Made in America: The world's fastest electric car

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Some of you who've been with us from the beginning might recall Mangesh's post a couple years back about Tesla's high-end electric sports car, made in Silicon Valley. In the post, Mango wrote mental_floss' favorite inventor Nikola Tesla, who famously dreamed up AC current amongst a million other things, and inspired the names for the rock bands Tesla and AC/DC (or at least the first-half of the name AC/DC), now has a ridiculously cool electric car named for him"¦[Tesla] even plans on releasing a family sedan by 2008.

And while the sedan is still a couple years off, the Roadster, which Mangesh referred to, is not only selling pretty well (for a vehicle with a base sticker price that's more than $100K), but showrooms are slowly starting to open outside Silicon Valley. One opened in L.A. not too long ago and I had the privilege of interviewing the guy who runs it, Jeremy Snyder. So if you're into really fast cars, really expensive cars, or just environmentally friendly cars, read on for the lowdown on Tesla, right from the manager's mouth.

DI: So where exactly is Tesla based?

JS: San Carlos, California, though the cars are assembled in Menlo Park.

DI: The parts are made here too?

JS: The final assembly is here in California. We're an American car company. While the parts are from all over the world, the battery pack, which is a big part of the car, is made here in California.

DI: And how many different models are there at the moment?

JS: Just the Roadster right now, which is our flagship model. But we've got a four-door, five-passenger sedan coming out called Model S, which will be available in a couple years.

DI: So let's talk about the Roadster. What's all the hubbub?

JS: It's a very important car because it's 100% electric. We wanted to enter the market place and shatter any preconceived notions. Efficiency and performance need not be mutually exclusive. The car was designed with three principles in mind: Great design, ultra-high performance, while being the most efficient car in the world. It does 0-60 in 3.9 seconds, has a range of 244 miles per charge, charges in 3-4 hours, and costs about two cents per mile to operate.

DI: Fantastic. And all that will cost us how much?

JS: $109,000 base price, fully loaded is about $125K.

DI: What kind of extras are we talking about?

JS: Premium leather interior, carbon-fiber hard top, and a high-powered connector, which is installed in your home, which allows you to charge in 3-4 hours.

DI: How would people charge it otherwise?

JS: There's an extension cord that you can plug into any standard 110 outlet.

DI: How long does it take to charge with the cord?

JS: At half-charge, it will take overnight to recharge. If you're totally empty, it could take a lot longer than that.

DI: So how many of these babies have you sold to date?

JS: More than 1,300.

DI: Let's talk about the motor. Is it as silent as my little hybrid when I cruise to a stop?

JS: Well the electric motor is a helluva lot bigger than in a Prius, so you hear a very pleasant turbine-type sound when you're accelerating hard. But when you're accelerating at a slow pace, it's completely silent.

DI: Who's the engineer behind it?

JS: J.B. Strobel. He's our chief technology officer. He invented the battery pack, which is liquid-cooled, which allows the car to exist as it does. The power-electronics, the battery technology and the motor work in harmony, and that's what gives the car it's high-performance and range.

DI: What do you drive?

JS: A Tesla.

DI: Really? To and from work?

JS: Yeah. Either my Tesla or my bicycle.

DI: Do you get a lot of people stopping you in supermarket parking lots with questions?

JS: Of course. Yeah.

DI: You must be sick of that by now.

JS: Not at all. It's a very special car, and a very important one.
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DI: Let's talk about maintenance. What are we talking?

JS: Well, there are no oil changes because there's no oil in the car. So it's essentially firmware updates, suspension, brakes, tires, the cooling system that cools the batteries, which is very important and that's about it. All in all it's about a six-hour service. We're opening service centers in New York City, Miami, Chicago, D.C., and Seattle over the next 12 months. It's only a once-a-year maintenance program, but this way they won't have to ship the car back to us here.

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November 26, 2008 - 1:40am
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