I Want My Tesla Roadster!

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
i want my tesla roadster

Not for same reasons you do. You want a battery-powered Tesla Roadster because it’s a way cool car boasting bleeding edge technology. Or maybe you just like sexy sports cars. Or perhaps you’re looking for massive eco-auto props. As a free marketeer, I’m good with any of these motivations. As a Porsche Boxster S owner, I’m not bothered (I’ve already found my dream date). But as the publisher of this website, I want a Tesla Roadster BAD. I want to reveal the truth about the EV– whatever that may be.

The Tesla Birth Watch was born a fit of journalistic pique. It galled me to see my colleagues repeating the aspiring electric car company’s claims for their Roadster’s range, recharge time, safety and performance as fact. This before they'd turned a single wheel in anger. It made these media outlets– including mainstream publications that should have known better (I’m looking at you Forbes)– not-so-silent partners in the company’s PR and fund-raising efforts. The words “unproven” and “claimed” were conspicuous by their absence.

What’s more, Tesla’s Devil-make-care insistence that their unproven lithium-ion battery technology would deliver the claimed results (see how that works?) struck me as the worst kind of corporate arrogance– especially for a start-up. If BMW announces that their new twin-turbo 3.0-liter six will deliver 300 horsepower, accelerate the 335i from zero to sixty in 5.4 seconds and deliver 17/26 mpg, I have every reason to believe them. If a newbie named Tesla says their high tech Roadster will go from zero to sixty in under four seconds, travel 250 miles between charges and recharge in three hours, I say show me the money.

So I started the Tesla Birth Watch. If you go back and read the various installments, you’ll soon find the common thread: delays, disambiguation and disappearing claims. Transmission problems have forced the company to deep-six its sub-four second zero to sixty time. The 250-mile range is now 211 miles in “EPA Combined”- despite the fact that the EPA doesn’t have an electric vehicle mpg protocol. And no one– I repeat no one– has tested the Roadster’s batteries’ recharge time.

When Frank said we should pronounce T.O.B. (Time of Birth) on the Tesla Roadster and end the series– as the manufacturer claimed to have delivered a vehicle to a paying customer– I wanted proof. Given Tesla’s credibility (or complete lack thereof), the fact that this customer wants to remain anonymous doesn’t pass the smell test.

And if there is any wiggle room in our definition of “customer delivery of a production car,” I’m confident Tesla’s using it. For example, Tesla says it will retrofit the Roadster with a new transmission just as soon as they figure-out how to build one. Would we call a Ford Flex a proper production vehicle if it had to have a post-sale tranny swap? I don’t think so. As TTAC commentator PCH101 points out, “Even Vector delivered one vehicle. Technically, they’re still in business. It remains one of our oldest and best known vaporware companies.”

But you don’t hire a world-class Managing Editor, and then tell him he’s full of shit (at least not often). So I’ve deferred to Frank in this case. But I insisted we start the Tesla Death Watch. Think of it this way…

Tesla says they’ll deliver 400 cars by next March. Let’s assume they make, build and sell twice that and then some: 1000 cars per year, or 20 cars a week (pausing to note that Audi plans to sell 1k similarly-priced R8’s stateside in the car’s first year.) Let’s also assume they clear $20k per $100k car. So that’s $20m in ostensible net profit. Is there anyone reading this who thinks Tesla hasn’t already burned through $20m?

Now we know Tesla’s raised a lot more money than that, but that’s not the point. At some point, they’ll need to, you know, take in more money than they spend. At the same time, the Roadster runs the very real risk of catching “everyone who wants one’s got one” disease. It’s no wonder the company’s beginning to shift focus onto the WhiteStar EV– or partial EV– sedan. They need something to sell. To investors.

In truth, Tesla Motors is no more likely to produce and sell a viable, profitable, competitive, mass-market electric-powered sedan than General Motors. Given Tesla’s history of over-promising and under- (as in not) delivering on the Roadster, I reckon they don’t have a hope in Hell of achieving this goal. But that won’t stop them from raising tens of millions of dollars for their cushy offices and healthy salaries, and making a killing with an IPO. Nor will it stop us from telling the truth about Tesla, test car or no.

[Once again, we call on Tesla to provide a Roadster for third-party evaluation.]

