The Truth About Cars » Model S The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 10:00:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Model S Tesla Idles Plant For Two Weeks For Model X-Related Production Upgrades Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:00:38 +0000 tesla-model-x

Those who just ordered their Tesla Model S may need to wait a bit, as the premium EV automaker has idled its California factory in order to tool up for the upcoming Model X SUV.

Bloomberg reports the reconfiguration — including 25 new robots on the floor and other modifications — began June 20, and will conclude in two weeks to the tune of $100 million and a 25 percent increase in production.

Tesla has given its assembly workers the option of reporting for maintenance and training shifts during their time off, as well as using that time for vacation.

Once completed, the newly upgraded floor should pump out some 1,000 units of the Model S per week, as well as allow for both the S and the X to be screwed together next to each other. Pricing for the EV-SUV has yet to be announced.

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BMW M235i Bests Corvette, 911 In Consumer Reports Road Testing Mon, 30 Jun 2014 12:00:17 +0000 BMW M235i HR 04

BMW’s M235i has earned the highest marks ever bestowed upon the German automaker’s lineup from Consumer Reports, while also besting the Porsche 911 and Chevrolet Corvette in road tests whose results were recently released online.

Bloomberg reports the coupe earned a 98 out of 100 in its road test, falling one point short of the all-time leaders, the Tesla Model S and Lexus LS460L. The 911 and Corvette, packing more firepower with less comfort than the M235i, earned 95 and 92 out of 100 in their respective road tests.

Deputy editor Jon Linkov proclaimed the M235i a “dual-purpose car” that anyone “could drive to work every day of the week” without leaving the driver in pain, followed by a weekend at the track taking on the likes of the 911 and Corvette. He added that this particular BMW “has almost a direct lineage” to BMWs of the past that lived up to the marketing of “Ultimate Driving Machine.”

Neither of the trio were recommended by the publication, however, as the BMW and the Corvette were too new for reliability reports, while the 911 has below average reliability according to those surveyed.

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Musk: Location Of First Tesla Gigafactory To Be Announced By Year-End Thu, 05 Jun 2014 11:30:44 +0000 Tesla Gigafactory

For those awaiting when and where Tesla will build its first Gigafactory, the automaker announced the decision should come near the end of the year, and that said Gigafactory will have siblings.

The Detroit News reports CEO Elon Musk told shareholders at Tesla’s annual meeting in Mountain View, Calif. that as many as three states could see one of the battery factories land in their boundaries, with Gigafactory 1 delivering 6,500 jobs at a cost of $5 billion between it and its investors to one of four states before the end of 2014. Musk added the plans were “quite advanced,” and that his company talks with Panasonic — who wants the Gigafactory all for itself — on a day-to-day basis.

In addition to sharing the love with the concept of American-made battery packs, Tesla plans to boost deliveries of the Model S by 56 percent as markets in China and elsewhere come online. Musk himself will travel to the United Kingdom this week to oversee delivery of the first RHD models assembled by Tesla, with other RHD markets — Japan, Hong Kong et al — to receive theirs down the road. All Ss will also receive software upgrades to provide the owners with more customization abilities, with auto-pilot features to come sometime in 2015.

Finally, Musk himself proclaimed he would not leave the controls of his company until sales of Tesla’s third-gen EVs began, a inevitability not due for the next four to five years.

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Tesla Fires Back Against Accusations Brought By Lemon Law King Fri, 11 Apr 2014 11:30:03 +0000 tesla-model-s-11

Tesla has fired back against the accusations brought in a lawsuit filed against the company earlier this week by a Wisconsin attorney and self-described “Lemon law King” Vince Megna. Mr. Megna’s client, a physician who took delivery of his Model S in March of last year, alleges that he has had repeated problems with the car’s doors and main fuse and that repeated attempts to remedy the problem have met with no success. He is asking that, after four attempts at resolving the issues, the company re-purchase the car under Wisconsin lemon laws intended to protect buyers if a product is faulty and cannot be repaired by the manufacturer.

Tesla’s response, published on their official blog and attributed to “The Tesla Motors Team,” claims factual inaccuracies in the attorney’s statements. The company writes that, although the customer filed an official buy-back request in November 2013, they have continued to work him to resolve his issues, many of which have “elusive” origins. They go on to say that their technicians were unable to replicate customer’s main complaints, problems with the door handles and the car’s main fuse, and that after replacing several of the parts in question without alleviating the situation they began to suspect the car was being tampered with. They noted that all the issues with the main fuse came shortly after the car’s front trunk, which gives access to the fuse, was opened and claim that the part has performed flawlessly since technicians applied a tamper-proof seal to the switch.

Tesla concludes their response by noting that the attorney in question also filed a Lemon Law suit against Volvo in February 2013 on behalf of the same customer and encourages the public to be aware of how opportunistic lawyers can take advantage of lemon laws.

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Tesla Q4 Sees $16 Million In Losses, Annual Revenue Climbs To $2 Billion Thu, 20 Feb 2014 16:30:05 +0000 tesla-model-s-01

Tesla announced their Q4 2013 earnings saw a total net loss of $16 million while pulling in an annual revenue of $2 billion on the strength of higher sales and more efficient manufacturing methods.

Automotive News reports the luxury EV automaker’s annual loss for 2013 totaled $74 million, while Q4 revenues using GAAP accounting standards were $615 million; non-GAAP revenue for the same period totaled $716 million. Contributions to the fourth quarter revenue stream included $13 million via a powertrain-sharing program with Daimler and Toyota, $15 million in regulatory credits, and $5 million from favorable foreign currency rates.

