of the electricity to be produced by nuclear which needs extended periods to change their output power and cannot follow the day and night fluctuations in consumption. Nuclear is actually greener than coal since the volume of waste is small and due to this reason can be well contained. (most of it being solid) While a potencial risk is present using nuclear, the alterative – coal is destined (not potencially but surely) to cause problems. Carbon dioxide acts as a trigger mechanism causing the initial global warming providing for the release of the captured in ice methane (in Siberia) during melting – thus further and much more violently accelerating the green-house effect due to methane. Think about it! Going electric may be positive after all.

  • http://www.abc-acupuncture.com/baxqorav tramadol

    81e31de21f46 Hi tramadol tramadol

  • http://www.abc-acupuncture.com/baxqorav tramadol

    81e31de21f46 Hi tramadol tramadol

  • http://www.abc-acupuncture.com/baxqorav tramadol

    81e31de21f46 Nice site http://www.abc-acupuncture.com/baxqorav tramadol

  • http://www.abc-acupuncture.com/baxqorav tramadol

    81e31de21f46 Nice site http://www.abc-acupuncture.com/baxqorav tramadol

Previous post:

Next post: