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Tesla finally shows Model S sedan

2009-03-27 08:11
Former Pretoria Boys High pupil Elon Musk has shown off his second electric car - Tesla’s E-Class rival, the Model S.

Although car enthusiasts and certain environmentalists are all for Tesla’s novel engineering, from a market perspective the company has been weak on delivering products on time.

The $109 000 Roadster was plagued with gearbox issues and delivered late, though the Lotus built car has now found its way to 300 customers, with another 1 000 on the waiting list.

Musk promised to bring the Model S four-door sedan to market by next year, though the move to new production facility could not engage sufficient financial backing and though customers are welcome to place orders currently, they should not expect to drive their cars until at least the end of 2011 – at best.

Neat proportions, capacious interior

Although Musk was coy concerning full drivetrain and design details at the unveiling on Thursday, the lithium-ion battery pack powered Model S does major on practically.

A key design change regarding the ‘S’ befalls its underpinnings, which are set to be of Tesla’s own design; not outsourced to Lotus, which is the case with the Roadster. Subsequently the floor-mounted drivetrain has ushered in remarkable interior loadability considering car’s exterior dimensions.

Boasting dual, front and rear, loadbays and folding rear seats, Tesla claims the Model S can accommodate a 50-inch television, mountain bike and surfboard simultaneously, which makes it a pseudo SUV if you wish. Model S transports seven passengers, five-adults in a traditionall two/three firs- and second-row seating split, with two rear-facing seats in the hatchback accomodating two children.

Sufficient performance, additional range

Performance is keen too, despite the batteries adding a significant weight penalty (725kg) offset by the car's aluminium bodywork, settling the car to a road mass of 1 800kg. The Model S powers from 0-100km/h in less than six seconds, before buffering against a 210km/h topspeed limiter.

Though still essential a collection of laptop batteries, the Model S boasts 8 000 battery cells versus 6 000 in the Roadster, with the four-door car's batteries featuring better volumetric performance and advanced cell chemistry in each cell.

The Model S, which features an onboard charging module, can be recharged from any 120V, 240V or 480V (who has those?) outlet, with the latter taking only 45 minutes. The most realistic recharging option, from a 220V outlet, should time-out at four hours for a full recharge.

Range is limited by the battery pack trim level specified, with Model S customers able to order their car in 260-, 370- or 480km per charge battery spec.

Musk promises a Model S performance version will be even brisker, dispatching the 0-100km/h sprint in under five seconds, whilst all-wheel drive models will appeal to buyers who commute in locations with severe winter snowfall.

As expected from a man who made his fortune by being IT savvy, Musk’s Tesla Model S features dual 17-inch LCD touchscreens (no interior pushbutton controls), in-car 3G connectivity and seamless iPhone and laptop connectivity.

Tesla is aware the Roadster’s $109 000 price tag and production delays has seriously hampered the company’s ability to generate strong cash flow.

Model S base models will retail at $57 400, though after a federal tax credit of $7,500, the price is discounted to a quite reasonable $49 900 – cheaper than comparable Mercedes-Bnez E-Class BlueTec models in the US.

Can they build it?

The Model S design appears redoubtable, and Tesla has proven the performance virtues of the company’s drivetrain with the Roadster. Building the car though, is a huge issue.

The Roadster, with its chassis built across the Atlantic by Lotus in England, was an understandable logistical nightmare. With the Model S being a purely Californian component car, delayed customer deliveries will not be tolerated.

Musk has been unable to finance his own production facility, and now hopes a $350 million federal loan will be forthcoming from the Californian government, which is pretty wishful thinking in an economic climate which is very automotive risk averse.

Tesla hopes to build around 20 000 Model S cars a year when its production facility is fully operational - seeing as though they don't even have a site yet, this number seems quite a futuristic conjecture.

Another serious production delay could curtail the company’s reputation indefinitely and have the creditors knocking - which would be a tragedy considering the design appeal and sensibility encapsulated by the Model S...


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