Tesla’s crystal ball for 2014 sees deliveries climbing to over 35,000 units worldwide through expansions into new markets — including China, Australia and the United Kingdom — production output increasing from 600 to 1,000 units/week, and the introduction of the Model X SUV.

Near-term, deliveries for Q1 2014 are predicted to hit 6,400 units, though production of the Model S will be constrained due to battery-cell supplies. Tesla CEO Elon Musk hopes to remedy the issue in the long-term through his “giga-factory” concept, meant to supply the automaker with lithium-ion packs while protecting it from forces outside of their control.

Finally, Tesla’s assets for the outgoing year were $846 million in cash and $738 million in equipment and property, including a new body-in-white assembly facility that will serve as the starting point for the Model X when units begin to roll off the line early next year.

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Tesla S Goes AWD, Comes With Cheaper Batteries, Upgraded Firmware Mon, 10 Feb 2014 16:03:58 +0000 tesla-model-s-03

During a Tesla townhall meeting at the automaker’s European headquarters in Amsterdam, CEO Elon Musk announced to owners that an all-wheel drive version of the vaunted S would arrive in showrooms by the early months of 2015 at the latest.

The arrival comes on the heels of the Model X SUV, which will come standard with the AWD system when it makes its showroom debut in 2015. The system utilizes two electric motors, each driving the front or rear wheels while pushing the electric SUV from 0 to 60 in under 5 seconds for the Performance option. Power for both the X and S models will come from higher-capacity battery options, eventually including those made with cheaper batteries from Tesla’s “giga factory.”

Planned to be the largest battery plant in the world, the factory will be built in the United States sometime soon, and will be able to recycle older battery units in-house with refitting visiting Teslas with newer packs. The eventual goal is to drive battery costs down by as much as 30 percent to 40 percent while pushing 30 gigawatt-hours of production capacity, just in time for Tesla’s $30,000/200-mile EV debut in the near future. More information will be announced in March, when Musk will also divulge the location of the new factory.

For current owners, a firmware upgrade will be available in a few weeks: Version 6.0 adds real-time traffic data, more control over ride height and suspension settings, and other improvements. Down the road, owners can also upgrade their seats for greater comfort, while future owners of S and X models will have those seats as standard equipment.

Finally, owners will be able to go coast-to-coast thanks to Tesla’s Supercharger stations, whose transcontinental network was completed recently — with a transcontinental road trip to celebrate the occasion — and is now adding capacity at a rate of five of the charging stations coming online per week. The chargers are expected to recharge batteries at a max of 135 kW current.

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California New Car Dealers Seek DMV Probe Into “Egregious” Tesla Advertising Tue, 17 Sep 2013 16:08:49 +0000 Tesla store in Newport Beach, California

Tesla factory owned store in Newport Beach, California

In the continuing battle between Tesla, which wants to sell cars directly to consumers, and car dealers, who are using state laws to keep the EV startup from opening factory outlets, the California New Car Dealers Association has asked that state’s DMV to “investigate and remedy several egregious violations and advertising and consumer protection laws” by Tesla.


According to Automotive News, dealers say that Tesla advertising that includes “packed external savings” like fuel costs, incentives and federal tax credits, in calculating the cost of ownership is misleading. For example, the dealer group says that the available $7,500 U.S. federal tax credit should not be included in Tesla’s advertising since only 20% of taxpayers pay enough taxes to qualify for the tax credit.

The CNCDA membership is comprised of 1,100 franchised new-car and -truck dealerships in California, which is the largest individual state or provincial market in North America. In an interview, Brian Maas, president of the dealer association said, “We don’t have any quibble with Tesla’s ability to sell cars, it’s how they are selling cars that is the problem.” Tesla declined to comment on the suggested investigation.

Tesla has run into problems trying to sell cars directly to consumers in Texas and New York but California law permits car manufacturer direct sales as long as they follow advertising guidelines and other consumer protection regulations imposed on traditional dealerships.

“The general thrust is that Tesla is misleading consumers into thinking the monthly cost that you’re going to pay for one of their vehicles is substantially lower than the actual money” that consumers will have to pay, Maas said.

“It’s misleading,” Maas added. “If you checked every box on their true cost of ownership series of inquiries, they claim you can get a Model S for $114 a month, which is lower than the cheapest [new] car available in the United States, the Nissan Versa — which would cost you, with a lease deal, about $139 a month.”

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Tesla vs. The New York Times: Let’s Check The Logs Fri, 15 Feb 2013 11:17:31 +0000

Pull up a chair, get some popcorn. The fireworks have been flying fast and furious. New York Times reporter John Broder wrote a piece about his press loaner Tesla running out of juice. Tesla, already smarting from the perceived slight given them by BBC’s Top Gear, decided they needed an ace up their sleeve: data logging. Chairman Elon Musk penned a response that included detailed data logs from the press car. Broder responded in general terms and then with a point-by-point response to Musk’s charges. The NYT’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, has also chimed in with the opening of her own investigation. Notably, Musk hasn’t returned her calls. Her tentative conclusion? “I reject Mr. Musk’s central contention that Mr. Broder’s Sunday piece was faked in order to sabotage the Model S or the electric-car industry.” She also called for Tesla to release all the data they’ve got in proper machine-readable form, not just their pretty annotated graphs with the circles and the arrows and the paragraph on the back of each one.

Readers are welcome to read all the back and forth and come to their own conclusion. You can read lots of smart technical people trying to reconcile both stories at this Hacker News thread. The AtlanticWire has a reasonably concise pro-Broder analysis if you don’t want to wade through a comment thread. Also, Consumer Report’s recent article and members of the independent-of-Tesla owner’s forum seem to be corroborating some of the cold-weather battery issues raised by Broder’s original piece.

