Archive for the ‘Tesla Motors’ Category


Nicola Tesla 1856-1943

Nicola Tesla 1856-1943

Nicola Tesla was not your ordinary inventor. He patented the systems of generating and transmitting alternating current (AC) electricity used in virtually all electrical systems worldwide. He worked on wireless electricity transmission, vertical take-off flight and a “death ray” particle beam. He invented radio but Marconi got the credit. He thought that we would eventually harvest energy from the universe to power our world. Tesla was certainly ahead of his time. Maybe he had stumbled upon the hypothetical “dark energy” our current-day theoretical astrophysicists and cosmologists say is responsible for the expansion of the universe. Who knows?

Although more than a century has passed since Nicola Tesla first patented his brushless AC induction motor,  essentially the same design is used for modern electric  motors used in electric and hybrid vehicles, including those used by Tesla Motors in its ground-breaking Model S.

Tesla’s first piece of “technology” was the Roadster, a low-volume, hand-built sports car capable of highway speeds that used lithium-ion batteries with a range exceeding 200 miles. Almost 2,500 Roadsters were produced during its six year production run from 2006 – 2012.

Tesla Roadster

Tesla Roadster

Where the Roadster was more a proof-of-concept car for wealthy early adopters, the company’s Model S, a slick mid-sized 4-door sedan/hatchback, is the real world electric car we’ve all been waiting for. With the optional 85 kWh battery pack, it has a range exceeding 250 miles and with the ever-growing network of Tesla Superchargers, you can now drive your Model S, coast-to-coast, gas-free with free charging.

Starting at $63,570, the Model S (with the 60 kWh battery) compares most closely in size, style and price to the likes of the Mercedes-Benz CLS, BMW 6 Gran Coupé, Audi A7 and Porsche Panamera.  The manufacturers love to use the oxymoronic term “four-door coupé” for these sexy, raked-roofed sedans with reduced rear-seat head room.

Tesla Model s in Grey

Tesla Model S in Grey

The P85 Performance Model S, with the 85 kWh battery pack and all the options ticked, tops out at around $118,000. The Germans can blow past that price with ease, but the P85 can hold its own in a drag race with 416 hp, 446 lb-ft of torque available from zero and a claimed zero-to-sixty time of 4.2 seconds (Car and Driver clocked it slightly slower at 4.6 seconds). That’s faster than the “standard” 2014 Mercedes CLS550 (with a 402 hp 4.6L biturbo V8) but slower than the CLS63 4Matic (with a 550 hp 5.5L biturbo V8).

The Tesla Model S P85. Just look for the badge on the left rear of the car.

The Tesla Model S P85. Just look for the badge on the left rear of the car.

But there is a problem with all these comparisons. There is no other premium luxury electric vehicle to compare with Tesla.

The P85+ Performance badge. Someone spent money!

The P85+ Performance badge. Someone spent money!

Inside the rarified environment of an expensive German luxury car, you are surrounded by a century of progress. Everything from the switchgear to the quilted leather to the fonts on the instruments are products of a phalanx of engineers and designers and a yottabyte of accumulated customer experience and market research data. In a way, it’s kind of ponderous and calculated.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Each brand has its identity and heritage to uphold with each new model and each new generation of existing models. And customers have come to expect certain things from a brand. Billions are spent on marketing and vanity projects like Formula 1 racing – all for bragging rights that mean something and nothing all at once.

So what happens when a completely new product shows up in the market? Something that is a creation of a Silicon Valley technology start-up, not something from an established manufacturer? What if there is no turbocharged, direct-injected, fire-breathing internal combustion engine, driven by 8 forward gears, double clutches and torque converters. A drivetrain without countless, greasy moving parts, spark plugs, pumps, fuel lines and filters?

What if there is a big, rectangular 1,300 pound 85 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that looks kind of like a waffle wafer cookie that screws into the floor pan thereby creating a very low center of gravity? What if the propulsion came from a liquid-cooled three phase, four pole AC induction motor with a copper rotor, variable frequency drive inverter with regenerative braking and a single speed fixed gear transmission?

The platform for the Model S with Air Suspension. The battery is the big flat pack shielded by the frame.

