By on December 1, 2008

Tesla’s hubris knows no bounds. Not only has the Silicon Valley manufacturer of $109k lithium-ion-powered carbon fiber sports cars applied for a $400m federal grant to sustain its oft-delayed and hugely unprofitable quest to “reinvent the automobile,” but they’ve also publicly declared that Detroit’s bailout-seeking beancounters should keep their NSFWing hands off Uncle Sam’s $25b retooling loans. (I’d cut and paste the exact quote from their website, but ten seconds of their white-on-black text is enough to short-circuit my optic nerves). The New York Times fired back, pointing out that taxpayer funds should not subsidize expensive toys. Tesla owner Jason Calacanis retaliated in a fit of “just you wait” pique. “The fact is that Tesla could–right now–produce a car that is 1/3rd to half the price if they set it to go only 100 miles. In nine years, they will easily be able to produce a $40k car that does this. Is nine years too long to wait for this technology to reach the price point that 80% of the new-car-buying country could afford? I don’t think so.” Meanwhile, Toyota has seen the EV’s Li-ion Promised Land, and declared “I may not get there with you.”

Speaking to AutoCar, ToMoCo UK MD Miguel Fonseca “quashed rumours that the next Prius would adopt lithium-ion battery technology at some stage of its lifespan. While he acknowledged that powerful, efficient lithium-ion batteries were a future direction, Toyota’s engineers do not believe they are efficient or durable enough to enter mass-production yet.”

What’s more (or less), Toyota has officially scotched plans to create a Prius sub-brand, casting doubts on Tesla’s mainstream aspirations. No surprise there. Our guys on the front line report that U.S. Prius sales have stalled. Waiting lists? Gone. Parking lots? Full. Discounts? Yup. On the positive side, the guy who made a mint making the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” drove a Tesla and loves it. Guility. Go figure.

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19 Comments on “Tesla Death Watch 39: Li-Ion Rules! Or, Well, You Know…...”


  • avatar

    What mystifies me is how Tesla is being used throughout the blogosphere as an example of a “successful car manufacturer.” Particularly the liberal commentators and politicians are all agog at the brilliance of Tesla’s planning, foresight, engineering acumen and excellent products.

    “That’s what Detroit should have been doing!”

    Hmmm – mystery of mysteries!

  • avatar
    matt

    I heard on NPR’s Science Friday a few weeks ago a bunch of talk about why Tesla should take over GM and all other kinds of nonsense. And how if Tesla took over GM they’d be able to produce all these wonderful cars almost immediately! I had to put my iPod down at least 3 times, muttering “what a bunch of hippie drivel…”

  • avatar
    GeeDashOff

    There’s a good rule of thumb to use when evaluating claims about high technology, and it is this: anything that is “5 to 10 years away” or longer is vaporware, and you might as well be selling people cold fusion.
    Technology (and science) changes so much in 5 to 10 years that its almost impossible to predict what will be happening 5 years, let alone 9 years from now.

    Don’t get me wrong, there is very legitimate scientific and technical research being done now that will take 5 to 10 (or much longer) years of hard work to see any practical benefits from.

    But to claim that an end user product will be ready to purchase in 9 years is a load of horse poop. Let me know when that product is 2 years away and the company is starting the actual specification and design process.

    Every 5 years somebody proclaims a cure to cancer or AIDS is just 5 years away.

  • avatar
    Dan

    Devil’s advocate:

    To the extent that you believe it’s good public policy to put public money into “retooling” Detroit toward battery-powered or gas-electric hybrid or whatever, then it’s good public policy to give some of that support to Tesla.

    Why? Tesla is following a time-honored product development strategy, where your initial market is charged a mint because they’ve got to have it. That lets you sort everything out and eventually push the technology into lower cost / higher volume production. Consider, for example, the Microsoft Xbox 360. The initial versions cost $300-$400, depending on options. Today, you pay $100 less for the same thing, and you’re less likely to have it overheat and burn your house down.

