Motor City Blogman

Tesla’s Roadster and Semi Unveiling Meet Expectations for Hype

Elon Musk’s hoopla raises more cash for the unprofitable automaker

Numbers for the Tesla Roadster promised by calendar year 2020 are impressive enough to put the Bugatti Veyron to shame. Zero to 60 mph in 1.8 seconds! Zero to 100 mph in 4.2 seconds! Quarter-mile in 8.9 seconds!

“This’ll be the first time any production car breaks a nine-second quarter mile,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk exclaimed before an adoring crowd in Los Angeles.

“I won’t say what the actual top speed is, but it’s more than 250 mph,” he added Thursday night. The 200 killowatt-hour battery pack will provide a 620-mile range, making it the first electric-powered car to reach 1,000 kilometers on a single charge, though I’d venture to guess that max range and max acceleration and speed will not happen at the same time.

Musk evoked Mel Brooks’ movie, “Spaceballs,” saying there is only one category greater than “ludicrous,” and that’s “plaid.” The new Tesla Roadster is “plaid,” he said.

“This is going to give a hard-core smackdown to gasoline-powered cars.”

Designed by Franz von Holzhausen, who drove the car onto Musk’s stage, the 2021 Tesla Roadster is not so much a roadster as a 2+2 with a targa roof, at least from what I could tell from my broken-up Wi-Fi feed. The battery pack will power one motor in front and two in back in the all-wheel-drive sports car.

Anton Wahlman at Seeking Alpha fills in some blanks that my Wi-Fi feed left me. He wonders where Tesla will produce the sports car, which is expected to sticker for $200,000, though the first 1,000 “Founders Series” Roadsters will go for $250,000.

The take at Seeking Alpha and elsewhere is that the Roadster concept, which was the “surprise” in Thursday night’s scheduled Tesla semi-truck concept premiere, is no more than a fund-raising exercise for the negatively profitable EV maker. If you’re so inclined, you may plunk down a $50,000 deposit to get your name on the list for a Founders Series Roadster. It would be interesting to see how many Founders Series Roadster deposit names cross-reference with $1,000 deposits on the Tesla Model 3.

That $50-million in Tesla Roadster deposits won’t go very far in funding the sports car, and the truck, and more importantly the new production facility the company would need to build or buy (typically at a cost upward of $1-billion) or team up with. Tesla lost a record $619 million in the third quarter of this year. But if Tesla quickly collects 1,000 deposits on the Founders Series Roadster, and also manages to collect some deposits for the Tesla Semi (“Semi” apparently is its official name) promised for 2019, Wall Street and venture capital will come forward with more capital. Though Tesla common stock has deflated to a 52-week low of $313.15 recently, it was up 0.99-percent, to $315.76 by the morning after Musk’s Hollywood-style debut party.

Musk said Tesla has received some $5,000 deposits for the Semi cab, which features a single central seat and batteries under its floor. His hyperbole for the truck would do a sport sedan proud. He claimed a 5-second 0-60 mph time, with or without a trailer. The Class 8 Semi, with a full 80,000-pound load would achieve 0-60 mph in 20 seconds, he said, and “it can do 65 mph up a 5-percent grade,” a full 20-mph more than a typical diesel-powered Class 8 semi.

The faster speeds and the lower cost, 7-cents per kilowatt-hour versus $2.50 per gallon for diesel, means “you’re earning 50-percent more per mile than in a diesel truck.”

The truck has a 500-mile range, Musk exclaimed to wild cheers, though he did not offer specs on the battery technology. Tesla plans high-speed DC Megachargers around the world that will recharge Semis up to 400 miles in 30 minutes.

Musk said the Semi will cost $1.26 per mile from Day One, versus $1.51 per mile for a diesel truck, and cheaper even than rail. Tesla hasn’t announced the truck’s price, though diesel semis cost about $120,000 each these days, same as a well-equipped Tesla Model S or X. Tesla’s profitability for the Semi don’t seem as favorable as its profit contribution to trucking companies.

And Tesla will deliver its first trucks in 2019. Of course, as Seeking Alpha notes, the Tesla Model X concept was unveiled in 2012 and promised for the following model year, but turned up three years later. Production plans for the middle-priced Tesla Model 3 are on the skids, and the company’s public relations department is sensitive about the 26 Model 3s we (as well as many others) found in an L.A. parking garage the other day.

The cars, which have vehicle identification numbers as high as #1096, were being held there until after Thursday night’s hoopla, awaiting minor repairs, according to PR. The 26 Model 3s equal 10 percent of the Model 3s that Tesla had delivered by the end of the third quarter. Tesla says it will ramp up to its goal of 5,000 Model S units per week production by the end of the first quarter of 2018, then soon after double that by making the robots run faster.

Ahem. Tesla devotees will note that I’ve been a skeptic of Musk and his goals. Fact is, I’m impressed with Tesla’s influence on the auto industry in the way it has pushed other automakers to expand their electrified vehicle lineups, even if no one is buying the cars. The number of Teslas sold to-date, somewhere north of 130,000 and south of 150,000 globally is impressive for a small independent, though that’s close to a full decade of selling EV cars, with the Model S launching six years ago.

The notion that Tesla, the Silicon Valley “disrupter” has a business plan that no one in Detroit, Stuttgart, Tokyo, or Seoul can match is the part that stretches credulity, although a plan in which you raise more Wall Street money to fund an auto manufacturer that hasn’t turned a profit by holding extravaganzas like Thursday’s Tesla Roadster and Semi unveil has its own charms.

How far can Tesla go with this business plan? Bloomberg reported Friday morning that Wall Street analysts are split over the success of the Tesla Roadster and Tesla Semi. Bulls say the Semi, of which two were filmed rolling up to Musk’s stage, “exceeds expectations.” (I saw no evidence that the trucks had run more than a quarter mile under their own power.) They’re buying into the 500-mile range, the quick recharge, the low cost per mile, and the 2019 start of production in an unknown factory. This is where I part ways with the Cult of Tesla. But don’t call me a skeptic. That’s too auto industry-like. Call me bearish.

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