Tesla last night launched the Model S, a seven-seat electric hatchback capable of 60mph in 5.5 seconds, with a range of up to 300 miles and a charging time as low as 45 minutes.
When it goes into production in 2011 the Tesla Model S will cost US buyers around $50,000 (£34,600) after a federal tax credit. Without a tax break, European buyers can expect to pay closer to £50,000. Tesla plans to build 20,000 cars a year in Los Angeles if it can win £240m from US federal loan schemes designed to encourage green vehicles.
Slightly larger than a BMW 5-series estate, the Model S is the work of former Mazda designer Franz von Holzhausen. An 8000-cell lithium-ion battery pack lies flat beneath the seats. Customers will be able to choose packs with a range of 160, 230 or 300 miles. A full charge with a standard European 220V power supply will take 4 hours, but that can be cut to as little as 45 minutes with a special 480V supply. The battery can also be changed in around five minutes, meaning the Model S could be recharged in less time than it takes to fill a fuel tank at one of the ‘swap stations’ being pioneered by Project Better Place.
The compact electric drivetrain means luggage can be carried under the bonnet. In addition to the five standard seats, two children can sit in a third row of rear-facing seats, and Tesla claims that with just a driver aboard the Model S can carry a surfboard, a 50-inch flat screen TV and a mountain bike with its wheels on at once.
Top speed is limited to 130mph, and a later Sport version will cut the 60mph time to under five seconds. Total mass is 1738kgs, with around 545kgs of batteries. The Model S gets the same, seamless, single-speed transmission as the £92,000 roadster, and Brembo brakes
Leaked pictures show the car’s vast 17-inch central touch-screen display in more detail. It replaces all the switches used to control the audio and ventilation systems and can be customized and upgraded with new features. A 3G connection allows drivers to access the internet, and check the car’s state of charge remotely.
Tesla has delivered around 250 Roadsters but has had to lay off 80 of its 380 staff and close its engineering centre in Detroit after major delays and cost overruns. Much of its estimated $195m funding has come from CEO and PayPal founder Elon Musk. The 37 year-old South African says he expects to receive US Government backing later this year, and insists that the Tesla Model S will make production despite the downturn. “This car will be manufactured,” he says. “Have no doubt about that.”