Oh wow, Tesla’s PR tailspin keeps getting worse. If you hadn’t heard, the startup car company filed suit last week in the UK against the BBC TV show Top Gear for pretending that the car broke when it didn’t. Yes, Top Gear’s actions are reprehensible. Sadly this isn’t the first I’ve heard of Clarkson et al writing scripts beforehand, sticking to them even when reality doesn’t measure up. No, that’s not fair to the car companies or the viewers.
But to file suit? C’mon, Tesla! You’re supposed to be a young, energetic Silicon-Valley startup: you should be thinking outside the box not banging your heads against the inside of one. Instead of calling lawyers, you should have called some actors… and made your own Top Gear-esque spoof taking the piss out of Clarkson and company. It’s sad enough that so many people already distrust Tesla – but nobody likes a snitch.
Shame, that, since that little Tesla Roadster remains a really, really cool car. Ah cars: that brings us to the point of this Blog. Let’s talk about the Model S sedan that the collective automotive world has been waiting for. In a renewed effort to achieve transparency with the media, Tesla invited a bunch of journalists to their Palo Alto, California headquarters a few weeks ago – and showed us where the Model S stands.
First and foremost, Roadster drivers have now accrued more than 10 million miles in their cars, giving Tesla a huge well of real-world EV data from which to learn – and the company is wisely making use of that information. Whereas the Roadster was based on an existing, conventionally powered car (the Lotus Elise), the Model S sedan is a ground-up, in-house design, allowing Tesla to optimize their sedan in ways never possible with the Roadster.
To that end, the Model S battery pack forms an integral part of the vehicle structure. Rather than having a case just to carry the approximately 7000 battery cells, the outside of the pack also acts as a structural member. Attaching the PEM (or Power Electronics Module) directly to the motor and gearbox improves efficiency by minimizing the length of electrical connections.
Tesla promises that the Model S battery pack will be “the world standard and well set a new benchmark in energy density” and we don’t doubt it, but the company won’t disclose the pack’s weight or capacity. Peak output will be somewhere around 300kW, which translates to roughly 400 hp, and they say the biggest battery will give the Model S a range of 300 miles.
Smaller capacity batteries will be available later, as we’ve heard, but they will retain the same external dimensions (a requirement because of the structural outer shell of the battery.) They will also use different chemistry for less range, which will likely keep them less expensive though likely not much lighter.
With the pack located beneath the vehicle floor, Tesla has designed for very quick battery pack swaps (in about a minute) provided the infrastructure for pack-swapping becomes available.
During our visit, we saw workers working on several of the twenty so-called “Alpha” cars that have already been built. The fleet of Alpha cars will be driven over the equivalent of 250,000 miles in a few months for durability testing . Crash-testing is currently in progress, and engineers are working directly with the managers who will be working at the Freemont, CA plant where the Model S will be built to optimize the car for ease of assembly and quality. “Quality is designed in from the outset. It’s not dependent on whether the line workers have the right screwdriver,” says an engineer who previously worked with a large-volume English carmaker not known for, um, reliability.
The Alpha cars were built by hand in Michigan. This summer, the first Beta cars will start to come together, assembled by the suppliers that will eventually transfer their equipment to the Freemont plant. Beta cars will be built in batches and will be used for fine-tuning. And then the Tesla Model S is scheduled to go into real series production.
It’s natural to be skeptical of any startup – especially one like Tesla with such a rocky image. But as we always say, product is king – and Tesla has a proven product already on the road. It the Model S is as much of a pie-in-the-face to the skeptics as the Roadster was, Tesla’s lawyers might have the last laugh. But for the moment, while we wait for the Model S to finally enter production, we think the company needs to figure out a way to engineer a sense of humor.