By on April 16, 2008

720tesla-071_550×267.jpgThe EV game is getting nasty. We've heard about Tesla suing Fisker, now Earth2Tech reports that Tesla is being sued by Canadian supplier Magna for breach of contract. The suit alleges that Tesla failed to pay Magna for development work on its troubled transmission system. Transmission woes have long been the Achilles heel of the Tesla Roadster's development. Initial plans called for a two-speed transmission to be supplied by X-Trac, That unit was quickly proven incapable of reliably handling the EV's zero-RPM grunt. Tesla then went to Magna for a replacement two-speed– which proved equally unsuccessful. After attempting an in-house development, Tesla has given-up on the whole multiple gears thing in favor of the golf-cart elegance of a single-speed box. But wait, says Magna, we told you to try a single-speed solution in the first place. Not only did Tesla not listen, but according to the suit filed California, they didn't pay some $5.6m in development fees that Magna claims it was owed under the development contract. Oops. Better collect quickly guys, before you have to squabble for it in, dare I say it, bankruptcy court.

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11 Comments on “Tesla Birth Watch 43: Magna Sues Tesla Over Transmission...”

  • avatar

    So what’s the top speed now that it only has one gear? They used to claim 130. Are they still claiming that?

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    BuckD: The eliminated the low gear, so top speed is unchanged. They found a way to discharge the batteries faster without damaging them, and give the motor more juice to still do 0-60 in 4 seconds. Why didn’t they do this in the first place??

  • avatar

    Nice, we make a transmission that doesn’t work but you will pay us $5.6 million.

  • avatar

    its really amuses me to see Tesla’s troubles over a transmission design

    especially when people criticize GM (which designs, makes and sells millions of 4,5,6 spd transmissions) saying if Tesla can make a li-ion EV why can’t GM

    and yes….I work for GM transmission engineering

  • avatar

    Question for Chinar

    This is a bit off topic and I don’t want to put you on the spot but since you work for GM transmission engineering perhaps you can enlighten me “Why does GM continue to build 4 sp transmissions? I presume they are cheaper to manufacture. However I (and I suspect many others) will not even look at a car with a 4 sp tranny. A lot of no-sales on that account alone can be costly.

  • avatar

    Why didn’t they do this in the first place??

    Simple: transmissions are a tried-and-true technology that have been around for a long time, so the decision-makers likely assumed that the transmission wouldn’t be a problem compared to the other components.

    Frankly, I’m surprised people aren’t more surprised by this. If it were the batteries that were the problem, folks would be saying “of course, batteries are HARD!” but who would have put money down two years ago that the transmission would be the holdup?

  • avatar

    The sad/funny thing is that the investors were the ones that insisted on the 2 speed transmission. Supposedly this was the cause of the production delays. Then they fired Eberhard for the production delays.

    Still whats up with the current production delay? I know Tesla said they were slowly ramping up but 0 cars in 1 month?

  • avatar

    davejay: Frankly, I’m surprised people aren’t more surprised by this. If it were the batteries that were the problem, folks would be saying “of course, batteries are HARD!” but who would have put money down two years ago that the transmission would be the holdup?

    I’m completely surprised. We can make automatic transmissions that’ll take many thousands of foot-pounds of torque, and while they are generally quite heavy they also tend to contain far more than two ratios.

    I’m a huge fan of electric motors (but not batteries, so I’m holding out for fuel cells), and part of that is the simplicity of direct-drive.

  • avatar

    One error in the article (and others): The Xtrac transmission never had reliability issues. It has proven rock solid over the years and for that reason we are using an Xtrac box for our interim transmission. The reason we moved away from that design was that we had originally tried to design the gearbox to have clutchless shifting and to accomplish the shifts entirely through motor control but this proved difficult on our end due in part to the time it takes to spin down a heavy rotor that is rotating very quickly.

    The reliability issues were with the Magna unit only. We’ve established the fact that the units delivered were not working well so that led to a disagreement between the parties as to what was owed on the contract. These types of disagreements sometimes end up in court.

    Regarding the one speed vs. two speed thing – only recently did new technology (new types of IGBTs) become available to enable us to flow enough current through the inverter to generate the necessary torque to achieve the 0-60 spec using a single gear ratio. Once that was available, the decision was obvious. Prior to that, we needed mechanical gearing to achieve the spec of acceleration and top speed.

    Regarding production, the fourth production vehicle off the line will be in Monaco with me next week before it come back to the US and is delivered to its owner. The cars are built in Hethel but then they are shipped to the US. That takes time.

  • avatar

    Thanks for sharing. Congrats on the deliveries.

  • avatar

    That’s very interesting, Guyincognito, because a lot of my enthusiasm about Tesla dissipated when Martin was fired. I really thought Martin was the soul of that company.

    When I saw Elon Musk on Jay Leon’s Garage trying to imply there was more than one production Tesla, and the one you see is not the only one in the world, i sort of cringed. Then he said charge time was three hours on 120v, which is not true at all and never was. It is three hours but on a special 220v circuit.

    That made me worry a bit for Tesla, because I still love the concept and think it’s the greatest idea since buttered toast :-).

    Was Martin also fired because he didn’t like the hybrid drivetrain idea I know Musk was going to use for Whitestar?


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