June 5, 2006 5:10 PM PDT

Electric sports car ready to challenge Porsche?

A Silicon Valley start-up is expected to show off an electric car this summer that it says can hang with Porsches and Ferraris and has attracted investments from the founders of Google and eBay.

Tesla Motors says its Tesla Roadster can accelerate, brake and handle like a high-end sports car. The company, in fact, claims the car can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in four seconds.

The big difference is that it runs completely on electricity. It plugs into the wall and is not a hybrid. The battery gives it a range of 250 miles.

"We have made a sports car that is really a sports car," said CEO Martin Eberhard. "It is first and fundamentally a driver's car."

A public unveiling of the car is slated for July 12 in Santa Monica, Calif., at which buyers will also be able to sign up to buy the first cars that come off the line.

The secretive start-up, founded in 2003, has also attracted some big-name investors. Google's Sergey Brin and Larry Page have put money into the company, as have Elon Musk and Jeff Skoll of eBay fame, VantagePoint Ventures and Draper, Fisher Jurvetson. In all, Tesla has attracted $40 million in venture investing.

Alternative energy has become one of the hot markets for venture investors in the past two years. Brin and Page are also investors in Nanosolar, and Draper, Fisher Jurvetson has made several clean technology investments. The sale of hybrid cars and solar systems for homes have been rising and in many areas become status symbols.

The sports car won't be cheap, Eberhard conceded. Nonetheless, once the technology is established, it will lead to less-expensive cars for the ordinary driver.

The company will not likely license its intellectual property to other auto manufacturers. It's just not standard practice in the auto industry.

"When was the last time Porsche licensed an engine from someone else? They haven't," he said.

The company is named in honor of Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American who invented the rotating magnetic field and who obtained around 700 patents.

Electric motors rely often on the repulsion and attraction of magnets. Often, an electric motor consists of a stationary, permanent magnet attached to a hub and surrounded by pairs of electromagnets. Those magnets are embedded in a rotating cylinder attached to the wheel. Rapidly changing the polarity of the electromagnets from positive to negative causes the wheel to propel itself forward.

Tesla Motors has not given any technical information about the design of its motor.

Because the car runs entirely on electricity, however, it will likely create less pollution than even plug-in hybrids, which run mostly on electricity. Electric cars don't emit fumes, but since electrical power plants often rely on coal, greenhouse gases are created in charging these cars. In California, little coal is used, but it's big in Pennsylvania.

One thing the company doesn't appear to have is an overwhelming history in the automotive industry, at least among the executives. Before starting Tesla, Eberhard was CEO of NuvoMedia, which tried to market the RocketBook, an electronic book. Electronic books were astounding flops with consumers; however, Eberhard did manage to sell the company to Gemstar for $187 million.

Many of the other executives are also alumni of NuvoMedia.

The only executive listed on the company's Web site who worked at an automotive company is Malcolm Powell, vice president of vehicle integration. Before Tesla, he helped create the Lotus Elise.

Chief Technical Officer J.B. Staubel, however, has worked in the aircraft industry and retrofitted his own Porsche to run on an electric motor.

The San Carlos, Calif.-based Tesla Motors has 70 employees.

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Porsche, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, magnet, motor, Sergey Brin

27 comments

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Electrics don't work well in cold climates
Pure electric cars make a lot of sense in LA. It's warm and benefits from the zero emission vehicle. Pure electric cars haven't worked very well in cold weather. Perhaps this company has new technology that will allow it to perform better in the cold than other electrics like the GM Impact.
Posted by Arbalest05 (83 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Electrics work fine in cold climates.
While it is true that in EXTREME COLD (i.e. well below freezing) lead acid batteries suffer problems with battery life, this has been conquered by using built in battery warmers that keep it warm when plugged in. During long cold days at the office, they consume some battery power.
Posted by terrywood3 (2 comments )
Link Flag
Lithium Batteries Work fine in extreme Temps
Lithium Ion batteries, which is what the Tesla and other highway EV's are switching to, can work very well from well below zero to over 200 degrees. I just read an article on some new Lithium Ion Nano-tech batteries that Altair battery company is selling, I can't remember the exact range off the top of my head, but I think it was something like 30 below to 275 without any significant loss in performance.
Posted by Esabre (5 comments )
Link Flag
Not sure why the article...
...uses a picture of an MCC Smart Car to illustrate the article on the News.com homepage. The Smart has been in production for about seven years and is very common in Europe. MCC will be selling versions in the US later this year.

