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August 03, 2006

Tesla Motors' Master Plan Energy  Science/Technology

This is absolutely, amazingly cool. 34-year-old Elon Musk, who's already made a couple of fortunes by co-founding Zip2 and PayPal, and who now runs space exploration company SpaceX, is chairman and principal investor in Tesla Motors, builders of a 100% electric high-performance roadster that goes 0 to 60 in 4 seconds while getting the equivalent of 135 mpg on a charge that lasts 250 miles. The Tesla Roadster ain't cheap ($89k), but Tesla Motors has a master plan. Elon Musk explains (via John Robb):

As you know, the initial product of Tesla Motors is a high performance electric sports car called the Tesla Roadster. However, some readers may not be aware of the fact that our long term plan is to build a wide range of models, including affordably priced family cars. This is because the overarching purpose of Tesla Motors (and the reason I am funding the company) is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy, which I believe to be the primary, but not exclusive, sustainable solution.

Critical to making that happen is an electric car without compromises, which is why the Tesla Roadster is designed to beat a gasoline sports car like a Porsche or Ferrari in a head to head showdown. Then, over and above that fact, it has twice the energy efficiency of a Prius. Even so, some may question whether this actually does any good for the world. Are we really in need of another high performance sports car? Will it actually make a difference to global carbon emissions?

Well, the answers are no and not much. However, that misses the point, unless you understand the secret master plan alluded to above. Almost any new technology initially has high unit cost before it can be optimized and this is no less true for electric cars. The strategy of Tesla is to enter at the high end of the market, where customers are prepared to pay a premium, and then drive down market as fast as possible to higher unit volume and lower prices with each successive model.

Without giving away too much, I can say that the second model will be a sporty four door family car at roughly half the $89k price point of the Tesla Roadster and the third model will be even more affordable. In keeping with a fast growing technology company, all free cash flow is plowed back into R&D to drive down the costs and bring the follow on products to market as fast as possible. When someone buys the Tesla Roadster sports car, they are actually helping pay for development of the low cost family car. [...]

I wouldn’t recommend them as a dessert topping, but the Tesla Motors Lithium-Ion cells are not classified as hazardous and are landfill safe. However, dumping them in the trash would be throwing money away, since the battery pack can be sold to recycling companies (unsubsidized) at the end of its greater than 100,000-mile design life. Moreover, the battery isn’t dead at that point, it just has less range. [...]

Note the term hybrid as applied to cars currently on the road is a misnomer. They are really just gasoline powered cars with a little battery assistance and, unless you are one of the handful who have an aftermarket hack, the little battery has to be charged from the gasoline engine. Therefore, they can be considered simply as slightly more efficient gasoline powered cars. If the EPA certified mileage is 55 mpg, then it is indistinguishable from a non-hybrid that achieves 55 mpg. As a friend of mine says, a world 100% full of Prius drivers is still 100% addicted to oil. [...]

I should mention that Tesla Motors will be co-marketing sustainable energy products from other companies along with the car. For example, among other choices, we will be offering a modestly sized and priced solar panel from SolarCity, a photovoltaics company (where I am also the principal financier). This system can be installed on your roof in an out of the way location, because of its small size, or set up as a carport and will generate about 50 miles per day of electricity.

If you travel less than 350 miles per week, you will therefore be "energy positive" with respect to your personal transportation. [...]

So, in short, the master plan is:

  • Build sports car
  • Use that money to build an affordable car
  • Use that money to build an even more affordable car
  • While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options

    Don’t tell anyone.

  • Wow! There's lots more at the Tesla Motors site: specs and images of the roadster, energy calculations, engineering discussion, etc. Amazing stuff.

    The roadster's a rich man's toy, but the goal is to have a reasonably-priced family car reasonably soon. They'll sell you the car and a solar panel to charge it with. Sweet. Wonder if they'll take my Prius in trade?

    Posted by Jonathan at August 3, 2006 11:33 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb


    economy towards a solar electric economy, which I believe to be the primary, but not exclusive, sustainable solution.

    Errr, ok. Given life and economic systems have 2 reactions:

    material/action + energy = new material/action
    material/action - energy = new material/action

    Exactly what process DOES NOT need solar input?
    (which we will call renewable over the timeframe(s) humanity can manage)

    Even the vent-living things at the bottom of the deep, deep ocean need the solar input...otherwise the world becomes cold and frozen and vent living won't be easy.

    Posted by: eric blair at August 4, 2006 07:10 AM

    Eric's comment is correct, all our energy is solar
    in origon.

    The exciting thing is this article is the understanding
    reflected by;

    "help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy"

    Posted by: Kent at August 4, 2006 11:36 AM

    Now we're cooking with 'solar'. 2006 marks the 125th anniversary of Tesla's discovery of AC electricity. I'm sure he would be pleased by this motor company.

    This car is designed to plug into a standard outlet so it fits neatly into today’s world making it attractive to buyers. The solar panel option is also on-grid. There's considerable loss of electricity when it's converted between AC and DC. Maybe future solar carport designs will be 100% off-grid, and store electricity when the car isn't around.

    I wonder why they’re not using lithium polymer batteries, which are safer.

    If the car lives up to its claims, it sounds like a winner. Let's hope this doesn't turn into another Tucker.

    Posted by: Jeff at August 4, 2006 02:06 PM

    Cars are still a dead-end. In a post-peak future we can't continue to have the illusion that everybody can have a car, even an electric one. They take way too much energy to build and maintain, as does the entire infrastructure. We will have to depend a lot more on trains and urban development.

    Focusing on electric cars is a sideshow.

    Posted by: Derek at August 4, 2006 09:33 PM