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First look: Tesla's Model S and Roadster Sport on track

Not so general electric: Tesla's 2012 Model S hits the racetrack ahead of its 2011 release.

US electric sportscar maker shows new sedan in testing, unveils sportier roadster

Tesla logo25 Aug 2009

By MARTON PETTENDY

CALIFORNIAN-based electric sportscar maker, Tesla Motors, has released images of both the upcoming Model S sedan in testing and its new Roadster Sport model in the past week.

The all-electric Model S, which remains on track to enter production in the third quarter of 2011 as a 2012 model, is pictured on a racetrack in the US with chief designer Franz Von Holzhausen at the wheel.

Meantime, Tesla has also revealed more details of an even higher-performance version of its original Lotus Elise-based convertible, the Roadster, which itself has been upgraded to offer revised interior and exterior cosmetics and more extensive personalisation options.

Despite offering a similar range to the standard Roadster (385km), the Roadster Sport employs a more powerful motor to accelerate the two-seater sportscar to 60km/h in about 3.7 seconds (down from 3.9), making it a match for some of the world’s most rapid supercars.

55 center imageLeft: Tesla Roadster Sport matches current Porsche 911 Turbo with a 0-100km/h sprint time of 3.7 seconds. The Roadster Sport should and will also come with firmer suspension with adjustable dampers and anti-roll bars, Yokohama Ultra High Performance tyres, a carbon-fibre bonnet and rear spoiler, push-button transmission selector to replace the aluminium knob of the standard car and a central touch-screen that displays the car’s estimated range along with the total number of oil barrels saved over a fossil-fuelled vehicle.

Priced at $US109,000 ($A130,000) in the US, the basic Roadster is currently the only Tesla model on sale via the company’s expanding global dealer network, which currently comprises outlets in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Washington, London, Monaco and Munich.

However, the company has also revealed it plans to eventually produce an even more affordable EV than the Model S by 2016.

According to Automotive News, Tesla’s third model line will be priced below $US30,000 ($A36,000), thanks primarily to reduced manufacturing costs. Currently, the Roadster’s battery pack itself costs about $US30,000, but Tesla says the price of its Li-Ion battery prices are dropping by around eight to 10 per cent annually, while also becoming more compact and more powerful.

The Model S will be available with three different battery range options – 160 miles (255km), 230 miles (370km) and 300 miles (480km) – and the Model S is likely to follow suit. Tesla also offers a rental service for its batteries.

The hand-built Roadster will be available as a right-hand drive model in the UK from early 2010 and already one left-hand drive example has been imported to Australia.

It features extensive use of expensive carbon-fibre. But the Model S and other future Teslas will be built with aluminium body parts on a series-production line. Its luxurious interior will feature a 17-inch touch-screen to operate the vehicle’s main convenience functions.

Tesla says its Model S four-door, which has a 300-mile (480km) driving range from its lithium-ion battery and can accelerate to 100km/h in just over 5.6 seconds, has already attracted more than 1000 orders.

In contrast, Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV, which is expected to become Australia’s first EV in December, can travel just 160km before requiring a recharge, while GM/Holden’s ‘range-extending’ Volt plug-in hybrid, which is due for local sales in 2012, switches on its engine-generator after just 65km.

Claimed to offer unrivalled interior space in its class, the S sedan accommodates five adults in addition to a pair of rear-facing child seats, and will be priced from $US57,400 ($A68,600) in entry-level rear-drive form, with an all-wheel drive variant to also become available. A federal US tax credit of $US7500 ($A9000) reduces the cost to $US$49,900 ($A59,700).

Although the Model S is projected to attract 20,000 annual sales in the US, Tesla says it intends to move from low-volume exotic EV production into sales of lower-cost mainstream family EVs over the next six years by using $US465 million ($A556m) in low-interest loans received from the US Department of Energy.

More than a quarter of that will be used to build a powertrain plant in the San Francisco Bay Area, which will also supply other car-makers. The remaining $US365 ($A437m) will help open an assembly plant in southern California to produce the Model S.

In other Tesla news, former CEO Martin Eberhard has dropped a lawsuit against the company and its current chairman and CEO, Elon Musk, according to his lawyer, Yosef Peretz.

Mr Eberhard filed the suit on May 26, when it was claimed he: had been defamed by Musk, had received a damaged Tesla Roadster, was owed wages and that Musk had taken credit for founding the company when in fact Mr Eberhard was the founder.

Tesla Motors has declined to comment on the latest development in the civil court case, which Mr Peretz said was ended at Mr Eberhard’s request on August 7.

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