Tesla, the electric vehicle (EV) maker best known for its outlandishly-priced roadster EV, unveiled its newest, the Model S Sedan, this afternoon at the offices of CEO Elon Musk's other startup, SpaceX. The Model S promises a 300-mile range, 45-minute fast-charge capability, a 0 to 60 time of 5.5 seconds, and room for seven passengers. The car will also feature a removable battery pack as well as two LCD touch screens—one displaying the gauges and one mounted centrally in the dashboard.
Tesla hopes that this sleek mass-market electric vehicle prototype can be manufactured affordably so that the sedan can be priced at $49,900 (after tax breaks), enabling the company to move 20,000 units a year by mid-2012, a year after its debut.
Tesla may rent battery packs to customers for long road trips, but in general, the batteries will be available for lease. The company claims they will last from seven to ten years, and Tesla's Model S will be covered under a warranty of three to four years.
The car will be manufactured in Southern California, but the Model S drive train will be produced in San Jose. Musk says that the company has designed—and plans on manufacturing—its own platform.
So those are the facts behind an announcement thick with vapor. You can't buy a Tesla today. Or next year. Tesla has been plagued with problems since Musk founded it in 2003. Tesla's roadster was late, over budget, and is now too expensive for everyone but the seriously wealthy. The company has also burned through nearly all the money it raised ($150 million) and recently laid off 20% of its staff. Even the streaming video of the Model S debut crashed within minutes.
Why all the fuss then? Today's lumbering Big Three automakers can't adapt to the world of electric vehicles quickly enough—witness today's news that GM and Chrysler are headed for another bailout. They're too busy trying to stop money from bleeding out of the auto industry to focus on new ways of doing things. Small, nimble companies don't have to change the way they've done things forever. They can work on electric cars from the beginning. So Tesla is just a symbol of what we need to revive American automotive manufacturing. May a thousand Teslas bloom. And produce some cars people actually want to buy.