It is not, however, an electric car. Nor is it a sports car (although Smart do make a sports car, the model pictured isn't it). Its 700-800cc engine (depending on model) gets around 55 mpg, but 0-16 acceleration is on the order of 15 seconds. Hardly Porsche territory.

Until recently, I owned a Smart Car and they are without doubt an excellent city car. It is misleading, however, to associate a photograph of one with an article on an all electric sportscar.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: picture
Yes, I noticed the picture. Strange that they did this. There was an article about this company in the May 8 BusinessWeek and it had a picture of the car (with a note saying the design is actually based on the Lotus Elise).
Posted by DavidWorkman (14 comments )
Link Flag
Electric Smart Cars are being produced
Hybrid Technologies is making an electric version of the Smart Car and so is some company in Europe. However, you're right they should not be confusing it with the Tesla. It is like comparing a Beetle with A Porsche. Both fine cars in their own right, but not to be confused with each other.
Posted by Esabre (5 comments )
Link Flag
Be cautious...
...of any company of nerds and engineers that calls an electric
car after Tesla.

Tesla was a strong proponent of AC electricity and Edison tried
to squash his career by say AC was dangerous.

What's my point?

Bet you the car runs off of DC electricity.

Marketing plain and simple, (or maybe just hype) maybe these
guys discovered cold fusion too.
Posted by trlhttn (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Tesla coils.
Maybe part of the business plan calls for erecting a network of Tesla coils along the nation's highways. They could then power the cars by induction in real time, without the need to plug them in. Shouldn't cost more than a few hundred billion dollars :)
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Link Flag
Electric Vehicles (EVs) Outsold Gassers a century ago
Five years ago, AC Propulsion built an electric vehicle (EV) that beats Maseratis through the quarter mile. President Wilson kept a Baker Electric at the White House. Henry Ford's wife would drive only EVs. EVs outsold internal-combustion cars a hundred years ago; only the adoption of the (electric) starter allowed gassers to predominate after 1910.
Posted by EV Lover (16 comments )
Link Flag
The Tesla uses an AC motor.
All highway capable long range EV's currently in design or production use AC motors.
Posted by Esabre (5 comments )
Link Flag
The tesla name does make since
I think what you fail to realize is that the motor is a 3-phase induction one which DOES use AC. The AC is derived from the inverter speed controller which changes DC to AC.
Posted by simple-logic (1 comment )
Link Flag
about Tesla
Nicola Tesla was born in Croatia by Serbian origin&
Tesla was proponent of AC because he practically invented it
and because of the superiority of AC system over DC.
By the way this year is 150 anniversary of his birth.
Posted by torbar (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Could be a defintie advantage.
"One thing the company doesn't appear to have is an overwhelming history in the automotive industry..." This seems like an asset to me.
Now these guys just have to say "NO!" when Govt. agents ask them to help them set up a "drug sting" or they'll go the way of John Delorean.
RE: Tesla & Edison. Edison hated Tesla because Tesla insisted on credit for his inventions and started his own company. It was probably Tesla who invented half of the things for which Edison took credit.
BTW, AC is superior to DC in only one characteristic--transmission. Otherwise it is inferior in every aspect. If and when fuel cells are ever perfected, DC will be generated at the point of use and transmission lines, transformers, power supplies, and all the rest of those energy wasters will go the way of telegrams and teletype machines.
We'll only see them in museums.
Posted by El Kabong (100 comments )
Reply Link Flag
AC Vs DC
AC moters are smaller and lighter for a given power range. The correct way to power an electric car is with a 400Hz three phase AC motor. In the past, the required inverters were bulky and expensive. The new inverters are much smaller and lighter and with a larger demand, will become more reasonable in price.
Posted by willdryden (271 comments )
Link Flag
Toyota, GM, Ford, Honda etc. All chose AC for their EV's
There are many reasons that AC is superior to DC for the serious EV. For homemade conversions on a tight budget DC is probably the way to go, but for serious highway capable long range EV's everyone is going with AC. For a partial list of reasons that AC is superior in this context go to

