The Tesla Roadster: a quick and quiet test drive to the promised land

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I know, it’s just a car. But my few moments in the passenger seat of a Tesla Roadster the other evening, courtesy of the good folks at Strategic News Services, opened my eyes. The experience so exceeded my expectations that I thought I should gush, just a little.

Here’s what I discovered. The difference between reading about a 250-horsepower two-seat electric sports car and riding in one comes down to what I call the “sonic un-boom.” You turn the corner, point the nose uphill, and find yourself pressed into the back of your seat, other cars on the streets becoming a (possibly illegal) blur. And here’s the kicker: there is no sound. Maybe a little noise from the rubber on the pavement, or a slight whine from the axles. But the kind of acceleration I was treated to feels like it should be accompanied by something just this side of thunder. Instead, you get nothing but lightning.

There are plenty of reasons that the Tesla, even at 135 mpg (well-to-wheels equivalent based on the California electrical grid), won’t do nearly as much to reduce carbon emissions as broader availability of basic hybrid technology, not to mention a small increase in folks taking the bus to work every now and again instead of driving. With a $100,000 base price, it’s just too dang expensive, for one thing. And it’s a tiny little sports car with the luggage capacity of a bicycle, for another. The weight of the batteries, the time to recharge, etc., etc. It’s all very impractical for now.

But that single burst of silent acceleration, the visceral experience of what I’ve been reading about now for what seems like a decade, pushed me all the way to the land of the believers. In my lifetime, we’re going to see the same kind of switch my parents saw when gasoline went from leaded to unleaded. In other words: my kids will drive electric cars (just, um, slower ones).

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  1. Pete - October 3, 2007

    I’m jealous. I’ve wanted a ride in Tesla ever since I heard about them. It is the only sports car I’ve ever seriously coveted.

  2. Elke - October 3, 2007

    Buying one of these has been at the top of the “Things to do when I hit the lotto” list for years now! But whenever I mention it to anyone, they look at me like I’m nuts. An electric sportscar — with power?! Damn straight!

  3. Jan - October 3, 2007

    Oh, my gosh, do I want one of these and I’m not even a car person! It’s the most optimistic thing I’ve heard in the transportation dept. since I saw Who Killed the Electric Car which was totally depressing. I might even be willing to go into hock & pony up the $100G’s if I could figure out where to charge up. (We live in a condo so can’t just install something in the back yard.)

  4. Jackie - October 3, 2007

    There is hope!

  5. KJD - October 3, 2007

    I do love the looks of this car. If only I had a 100k to blow.
    Like most people here I just do not have that kind of money, so I did the next best thing. I built my own EV. It really was not that hard. Take a look at http://www.zevutah.com for details.
    I also did not want to increase emissions from coal generated electricity, so I installed a small solar system on the roof of my workshop. All of this cost less than half of my neighbors SUV.

  6. Adam Stein - October 3, 2007

    Wow, KJD. That’s pretty darn awesome. I might have to get me one of those.

  7. Angus - October 8, 2007

    The tesla sounds great – imagine streaking to sixty on the backs of choking coal miners! What a thrill!
    Get real , y’all : where do think the energy in those batteries came from? fuel cells? Is it a great improvement to waste coal instead of oil? Hmm
    check this:
    http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epat1p1.html
    Any posers there at terrapass? Or was this just a weak moment.
    See you round on wour bikes!
    angus
    Thank for the chance to vent.

  8. Adam Stein - October 8, 2007

    Hi Angus,
    Maybe you missed the part of the post that referred to the Tesla’s 135 mpg wheels-to-well based on the California electrical grid. I think we’re pretty well aware of where electricity comes from.

  9. Patrick - October 8, 2007

    Angus,
    As it turns out, some of us “posers” have done much more homework than you seem to have on this topic. Here are some links for you to read up on before you vent again:
    First, here’s a study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory that found that even if all 220 million vehicles currently on the road went electric overnight, the current grid would still have enough idle capacity at night to charge 84% of them WITHOUT ANY NEW POWER PLANTS. This means we would be using energy that is currently wasted, which would be a hell of a lot more efficient than anything else right now. Moreover, we will always have a choice as far as where we get our electricity, but sweeping changes to the infrastructure will take some time. Why not strengthen the grid, make it smarter, give power companies the revenue to accelerate the change and invest in vehicles which would most likely never be rendered obsolete? There’s no lead acid in EV batteries these days and very long battery lives, so there’s very little environmental impact compared to all of the scrap and waste from cars with internal combustion engines.
    http://newswire.ascribe.org/cgi-bin/behold.pl?ascribeid=20061211.105149&time=11%2005%20PST&year=2006&public=0
    In addition, scientists are working on a way to use EVs to help balance grid load and make energy costs cheaper while giving power companies more revenue to improve on the technology. A win-win situation for everyone, especially the environmentally conscious.
    http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/17930/page1/
    Finally, here’s a study put out by the EPRI and NRDC(previously posted on TerraPass by those “posers”) that conclusively shows that plug-in hybrids (not even pure EVs) would be significantly less polluting than fossil fuels using virtually any type of electricity source.
    http://www.epri-reports.org/home
    Do some homework and come back. We’d be happy to have an intelligent discussion with you on the topic. That’s why we post and respond on here.

  10. Jim the Math Wiz - October 8, 2007

    I hear that Tesla will have a four door passenger model (ala the Honda Accord) available in a couple years for around $35,000. As far as financing the thing don’t be discouraged by the price tag. Just look at it this way: If you buy a $35,000 car and don’t ever buy gas for it you save around $140 dollars a month in NOT buying gas (that is if you drive 60 miles per day, five days a week, and get 25 mpg with your current auto at $2.85 per gallon). Now…if you work $35,000 into a home-equity loan you will pay around $250 per month (that is, $7 for every $1000 you borrow at 6.5% interest, of which most will be tax deductible interest!). So…we are at a net cost of around $110 NOT COUNTING the home-equity interest deduction, so deduct another $17 to your savings if you are in the 15% bracket to bring your net cost down to $93 per month. Now…how much per month would you save by not having a car payment for a regular gas-guzzler? Subtract your current monthly car payment from $93 and you are there. In some cases you may actually have a net monthly GAIN. You see…math IS fun!
    Don’t have a house to pull equity from? Don’t worry. You can just finance the car the old-fashioned way through a bank. The interest on the car loan isn’t tax deductible anymore (used to be though, thanks Ronald Reagan). Sure your monthly payments will be higher than on a home-equity loan basis, but remember you are substituting a Tesla electric car payment for a regular gas-guzzling payment. Even if it costs you a few bucks more a month wouldn’t it be worth it to know how easier the earth will breathe?!

  11. Anonymous - October 8, 2007

    Hey Angus…
    Did you read the part about 135 mpg being wheels-to-well? It is here and it is real. Believe it…

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