The platform for the Model S with Air Suspension. The battery is the big flat pack shielded by the frame. Note the electric motor sitting between the rear wheels.

The entire powertrain sits between the rear wheels of the Model S. Weight distribution is nearly equal between the front/rear axles at 48%/52%.

How do you compare Tesla to other car companies when Tesla performs “service” and “maintenance” by a wireless 3G connection while your Model S recharges overnight? It sure beats taking the car to the dealer for service!

How do you compare interior volumes between a Tesla and similar-sized cars with internal combustion engines? Is it a fair comparison when the Model S uses space NOT taken up by an engine, transmission, gas tank and fluid reservoirs?

Tesla calls the front trunk the “frunk” – something Porsche has had for decades with its sports cars. You gain 5.3 cubic feet and it’s very handy. The rear hatch opens to a cavernous 26.3 cubic feet of storage space and, with the split 60/40 rear seats folded, a Shrek-sized 58.1 cubic feet opens up.  You can even get a trick rear-facing seat for two children that folds into the floor.

The cavernous rear compartment with optional rear-facing child seats. They fold flat into the floor.

The cavernous rear compartment with optional rear-facing child seats. They fold flat into the floor.

So much is fresh and reimagined with the Model S that it’s hard to encapsulate into words. First impressions are lasting ones. The Model S is sleek and sexy. It looks fresh and modern, with tight panels and high quality paint. It easily holds its own at any valet station with all but the most exotic Germans and Italians.

As you walk up to the Model S, its flush-mounted chrome door handles glide out to meet your hand. Sitting in the comfortable pilot’s seat and you are struck by the clean, clutter-free environment. Surfaces are leather or soft-touch plastics. Fit and finish are excellent as they should be at this price point.

The interior of the Model S is decidedly uncluttered.

The interior of the Model S is decidedly uncluttered.

The proximity sensors in the key alert the car to come to life – there is no start or “on” button.  A gigantic 17” color touch screen dominates the center stack. It pretty much controls everything with the exception of the headlights, turn signals, washer/wipers and cruise control. It’s stunning to behold and the software interface and touch capacity are easily as good as Apple’s polished iPad Air. It’s a Tesla in-house hardware-software design.

You've never seen anything like the 17" touch screen control panel in the Model S.

You’ve never seen anything like the 17″ touch screen control panel in the Model S.

The instrument panel is comprised of three customizable thin-film transistor full color screens with redundant navigation display.

The steering wheel and instrument panel of the Model S.

The steering wheel and instrument panel of the Model S.

Detail of the instrument panel with the optional parking sensors activated.

Detail of the instrument panel with the optional parking sensors activated.

Switchgear (power windows, door locks and side mirrors, headlights) and steering wheel stalks are from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin (Daimler AG holds a significant investment in Tesla Motors).  This is a good thing as the quality is high and it makes it easier for you to give up your Mercedes when you get your Tesla. The transmission control lever is located to the right side of the wheel.  The parking brake is also electronic.

Driving the Model S is unlike anything you’ve ever driven, so comparisons are difficult. Its premium quality and advanced engineering is evident from the moment you take off.  It oozes class and sophistication and it feels as rigid as a granite boulder.

I drove the P85 with 446 lb-ft of torque available from zero. Nothing is more intoxicating and addicting that having that much g-force power available without a drop of gasoline being burned. I might have broken the law.

The Tesla Model S with the optional Red Multi-Coat paint.

The Tesla Model S with the optional Red Multi-Coat paint.

Lift up on the rheostat and the regenerative brakes gently slow the 4,700 pound aluminum space ship without touching the mechanical brakes. Only very light braking is needed in most driving and you will find yourself playing with the regenerative braking to see just how infrequently you have to tap the mechanical brakes.  Tesla allows you to choose between “standard” and “low” regen-braking power. I’d choose the standard setting as it would be the most entertaining.

Everything is hushed inside the cabin. Absent the normal hum and strum of an internal combustion engine and the steady symphony of climbing revs and changing gears, you become keenly aware of road and tire noise that used to blend into the background. There is a faint whine of an electric motor, but that’s it.

There is plenty of room in the back seat and it's very airy with the glass roof.