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.metricmind.com/qa.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.metricmind.com/qa.htm</a>
Posted by Esabre (5 comments )
Link Flag
I doubt it...
have a look at the electric model aircraft trends. They are brushless DC motors - extremely efficient and powerful for their size. My understanding is that the reason conventional DC motors are less efficient is because they have brush/commutator systems to transfer the current to rotating coils hence losses and friction occur. They also require much higher maintenance. I believe it is also easier to precisely control the current to DC motors.
Posted by jasred (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
AC Vs DC - sorry
My last comment was in response to the DC Vs AC debate.
Posted by jasred (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You people will never be ready
for an electric vehicle. Where do you have to accelerate to 60 mph in 4 seconds, not in this country. Why do we have to compare an electric to a gas vehicle. If you have the money to buy the poluting vehicle and don't care about the rest of us DO IT cause you will anyway We should have done the electric vehicle in 1973 when the gas first went up. Your going to get the nay sayers no matter what you do. I have developed a digital electric motor but have put it away because Americans are not ready for true inovations unless it burns GAS.- RICH
Posted by Richie (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You're missing one important point
An EV that can smoke a Porsche or Vet in the quarter mile helps smash the stereotype of the EV as a weak overgrown golf cart. Sure, most of us don't want or need a Tesla, just the same as we don't need a 400,000 dollar internal compustion speed street legal dragster. However, we do need to show that going green does not = sacrificing the ability to pass or merge on a busy interstate. Once people realize that their acceleration actually improves with EV's that will remove one of the barriers to their widespread acceptance.
Posted by Esabre (5 comments )
Link Flag
Ahead of my time...
When I was in college, I used to dream about owning an electric corvette. That was about 20 years ago...nice to see technology catching up with my imagination.

I got to (briefly) test drive the GM EV1 once at street speeds (but not highway speeds) some years ago. It handled almost exactly the same as my Saturn SL1.

Historically, auto racing has been a major driver in the development of the gasoline engine. It is time for auto racing to switch to hybrid-electric (e.g. Nascar) and hydrogen-electric (e.g. Indy) engines to kick this inovation into high gear.
Posted by C.Schroeder (126 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Electric Racing Association
The National Electric Drag Racing Association has been organizing battery-electric racing for a decade.
Posted by EV Lover (16 comments )
Link Flag
Electric Car Market: Millions
I don't allow myself to be discouraged just because the oil and auto industries have been literally trashing electric vehicles (EVs.) A market study (data by Dohring) done in 2000 projected sales of hundreds of thousands of EVs five years after mass offerings begin. I imagine that this figure would be at least doubled by now.
Posted by EV Lover (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
AC over DC drives
AC induction motors are the most robust motors.
simply because A. the rotor is nothing but
and aluminium Cage. The same AC IMs are used
in your fans which can work fine with single
phase AC for over 40 years without any
maintenance.

B. Due to something called Space-Vector modulation
and a ton of new algorithms for the last 30 years.
its easy to replace ALL DC drives with
Space-Vector modulated AC drives . Each drive
comes with a embedded DSP like Motorola 56F800
or a ADI Blackfin or a TI TMS320CXX. You
need not have any gearbox and co-ordinate
2 separate driveshafts which communicate
electronically. It does not even require
any rotor position sensor as it uses Model
refernce Adaptive control to measure Flux,
Direct and quad currents and otehr parameters.
BTW it works very well at low speed regimes.
Such drives can adjust well to any level to
required torque and speed.
Posted by routing_algorithm (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Vector modulation
The vector modulated AC drives are electronically complicated and so far do not demonstrate acceptable endurance, necessary in automotive applications.
Posted by owlafaye (70 comments )
Link Flag
Mine would cost under 100k
Availability sometime in 08:
Technical Specs
You might feel like you need an electrical degree to make heads or tails out of the specs below. That?s because no such car has existed before. We became aware of this historic fact many months ago when attempting to pick up a chassis prototype at San Francisco International Airport. The customs agent asked a simple question that began a ?Who?s on First? kind of dialogue. What kind of engine? None yet, we replied. How many cylinders? Zero.

