CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Tesla Motors has received many accolades for producing an all-electric luxury sports car. But its long-term plans may hold its most challenging task: making a mass-market electric car.
The company intends to make a "family car" that it hopes will lead to the sale of millions of all-electric vehicles, JB Straubel, Tesla's chief technology officer, said Wednesday. He spoke earlier on a panel on "green transportation" at the EmTech 2008 conference here.
Code-named Bluestar, the car has been part of Tesla's plans for a few years. Tesla Chairman Elon Musk earlier this month was quoted as saying that the goal is to produce a car priced in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, possibly in partnership with other automakers.
Next out of Tesla's factories will be the Model S, a luxury sports sedan with a price tag of about $60,000 due out at the end of 2010.
From the same technology base, Tesla intends to develop a series of vehicles including a minivan, coupe, and light pick-up truck which could be used in fleets, Straubel said.
Technology from that Model S line may also make its way into the follow-on Bluestar line, he said.
"It could use the same or similar architecture, and we may partner with an existing OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to leverage their scale," Straubel said. "(But) lower cost is the target."
The goal is to be able to produce hundreds of thousands of these cars per year, he said. Leveraging existing technologies, such as its battery pack and powertrain, would help speed development.
"With Bluestar, we're looking at cost and lowering the overall expense to the user. If it's not cost-competitive (with oil), you are going to have a hard time scaling to a high level," Straubel said.
China and other fast-growing economies could be good markets for the Bluestar, he said.
Straubel said Tesla welcomes more electric car variants to the market, such as the Chevy Volt and Chrysler's recently announced line. The introduction of these cars and the release of the Tesla Roadster have helped changed the image of electric vehicles as "golf carts."
But he said that Tesla's all-electric technology, as opposed to a plug-in hybrid with a battery and internal combustion engine, gives it certain advantages.
The smaller battery in plug-in hybrids translates into more charging cycles, which means that they will need to be replaced sooner.
"You lower the wear and tear as you make batteries bigger. Also, you're pushing the envelope with bigger batteries and taking a bigger technology leap," he said.
Straubel said there are different motivations for interest in electric cars but energy security--a desire to reduce imported oil--seems to be the biggest driver, ahead of environmental concerns.
"Our goal is to change the transportation energy mix. To do that, you need a meaningful volume of cars," he said. "A family car is one market that means scale."