There is plenty of room in the back seat and it’s very airy with the glass roof.

The 17” center control screen can display all sorts of information and includes full internet connectivity. Tesla doesn’t treat you like a child and lock-out internet browsing while you’re driving. Hopefully you will have the good sense to leave the browsing to your passengers. Google Maps and the on-board hard-drive navigation display beautifully.

Model S interior detail: Optional console with wood veneer.

Model S interior detail: Optional console with wood veneer.

I fixated on the rearview camera. It’s a wide angle lens that doubles as a blind spot monitor. You can choose to leave the camera on while you’re driving forward. You see the nuisances in your blind spots in real-time and I found it extremely handy.

The Tesla rockets into lanes, passes with ease at any speed. Corners and curves are precise, composed and nearly flat. The standard variable ratio, speed sensitive electric power steering is tight and linear with excellent road feel – nothing like the disconnected vague feeling of most hybrids. Wind noise is kept to a minimum with a slippery coefficient drag the envy of most exotic sports cars.

The Model S in White

The Model S in White

According to my Tesla specialist, almost everyone opts for the 85 kWh battery (265+ mile range) and the $3,750 Tech Package. Frankly, everything in the Tech Package should be standard. It adds:

  • Onboard maps and navigation for North America
  • Daytime LED running lights
  • LED cornering lights
  • Automatic keyless entry
  • Lighted door handles
  • Electrochromatic (auto-dimming) mirrors
  • Power folding, heated side mirrors
  • Power liftgate
  • GPS-enabled Homelink
  • Memory seats, mirrors and driver profile

You can continue to pile on options like the $2,500 Ultra High Fidelity Sound package, $2,250 for Smart Air Suspension, $2,500 for an all-glass panoramic roof, $500 for front and rear parking sensors or $2,500 for extended Nappa leather trim.

The Model S with the optional glass panoramic sunroof.

The Model S with the optional glass panoramic sunroof.

The only glaring omissions from the extensive option list are adaptive cruise control and a forward collision warning system. The price of these systems have fallen dramatically and they are available on everything from a Porsche 911 to a Honda Accord to a Subaru Forester.  It wouldn’t be a deal-breaker as the Tesla is so good with everything else and I expect the company will add these options in the future.

So what makes the Tesla Model S such a killer app? Is it because the Model S is the top-rated car in the history of Consumer Reports? Maybe. Is it because of the rave reviews from the usually EV-adverse automotive press? Possibly.

A Model S recharging in a garage. The High Power home charger is $2,700. They told me that most people just use the provided charging cord plugged into a 240 volt outlet.

A Model S recharging in a garage. The High Power home charger is $2,700. They told me that most people just use the provided charging cord plugged into a 240 volt outlet.

But I think the reason is more obvious. The Model S is the first and only EV that doesn’t require owners to compromise. The 200+ mile range alleviates almost all of the dreaded “range anxiety.” Tesla’s nationwide network of Superchargers allow owners to top off their battery, for free, usually in less than 30 minutes. It makes travel from LA to SF a reality with only minor inconvenience.  Palm Springs, Santa Barbara and San Diego don’t require any stops. In just the past week, a team from Tesla made the trip from Los Angeles to New York City in just 76 hours.

Tesla Supercharger Station

Tesla Supercharger Station

elon-musk-blog-photoPeople also love the story of Tesla Motors. Tesla’s founder, Elon Musk, a South African-born immigrant, is brilliant, a big dreamer and a big gambler (much of it his own fortune from founding PayPal) on big ventures like SpaceX, Solar City and Tesla. He is doing what NASA used to do and his unabashed evangelism for his companies can make some eyes roll. The Model S, designed, engineered and built in California by a start-up company, is the 21st Century version of a Moon Shot.

The Tesla Model S is the future of the automobile. Everything else just seems dated.


If you’re like me, you’ve been following the rapid ascent of the Tesla Model S in the Los Angeles market.  On my daily commutes and errands, I’m sure to see at least one, and sometimes several Teslas slinking through traffic with those sexy reverse-angled signature LED daytime running lights.

The 2013 Tesla Model S in Blue. Tesla likes to keep the color names simple: Black, White, Silver, Green, Blue, Grey and Brown.

