In the 1990s, thanks to a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate by the CARB mandate, the major automakers introduced several thousand electric cars. These cars, as ZEV would ordain, had no tailpipe emissions, and hence, were purely electric cars. The most popular among them was now famous EV-1 from GM which reports suggest cost over $1 billion to develop. I was myself surprised to visit a vacation resort in Desert Springs and see a long line of electric car re-charge stations in the main parking lot. Well, that was then. While those cars attracted a small but devoted following, they didn’t get much traction in the marketplace because of limited miles it could be driven without a recharge. The lobbyists went to work quickly and as history has it, the ZEV kind of dissolved and PZEV (Partial zero Emissions Vehicle) was born – the birth of the hybrid! And what happened to all the electric cars? Watch the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” to learn how car companies that created them, marketed them with a furor, and sold them to loyal customers, then recalled and literally destroyed them.But that is not the subject of this article. I want to highlight Tesla, a new purely electric sports cars designed by Tesla Motors. It is a re-invention of the electric car by a few silicon valley enthusiasts (and investors with deep pockets), that a few of us have been reading about for a few months now. The concept is simple: use electricity to drive a gorgeous looking chic car that runs as fast as a Porsche or a Ferrari.
Tesla’s founding has its roots in the same ideas that are driving growth in interest in the overall clean-tech sector: reduce dependence on Middle East oil, help the environment, and solve the engineering problems fast to make lots of money in the start-up world. I hope the surprise that the car is being developed in San Carlos, CA (just outside San Francisco), is not lost on you – that place is FAR from Detroit, Michigan. But the reality is that Detroit for the time being has no interest in real innovation – and they are happy to put marketing gimmicks (and style, at best) to work to recover their companies from drowning in debts and losses. Well, the Detroit executives are doing what is best for their companies at this stage. But Tesla Motors, and a few other silicon valley start-ups with similar ideas, such as Wrightspeed Inc., and Li-on Cells, have realized that this job requires engineering and fast innovation – exactly what silicon valley start-ups are good at. and guess who is funding them? Tesla, for example, has raised over $60 million from investors like PayPal cofounder Elon Musk, Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and ex-eBay chief Jeff Skoll. Yes – those guys who have too much money to spend elsewhere, and who are getting bored of controversies around their jumbo private jets, have found a new love for chic, environment-friendly automobiles. They are targeting the high profile, sports-car enthusiast market which is valued at over $3 billion worldwide. It might take a while for the Tesla to become affordable for lowly start-up guys like myself, but trust me there are plenty who will dole out the cash if their ride is the hottest thing in town – and yes, Telsa promises to be a hot rod. If they allow me a test-ride, I am ready to fly out tomorrow.
Some specs from Tesla’s web-site:
# 100% electric
# 0 to 60 in about 4 seconds
# Top speed: more than 130mph
# 135 mpg equivalent
# 250 miles to recharge
# about 1c per mile recurring cost
And how does Tesla do it: Tesla is powered by nearly 7000 rechargeable lithium-ion batteries (Li-on in the company mentioned above stands for Lithium Ion as well) – the same kind that power my IBM T43 Thinkpad laptop. They store nearly 250 miles worth of driving in the sleek, stylish looking concept car. [I read this morning inChemical and Engineering News that Li-ion batteries are soon to become better as tiny amounts of Magnesium & Cobalt are introduced into the lattice structure, allowing for more layered structure , which leads to faster recharges —OK I am in nerdville now!]. There are no moving parts besides the rotor that is spun by a magnetic field. An on-board computer provides traction control, and, since the motor is not limited by the complexity of pistons moving up and down, it can spin much faster. Typical combustion engines max out at 7000rpm, while Tesla can go up to 13,500 rpms, enabling it to go 70 mph in first gear. And what’s more fun: it has no acceleration jumps at gear shifts (there are only 2 gears), and has NO noise, whatsoever. That kinds sucks – well, no. Inventors seem to suggest that they can record whatever engine sound you like better (Porsche, Ferrari, or even the sound of horse hooves) can be recorded into the MP3 player and played back to give you that nostalgic feeling.