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Hopefully, one day far into the future, I’ll be able to sit my grandchild on my knee and say, “Old Pappy was there.” There on the day that the first real, intended for mass consumption electric car (or rough draft prototype of the first) was unveiled to the public. There’s a couple of reasons why this dream sequence might not come to fruition. First, I’m not exactly a paragon of health (though my blogger’s physic is quite impressive). Second, selling an all electric car that gets to 60 mph in under 6 seconds, goes for 300 miles between charges (in top battery trim), seats seven (yeah, seven) and is built right here in Southern California for just $50,000 is, um, tenuous. But then again, you haven’t met Elon Musk.

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I have. The unveiling of Telsa’s second car took place inside Musk’s private rocket ship company, better known as SpaceX. Without delving into the ugly politics behind Tesla’s birth (yoink), I can say Mr. Musk comes across as the type of guy that gets things done. Plus, eBay handed him a check for $1.5 billion a few years back. Anyhow, speculating on the future is not my area of expertise, but if Tesla can pull this off, the Model S is going to be one hot ride. Here’s the proposed and salient specs:

  • World’s first mass produced electric car
  • Expected to go on sale in Q3 2011
  • Annual volume of 20,000 units starting after the first year of production
  • $49,900 purchase price, kinda ($57,400 for the car — government kicks in a $7,500 tax credit. Additionally, three different sized battery packs will be available. $49,900 gets you the 160 mile range pack. The other ranges are 230 and 300 miles. No pricing info was given)
  • Buyers should save between $10,000 to $15,000 in gas over the life of the car.
  • Musk wishes Tesla could have started with this car, rather than ripping the engine out of an Elise
  • Battery pack is made up of more than 8,000 lithium-ion cells. The Roadster has 6,813.
  • Batteries are newer than what’s in the Roadster, denser and store more energy.
  • The battery pack is in the floor of the vehicle
  • Tesla designed the chassis in house
  • A 440 volt fast charger is available to provide 45 minute fast charges– 220 volt charging take 3-4 hours. Plugging the car into the wall, around 8. No word if 45 minutes is for the 160 mile pack, or all three.
  • Musk envisions customers being able to swap out battery packs on road trips. Also, for long hauls buyers may be able to lease bigger battery packs. The battery pack has been designed to be removed quickly.
  • Crazy mad amounts of cargo space. There’s no engine, so the entire front is a trunk. With the middle seats folded flat, a mountain bike can go in with the front wheel on. As well as a 50″ TV. Or, a surfboard. I would love to meet the ad man that thought up the whole mountain bike/surfboard angle.
  • There are two pop up rear-facing seats for the wee ones. Though none of the cars we were shown had them installed. Musk has five kids and he wants to be able to haul all of them plus wife plus luggage.
  • No controls to speak of. Every button has been replaced by a 17″ 3G capable touchscreen computer.

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But what about what really matters — performance? Well…

  • Bigger, liquid cooled brushless electric motor than the Roadster
  • No solid numbers but power will be something like 300 horses and 400 lb-ft of torque. The latter of which is available at zero RPM.
  • 0-60 mph in less than six seconds. Different Tesla folks quoted different numbers (anywhere from 5.6 to 5.5), but Musk stuck to “less than six.”
  • A performance Model S will be available with a 0-60 time of “less than five” seconds
  • Electrically limited top speed of 130 mph.
  • “Mostly” aluminum body and chassis
  • Curb weight of around 4,000 pounds, though Musk assured us it would weigh less than a BMW 5-Series
  • Drag coefficient of “around” 0.26. The Roadster’s is 0.35

And there you have it. Obviously, the Model S Sedan Tesla showed us is a hella early prototype. I suppose all that’s left is to discuss the styling. Well, it’s certainly a handsome beast, if not pretty derivative of many of today’s sporty sedans. There’s more than a dash of Maser Quattroporte up front, Jaguar XF in the side profile and the rear hatch is pretty Porsche Panamera meets BMW X6. There’s plenty of Fisker Karma thrown into the mix, too. The designer (named Franz!) calls the look, “classic modernity.”

I spent a lot of time asking a lot of Tesla employees (Musk included) why the design is so, well, conservative? After all, there’s no engine and no drive train (the Model S is RWD and the motor’s in the back). Why not make it look like a SpaceX rocket? Or something even nuttier. The general response is that they both didn’t want to intimidate potential customers and didn’t want to build a bigger Prius. My question wasn’t as much a critique as it was rhetorical. After all, I find the car attractive. But is Telsa’s Model S the future? Only time my friends, only time.

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Zerin Dube

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