By on July 20, 2008

Joe behind the wheel. Where\'s OUR test drive? (courtesy Peter DaSilva for The New York Times)TTAC's Best and Brightest have debated the position of The New York Times in America's psychosociopolitical gestalt. But one thing's for sure: if the Gray Lady pans your high-tech cutting edge PC EV, your five minutes of unadulterated upmarket adulation are over. "Costly Toys, or a New Era for Drivers?" asks Joe Nocera. Obviously, he's going to play it both ways. But the scribe's double negative about Tesla's mainstream ambitions. "Just because Tesla has succeeded in making an expensive electric sports car does not mean that it will be able to make a moderately priced five-seat sedan. The latter is a quantum leap more difficult… David Cole, the chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, is another Tesla skeptic. For one thing, he says, the battery solution in the Roadster probably won’t work in a heavier car. 'Lithium batteries are going to change the world,' he said, 'but they are not ready for prime time.' Tesla’s solution in the Roadster — tying together thousands of small batteries into one giant one — is 'suboptimal.' He added, 'On a degree of difficulty scale, building a sports car is a 2. Building a high-volume affordable car is a 10.'" Nocera gets seriously cranky, narked at Tesla's "petty dissembling." "The more I prodded, though, the more skeptical I became." Join the club Joe. And thanks for reading. 

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14 Comments on “Tesla Death Watch 12: NYT Gets Testy with Tesla...”

  • avatar

    I thnk this quote was attributed to David Cole:

    “Tesla’s solution in the Roadster — tying together thousands of small batteries into one giant one — is ‘suboptimal.’ “

    I call BS on this statement!

    Even the Prius makes use of many small batteries. Don’t know how many, if it’s hundreds or thousands, but it’s ridiculous to make the statement that many small batteries is suboptimal.

  • avatar

    Let’s not mistake “suboptimal” with “bound for failure.” It’s like having a bunch of 24 packs of beer versus kegs.

    I think the more important item to focus on is the quote: “On a degree of difficulty scale, building a sports car is a 2. Building a high-volume affordable car is a 10.” He’s not referring to the requisite engineering – he’s referring to the difference in the business plans to execute production.

    It seems like all those investors in Tesla believe there is a simple leap to go from low volume electrics to high volume electrics and still sustain reasonable profitability. I’m not sure they’ve realized how engineering is only a small piece of the pie at a volume-automaker.

  • avatar

    Put some big batteries in it then:

  • avatar

    Of course it’s suboptimal. Battery casings provide extra weight and wasted volume without contributing to additional capacity. However, since they’re probably trying to use off-the-shelf components, they may not have access to larger batteries.

  • avatar

    I feel bad about all the slamming Tesla gets on this site, but they’ve proven they deserve all criticism. I guess if one of the presidential candidates promised all Americans free ice cream for a year I’d really want to believe in him, too, even if I was pretty sure he wouldn’t deliver. I sure hope the Volt comes out in a relatively reasonable amount of time and is halfway decent… that seems to be all we can hope for nowadays.

    Also, good work getting a mention in the NYT, it’s always nice to get a mention in Ye Olde Media, especially in a paper as big as the NYT.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Wow, TTAC is becoming to automotive journalism as Drudge is to political coverage :).

    Nocera oddly leaves out the fact that Tesla isn’t even building a complete car, but is rather re-powering an existing design. Much of the heavy lifting is being done by long time contract engineering and manufacturing experts-for-hire at Lotus. The amount of money Tesla has burned in it’s quest is huge compared to what they have actually done.

    As to the battery pack, Tesla uses 6,831 cells of approximately AA size to build their battery pack. The Prius uses 38 battery modules, each of which is a custom packaging of 6 underlying battery cells for a total of 228 cells, but built in 38 sub-units. The Prius battery pack is built from the ground up as a custom design by Panasonic, while the Tesla battery pack lashes 6,831 Taiwan sourced open market batteries into a big 1,000 lb. brick. It is, in fact, fair to call Tesla’s approach sub-optimal from an engineering perspective. But then, Tesla’s founders are not real development engineers. Making a fortune selling PayPal to eBay hardly means you have what it takes to make a great automobile.

