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living: autocade

Battery Life

It’s official: the Tesla Roadster is 2007’s Car to Be Seen in, even if it’s rare and the first year’s production has been snapped up by eco-conscious Americans. Jack Yan explains

From issue 22 of Lucire


WHEN the Oscars come round again in ’08, you can bet that a few Tesla Roadsters will make their way to the red carpet. That’s because the Hollywood set loves to be ahead of the game, and the old standard-bearer—the Toyota Prius—is no longer special. When you see them at a Warehouse parking lot, then you know that the Prius has somehow drifted into being everyday, fulfilling the promise of the old Toyota slogan.

Not that that’s a bad thing. On the contrary, the fact that people are buying electric–petrol hybrids does help the planet, on the condition they keep them off the motorway, lugging their heavy batteries. It was a convenient symbol for a Hollywood set wanting to set itself apart from the stars of old arriving in stretched limousines. But symbols need to be special: Rosamund Pike, not Denise van Outen; Scarlett Johansson, not Tara Reid. Damn the expense.

No, Hollywood didn’t have a desire to show that it was democratic when stars opted for an eco-friendly car. The Prius was cool, and now, it just isn’t. That mantle, ladies and gentlemen, has been taken by the Tesla Roadster.

Shown in Lucire last year, and before that on my blog, where we jumped the New Zealand press again, the Tesla Roadster is an all-electric sports car with the performance of a Porsche 911 (0 to 100 km/h in around four seconds), and a price to match.

The first cars were sold in 2006, and they were snapped up rapidly, despite the US$100,000 asking price. It’s not terribly refined—it is based on a Lotus Elise—but it does symbolize something about our future.

You probably know now that the Tesla Roadster is powered by, essentially, laptop batteries. This was a stroke of genius: for years, Detroit, and Japan, Inc., had been telling us that car batteries would be too heavy. The computer geeks who started Tesla thought, ‘What about laptop batteries? They are light, and they last for yonks.’ And they were right.

It’s not the first all-electric sports car—the Monegasque Venturi got there before—but it does rack up brownie points because it’s anti-establishment. Kind of like this magazine. The guys who started Tesla are dot-commers, not Detroit con-artists.

It’s international. Lotus assembles the Tesla in Hethel, England; the backers are American (including eBay’s Elon Musk and Jeff Skoll and the Google lads); and the 6,831 batteries (with a five-year life) are probably Asian—all Tesla will say is that they are from ‘Fortune 500 battery suppliers’.

For those who reckon we would never charge up a car as a matter of habit, they only need to ask themselves if they have a cellphone. They got into charging those up pretty easily, so why not an automobile? Charge up the Roadster for the three hours the company claims it needs—that’s less time than some cells—and it goes for 400 km. It makes the Toyota Prius seem totally inefficient.

So why name this car the Car to Be Seen in if the celebs aren’t going to show up in them till ’08? Deliveries begin in the summer, while Tesla irons out the few kinks, mostly refinement issues. But even with them, the Tesla is a formidable car, not because of its powertrain—Kiwis have been selling cars with natural gas power since the 1970s—but because it shows that a few people with a good idea can still beat traditional factories. A few pioneers have shown that it is possible: Soichiro Honda, Preston Tucker and John Z. de Lorean. Martin Eberhard, Tesla’s founder and boss, just has to make sure that he follows the path of the first guy, and not wind up with a briefcase of coke like the last guy.

It gives us hope. If we have an idea and enough nous, then we might be able to find success, too. Martin Eberhard and Tesla are symbols not of being fashionable, but of realizing your dream. The American Dream is still attainable.

We even like the marketing. Martin’s there, on his blog, talking about the car. He’s from the Silicon Valley set—an engineer with no expertise in car design—so his technique makes perfect sense. He’s talking to the audience that will adopt the car first, so Martin saved himself a few bob on a big marketing campaign. Let Web 2·0 do the talking with a viral campaign. Wired, Popular Mechanics and even Lucire came in with the regular media.

Now if only Bill Ford “did an Eberhard”. Dearborn might be saved instead of selling Lincoln MKZs, a latter-day Ford Telstar pretending to be posh.

Finally, the car just looks great. It’s on the Lotus platform but it looks more svelte. You can cruise down the main drag heading to Princeton University or down Rodeo Drive and look right at home—but you can also be Down Under, if we ever see Teslas down this way. Unlike a London cab, which looks weird in any other English city, the Tesla has a sense of global appeal about it.

If only Red China had taken this route with its car industry. At this rate, with this sort of thinking, the 21st might still be the American century. •


Visit Tesla Motors

Eight is enough

When we were kids, we were told that cars of the future would be ultra-cool and sporty. What looks the closest? The Audi R8.

The R8’s design is obviously Germanic, even Bauhaus, with its contrasting sheetmetal colours. Below each light are what appears to be eyelashes. Aluminium bits highlight the overall shape and tell us that this is not Italian. There’s discipline to the look—each line looking as though it were purposeful. This goes beyond any Porsche 911 in concept.

It was a finalist in this year’s Car to Be Seen in. Despite not winning, this is still a high-tech tour de force that opens up a whole new market for the Ingolstadters.



Previous winners

2001 Audi A4 Avant

2002 Audi A4 Cabriolet

2003 Peugeot 307 CC

2004 Aston Martin DB9

2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK

2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage


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