    Again, to the extent that you believe it’s good public policy to spend $25B on revamping Detroit toward our hybrid/electric/whatever future, Tesla is certainly deserving of a piece of the pie. Who do you think is more likely to deliver an EV product that somebody can actually buy in the next five years for, say, $50K? Tesla or Chrysler?

  • avatar
    Bytor

    Lithium batteries have no history of long life. A 5 year lifespan would be a good lifespan for lithiums.

    They suffer both cycle loss and calendar loss. They good bad just sitting around.

    The most expensive component in almost every electic car with any range is the battery. It is also amongst the shortest lived components. Would you buy a car that needed a complete new engine every 4 or 5 years. Tesla only offers a 5 year pro-rated battery warranty.

    It will be interesting to see what kind of warranty GM gives the Volt battery pack. They can do everything right, but a lithium pack lasting 10 years is unheard of.

    Electric cars have been viable, efficient, brilliant idea for over a hundred years and for all that time, the batteries are the weak link that erases those advantages. This hasn’t changed yet.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    I agree. I refuse to be a naysayer on the Tesla products. The video game system was a good example. How many consumer goods have evolved from the plaything of the rich to something cheap enough to throw away when you get an itch for something newer. Laptops, desktop computers, scanners, printers, large screen flat panel TVs, etc.

    Sure this is a car but how much of the cost of the car is the car and how much of it is the new EV technology? If it can survive a decade the technology will evolve and come down in price to something us normal working folks can afford. If they die I’m certain that Detroit will do nothing to bring a product similar to the Tesla to market. I think they have made that clear. Chrysler says they will but I’ll believe it when I see it. I hope they do but I expect they’ll go broke first.

    America needs some real change of establishment. What we do, how we do it, and who gets rich from it needs to change and be replaced by brighter, more creative minds. Unfortunately there is enough gov’t legislation, enough FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), and enough consumer Sheeple that argue they won’t make any compromises to adopt alternative ideas that getting a firm foothold in America’s markets is really tough.

    Plenty of folks who will argue they would never move from an ICE to an EV because it won’t charge as fast, or go as far per charge vs a tank of gasoline, or whatever. If the price can come down and enough early adopters can support the company then in a decade our kids will be buying EVs without a thought to what their parents think about EVs.

    There are a number of really interesting developments out there in the “alternative universe”. EVs, green tech, free Linux instead of Microsoft, and folks who are rediscovering that which our grandparents already knew like life without prepackaged everything.

    Meanwhile there is plenty of FUD about Linux by Microsoft fans, legislation in California favoring peaker fossil fuel plants vs rooftop solar (legislation I hear of complicating installation of solar), etc etc

  • avatar
    MattVA

    matt, I unfortunately heard the same NPR show. I had to turn it off. The amount of misinformation… or rather the amount of hopeful speculation masquerading as information was disturbing.

    I think the biggest problem with the Tesla hype in the media is the complete lack of perspective. For example:
    – If GM wanted to waste hundreds of millions of dollars, they probably could have bought some lotuses and computer batteries and built 60 Roadsters with a completely unproven reliability.
    – The loan Tesla is asking for is over 60 times it’s annual revenue. If GM were to ask for the same ratio, it would be about 10 trillion dollars.
    – Lotus has made 60 cars in a year. Gm or Toyota makes 60 cars in less than 3 minutes.

  • avatar

    Yes, Tesla is wonderful. Buy one. Get it delivered sometime.

    Meanwhile, politicians, the media and various interested parties could spend a touch of time having a look at what Shai Agassi is up to. Even Ahnuld likes him.

    http://www.betterplace.com/

  • avatar
    Zarba

    Joeaverage:

    OK, I’ll be the naysayer. Tesla has shown that they can build a bespoke EV at $110K, kinda. They have an unproven battery, an ready disproven transmission, and have failed to meet any of their production goals.

    They have yet to provide a production vehicle for an unbiased test of performance and range (AFAIK).

    The Tesla is a plaything of the rich eco-weenie, for whom a Prius is just not exclusive enough. They can’t possibly sell enough of them to amortize development costs in a reasonable time, let alone generate enough free cash flow to develop the White Elephant sedan.

