As the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? arrives in theaters, so does a United Kingdom-built sports car that reverses conventional expectations for electric vehicles.
Most electric vehicles are designed for commuting short distances at modest speeds. Automakers keep the price down for their environmental activist customers.
Not the Tesla Roadster. It's a toy for the California celebrity circuit. It's fast, nimble, powerful and expensive.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger attended Tesla Motors Inc.'s launch party in Santa Monica, Calif., in July. Within a few days the entire 100-unit production run of the Tesla Roadster was sold out - despite the car's price of $100,000.
Derived from the chassis of the Lotus Elise, the Tesla Roadster can reach a top speed of about 130 mph and accelerate to 60 mph in four seconds. It can travel as far as 250 miles before recharging, Tesla Motors claims.
"These are really quite remarkable figures for an electric vehicle," said analyst Andrew Wright of CSM Worldwide in London. "They're not out of the ballpark of something like the Lotus Exige."
A sleek two-seater, the Tesla Roadster is built in the United Kingdom by Lotus. Mike Harrigan, Tesla Motors' vice president of customer service and support, says the San Carlos, Calif., company is taking orders for the next batch of 100, priced at $89,000, due early next year.
"We'd expect to be selling between 600 and 800 in a full year," Harrigan told Automotive News Europe.
Tesla, a Silicon Valley startup that includes PayPal and Google executives among its investors, is setting up sales and service points in several U.S. cities. But it has no plans to sell the car outside the United States, Harrigan said.
With the 248-hp Roadster, Tesla gives green enthusiasts a new car to rally behind after the death of General Motors' EV1.
Who Killed the Electric Car? is critical of how GM stopped making the EV1, which was popular with California's leading environmentalists.
"We are not trying to make a car that saves the world. We want to make a car that changes the way people think about electric cars," Tesla Motors CEO Martin Eberhard told Automotive News Europe.
The Tesla Roadster is definitely a car for early adopters, the people who gave the Toyota Prius hybrid such a strong start, CSM's Wright said.
"It's very interesting how close they've managed to get to the Elise, but there are several caveats," he said.
The most serious is the cost of replacing the battery at the end of its 100,000-mile life, said Wright, though this should not deter early adopters.
Lotus won the design competition to make the Tesla Roadster and performed "certain design and engineering tasks."
Tesla Motors' long-range plan is a series of models for different segments. It plans to unveil a sedan in 2008.
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You may e-mail Tony Lewin at [email protected]