Instead of going any further down that path, let’s instead talk some more about this data logging business. The Tesla Model S has the capability of logging everything about the car: it’s GPS location, velocity, even the settings on the AC/heating system. Musk noted, in a tweet, that “Tesla data logging is only turned on with explicit written permission from customers, but after Top Gear BS, we always keep it on for media.” How nice.

On the one hand, bully for Tesla. As Jack Baruth has often noted, car reviewers are often not particularly good car drivers, and this gives Tesla the opportunity to correct the record. On the other hand… Tesla is working to destroy the career of a seasoned journalist based on their interpretation of the evidence in these logs. It’s heady stuff that might give any other car reviewer a moment of pause. We believe that journalists sign something acknowledging that Tesla is watching them. But everybody else is cool, right? Let’s talk about the privacy implications.

Say you’re a Tesla owner, you enable the data logging feature, and then you let your teenage kid drive the car without you around. Does she have an expectation of privacy? Should she? Okay, now you give your car to one of the valet parking stands which many trendy restaurants force you to use these days. The valet takes your car for a joyride and you’ve got the data. (Amusingly, the Tesla Roadster had a valet mode to diffuse exactly this concern, but the Model S doesn’t seem to.) Those are easy cases. How about your insurance company or a car rental company? Maybe they offer you a discount for driving sedately and providing them with the data. Or maybe they require data logging access, particularly if you’ve got a less than stellar driving record. Drive your car more than 10 mph over the speed limit and lose your coverage? Some companies already offer variations on this sort of usage-based insurance, but Tesla’s data logging facility enables it to go to quite a different level. One step further: can a court order subpoena your data? The possibilities are endless. Hacker types might also imagine protecting their privacy by modifying the car to falsify these records. Criminal types might see this as a way to generate an alibi. Heck, unethical car manufacturers could even falsify these records to falsely impugn negative reviewers. Write a positive review or risk your career!

I don’t want to pick on Tesla too much. Any car with a modern telematics system (GM OnStar, etc.) already has the facilities to support remote data logging. Let’s just hope Tesla gets more of these cars into reviewers’ hands. That’s the scientific method at play: results should be repeatable. If there’s a real problem, it can and should be discovered by having more eyes looking at it. CNN has already set out with another Tesla. More on this story as it develops.

[This blog piece emerged from a discussion with several of my graduate students. Everybody’s buzzing today with this news.]

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The Truth About Tesla’s Charging Stations Tue, 25 Sep 2012 16:52:46 +0000

Tesla has officially launched their long-awaited “Supercharging” network last night to a star-studded crowd in Southern California. (We assume it was star-studded since our invitation got lost in the mail.) The EV network promises to enable Model S and Model X owners to charge 150 miles of range in 30 minutes. What about your Roadster? Sorry, you aren’t invited to this charging party. Have a Tesla and a LEAF? You’ll have to be satisfied with separate but equal charging facilities as the Tesla proprietary charging connector restricts access to Tesla shoppers only. Is this class warfare or do we parallel the computer industry where connectors come and go with the seasons?

What’s the big deal with charging? Let’s go over the Model S’s charging time chart and you’ll understand. From a regular 120V wall outlet the Model S will gain 4-5 miles per hour of charging and consumes about the same amount of power as a space heater. Charging at 41 amps, the car gains 31 miles per hour and consumes as much power as TWO average electric clothes dryers. Charging at 81 amps (a service that many homes with older wiring or smaller services cannot support) the Model S gains 62 miles an hour and consumes more power than an average home’s A/C, dryer, washer, stove, oven, lights and small appliances put together. With a range of 300 miles and a 10 hour charge time at the 41A rate, it’s easy to see why fast charging stations are appealing. Tesla’s Supercharger’s specs are yet to be revealed, but by the numbers it is apparent the system is delivering a massive 90kWh charge which is likely 440V DC at around 200A. An hour of charging at that rate is 70% of the power that my home uses in an entire month.

Is this a Tesla issue? No, it’s an EV issue. If you expect your EV to drive like a regular car, modern EVs are a delight. If you expect your EV to refuel like a regular car, we’ve hit a snag. But it’s more complex than that, you see, only three of the four Model S trims support DC fast charging and the only other EVs on the market with a DC charge port are the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Except they don’t use the same connector or the same standard. Oops. Adding more complications to the mix are the EVs with no DC charge connector like the RAV4 EV, Volt, Prius Plug-In, Accord Plug-In, Focus, Active E and Coda while the new Chevy Spark is rumored to début a third standard: the SAE combo plug.

Of course, if you think of your car like you think of your cell phone, this makes sense as the phone you bought last year wont use the same charger as the phone you buy today. If you think of this in car terms however it’s like buying a new car and finding out that most of the gas stations have a nozzle that won’t fit your car.

Back to those Tesla charging stations. Tesla opened the first four in Southern California and announced two more stations will go online in October with stations in Las Vegas, Northern California and Oregon by summer 2013 with the 100 station network being complete by 2015. If that network sounds familiar then it should, because the recent settlement in the California vs NRG lawsuit means there will be 200 new CHAdeMO stations in California over the same time frame in addition to the 8 already installed and the 75 commercial stations planned or under construction. It isn’t just California on the CHAdeMO bandwagon however, the Department of Energy claims there are over 113 CHAdeMO stations in the USA and a 1,200+ unit installed base in Japan.

What does this mean to Tesla owners? Until Tesla creates a CHAdeMO to Tesla charging adapter cable (much like they have a J1772 to Tesla cable for use at public AC charging stations), Tesla owners will be restricted to regular AC charging or the smaller Tesla only charging network. On the flip side, Tesla is promising the Tesla charging stations will be free to Tesla owners, positioned next to trendy restaurants and you won’t have to mix with the Leaf owning rabble. You can also feel superior because Tesla’s newer standard charges 80% faster than the 50kWh CHAdeMO connector.

