While racing his Tesla Roadster through the streets of Santa Monica last month, Tesla’s billionaire chairman Elon Musk waxed on about saving the environment, reducing the world’s dependence on oil, and all the other worthy pluses that come with owning the fully electric sports car. Then there are the bragging rights. “I went to an event at Chateau Marmont, that’s like a celebrity hangout in LA,” Musk told an interviewer. “When I came back, there was a guy standing in front of the car and he said ‘Wow, a Tesla, all I have is a lowly Porsche.’ ”
Last week, after several delays, Tesla said it has finally begun production of the Roadster. Musk, the Internet moneybags behind the project (he co-founded PayPal), naturally got first dibs. But whether for altruism or ego, more than 900 people have already pre-bought the car at US$100,000 a pop. Tesla is now accepting reservations, with a US$5,000 deposit, for the 2009 model.
The car has sparked a buzz in the auto industry. Capable of going from zero to 97 kph in under four seconds, and reaching a top speed of 210 kph, the Roadster can do doughnuts around the Toyota Prius. What’s more, Tesla claims it is twice as efficient as the Prius. The Roadster can travel 350 km on one charge, and costs just three dollars to recharge. Not that anyone who needs to count pennies should buy one. Estimates for the cost of replacing the battery alone range from US$10,000 to more than the price of a brand new Prius.
If the car moves fast, the company hasn’t. Production was to begin in 2007, but Tesla faced regulatory hurdles and delays over its transmission. Now, with the car on the assembly line, Tesla is focussing on a sedan called the Whitestar. Not that a car aimed at families will elicit quite the same excitement from Musk. “I really think the Roadster is the most fun car I’ve ever owned,” Musk wrote on his blog last month, “beating out the McLaren Fl and my 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo.” M
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