Before we could drive the 2009 Roadster, a brief tour of the HQ and "factory" was provided. Two curious things about the HQ's location; the first was that it's in Menlo Park. Thomas Edison did much of his most notable work in Menlo Park--only Edison's Menlo Park was in New Jersey.
Coincidence? Most likely, because when we asked how Tesla Motors came to have their international HQ exactly where it is, we were told that the city fathers needed to find a tenant for an abandoned Chevrolet dealership. Where plaid-suited salesmen once sold fuel-swilling Suburbans and Trail Blazers, Tesla Roadsters now go through their final assembly and plug in for a fill up at a cost of about $4. One charge takes the two-seater about 240 miles according to the EPA.
At the facility, several Roadsters were going through final assembly, a marrying of the powertrain to the chassis. The size of the battery pack is stunning, as it takes the complete width of the car and nearly the entire height, rising from the floorpan to almost the tops of seatbacks. Weighing in at almost 1,000 pounds -- half the weight of a running Elise SC -- individual battery arrays get delivered in wooden crates the size of stand-alone residential freezer. Carefully arranged within the massive, armored and cooled assembly are 6,831 individual lithium ion battery cells packaged for your protection and their long life.
The chassis for the Tesla Roadster was developed in a partnership with Lotus, and the e-car shares much of its basic underpinnings with the Elise. Compared to the Brit, a diminutive car by any standard, the Roadster is three inches longer, a change made to make room for the battery pack. The Tesla's totally original body panels (made in France) help the car look not as tiny as the Elise, as your eyes easily follow the sweeping, stretched out body lines.
After the tour, California's Highway 1 awaited our arrival. Climbing in the Roadster was much easier than squeezing in the Elise. Tesla had the Roadster's doorsills lowered, and it makes a huge difference. Room inside is still tight, and even a modestly tall adult can easily reach the passenger door without a stretch. If you've got someone riding shotgun, you'll rub shoulders and elbows. Soft leather and full carpeting make for a more luxurious interior compared to the Spartan and purposeful Elise.
Settled in the sling-like bucket seat, the job of driving the Roadster is easier than most sports cars. Hit the starter button, engage drive, and go. The transmission is a single-speed unit, so there's no need to shift. Just stab the throttle and steer.