    I wish them well, but I don’t thin they can make it, and to give them $400MM in government loans is a waste of my tax money. What they REALLY want is money that will bail out their investors, and pass along the failure to the taxpayers.

    Remember the government boondoggle from a few years ago, where we paid for the New Generation car, only to have it abandoned after untold billions of dollars were wasted?

    As always,the battery pack is the Achilles Heel of EV’s, and it’s yet to be solved. Until then, we’ll continue to have companies start up and swindle investors with Blue Sky promises.

    “Tesla: The Turbonator of EV’s”.

  • avatar
    folkdancer

    Why do some of you enjoy hating new ideas?

    Every time there is an oil shortage or a run up in the price of oil the back yard mechanics go to work then the oil prices go down and some of you short sighted fools laugh at the experimenters.

    Have the new energy people solved all the problems – not yet.

    But the technologies for solar, wind, wave, and battery energy are improving while our ICEs continue to give us lots of heat, noise, dirty air, piss poor efficiency, and balance of trade difficulties.

    One day the oil pushers will pull our chain with some excuse for high prices and then fail to reduce their prices quickly enough and our engineers, backyard mechanics, and entrepreneurs will be ready.

    Encourage, welcome, and enjoy the experimenters and early adopters.

  • avatar

    @Folkdancer

    I love new ideas. I detest lousy ideas.

    Have a look at http://www.betterplace.com

    Now, there’s a half decent idea, where the ecology of the power infrastructure has been thought through.

    With Tesla? Not so much.

  • avatar

    Or just read about Better Place in my TTAC editorial: https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/does-better-place-have-a-better-plan/

  • avatar

    However, I’m not all that keen on electrics. Over Thanksgiving, I drove 600-plus miles, from Boston to Albany via the backroads (~170 miles), around the Albany area, from Albany to NYC (~160 miles), and then back to Boston (~200 miles). I saw my best friend and his family, and then a bunch of relatives. This trip would have been very awkward and my drives slower under the Better Place scheme, even if it were in place in the relevant states. I probably couldn’t have done the back roads from Boston to Albany, a gorgeous drive, (I even saw a bear in western Massachusetts) because there probably wouldn’t have been any battery switching stations on that route. If battery technology doesn’t greatly improve, this sort of spontaneous, fun, easy long weekend vacation is over for all of us. And I haven’t heard anything that makes me optimistic that battery technology is ever going to make this kind of thing possible. So, no, I really don’t like it, although I recognize that it MAY become necessary to go this route.

  • avatar

    @folkdancer
    at highway speeds, 2/3s of the noise is the tires striking the pavement. In the city, yeah, quiet electrics might be nice.

    @Stein
    Well, yeah, there is an awful lot that we don’t know about the Tesla, little things (sarcasm alert) like range and battery life. But having ridden in one, I can tell you that the torque and the handling are awesome.

  • avatar

    folkdancer… we don’t hate new ideas. When you apply logic to Tesla, there are very few new ideas there though. EVs have been around since the dawn of automotive time. Nothing new there. Carbon fiber isn’t new either. Nothing unique about that Roadster chassis… a slightly modified Lotus Elise. Li-Ion Batteries are not a new idea, the laptop I’m writing this one has one.

    Wrapping all these existing (old) ideas into a new product is cool. But over promising and under delivering is NOT. Tesla has spun up Apple-levels of PR, but unlike Apple, they haven’t delivered on even a small fraction of their promise.

    EVs will never be as useful as an ICE-driven auto. Period. Electricity is not portable. Making it portable increases weight at an exponential rate, so range will always be limited and recharge times always unrealistic. Like Scotty famously said: “You canna’ change the laws of physics!”

    –chuck

  • avatar
    tesla deathwatcher

    Don’t count out electric cars. Their time will come. The Toyota Prius has helped the car industry move more electric. So has, despite its faults, the Tesla Roadster.

    But Tesla should not get a bailout. If they can make it on their own, with Musk’s money, great. If they can’t, they should die.

    We will get the benefits of evolution, with the strongest surviving, only if we let the market kill off the weak. Protect the weak, by a bailout, and you have no evolution. Nothing improves.

