The greatest cars have a person with a vision behind them. I have mentioned this theory before on this website, and am still a firm believer that while a vehicle designed by committee might be perfectly acceptable, it will always be too conservative, its intent too distilled to reach greatness. It’s a shame then, that most of today’s passenger car industry works that way. Sure, there are a handful of exceptions, usually the result of a CEO or chief designer’s pet project, but few volume passenger car manufacturers demonstrate such a vision as formidably as Tesla.
Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, is bold and enigmatic. Founder of PayPal, co-founder of SpaceX and the driving force behind the controversial Hyperloop public transport concept, it is Musk who acts as Tesla’s product planner and public face. He is known for making wild claims and upsetting the American car industry establishment, however so far he has backed them up with impressive products and has a long term plan which would have Ford and GM losing sleep at night.
Roadster was a good proof of concept, gained lots of attention
Yet I must be honest, and admit that when Tesla launched its first car, the Lotus Elise based Roadster, I wasn’t convinced. Yes the electric powered sports car was interesting but I knew of people locally who had retrofitted electric drivetrains into Fiat X1/9s. It seemed like an attempt to cash in on the trend of green technology – after all, it was small, no more practical than the Elise on which it was based, and range limited. With the launch of Tesla’s first full car, the Model S however, myself and other doubters around the world were forced to eat our words, as it became obvious that the Tesla Roadster was really something of a test bed.
Here was a vehicle that was not just an electric car, but a very good looking, cleverly packaged and comprehensively engineered sedan. By designing the Model S as an electric car from the outset, Tesla was able to use some of an electric drivetrain’s advantages to its full benefit. Because of the relatively small size of electric motors, there is no engine bay, and what would be the bonnet in front is instead dedicated to luggage space. The rear of the car features two additional seats for children, bringing the potential maximum number of passengers to 7.
The Model S makes a compelling driving prospect too. An aluminium body construction reduces weight and the batteries are placed along the floor, making the centre of gravity exceptionally low. These are arranged to ensure 50/50 weight distribution and add to the chassis’ strength to make the Model S’s structure exceptionally strong. Add the instant, massive torque inherent in electric motors and a 0-100km/h time in the mid-5 second region and you have a car that is stylish, practical and promises to be good to drive.
I suppose this is the inevitable part of an electric car story where we talk about range and charging times. Tesla has developed the ‘Supercharger’ – a high capacity device that can half charge a car in as little as 20 minutes and fully charge it in 75. The company is in the process of installing infrastructure in the USA and Europe to allow drivers to take one of its cars on a long distance trip, using the free battery charging stations. Alternatively, at the same stations, Tesla offers owners the ability to very quickly swap batteries for a fee.
Supercharger alleviates some traditional electric car concerns
Unlike many other companies, instead of bemoaning the downsides of electric cars, Tesla has tackled them. This has made them market leaders in the area which is phenomenal if you consider the how young the company is and how long it often takes new car manufacturers to make worthwhile products. And it doesn’t stop there. The upcoming Model X SUV shares technology with the Model S but adds electric motors on the front axle to become 4WD, more interior space and arresting ‘Falcon Doors’ which combine pure theatre with the ability to be opened within the width of the car.
Forthcoming Model X is the next step
So the future seems bright for Tesla, and if you haven’t started taking them seriously yet you should probably have a long, hard think about why not. You’ll be hearing more from Elon Musk…