What does this mean to LEAF and i-MiEV owners? It means this is just the beginning of a standards battle. If you bought an EV before this raft of new J1772-connector-toting models, you know what I’m talking about. While CHAdeMO has the lead now, depending on what standard the rest of the industry supports this could change rapidly.

What about the rest of us? If we continue to build more battery electric vehicles and continue to develop batteries that are more and more power dense, you can expect even the snazzy Tesla charging connector to be outdated on a few years. If you expect an EV SUV to deliver 300 miles of electric range, AWD, decent performance, mild off-road ability and Range Rover quality luxury trappings, then expect it to have a battery that is 50-100% larger than the Model S’ massive 85kWh pack. This means you have to either take all the charging rates and nearly double them, or you have to develop a charging method that charges 50-100% faster to keep the same performance.

Of course, just like LEAF owners experience battery degradation caused by repeated use of DC quick charge stations, Tesla owners should be mindful that batteries don’t last forever and the faster you charge them the shorter their life will be.


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Your Tesla Mileage May Vary: Scientist Projects Drastically Shorter Range While Journalists Wait For Test Cars Mon, 13 Aug 2012 20:30:10 +0000 Tesla’s 10 minutes test drives have received a lot of flak in the press. The Fourth Estate (at least parts of it) is trying to get to the core of that car, and that is its stellar battery performance. What is wrong with the tried and true practice of having the car for the day? A weekend?  This would give a tester time to find out when the battery runs out.  300 miles as per Tesla? 265 miles as per EPA? How much as per reality? Until journalists drive the Model S more than just a few times around the block, we have to go the unorthodox route of asking an inferential statistician.

We know someone who has two Masters of Science degrees from two different graduate schools, and who worked as an engineer at a major component maker. Let’s call him Joe. For a number of reasons, he does not want his name to be known.

Joe, who calls himself “a believer in the promise of electric vehicles”  does not distrust Tesla.  He consulted the tables and graphs on the Tesla website and attempted to project measurements taken under ideal  conditions into the real world, an art and science any automaker should be able to master. Tesla says it tested its cars on level terrain, no wind, no AC/heat, windows rolled up, constant speed, 300 pounds aboard. Good. What happens if you turn the A/C on? What happens at differing speeds?  What happens in real life?

After crunching the numbers, Joe expects that  a Tesla Model S 85kWh driven at 80 mph and with A/C on, assuming less than idea driving conditions, will get about 150 miles. Then, there better be one of those Tesla Superchargers close. Even if there is, it will be an exercise in patience. Says “Joe:”

“My guesstimate would be that somewhere around an hour and twenty minutes would be required for a full recharge, which includes the time required to get to and from the station from the Interstate, and also assumes no one is ahead of you at the recharge station.”   

When the car is 4 ½ years old, that 150 mile range will drop to 139 miles, says Joe while still relying on Tesla-provided data.

On the probably more common 60kWh version of the Model S, the expected range under the less than ideal conditions drops to  114 miles, Joe deduces from Tesla data.

Tables for the expected Model S driving range can be downloaded here.  Joe also provides estimated fuel cost tables, which we did not cover her. Let’s just say that he does not buy into the 2 cents per mile claim. Here are Joe’s research notes, in case you need his rationale behind his projections.

All of this of course would be moot once real life driving tests are available that last longer than 10 minutes. Until then, we need to rely on Joe.

TTAC has been promised a test drive within the week, and we were told it would not last long.

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Tesla Slashes Model S Output Wed, 18 Jul 2012 17:33:24 +0000

Brokerage Wunderlich Securities downgraded Tesla to “sell” from “buy.” The reason: Tesla has downshifted its production plans, reports Reuters.

“While initially saying that it would produce and sell 1,000 cars in the third quarter, Tesla now says it will certainly be 500 cars,” Wunderlich analyst, Theodore O’Neill, said in a research note.

Tesla said that it plans to deliver 5,000 Model S cars by year end.

“While the company is sticking to its 5,000 unit forecast for 2012, how it gets there becomes a second issue for it to resolve,” says a diplomatic O’Neill.

Reservations for the electric car are said to be more than 10,000.

Note: “Sell” recommendations are not frequently given, usually they are couched in “hold” or “accumulate.”


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Tesla Model S To Be Delivered In June – If It Does Crash Alright Thu, 10 May 2012 10:20:03 +0000

Tesla is sitting on more than 10,000 orders for its all-electric Model S sedan. Tesla might finally deliver the first units next month, slightly ahead of plan, says Reuters. The only thing that keeps the production from starting is a successful completion of crash tests required by U.S. safety regulators. If the car doesn’t bomb during the crash, customers can soon flaunt their high-priced environmental responsibility while tooling down the car-pool lanes in solitary fashion.

“Once we complete and document the tests, we will be able to sell our vehicles in the United States,” CEO Elon Musk told shareholders. Tesla will take a “slow, methodical” approach to the launch. By the end of the year 5,000 Model S sedans are expected to be delivered, half of the pre-orders.

Tesla needs the money. Tesla reported a first-quarter net loss of $89.9 million, or 86 cents per share, compared to $48.9 million or 51 cents per share a year earlier.