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2 of 57 comments
  • Landcrusher Landcrusher on May 21, 2008

    David, Agree with the Leno stuff, good point about films. You are also correct about the brashness thing. Here is the problem though. It is unethical and foolish. If you have to maximize the performance claims in order to get people to give you deposits and investment so that you can then build the car and test your theory that it will work, then YOU SHOULD NOT DO IT. First, if you fail, you can be rightly called a con artist. Also, if you succeed to a lesser degree, you may still fail because your market forecast depended on the exagerated claims. You now have a working product that no one wants for whatever reasons. No matter what, should anyone be called prejudiced for pointing out the emperor's lack of clothes. If they are entitled to optimism, then TTAC is entitled to skepticism. Back to flying cars. It would not be illegal for you to buy one. I can build one, and then sell it to you, unless they find I am building it for the express purpose of selling it to you. It's a loophole that they constantly police. At any rate, building many of these kits can be done by most people willing to try. If you can fix your car, you can build an aircraft. We know we can build a roadable aircraft, just like we know we can build electric cars. So, in this perspective you are correct, they are similar attempts. The difference is that you can tell the roadable aircraft scammers right off because they will claim that they can sell a lot more than they likely can if only they can solve a couple of engineering problems. Tesla's problems will surely be solved, as will one day Moller's. That will not make them into men of integrity. Had they worked harder, and asked for funding based on solving the problem and THEN using the application, it would be different. Instead they use the smoke and mirrors of the application to keep everyone from analyzing the investment they are really making. They deserve the drubbing and skepticism.

  • Neutrino78x Neutrino78x on Jul 21, 2008

    for the tesla haters... (1) look at the GM EV1, their published range was like 50 miles, but a lot of users got 100 miles out of it. Its range was so short because it used lead acid batteries. I think the skeptics are stuck in that era, not believing the Tesla's range because they are thinking of lead acid batteries. Those are from three generations ago guys. Current technology is lithium ion. It's $20,000 for a battery pack, but it gives you a lot more range. Now if you go to an electric conversion service, and tell them you want your gasoline powered car converted to electric, they will probably tell you it will have a 50 mile range. That's because they are using car batteries (lead acid). You can request lithium batteries, to get a 150+ mile range, but like I said, it will be $20,000 just for the batteries. This will eventually change as more electric cars come on the market and lithium ion batteries are produced in much greater quantities. (2) more importantly...as of today, 20 July 2008, Tesla has already delivered cars to the customers, and the transmission problems are solved. So all of the haters are proven WRONG!!!!!!!!! GM et al are still using gasoline not because electric can't work, but because they are doing just fine with gasoline (well, until gasoline got to $4.50+/gallon), and it takes years to develop and deploy a new car when you're a big company. It's like phrase famously applied to IBM, "elephants can't dance". Gasoline engines might be more "manly" and electric might be more "nerdy" but electric is still more efficient and ultimately cheaper. Fewer moving parts and more automation makes it easier to make the cars and easier to employ Americans to make them. The Tesla Roadster is made in England, but their next car is going to be made here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our Governator, Arnold S., made a good tax deal with Tesla to get their assembly plant here (the alternative site was New Mexico). If Detroit can't adapt to a superior technology, it is time for them to step out of the way lest they get run over by SILICON VALLEY. Step off, gearheads and jocks. Computer nerds have proven that we are BETTER!!! revenge of the nerds! lol :-) The Tesla makes me a proud Silicon Valley resident and a proud AMERICAN!!!!!!! LONG LIVE THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION!!!!!

  • Zerocred So many great drives:Dalton Hwy from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle.Alaska Marine Highway from Bellingham WA to Skagway AK. it was a multi-day ferry ride so I didn’t actually drive it, but I did take my truck.Icefields Parkway from Jasper AB to Lake Louise AB, CA.I-70 and Hwy 50 from Denver to Sacramento.Hwy 395 on the east side of the Sierras.
  • Aidian Holder I'm not interested in buying anything from a company that deliberately targets all their production in crappy union-busting states. Ford decided to build their EV manufaturing in Tennessee. The company built it there because of an anti-union legal environment. I won't buy another Ford because of that. I've owned four Fords to date -- three of them pickups. I'm shopping for a new one. It won't be a Ford Lightning. If you care about your fellow workers, you won't buy one either.
  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI coupe....it's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark V.....it was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.