The 2013 Tesla Model S in Blue. Tesla likes to keep the color names simple: Black, White, Silver, Green, Blue, Grey and Brown.

More than any other alternative fuel vehicle, the Tesla is the first all-electric car that has real-world appeal to me. I drive to Palm Springs most weekends and I need cargo space for our family which includes two demanding dachshunds who travel in luxury crates.

The rear of the Model S is beautifully-balanced, understated and elegant.

The rear of the Model S is beautifully-balanced, understated and elegant.

The Tesla Model S, with its large battery pack sandwiched under the floor of the car, achieves a real-world 200+ mile driving range. The base 60 kWh battery pack carries a 208 mile EPA Certified Driving Range while the more popular 85 kWh pack option has a Certified Range of 265 miles.

The 4-door coupe styling is familiar from rivals like the Mercedes CLS and Audi A7. I like the frameless windows.

The 4-door coupe styling is familiar from rivals like the Mercedes CLS and Audi A7. I like the frameless windows.

With electrons to burn, you can zip to San Diego, Santa Barbara, Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear or Palm Springs without any range anxiety. Sure, go ahead, burn extra electrons with the AC blasting, Google Maps navigating and wireless devices charging.  As long as you can plug the Model S in somewhere at your destination, you should have no trouble driving around for the weekend and returning home in complete zero-emission bliss.

Here’s a rundown of the other pure electric vehicles on the market and their EPA certified driving range.

  • Chevrolet Spark EV – 82 miles
  • Honda Fit EV – 82 miles
  • Fiat 500e  – 87 miles
  • Ford Focus Electric – 76 miles
  • Nissan Leaf – 75 miles
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV – 62 miles
  • Toyota RAV4 EV – 103 miles

None of them could make a 120 mile trip to Palm Springs (or any other So Cal destination city) and, with the exception of the $50,000 Toyota RAV4, they are all too small for my needs.

Charging a Tesla is much faster than you’d think. Using a 240 volt charger, the battery replenishes at the rate of 31 miles per hour. Opt for the Tesla Twin Charger (installed in the car itself) and using the same 240 volt hookup, the battery absorbs enough electrons for 62 mile in one hour. Essentially, a nearly depleted 85 kWh battery can be fully charged in only 4 hours. That’s damn fast for such a large, powerful battery.

The rear doors are slim and attractive. The windows are frameless. Although it was a bit of a squeeze to get in due to the heavily-raked roof line, there was plenty of room due to the flat floors and lack of a transmission tunnel.

The rear doors are slim and attractive. The windows are frameless. Although it was a bit of a squeeze to get in due to the heavily-raked roof line, there was plenty of room due to the flat floors and lack of a transmission tunnel.

Around town, there are very few people who drive more than 200 miles a day. For most people, a 200+ mile range on one charge would be sufficient for 3-5 days of ordinary commuting. And if you can afford a Model S, it’s highly likely that you have a home and/or parking accommodations convenient enough for your own home charging station.

What cars compete with the Tesla Model S? It’s a stylish, luxury, 4-door sports “coupe” design, similar in size to and highly competitive with the Audi A7/S7, the BMW 6-series Gran Coupé, Mercedes-Benz CLS and the Porsche Panamera.

Tesla Model S $69,900 -$94,900 (before federal tax credit of $7,500 and any state credits)
Audi A7/S7 $60,100 – $78,800
BMW 6-series Gran Coupé $77,600 – $91,400
Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class $72,100 – $107,425
Porsche Panamera $78,600 – $161,100

Why would I want to be a pioneer, an early adopter of this new breed of electric vehicle? Why would I give up on my life-long love affair with the internal combustion engine (ICE)?

The Model S in Red. The daytime running lights are very distinctive. Of course, LED DRLs are nearly mandatory on any new luxury vehicle, thanks to manufacturers like Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

The Model S in Red. The daytime running lights are very distinctive. Of course, LED DRLs are nearly mandatory on any new luxury vehicle, thanks to manufacturers like Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

I’ll try to answer the question with another one. I used to own a BlackBerry “smartphone” with a physical keyboard. When Apple introduced the first generation iPhone, I said that “no one would choose that horrible touchscreen over this great physical keyboard,” despite the BlackBerry being such a comparably clunky design.

