Tesla Model S and Tesla Lawyer BS

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.

John E Strom Jr
Viewed the new Tesla S sedan today in Portland. It's gorgeous! It looks like a Maserati or some other exotic sport sedan and it's fast - 0-60mph in 5.6 seconds. The Tesla S shown here in Portland had a custom paint job - wish that were standard. The interior was luxurious and looked very comfortable. I didn't get to test drive the vehicle - it was on static display - but I did drive the Tesla roadster last spring and was impressed by it. A rocket on four tires. The sedan is cheaper by more than half, far more comfortable and plenty fast. I would love to cruise by my local gas station and wave happily with a jaunty wave and beep of the horn! :) The base price of the car [including federal rebates] is $49,900 for a car with the smaller battery pack and a range of 160 miles, an additional $10,000 for a car with a range of 230 miles and an additional $20,000 for a Tesla S with a 300 mile range. Recharges on either 110 v or 220 v overnight - trickle charging and in an emergency can get an 80% quick charge in about 45 minutes. I'm not sure of the battery life but heard last year that it was about 8 years. The battery pack is beneath the floor of the car, connected directly to the electric motor rated at about 400 hp or 300 kw and is an integral structural member of the vehicle to save weight and add rigidity. I'm looking forward to driving it - hopefully soon. Congratulations to the Tesla company for a superb car and a super car.
Jason
I hope I can afford a tesla sometime in the future.
Tony
Warning to everyone: British engineering is not very good. Its purely a be like the queen thing. To think the worlds top supercars isn't entertaining enough, according to the brits you also need group of aholes to bs you about them rather than present them as the awesome cars they are. Take those cars out and what do you have?

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