Game changer as electric car outpaces opposition
It’s the single most significant American car for decades, coming from Silicon Valley rather than Detroit, and it’s on its way to Europe, writes BEN OLIVER
In the back and forth of the first of the US presidential debates, Republican nominee Mitt Romney argued that President Obama’s grants and tax breaks to renewable energy companies equalled 50 years of the tax breaks to oil firms.
Romney then went for the electric car jugular, naming - and in his own way shaming - the electric car firms. Tesla Motors was caught in the spotlight. As far as Romney is concerned Tesla is a “loser”.
As we reported on these pages a few weeks ago, the advent of the electric car has lacked a charge. In that regard Romney might have a point. But then, not all electric cars are the same. The Tesla Model S certainly isn’t.
An electric car isn’t meant to feel like this. We come around the slip road onto the autobahn and immediately see the round white sign with five black diagonal lines that indicate there’s no speed limit. None.
So I floor the Tesla Model S. The response is – well – electric: supercar acceleration from the 414PS motor, eerie quiet and total composure as the speedo leaps three digits at a time to keep pace with the thrust until the car hits its electronic limiter at an indicated 213km/h.
October has been a quite the month for Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk. His Dragon capsule became the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station.
He opened the Supercharger network of fast charging stations in the US that aims to make the Model S as usable across country as across town: they come to mainland Europe next year.
He also brought the Model S to Europe for the first time, and let The Irish Times witness the full, extraordinary range of its dynamic abilities, free of pesky US speed limits.
Tesla, the recipient of $465m of a low-cost Federal loan designed to jump-start the US car industry after the financial crisis, was branded a “loser” by Romney in the Presidential debate.
I don’t think Romney’s driven one. The Model S isn’t perfect. It won’t sell in vast numbers. But it’s also the single most significant American car for decades. Built in Silicon Valley, not Detroit, it concentrates so many innovations in one new design.
Viewed from the side, the electric motor and invertor are contained within the profile of the rear wheels, and the battery is just 10 centimetres thick and sits under the cabin and between the axles. So, other than the suspension turrets, the car’s mechanical package is as flat as a skateboard, and this brings a whole bunch of unexpected benefits.
Tesla design chief Franz von Holzhausen made the Model S good-looking, but conventional: it needs to be practical, and switching to a radical new drivetrain and a radical new look might be too much for some customers. But that flat drivetrain means future electric sports cars can have wild styling.
An electric vehicle also needs less cooling, and fewer open grilles in the front – along with the completely flat underbody made possible by the lack of exhausts – make the Model S the most aerodynamic car on sale today. Seems a pity that von Holzhausen has included a dummy grille at the front.