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Tesla Model S Pricing Analysis Thu, 22 Dec 2011 20:46:38 +0000

Tesla released the finalized features and pricing for the Model S sedan this week, with deliveries of the most expensive variants to begin in “mid-2012,” the others to follow by the end of next year. More than a few people who thought they were going to be able to buy a “premium electric sedan” for $50,000 seem miffed by the final pricing. Yes, there will eventually be a $50,000 car (after a $7,500 tax credit). But it won’t have full motor power, leather, nav, or the ability to use fast-charging stations. Tick off all the boxes, and the Model S pushes double the hyped number. But, let’s face it, these guys have to turn a profit and must pay at least as much for parts as the big established car companies, on top of that big expensive battery pack. So does the announced pricing seem reasonable?

First off, a caveat. Tesla released “full features and pricing,” but a few holes remain. The car has eight airbags, but what are the two beyond the typical six? Front knee airbags, rear side airbags, or counting each side curtain airbag as two (front and rear)? Does the base car have a leather-wrapped steering wheel or an auto-dimming inside rearview mirror? Are the external mirrors heated? Is obstacle detection standard, optional, or simply not available? None of these are pricey enough features to make a big difference in the following analysis, but be aware that the omissions, if they’re on the car, might be worth a few hundred dollars.

The big jumps from $50,000 are due to the optional battery packs. Three packs will eventually be available. The base car will have a 40 kWh battery pack good for a 160-mile range and a zero-to-sixty time of 6.5 seconds. How is acceleration affected? The electric motor appears to be a powerful 300 kW / 402 BHP unit in all cars, but only the highest capacity battery pack is capable of outputting enough energy per second to fully power it. The figures for the other two packs: 60 kWh / 230 miles / 5.9 seconds and 85 kWh / 300 miles / 5.6 seconds. With the largest pack another bottleneck is encountered. Step up to a “Performance” model, with the 85 kWh battery pack and a high-performance inverter, and the zero-to-sixty sprint drops to 4.4 seconds. One implication: with an electric car, it’s not enough to know the peak power output of the motor. The battery pack and inverter are also critical parts of the equation, and these aren’t always capable of providing the motor with sufficient energy.

To put the sizes of these battery packs in perspective, the Chevrolet Volt has a 16 kWH pack, while that in the Nissan LEAF is 24 kWh. So the increments between packs are as large as the entire pack in these smaller cars. And the lithium-ion pack in the new Prius Plug-in Hybrid? A mere 4.4 kWh, for which Toyota charges about $5,400 extra. Using Toyota’s math, even if we ignore the cost of the standard Prius’s 1.3 kWh NiMH battery pack (or at least assume it’s offset by the cost of a charging system), Tesla would charge about $24,500 to go from the 40 kWh to 60 Kwh and about $30,700 to go from 60 kWh to 85 kWh. Instead, they’re charging a mere $10,000 for each bump. So either Toyota is making a bundle, Tesla is losing one, or Tesla knows something about lithium-ion battery packs that Toyota does not. They certainly can’t be faulted for their battery pack pricing as much as it bumps the price of the car.

And that high-performance inverter? Another $10,000, plus an additional $5,000 to cover mandatory additional standard equipment (leather interior, air suspension, and 21-inch wheels) that costs $6,500 to add to the regular car. So the “quicker than a 911” Model S starts at $85,000.

Optional even on this top model: $750 metallic paint, $1,500 panoramic sunroof, $3,750 Tech Package (nav, rearview camera, xenon lights, power liftgate, passive entry, Homelink), $950 580-watt 7.1 audio system, and $1,500 for a kids-only rear-facing third row. Oh, and if you want a parcel shelf to hide your cargo (like the one standard in a Hyundai Accent) that’ll be another $250. Two further options ($1,500 for a second on-board charger, $1,200 for a high power wall connector to feed it) enable quicker battery charging. Include all of the listed items on the Performance model and you’re at $96,400. Of these options, the $3,750 price for the Tech Package seems to have prospective owners most in a tizzy, as the price seems a little high given the contents, at least some of which they thought would be standard.

Disregarded here, but certainly not elsewhere: the first 1,000 cars will be “Signature” models with a unique red exterior and white leather interior. These start at $87,900, a few thousand higher than a similarly equipped regular production Model S. [Ed: Residual value speculators, start your engines]

So, how does the non-intro car’s pricing compare to the Infiniti M35h I had last week, which has a 1.4 kWh battery pack? Add metallic paint, leather, and sunroof to the Tesla, to minimally match the M’s standard equipment, and it actually comes in nearly a grand lower, $53,650 vs. S54,595. But the Infiniti includes additional standard features. Adjust for these using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool (where additional models can also be compared), and the Infiniti ends up with a $1,455 price advantage. Load the cars up further, adding nav and the high-end audio systems, and the Tesla comes out better, $57,600 vs. $61,745. A $2,850 adjustment for the Infiniti’s additional features leaves the Tesla with a $1,295 feature-adjusted price advantage. Coincidence that they’re so close? Probably not.

But the Infiniti with a combined power output of 360 horsepower gets to sixty in about 5.5 seconds. So it’s as quick as the standard Model S with the 85 kWh battery pack. Add this pack–also the only one that will be available initially–and the Tesla comes in about $20,000 above the Infiniti.

So, for equivalent range and performance in the Tesla (or if you’re getting one of the first cars) you’re going to spend quite a bit more. How you evaluate this depends on whether you tend to see the glass as half full or half empty. Does Tesla deserve congratulations for doing a surprisingly good job of absorbing the cost of the standard 40 kWh battery pack ($20,000 even at their “bargain” prices) and charging much less than Toyota per kWh for the larger packs? Or should they be taken to task for not delivering the capability of the 85 kWh car at the price of the 40 kWh car?