  • avatar
    mcs

    Switching to a different battery type can be easy. I have a device that has settings for NiMH, Lithium Ion, etc. Good thing it does because the Lithium Ion battery crapped out after 10 months.

    If there are more electric cars on the road, maybe we’ll see third parties/SEMA marketing small trailers with diesel generators and extra luggage space to allow them to take longer trips. Sort of like a Volt, but you’d have the option of ditching the engine for around town and you’d probably escape the EPA emissions testing for diesel vehicles.

    As an engineer with 30+ years of experience, let me assure you that there is a long list of technological milestones that many engineers thought would not be achievable. I remember the VP I was working for lecturing me for at least an hour on why voice over ip would never work and another colleague telling me back in the 70’s that it was impossible for computers to communicate with each other at speeds exceeding 19,200 bits per second and we’d never see a faster data rate.

    I ran into these sorts of attitudes many times with my own products and have had a lot of battles over the course my career. I can think of at least three products I was told could not be built by management and colleagues, but was able to pull it off each time.

    It may not be lithium ion, but trust me, someone will come up with something and it will happen sooner than 5 years.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    National Peoples’ Radio spreading false agitprop?? Inconceivable!

    Jason Calcanis is prone to say stupid things. In 9-10 years a car that dies after 100 miles will be just as useful as it is today — which is to say, not much. A niche as the green yuppie family’s 4th car, perhaps.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    # David Holzman :
    December 1st, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    However, I’m not all that keen on electrics. Over Thanksgiving, I drove 600-plus miles, from Boston to Albany via the backroads (~170 miles), around the Albany area, from Albany to NYC (~160 miles), and then back to Boston (~200 miles).

    I wouldn’t expect someone to take an current tech EV on a trip like that. Not for years to come until the battery can be charged in seconds and last for 350 miles per charge.

    Ooops! Looks like we are close.

    There is now a company here in TN called MicronTN that builds a “battery” (capacitor):

    Lightweight: 11 lbs
    All-season performance: Full power at -40°F to 150°F
    Rapid recharge: 30 seconds
    Longevity: 500,000 duty cycles (15-20+ years)
    Environmentally friendly: lead free, acid free, long lifespan
    1200 to 2000 amps depending on which “battery” is used.

    Imagine a mix of these with NiMH batteries in an EV?

    The MicronTN batteries handle voltage spikes while NiMH batteries supply the constant load to keep the vehicle moving.

    A driver pulls up to a charging station and charges the MicronTN batteries in seconds which then through a regulator begin to charge the NiMH batteries as the EV heads off down the road.

    Not saying it is ready for prime time now but see how far things could go? When I “discovered” one of these batteries sitting on the counter at our local NAPA my belief that EVs that meet the naysayer’s expectations could be just around the corner – maybe five to six years if the tech continues to progress and not get shelved.

    See Chevron shelving the NiMH battery tech, patents, and “patent encumbrance”.

    In America we need fewer naysayers and more can do folks ’cause the Chinese/Indians/-insert name of small country with motivated peoples- will eat our lunch if we sit back and get too comfortable.

    Instead of making fun of the geeks who want to think outside of the box let’s keep moving forward on the tech regardless of what the price of gasoline is. We need a a nation of rocket scientists and computer geeks regardless of how unpopular the rest of America think they are.

    It would appear from pessimistic comments I hear about EVs that we should continue driving 25 mpg V-6 gasoline powered cars and ~18 mpg trucks or SUVs b/c nothing else will measure up. With the current economy what it is I think it would be in America’s self interest to get to the forefront of EV technology (and solar and wind and other “green tech”) and stay there for the next 50 years.

    Our leadership doesn’t often subscribe to long term thinking or making choices that have long term benefits over higher short term cost.

    I plan to buy a MicronTN battery after Christmas and start experimenting with it. It might just the right energy storage method for wind. Am anxious to build an electric go-cart with it for the kids. I want to install it as my car’s primary battery and see how it behaves. I want to see why it would not be well suited for an EV that gets charged every night.

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