New Motor City

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it” Alan Kay

Martin Eberhard

MIT/Stanford’s VLAB project had an interesting panel last Tuesday. The focus of attention was my hometown favorite, Tesla Motors. No, I don’t live in Detroit, I live in San Carlos, at the northern end of Silicon Valley.

Tesla is producing a limited quantity of high performance sports cars that will be available this Fall. The Tesla Roadster is a 100% electric two seater that’s faster than a Ferarri from 0 – 60 mph. No word how it does around corners, but the low center of gravity provided by the lithium ion batteries should be an advantage.

The batteries are the same ones used in most laptops. This was Tesla’s out of the box moment. Unlike other attempts at building a 100% electric car, they decided to use commodity laptop cells. They’ve engineered an optical network for battery management and a cooling system to prolong the battery life. Tesla warrants the battery pack for 100,000 miles.

Tesla doesn’t differentiate itself on technology alone. Their business model is based on a direct relationship with the consumer. They will not franchise dealerships. The value of the customer relationship is too great according to Martin Eberhard, Tesla’s CEO. He lamented that some states had laws that protected car dealership’s position in the automotive sales and distribution network and prevented a manufacturer from selling directly to the consumer. That’s why Tesla won’t sell product in Texas.

The Tesla Roadster will be remembered as a limited production, hand built, two seater in the Lotus tradition. In fact, Lotus is assembling the final product in the UK with motors from Taiwan and batteries from Thailand. I’m sure the end result will be quite collectable.

To build the nextgen, Tesla closed a deal to construct a manufacturing plant in New Mexico. That plant will build “Project Whitestone“, a 4 or 5 passenger sedan that will get the equivalent to 110 miles per gallon with a 500 mile range. They expect to sell 10,000 of them by 2009. That many Whitestones will take 7 million Li batteries. That’s more than Dell used in 2006 for all of their laptop production. The era of “cheap batteries” is ending.




4 Responses to “New Motor City”

  1. Bro Says:

    Yeah, I read about their cars too. Very cool stuff!

  2. Mike McGrath Says:

    Martin went out of his way to say that he would not talk about climate change or global warming. He was there just to talk about his car’s technology. Obviously, a million cars powered in the same way would have a big impact on the demand for electricity generation. Today, that probably means burning more fossil fuels.

  3. Electric car Wiki Says:

    I head Tesla had some delays with first batch of electric cars… If i read correctly, first orders will be filled up not in fall but by q2/2008…. I can already hear (old) automakers making jokes on this… I wonder if battery availability (after all recalls in 2007) has something to do with this…

  4. Mike McGrath Says:

    It’s not the batteries, it’s the transmission and power train.

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