There simply weren?t the right boxes to check off on the form.

Tesla Roadster Technical Data
Motor Type designation 3-phase, 4-pole electric motor
Max net power 185kW
Max rpm 13,500
Efficiency 90% average, 80% at peak power
Torque see torque curve chart

Transmission Type: 2 speed electrically actuated manual transmission with final drive; constant mesh gears and inertia lock key type synchromesh
Gear Ratio Overall
First 4.20 : 1 14.3 : 1
Second 2.17 : 1 7.4 : 1
Final Drive 3.41 : 1
Reverse reverse direction of motor


Front Suspension Type: independent; upper and lower wishbone; co-axial coil spring/telescopic damper unit; anti-roll bar
Rear Suspension Type: independent; upper and lower wishbone; co-axial coil spring/telescopic damper
Brakes Type Cross-drilled 300 mm front and 310 mm rear discs with curved vane ventilation; AP Racing Two piston Aluminum fixed front calipers; Brembo Single piston sliding rear calipers
Operation Vacuum pump driven Servo assisted with 4 wheel ABS system

Wheels Type Forged Light alloy
Size - front 5.5J x 16
Size - rear 7.5J x 17

Tires
Type Yokohama Neova AD07 LTS
Size - front 175/55 R16
Size - rear 225/45 R17

Dimensions Overall length (in. / mm) 155.4 / 3946
Overall width - incl. mirrors (in. / mm) 73.7 / 1873
Overall height (at curb weight) (in. / mm) 44.4 / 1127
Wheelbase (in. / mm) 92.6 / 2352
Track - front (in. / mm) 57.6 / 1464
Track - rear (in. / mm) 59.0 / 1499
Curb weight Around 2500 pounds (subject to complete safety and durability testing)
Leg Room (in./mm) 42.0 / 1067
Front Head Room (in./mm) 36.7 / 932
Front Shoulder Room (in./mm) 26.0 / 660

Standard Interior features Heated sport seats with inflatable lumbar support
Three-spoke leather-wrapped sport steering wheel
Perforated leather-trimmed interior in tan, black, or gray
Blaupunkt stereo sound system with single-disc CD player, iPod interface, and MP3 playback
Cruise Control
Homelink universal transmitter to operate compatible garage, gate, and home lighting/home security systems
Power windows and locks
Air conditioning
Single retractable cup holder

Standard Exterior Features Double-insulated black soft top
Proprietary halogen low- and high-beam headlamp assemblies
LED tail lights
Forged uni-directional seven-spoke wheels in silver finish: 16? front, 17? rear
Locking wheel lugs
Tire Inflator/sealant
Cold weather ESS heater for cold weather charging to -20 degrees Celsius
Home-based charging system with integral safety features for 3.5 hour full re-charge

Standard Safety and Security Features
Four-sensor, four-channel Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS)
Traction control
Tire pressure monitoring system
Front and rear crumple zones
Driver and passenger front airbags
Rigid occupant safety cell
Side impact door beams
Seatbelt pretensioners
Integrated headrests
Vehicle theft-deterrent and engine immobilizer system
PIN for security in operating the vehicle
Valet mode to restrict speed, acceleration, and distance

Factory-installed options and accessories Two-tone premium interior
Bluetooth cellular phone integration
XM Satellite radio with 170 channels of digital sound
Seven-speaker premium sound system tuned for Tesla Roadster cockpit
Touch-screen navigation system with voice guidance
Matching body-colored carbon fiber hardtop with full headliner
Metallic and premium paint
Tesla Motors custom floor mats
Mobile charging system
Posted by coachgeorge (233 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The secret...
Ok keep this on the QT, but I heard that the tesla car requires live bunnies as fuel and has a backup tank filled with pixie dust. Have to run, army of internet monitoring tesla midgets with pick axes and torches coming......ARRRRRRRRRRRRGH!!!!!!!!
Posted by zoetherot (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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