Tesla a while ago opened a showroom in downtown Zurich, where until now they have sold the Tesla Roadster that has now gone out of production. Judging by how many you see on the streets, they did it with some success. Since a couple of weeks, it has now been replaced by the Model S, Tesla’s new flagship. Well, actually new is to be taken with a pinch of salt, the Model S was first presented in 2009, but for various reasons didn’t go into production until 2012 (so far it has only been sold in the US). Yesterday I had the opportunity to have a closer look at it and, although beeing a sceptic to the future of electrical cars, I’ll admit it was very, very impressive.
the Model S is a very successful design. It has been developed by Tesla and is produced in Tesla’s factory in California, but has a strong resemblance to the Jag S-type (maybe the S in the name that does it…), but with a leaner, sportier touch. Furthermore Tesla use Mercedes parts for things such as gearstick, windowlifters etc., logical since MB is a partial owner of the company. Next to the design, one of the first things you notice is the absence of a visible engine, meaning you have plenty of storage space both under the front-hood (approx 150 litres) and in the back (up to 1640 litres), as the Model S is in fact a hatchback that can even be ordered as a 7-seater (two luggage seats turned the wrong way for children). The electrical engine sits, along with the battery, under the car, helping it to both an almost ideal weight distribution, and also to a low center of gravity. The battery itself weighs a whopping 600 kgs, putting the total car at 2.1 tons, and this is obviously still the big drawback with the concept of electrical cars.
Tesla claim a range of 480 km for the larger, 85 kWh engine, at an average speed of 88 km/h (the smaller 60 kWh engine manages 370 km), so far unrivalled among electrical cars. Obviously this is under ideal conditions, the question is how much that range is reduced doing 150-160 km/h on a German Autobahn. Unfortunately, the answer is probably “a lot”. Charging can be done both from a normal plug and from the kind of high-voltage stations you start to see in citys, notably London. A full charge from a normal plug takes about 30 hours but only 4-5 with a high-voltage plug.
The interior of the Model S if beautifully crafted with no small-series feel, and has to be considered very avantgarde. The first thing that strikes you is the GIANT 17-inch touchscreen in the middle, covering a multitude of functions and making standard cars look as from another age. The interior is also very spacious, helped by the absence of any transmission tunnel. At first sight, a very nice effort with a modern and luxurious feel. Remains to be seen if this is all confirmed after a few miles, and I very much looking forward to communicate some driving impressions from a test drive soon.
In Switzerland, the bigger engine car with decent equipment will cost around 100-110′ CHF, so around 80-90′ EUR. IF driving it is as good as I’m led to believe, and IF the range is anywhere close to what is claimed, that is a fair price, especially if you consider that driving costs are estimated at around 15-20 CHF for a full load, which would mean around 4-5 CHF per 100 km, if the range is stands the test. Not bad for a big family hatchback!
Whether electrical cars in general, and Tesla in particular are the future remains to be confirmed. It will probably take a battery revolution to make it a viable concept for the greater public, something that still looks a bit away. Tesla on the other hand is a one-product company currently valued at over USD 5bn, or 816 times projected 2013 earnings, making it the most highly valued car manufacturer in the world. Quoted on Nasdaq, in 2012 the company still loot money, and its future (in general and as an independent identity, as it is in spite of its valuation considered as a clear takeover target) is not fully clear, knowing that a change in ownership might very quickly change the profile of the company and its products. The current waiting list in Switzerland for the Model S is around two years. I’m not fully sure I would be confident enough to leave a deposit payment for that long…