I’m personally inclined towards the former view. But then this is a purely intellectual exercise for me: I haven’t plunked down $5,000 to get in line for one. If I had, then I might be upset to not be getting the car I expected for the price I expected to pay, even if it always did seem too good to be true.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Tesla Model S Customer Blog: Beta Under The Bright Lights Tue, 04 Oct 2011 15:17:48 +0000

[Editor's note: videos are from Youtube, and were not taken by the author]

“THE BETAS ARE COMING!” The mid-August e-mail from Tesla Motors breathlessly touted “the most exciting automotive event of the year:” an exclusive owners-only unveiling of the Model S. All 6,000 of us who’d put down $5K deposits on the electric sedan would be invited out to Tesla’s sprawling new plant in Fremont, Calif. to see, touch, and ride in the Beta version of the car, described as “over 90 percent production intent.”

A few weeks later came the e-mail invitation itself. I RSVPed the same day. Tesla had expected attendance in the hundreds, and had made initial plans for 1,000 just to be safe. But when 300 RSVPs came back in the first 23 minutes, they realized they had a tsunami of customer enthusiasm on their hands. In the end, about 2,000 owners showed up, including one guy from Kazakhstan.

Driving my rented Prius up I-880 toward Fremont on the big day, I passed a factory with huge letters on the side: SOLYNDRA. Not a good omen. The start-up Silicon Valley manufacturer of high-tech cutting-edge solar panels, the recipient of half a billion dollars in government loans, had lost hundreds of millions of dollars and just gone bankrupt amid cries of political favoritism and financial fraud.

A mile or so up the road, another sprawling factory festooned with giant letters: TESLA. A start-up Silicon Valley manufacturer of high-tech cutting edge automobiles, recipient of half a billion dollars in government loans, currently reporting annual losses of hundreds of millions of dollars….oh, never mind.

Dozens of BMWs in the parking lot, a Panamera here, a tricked-out Lotus there. Up by the door, a half-dozen Roadsters tethered to their charging stations. I join the stream of owners, chattering excitedly, as we walked up a literal red carpet to the factory entrance. The first thing we see inside: a Tesla boutique selling logoed shirts, jackets, and accessories. Business is brisk

Then down a long hallway formed by temporary white walls that mask the stunning vastness of the plant, the former NUMMI factory owned by Toyota and GM. Then, bang, we’re in the middle of it, shiny white floors that stretch out almost to the limits of vision, with bright red robotic machinery scattered about, and several Model S prototypes staged in various points of assembly. Over to the right a dark corner of the plant, maybe half a football field in size, has been set up like a night club–leather couches and tables, potted plants, open bars, hors d’oeuvres at every turn, dim blue and red lighting, pulsating club music.

Wine in hand, and resisting the entreaties of a black-clad waiter offering bacon-wrapped scallops, I chat with another owner, lamenting the fact that the earliest slot I could get for a ride was 10:30 p.m., five hours from now. He’s scheduled for a ride in a few minutes, and offers to let me stand in for his no-show guest.

Waiting in the ride line, we watch the three ride cars–one black, one white, one red–come and go with their cargoes of four riders. Each arrival looks like a NASCAR pit stop: the car screeches up, two Tesla employees attack the car with polishing rags while three others open the doors and shoo out the grinning passengers. Four new riders, carefully prepositioned for quick entry, are then ushered in, and the car tears off once more. Elapsed time, maybe 30 seconds.

At last, my turn. I get shotgun, and at 6 feet 2 I find the front seat a bit cramped because it’s pulled forward for more legroom in back. I’m barely buckled in and have just glanced at the huge center video screen before we race off into the empty back parking lot. First up is a short slalom course, to demonstrate the flat cornering, the result of the heavy, low-mounted battery. “Lowest c.g. in the business,” the driver intones. Then a couple of quick turns, and we line up for a quarter-mile straightaway.

We accelerate briskly to about 65 mph in almost total silence. I ask the driver to back off the accelerator abruptly at high speed, so I can get a feel for the regenerative braking. (In a brief test drive of the Roadster a couple of years back, I found its abruptly powerful trailing-throttle regen to be way too much for everyday driving. Hopefully the S would feel more like a normal car.) He obliges, and I’m relieved that, from the passenger’s point of view at least, it seems pretty normal. No lurch against the shoulder harness.

One more quick 180, another brief spurt, and we’re back at the start. The doors fly open, and the next four riders surge forward. Total elapsed time: 90 seconds.

I refill my wine glass, load up on Thai noodles, and start looking for Tesla engineers. There are dozens of them scattered around, each clad in a grey polo shirt, each eager to talk. By luck, one of the first I introduce myself to is Drew Baglino, who happens to be directly involved in setting up the Model S regen braking system.

He has some surprises for me. First, he tells that the regen profile of the Model S is precisely the same as the Roadster. So why did it feel different to me? For one thing, I tested the Roadster in New York City, and never exceeded 50 mph. On both cars, the regen is set to be stronger at low speeds, so I was comparing 40-mph regen on the Roadster to 65-mph regen on the Model S. Moreover, the extra 500 lbs of passengers in the S would have reduced the S’s deceleration.

He also countered my impression that the Model S’s braking system–in which the brake pedal actuates only the standard friction brakes–is less efficient than the blended system of the Toyota Prius, in which the brake pedal initially activates the regen system, resorting to the friction brakes only when additional brake force is needed in abrupt stops.

“Tesla’s brake system is just as efficient as Toyota’s, and we’ve done the dyno testing to prove it,” says Baglino. What’s not widely known, he says, is that the Toyota system does indeed apply the friction brakes slightly whenever the brake pedal is used. This smooths the transition to full friction braking when necessary.

When I pleaded for driver-adjustable regen on the Model S, he said this was under consideration. (Two days after the event, while writing up this report, on a whim I e-mailed Tesla boss Elon Musk and repeated my plea for driver-adjustable regen. Three hours later, I got this reply: “I totally agree that regen should be driver-adjustable and it will be on Model S.” The message was Cced to JB Straubel, Tesla CTO.)