The instrument panel is a large, horizontal thin film transistor (TFT) full-color display. Lovely stuff.

The instrument panel is a large, horizontal thin film transistor (TFT) full-color display. Lovely stuff. The gear shift and steering wheel control stalks, as well as the switchgear come from Tesla investor Mercedes-Benz. One thing you won’t find in the Model S is a “start” button. The car knows the key is present and it’s ready to go as soon as you sit down in the driver’s seat.

Today, the answer to that question is self-evident. Touchscreens are far and above the preferred keyboard.  But at the time of the iPhone’s introduction, touchscreens were small and not responsive and people weren’t used to them. That is why a hybrid phone made sense until touchscreen technology became so good that a physical keyboard was useless dead weight.  The exception at the time, of course, was the iPhone, which worked well as a pure touchscreen.

The interior of the Model S is a study in simplicity. The instrument panel is a large TFT video display and the gargantuan 17 inch center console tablet controls almost all the functions without physical knobs. Usually I like physical knobs, but in the Tesla, it's iPad-like touchscreen interface proves it can be done and done well.

The interior of the Model S is a study in simplicity. The instrument panel is a large TFT video display and the gargantuan 17 inch center console tablet controls almost all the functions without physical knobs. Usually I like physical knobs, but in the Tesla, it’s iPad-like touchscreen interface proves it can be done and done well.

The Tesla Model S is like the iPhone of the car world.  While it’s not perfect in its initial offering — the original iPhone had trouble with email and was too slow to be a useful computing device; likewise, the Model S is inferior to ICE cars for long trips.

Nice details: The door handles are nestle flush into the body for better aerodynamics. When the driver approaches the door, the car senses the key and the handles extend automatically. Slick touch and it worked perfectly for me.

Nice details: The door handles are nestle flush into the body for better aerodynamics. When the driver approaches the door, the car senses the key and the handles extend automatically. Slick touch and it worked perfectly for me.

The iPhone committed so completely to touchscreen tech that it was able to make something functionally superior to old phone designs, thus proving the future of phone design has arrived. Similarly, the Model S committed so completely to EV tech that it was able to make what Motor Trend, Automobile Magazine, Consumer Reports, and many others have declared is the best car ever made — despite its current limitations on long road trips.

Here are some concrete examples of how Tesla’s commitment to a pure EV allows it to make a car better than anything else on the road:

Design

A lack of ICE components allows a clean slate and every opportunity to take advantage of a singularly electric car. Many find the Model S to be beautiful; the designers were freed from the constraints of the need for air intakes, radiator, exhaust and other “complications” associated with ICE and/or hybrid technology.

Safety

Not having an engine, transmission, gas tank, exhaust system, and countless other drivetrain components allowed Tesla to put crumple zones and reinforcement bars in ideal places, often where an engine component would have been. The result is that the Tesla is one of the safest car on the road, at one point a testing machine was broken by the car!

Interior

Lack of an ICE drivetrain allows the Model S to fit up to 7 people and have more cargo space (58.1 cubic feet, with the rear seats folded) than many SUVs. No plug-in hybrid comes close to that.

Lift the "hood" of the Model S and you will find a large cargo space, like a much larger version of what you'd find on a mid-engine Porsche Boxster.

Lift the “hood” of the Model S and you will find a large cargo space, like a much larger version of what you’d find on a mid-engine Porsche Boxster.

Like the Porsche Panamera and Audi A7, the Model S is a 4-door hatchback design. However, unlike its competitors, the lack of mechanical and exhaust systems permit a cavernous space. Optional rear-facing seating for two small people increases the Model S's passenger capacity from 5 to 7.

Like the Porsche Panamera and Audi A7, the Model S is a 4-door hatchback design. However, unlike its competitors, the lack of mechanical and exhaust systems permit a cavernous space. Optional rear-facing seating for two small people increases the Model S’s passenger capacity from 5 to 7.


