Tesla goes big â€¦ not prepared to go home
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Regardless of your personal prognostications about whether electric vehicles will or will not rule the roads in the near or far future, you have to admire the considerable conviction of Tesla's co-founder and CEO, Elon Musk.
The considerable fortune he made through PayPal and other ventures he then sunk into the Telsa electric vehicle adventure.
Soon after he took the company public last summer it purchased a huge factory, the ex-Toyota plant in Fremont, California.
By next summer the plant will begin shipping out production versions of the new Tesla Model S - an all-electric luxury sedan. While about 5,000 units will be built in 2012, Musk fully expects to be building and selling 20,000 units of Model S during 2013. In that year he also expects to build and sell an additional 15,000 units of Model X, a yet-to-be-introduced crossover based on the platform debuted by the Model S.
All this in a hairy economic market, and a marketplace where electric cars have yet to prove their mettle, business case, infrastructure requirements, consumer acceptance, etcetera, etcetera.
That, my friends, is a decisive, unwaffling, non fence-sitter kind of a guy. Unlike myself, of course, whose favourite joke is this one: "Do you have trouble making up your mind? Well, yes and no."
Last month, Tesla invited all its deposit holders to the plant, so they could witness in person the unveiling of the production-ready Model S. Over 3,000 made the trip and by all accounts, treated Musk like a rock star.
To keep the buzz going, Tesla has been taking the Model S to selected North American cities. Last week it landed in Toronto, and we decided to mosey on down to have a look.
First impression? It's a pretty car, but also a bit coy about its electric nature.
One of the Tesla's handlers, Camille Rickets, told me the look is purposely familiar, to help ease consumers into the electric movement. She noted that interior packaging is where the more dramatic gains of electric propulsion are leveraged. With battery cells packaged in the floor, and the entire electric drivetrain packaged between the two rear wheels, the rest of the vehicle can be utilized for people and stuff. Model S has a trunk at each end of the car and three rows of seats. (FYI, the "trunk" at the front is now called a "frunk.")
But the most dramatic feature of Model S is its incredible touch-screen interface - at 43 cm, it is about the size of two iPads.
"All the car controls are baked into this one touch-screen," says Rickets. And if you don't believe her, just go and try to find some buttons, switches or knobs… The sunroof even opens by sliding your finger down the screen.
"We really think this is going to be the future of interior car control," adds Ricketts, "because it's so easily update-able."
It can be easily updated because it is connected to the Internet via the 3G networks, allowing the car and driver to take advantage of any future software or application revelation.
Tesla also feels that vehicles are the new platform for application development, and is excited about working with app developers.