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Tesla set to launch Roadster EV in Australia this year

Countdown: Tesla's world-beating electric Roadster is set for Australian sales blast-off this year.

Electric sportscar set for launch by Tesla in Sydney as early as September

Tesla logo18 Mar 2010

By TERRY MARTIN

TESLA Motors has revealed it is on track to begin selling its high-performance all-electric Roadster from a showroom in Sydney this year, pending final Australian homologation.

While several Australians are expecting delivery of the Roadster – now being built in right-hand drive – in the coming months after placing orders directly through the niche American manufacturer and its London sales outlet, GoAuto has learned that Tesla Motors is close to launching a sales and service centre on Australian soil.

Although sales volumes will be small for the Lotus Elise-based Roadster, which in the UK starts from £86,950 ($A144,200), Tesla aims to establish a significant presence here once it broadens its model range and manufacturing base with the introduction of the seven-seat Model S, which hits the streets in the US in 2011 and will retail for around half the price of the Roadster.

Orders are well underway in the US for the Model S, which is priced from $US49,900 – half that of the $US,101,500 Roadster – and will be built in both left- and right-hand drive from a new plant in southern California.

The Roadster is built at the Lotus plant in Hethel, England, although powertrain installation and final assembly is in Menlo Park, California.

Note that US pricing takes into account a $US7500 tax credit for consumers – an incentive that the Australian car industry is urging the federal government to emulate if electric vehicles are to become viable here.

Tesla Motors’ European spokesperson Rachel Konrad has this week confirmed to GoAuto that the company has appointed a general manager for Australian operations – Rudi Tuisk – who is an Australian but has been working for Tesla in both the US and Europe.

55 center imageLeft: Tesla Roadster. Bottom: Tesla S.

Ms Konrad said Mr Tuisk is in California working on the details of the Australian launch, with further information expected in the coming weeks.

“We are currently well into the process of getting the car homologated – that is, approved for sale, meeting or exceeding all crash test and other safety standards – in Australia,” Ms Konrad told GoAuto.

“We are aiming for launch of sales later this year, possibly fall (Spring), but we cannot be more specific at this time. We plan to open a store in Sydney but are not yet discussing exact timing or location.” Former vehicle systems engineer for Tesla Motors and now senior research fellow for renewable transport at Curtin University in WA, Andrew Simpson, told GoAuto that Tesla was confident it could establish a viable Australian business and that its retail operations here would be built along the same lines as in the US and Europe.

Tesla has showrooms and galleries in London, Munich, Monaco, California’s Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, Colorado, New York, Seattle, Chicago and South Florida.

“Tesla’s distribution model is that they own their own dealerships. They retain full control of their showrooms and they set up what they call Tesla ‘stores’ in many of their markets,” Dr Simpson said.

“When they are going into a market where they think they are going to get particularly high demand, they will set up a Tesla store there, which provides a showroom and a convenient place for support of customers.” After delivering about 1000 Roadsters to customers in no fewer than 43 US states and 23 countries since production started in 2008, Tesla announced last month that right-hand drive production of the vehicle was underway.

As GoAuto has reported, the company revealed in July last year that it would expand into right-hand drive markets with the Roadster, which has in turn prompted a number of orders from Australian customers.

At the time, Australia was also specifically mentioned as a significant potential market for Tesla.

“Their right-hand drive production is intended to serve a variety of right-hand drive markets, so even though they’re building them in the UK, and they’ve opened a store in the UK, that will not restrict them from selling into other markets, like in Australia,” Dr Simpson said.

“I’m aware that there are already a couple of right-hand drive customers in Australia who are expecting to receive a car this year.

“They have been taking orders for the right-hand-drive cars for quite a while, which is how some of these Australian customers have got on the list. But now that they’ve started right-hand drive production, they’ll actually commence deliveries of the right-hand-drive product.

“They’ll also be able to send those right-hand-drive cars to other RHD markets, like Japan for example, or Singapore, or other places where you might expect people will want to buy a Tesla Roadster.

“They are quite confident that they can bring cars here and, like I said, they’ve got Australian customers that they will be making deliveries to this year.” Dr Simpson also confirmed that the Model S was being engineered for right-hand drive.

“Yes, the Model S is being engineered for both left-hand drive and right-hand drive markets, and Tesla has previously announced that there was a long list of countries they were hoping to target with that product – and Australia was one of them,” he said.

Question marks over Tesla’s Australian launch timing surfaced in recent months after it was revealed that Lotus was retooling for the next-generation Elise.

US media subsequently reported that the Roadster would be discontinued next year ahead of a re-engineered model in 2013.

However, the company’s latest newsletter has confirmed: “Responding to customer demand, Tesla has negotiated agreements with key suppliers that will increase total Roadster production by 40 per cent and extend sales into 2012.

“In the coming year, you'll find Roadsters in more countries as we expand to Australia and Asia.” In recent weeks, Tesla has introduced a leasing option for the Roadster that allows US customers to take immediate delivery of the vehicle with a three-year/30,000-mile contract based on monthly payments, which is a finance option that could also be offered in Australia.

Drawing from a bank of lithium-ion batteries, the base Roadster models uses a 375-volt electric motor that produces a maximum 215kW of power from 5000 to 6000rpm (redline 14,000rpm) and 370Nm of torque from 0-5400rpm.

A Sport version is also now available, offering 400Nm from 0-5100rpm.

The lightweight 1238kg two-seater rear-drive sportscar can accelerate from 0-60mph (97km/h) in a claimed 3.9 seconds (Sport: 3.7 seconds), on its way to an electronically limited top speed of 125mph (201km/h).

Tesla claims the driving range is 236 miles (380km) and that a full recharge takes about 3.5 hours using a 240-volt outlet.

The Roadster does not require the same sort of servicing as conventional cars, such as oil changes or exhaust system work, and there are no spark plugs, pistons, hoses, belts or clutches to replace.

Tesla recommends a standard service and diagnostic inspection once a year – which can be performed at the customer’s home or office.

The expected battery life is seven years or 100,000 miles (160,930km).

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