Over by the info/nav/audio system display, a battery engineer tells me that the 300-mile version of the S will have a battery capacity of 85 kWh. But he won’t reveal the capacities of the shorter-range versions. But some simple math suggests that the 240-mile version will have 68 kWh and the 160-mile version about 45 kWh. Even the latter is nearly double the capacity of the Nissan Leaf.

There will be about a 220-pound weight penalty for each step up in battery capacity, I’m told. The higher-capacity batteries will have some combination of more cells and improved cell chemistry. Final specs have not yet been determined.

Over by the dessert bar (I can’t resist those mini-eclaires) a charging system engineer shows off the Model S charging plug, which will plug into either 120v or 240v outlets. At 240 volts, the car will charge at a rate of 9.6 kW, enough to completely charge the 300-mile battery in about nine hours. On the average, he tells me, I’ll add 30 miles of range for each hour of charging. An optional second built-in charger will double those charging rates.

As much fun as it is talking to the engineers, at around 8 o’clock, all conversations stop and everyone moves toward an elevated stage at the rear of the main factory bay.

Elon is coming!

Atop the platform, a Tesla marketing exec plays Ed McMahon to Musk’s Johnny Carson, whipping the crowd into a frenzy of anticipation. (Although he didn’t quite shout “Heeeeere’s Elon!) Musk makes his entrance at the wheel of the red Model S, as the crowd cheers and camera strobes flash. Four Tesla employees ride in the passenger seats. Wearing a tuxedo jacket over a checked sportshirt, Musk then walks around to the back of the car and opens the hatch to reveal his 7-year-old twin sons sitting in the rear-facing child seats.

As the seven bask in the cheers of the crowd, another guy climbs out from under the hood. Okay, we get the point: the Model S is pretty roomy.

It’s the first time I’ve seen Musk in person, and I’m surprised that he seems like a pretty normal guy, maybe even a little geeky, a bit hesitant and awkward amid all the fuss. His rock-star reception, it seems, is inspired not by personal charisma, but by the crowd’s understanding of his vision and accomplishments. Musk gives a short, stumbling speech, briefly demonstrates the entertainment system features–like the ability to surf the Internet, which will probably alone double the car’s accident rate–and walks off to thunderous applause.

Immediately, the crowd storms the stage to inspect the car up close. A squad of nervous-looking Tesla guys gently shepherd us off the platform. With the stage finally clear, Ed McMahon drags Musk back on stage. It seems that Elon forgot to make the most important announcement of the evening: that there will be a high-performance version of the Model S that will do zero-to-sixty in under five seconds. More wild applause.

It’s pushing 9 p.m., but there’s still time for a factory tour. Instead of the 15-minute rush job I expected, we get an hour-long dog-and-robot show of virtually the entire production process. (The one exception is the paint shop, which we’re told is a 40-minute walk away. The factory is that big.) What stands out for me are the robots: ranging in size from ostrich to giraffe, bobbing and weaving, clutching, punching, drilling, welding. “These are my toys,” one robotics engineer tells me proudly. “This one here does a fantastic job of welding aluminum, which is a lot harder than welding steel. It’s far better than anyone could do by hand. Every weld is perfect.”

While the production line is by no means complete, and the robotic gyrations we see this night are choreographed primarily to impress the rabble, to the layman’s eye it looks like they could start building cars next month. In my mind, there is little doubt that Tesla will make its production target of mid-2012.

Every Tesla employee I talk to seems to love the place. One production engineer had worked at the plant when it was run by the Toyota/GM patnership. “This was a dirty, nasty place under Toyota,” he tells me. “The floor was black with stuff. Tesla cleaned everything up. Look at the floor now. This place is more like an Intel chip plant than a car factory.”

He also raves about the Tesla operating style. “When I first got here, I was overwhelmed by the opportunities to innovate. It’s such a team-oriented place. Everybody is always bouncing ideas off each other.” Another engineer, the guy in charge of headlights, stells me, “Elon drops by my office to chat every few weeks. He likes to know what’s going on.”

Now it’s nearing 10:30, the time for my official ride. This time I sit in back, the right window seat. This driver seems more enthusiastic than the first one; he slams through the slalom course, chuckling “This should help you folks in back get to know each other better.” The acceleration run seems more aggressive, too, and we hit almost 80 mph as the floodlit cones approach in the windshield. A couple of the passengers actually scream in delight, as if riding a roller coaster.

Is it all too good to be true? Have I been hoodwinked by the shiny prototypes and the mini-eclaires and the rock-star CEO? Maybe. But I’ll be very surprised if Tesla meets the same fate as Solyndra just down the road. Despite the doubts of my wife and a few friends, I’m confident that my $5,000 deposit is in good hands. And I really, really want that car.

