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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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This Just In
Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry
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Valuable jewelry isn't always made from precious metals or gems. Wildlife smugglers in Africa are increasingly evading the law by disguising illegally harvested rhinoceros horns as wearable baubles and trinkets, according to a new study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

As BBC News reports, TRAFFIC analyzed 456 wildlife seizure records—recorded between 2010 and June 2017—to trace illegal rhino horn trade routes and identify smuggling methods. In a report, the organization noted that criminals have disguised rhino horns in the past using all kinds of creative methods, including covering the parts with aluminum foil, coating them in wax, or smearing them with toothpaste or shampoo to mask the scent of decay. But as recent seizures in South Africa suggest, Chinese trafficking networks within the nation are now concealing the coveted product by shaping horns into beads, disks, bangles, necklaces, and other objects, like bowls and cups. The protrusions are also ground into powder and stored in bags along with horn bits and shavings.

"It's very worrying," Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC, told BBC News. "Because if someone's walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them? Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns."

Rhino horn is a hot commodity in Asia. The keratin parts have traditionally been ground up and used to make medicines for illnesses like rheumatism or cancer, although there's no scientific evidence that these treatments work. And in recent years, horn objects have become status symbols among wealthy men in countries like Vietnam.

"A large number of people prefer the powder, but there are those who use it for lucky charms,” Melville Saayman, a professor at South Africa's North-West University who studies the rhino horn trade, told ABC News. “So they would like a piece of the horn."

According to TRAFFIC, at least 1249 rhino horns—together weighing more than five tons—were seized globally between 2010 and June 2017. The majority of these rhino horn shipments originated in southern Africa, with the greatest demand coming from Vietnam and China. The product is mostly smuggled by air, but routes change and shift depending on border controls and law enforcement resources.

Conservationists warn that this booming illegal trade has led to a precipitous decline in Africa's rhinoceros population: At least 7100 of the nation's rhinos have been killed over the past decade, according to one estimate, and only around 25,000 remain today. Meanwhile, Save the Rhino International, a UK-based conservation charity, told BBC News that if current poaching trends continue, rhinos could go extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

[h/t BBC News]

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environment
How Japan's 'Dancing' Cats Predicted a Deadly Environmental Disaster
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In the 1950s, residents of Minamata, Japan, noticed that something was wrong with the city's cats. As the SciShow's Hank Green recounts in the video below, the cats would convulse, make strange noises and jerking "dancing" motions—and eventually die. Soon, these symptoms spread to the local townspeople, and scientists began searching for the cause of the terrifying sickness.

The culprit was soon revealed to be the Chisso Corporation, a Japanese chemical company with a factory in Minamata. About 30 years earlier, the company had begun making an organic chemical called acetaldehyde, using mercury as a catalyst to trigger the needed reactions. Afterwards, the company dumped the leftover chemicals into Minamata Bay, where the mercury came into contact with bacteria that transformed it into the most noxious form of the metal: methylmercury. This toxic substance was absorbed by plants, which were in turn eaten by fish. Eventually, the methylmercury made its way up the food chain and poisoned both felines and humans. Birth defects became rampant, and more than 900 people died. Thousands of victims have since been identified. The neurological syndrome caused by extreme mercury poisoning is now known as Minamata disease.

You can learn more about the worst mercury poisoning disaster the world has ever seen by watching the video below.

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