  • avatar

    TTAC has been denied test drives of the Roadster, after repeated requests, simply because we aren’t Tesla cheerleaders. I wonder how this article will affect NYT’s chance of getting anything else from Tesla. Will they join us on Exile Island, or will Tesla “overlook” this because of who they are and what damage they could do to T’s ability to raise capital?

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    From the linked NYT article:

    “My daily commute was 37 miles one way,” wrote a man named Michael Posner on a Web site called The Truth About Cars, who drove an EV1 for several weeks back in 1997. “Every trip was loaded with drama,” he added. “If I went to lunch, I gave up a few precious miles. That could mean disaster.” At General Motors, they took to calling this problem “range anxiety.” Is it any wonder the car didn’t catch on?

    1997 General Motors EV-1 Review by Michael Posner July 4, 2008

  • avatar

    In twenty years are we going to be hearing ecology conscious groups talking about what are we going to do with all these used up batteries? I live in Az. and to get a battery to last more than 3 years under a hood is an accomplishment. When I see a hybrid all I think is the Owner/manufacturer converted the air pollution of today into landfill pollution of the future.

  • avatar
    Bozoer Rebbe

    Batteries are relatively easy to recycle and since the battery packs on the new hybrids and EVs will be built into the cars, they’ll be recycled by auto wrecking yards.

    Actually, if hybrids and EVs really take off, you can expect companies to refurbish batteries just like you can get a remanufactured alternator. When a multicell battery can no longer perform adequately that doesn’t mean that 100% of the cells are defective. Many of the cells still have a usable life. I expect companies will go through the individual Li-ion cells, recover the cells that still have a usable life and remanufacture battery packs out of those cells to sell at a discount from the price of new batteries. I believe there are already companies selling refurbished rechargeable batteries for things like portable tools.

  • avatar

    Much to my relief, Martin Eberhard finally got his Tesla Roadster yesterday. I guess they figured he finally needed to get it after all their cheery delivery announcements. For some reason the site doesn’t seem to want me to link directly to the post, but visiting will give you the story.

    I think we have to call Tesla an honest, good faith effort to deliver cars. After all, they are now delivering cars. Simple enough. They are not a deliberate scam.

    They may be misguided. They may not be able to build WhiteStar, at least not in the way they are currently promising. I think they are fools to think that they can engineer a nearly all original car with the time and money constraints they have.

    I think Martin’s business plan, which was just to build the Roadster and to continue building Roadsters for the foreseeable future, was sound. I think it’s true that they managed to push Chevy into building the Volt, and that’s an impressive tactical achievement even if they never manage to get WhiteStar on the ground.

    Congratulations to Martin, and to everyone who made his Tesla a reality. I hope Martin can get back into the electric car biz. He deserves much success.


  • avatar

    Wow, congrats to TTAC for the NYT reference!

    This is actually one of the better NYT articles I’ve read in recent memory as well. Actual investigative journalism. Amazing! Even though he blindly cheerleads for the Volt, Nocera is right. There is a much better chance of GM developing a Volt by 2010 (cough) than Tesla developing an all electric, $60k, all electric, mass market vehicle, that is practicle and reliable, by 2010. This vehicle would already be durability testing and getting final grain on the dash by now rather than not existing in any form at all.

    I agree with David Dennis, Martin Eberhard had a solid business plan, to build the roadster with minimal changes to the AC Propulsion/Lotus designs. I also don’t think Musk is actually trying to pull off a scam. I think he really believes he can do this. His ego is simply too huge to face reality or to even take into consideration that he is deviating from reality.

  • avatar

    I don’t think your post fairly describes the NYTimes story. It is more balanced than your post makes it seem. I had read the story before your post and had to click on the story thinking you must have meant another article. Tesla in my opinion may or may not have a long term future but it sure has changed the way I perceive electric cars.

  • avatar

    Nobody is calling Tesla Motors a scam, they are just calling the promises and specs a sham. Big difference.

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