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Quote Of The Day: Madness? This Is Tesla! Edition Wed, 28 Apr 2010 19:36:24 +0000

We’re really trying to put together a world-class manufacturing team. We’re trying to create a Spartan army of expertise.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk give Automotive News [sub] his most inspirational metaphor for Tesla’s effort to ready production of its $50k Model S sedan. And though Musk is quick to call outsourced production “wishful thinking,” the vehicle’s transmission and battery cells as well as “wiring harnesses, skeletal mechanisms for the seats, and glass for the windows” will be supplied by outside firms. Musk says that sourcing for 80 percent of the Model S’s components has been narrowed down to one or two companies, and a plant location in Southern California will be announced shortly. But, he notes, the factory deal isn’t done yet. Or, as Musk puts it:

It hasn’t yet been finalized. We’ve almost fully negotiated the deal, but it has not been signed yet

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Tesla’s Profit Claims Are Lies Wed, 03 Feb 2010 00:57:22 +0000

We overlooked a key point in our write-up on Tesla’s IPO plans: the profits Elon Musk has been touting are a mirage. As this balance sheet from Tesla’s IPO prospectus [read the whole thing at the SEC here, it's a giggle] proves, Tesla might have fudged a one-month profit, but the company is hardly on a sustainable footing. Unless you consider seven million bucks in “gross profit” (including Zero Emissions Vehicle credits) enough to offset a nearly $29m operating loss, in which case, I’d like to talk to you about underwriting TTAC’s budget. This also puts into Tesla’s disclosure that it faces declining revenue into some scary perspective. Notch another one up for Farragoian skepticism

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Wild Ass Rumor Of The Day: Tesla Model S Delayed Tue, 12 Jan 2010 21:19:28 +0000 Er, cover it back up again...

Speaking to MarketWatch at the Detroit Auto Show, Tesla Chairman Elon Musk apparently just revealed that the Tesla Model S sedan will be released “within two and a half years.” Which is interesting considering Musk claimed that production would start in 2011 at the Model S launch last March. But then, Tesla is still trying to decide on a factory location, apparently waffling between former aeronautical manufacturing locations in Downey and Long Beach. And apparently Tesla’s mere consideration of a brownfield site in Downey has drawn protests from a group calling themselves The Raging Grannies.

Meanwhile Tesla’s main claim to fame, a system of interconnected battery cells, has been somewhat undermined by news of a deal between Tesla and Panasonic. Though Tesla admits it will use Panasonic’s battery cells in its newest battery packs, it insists that its “current battery strategy incorporates proprietary packaging using cells from multiple battery suppliers.”

Further on, we still haven’t heard a peep out of Tesla in regards to one of the biggest questions surrounding Model S development: the allegedly in-house designed platform. Rumors have flown about that the platform might be based on a Mercedes architecture, given the battery cooperation agreement between Tesla and Daimler. If that’s the case, nobody from either side has confirmed it. And developing new platforms isn’t easy or cheap. Unless Tesla announces a factory and a chassis partner soon, this could be just the first of several Model S delays.

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Tesla IPO in the works? Sun, 22 Nov 2009 18:15:00 +0000 In need of a charge?

Reuters reports that Tesla is planning an Initial Public Offering, after postponing planned IPOs in 2008 and 2009. Tesla reportedly hopes to capitalize on the recent success of battery developer A123 Systems, on the assumption that the A123 IPO has raised interest in electric auto firms. According to one of Reuters’ sources, Tesla’s IPO filing could be made “within days.” And the Silicon Valley startup, which currently has only one product, the $100k+ Tesla Roadster, will most likely have to hurry. Both Nissan and General Motors plan to enter the electric car market this year, marking the initial entries by established auto OEMs into the American EV market. Both of their initial products, the estimated $30k Nissan Leaf and the estimated $40k Chevrolet Volt, will cost considerably less than Tesla’s estimated $50k Model S sedan and will beat it to market by at least a year. Acquiring funding after cheaper competing models go on sale could be extremely challenging for a boutique automaker like Tesla.

Though the motivations for a quick Tesla IPO are clear, the odds of success are far from guaranteed. A123 has major contracts with established OEMs, whereas Tesla has only a minor electrification deal for Daimler’s dying Smart brand. And despite a soaring stock price after its IPO, A123 has come down to earth after Chrysler (an A123 customer) essentially shuttered its EV development. Though Tesla is largely insulated from such OEM volatility, the Smart brand’s struggles could lead to the cancellation of one of its few source of revenue. Meanwhile it still has yet to build its first plant and is being kept alive by $465m in Department of Energy loans. In fact the best argument for a successful Tesla IPO is the popularity of its electric roadster among the Silicon Valley elite. IPOs are rarely rational phenomena, and local homerism could just provide Tesla with sufficient capital to take its Model S to market. After all, GM’s IPO strategy doesn’t seem much different, as it seems likely to make an offering prior to the launch of its own Volt EV. Tesla could just be a canary in the EV-based IPO strategy coalmine.

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Tesla Roadster Buyer Report 2: Crickets Chirping Thu, 17 Sep 2009 20:16:39 +0000 Am I blue? (courtesy

It’s now been four months since I sent in my $5,000 deposit on a Tesla S all-electric four-door sedan. I still think it’s a cool car, but so far I’m very disappointed in Tesla’s communications with us S owners. After an initial flurry of messages confirming the order, assigning me a production number, and inviting me to the opening of the New York Tesla store, I’ve heard exactly zilch from the factory.

Perhaps naïvely, I’d assumed that as a paid-up member of the Tesla family, I’d be receiving a steady flow of updates on the car’s development. How’s the testing going? Any big design changes? What’s up with the new S factory? I haven’t a clue. I was also expecting some customer surveys, asking us about our preferences for cost-vs-range, or electronic gizmos in the cockpit. Again, zilch.

There is an “Owners Only” section of the Tesla website, which requires a user ID and password. But it’s also a disappointment: a few tired old press releases and some desultory owner comments, mostly related to the Roadster. Under the discussion category “Model S development progress” I found mostly other S owners crowing about their sequence numbers. The last “owner update” on the owners-only section of the website is dated June 23.

With 1500 S customers putting down at least $7.5 million in deposits, you’d think Tesla could afford to hire somebody to send out a monthly update on the car. But apparently Tesla doesn’t put much stock in such mundane stuff. The company’s general on-line newsletter—-available to anyone—has made only one appearance since April. There was only one newsletter for the entire year of 2008. I sure hope their customer service on the car is better than this.

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