Reliability

Lack of moving components allows unprecedented reliability. Several Model S vehicles have gone over 500,000 miles and counting on the original batteries with no issues and less than 20% battery degradation. I’m not aware of a single drivetrain (battery or motor) breakdown in any of the 10,000 plus Model S vehicles on the road.

Service

Much of the Model S is controlled by software. Having a problem with the HD radio? Tesla can fix it through the car’s standard wireless internet connection. The car’s giant center console 17 inch touchscreen is essentially a sophisticated tablet computer. Like your smartphone, it can be updated by remote technicians using on-board diagnostics and downloading software updates and fixes. The Tesla Model S is essentially the first car that can be serviced online.

The brilliant, high-definition Tesla 17 inch touch screen is just amazing in person. Like a tablet computer, it's internet-connected and technical service can be rendered online. Updates are downloaded and installed overnight while you sleep!

The brilliant, high-definition Tesla 17 inch touch screen is just amazing in person. Like a tablet computer, it’s internet-connected and technical service can be rendered online. Updates are downloaded and installed overnight while you sleep!

Cost

Although the Tesla is expensive, it is very comparably priced with other ICE cars in its class (see chart above). Meanwhile every plug-in hybrid is at least $8,000 more than comparable cars in their class. Instead of making two compromised drivetrains, like with hybrid plug-ins, the Tesla just has a single, uncompromised one.

Performance

The lack of ICE components allows for a clean undercarriage and minimal air induction. This translates into a drag coefficient of .24 — currently the lowest on the road! Incredible for a car this size. A MINI Cooper, by comparison, is .35 despite being less than half the size! A Ferrari 458 Italia has a drag coefficient of .33. The fastest production car in the world, a Bugatti Veyron Supersport, has a drag coefficient of .41.

The Model S, like any proper sports sedan, is rear wheel drive. It’s three-phase, four pole AC induction motor is mounted directly between the rear wheels. It uses a single-speed fixed gear transmission.

EV components can be mounted much lower to the ground than ICE components, allowing a sports car like low center of gravity, and therefore sports car like handling, despite being a big, heavy (4,647 lb), full-sized sedan.  Motor Trend clocked the Model S 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds. The instant torque of a pure EV is compromised by the ICE engine weight and integration of a plug-in hybrid

Tesla Supercharger Stations

Tesla isn’t waiting for governments or third-parties to build a nationwide EV charging network. It has begun building its own Tesla Superchargers to allow Model S (and future Teslas) to drive all over California and even coast-to-coast. It’s even more exciting because use of the Superchargers is free forever to every Tesla Models S owner.  Non-Tesla owners can use the stations, but they must pay.

A rendering of a Tesla Supercharger station.

A rendering of a Tesla Supercharger station.

The 120 kw Supercharger can charge a Model S equipped with the on-board supercharger by 50% in 20 minutes.  According to Tesla, it’s 20x faster and delivers 16x more electricity than other public charging stations.

The Supercharge module is standard on both Model Ses with the 85 kWh battery pack and it’s a $2,000 option on the 60 kWh base models.

According to Tesla’s website, here is the current information on the status of its Supercharger network:

  • Today – 8 stations
  • Summer 2013 – 27 stations
  • Winter 2013 – Coast-to-coast travel
  • 2014 – 80% of the US and Canada
  • 2015 – 98% of the US and Canada

Many owners may still prefer the Tesla on long trips because the fuel is free, the ride is fun, and taking a 45 minute break every 200 hundred miles or so is something they would do anyway.

The Best Car in the World

It may sound like hyperbole, but the Models S has been met with near universal acclaim from the men and women who live and breathe ICE for a living.  It’s a stunning accomplishment given Tesla’s status as a startup company and that the Model S is its freshman entry into a very cutthroat worldwide automotive marketplace.  And as a California native, I can’t help but be proud that Tesla is a Silicon Valley-based company and the Model S is made in an old GM-Toyota joint venture factory in Freemont, CA.

Consumer Reports – never the go-to source for automotive enthusiasts – proclaimed the Model S to be the best car they have EVER tested. It scored an eye-popping rating of 99 out of 100.

If enthusiasts can agree with Consumer Reports about the Tesla Model S, it really must be the Best Car in the World and I want to drive the Best Car in the World. Who wouldn’t?