Posted by: carboncreditsusa | April 5, 2009

Electric Vehicles: Tesla Roadsters Are Bringing Credibility To Electric Car Market But They Remain Expensive

With a list price of $109,000, it’s a message a precious few can afford, acknowledged Rob Wilder of Encinitas, who got his Tesla last month.

tesla-roadsterRebates, tax credits and other incentives dropped his outlay to $79,000, but he admits that his car is “ridiculously expensive.” Tesla says Wilder got the 250th car produced.

 The Tesla Roadster is as sleek as anything on the road. Fast, too.

And it’s starting to pop up in San Diego as people who years ago decided they wanted a $109,000 electric car are taking delivery and turning heads.

“We want to show that green can be fun,” real estate agent Gregg Neuman said as he stood outside his downtown San Diego condo showing off the black Roadster he and his wife picked up a week ago.

“I knew I wanted to go to something that was green, something a little more responsible,” said his wife, Marietta, who commutes in the Tesla to San Diego State University to work as a nurse practitioner.

Tesla owners are the well-heeled pioneers in a movement that could change the way people drive, as some turn to the electric grid rather than the gas pump to power their driving.

Other plug-in cars from startup California automakers are due out this year – the Fisker Karma, to be made in Orange County, and the Aptera 2e, to be made in Vista.

Detroit’s first plug-in, the Chevrolet Volt, is expected next year, but the Obama administration, which has General Motors on a short leash after agreeing to prop it up financially, is concerned that the Volt will be too expensive to attract a lot of buyers.

Other carmakers – Chrysler, Ford, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Saturn and Toyota – also plan to sell plug-in cars in the near future.

But for those who have the cash and the foresight, the Tesla is the first out of the blocks.

Able to go 0-60 in less than four seconds, and with a top speed of 125 mph, the two-seater built by a Silicon Valley startup company embodies the idea that green can be fun.

With a list price of $109,000, it’s a message a precious few can afford, acknowledged Rob Wilder of Encinitas, who got his Tesla last month.

Rebates, tax credits and other incentives dropped his outlay to $79,000, but he admits that his car is “ridiculously expensive.” Tesla says Wilder got the 250th car produced.

But its purchase should help the company develop more affordable cars, said Wilder, whose company, WilderShares, tracks renewable energy stocks.

“The point is to try to get these things down to $30,000,” he said. “To do that, you have to start somewhere.”

Tesla spokeswoman Rachel Konrad compares her company’s development plan to those of gaming consoles or cell phones, extravagantly expensive when introduced.

“If you didn’t have the early, affluent buyers, the companies wouldn’t have had the seed money to make lower-priced versions for the rest of us,” she said. “The goal of the company is not to sell a bunch of six-figure sports cars. . . . The goal of the company is to advance the electrification of the entire fleet that all of us drive.”

Tesla was founded in 2003 by Elon Musk, who made a dot-com fortune from selling PayPal to eBay. With funding from other tech entrepreneurs, including Google’s founders, the company set out to do what Detroit had not – build an electric car that people would buy.

The company is counting on a $350 million federal loan to build a Southern California factory for a passenger car and another $100 million for a plant to make battery packs for other carmakers.

In those applications, Tesla has joined other manufacturers vying for $25 billion in fuel-efficiency funds the Energy Department says should be disbursed soon. It’s unclear who will get that money, though some analysts like Tesla’s chances.

A few years ago, Wilder said he talked to Detroit executives, who told him Tesla would fail before he got his Roadster.

“They just didn’t believe you could put a car together like this,” he said.

“Now I drive one and I want to get back in touch with these people and say, ‘Hey, it’s here!’ ”

Scott Chalmers got Roadster No. 53 in December for his commute from La Jolla to Kearny Mesa, where his company makes industrial testing equipment.

“I thought it would be nice to have something that was more than just a car,” he said. “It was something that was helping to forward technology.”

Chalmers paid full price years before the car was produced to be among the first 100 to take delivery.

“I like it more and more the longer I’ve had it,” he said. One of the big surprises is the sound of the car. With no loud exhaust system, it whirs rather than rumbles.

The drive is also different. Because electric engines are powerful at low speeds, there’s no need for gear shifting.


“It’s like a Disneyland ride,” Wilder said.

But perhaps the biggest difference is the power source.

Wilder uses solar panels to power his house – and his car – and isn’t stopping with the Tesla. He is planning to buy a Fisker and an Aptera.

“Once you drive an electric, who wants a gasoline car?” he said. “They’re slow, they require all the maintenance, they need gasoline. Who needs that?”

Tesla says the Roadster has a range of 240 miles on about $4 worth of electricity. It charges in less than four hours from a 220-volt connection, and is designed to charge at night.

San Diego Gas & Electric will install separate meters for electric cars so customers can take advantage of lower rates.

Tesla last month announced a family car, the Model S, which it will retail in 2011 for $57,400, though a $7,500 federal rebate would lower the price to $49,900.

Even at half the price of the Roadster, the Model S is not a car most people can afford, said Ron Cogan, editor of

“The question is how much will that car really be, compared to a gasoline or clean-diesel version,” said Cogan, a former editor at Motor Trend magazine. “I just don’t see how it can be done in an affordable way.”

The big problem, no matter who is making the cars, is the battery pack. Cheap lead-acid batteries are heavy and don’t store much power. Lithium-based batteries are lighter, but expensive.

For example, the 6,831 lithium-ion cells in the Tesla Roadster weigh 1,000 pounds and make up a third of the car’s cost. You can absorb a $25,000 battery pack in the cost of a luxury car, but not family car, Cogan said.

Konrad said people thinking about the cost of electric cars have to take into account lower fuel and maintenance costs – fewer moving parts, no oil changes, no smog testing.

Carlsbad’s Aptera is planning to begin production of a three-wheeled vehicle that looks like a wingless airplane and sells for $25,000 to $40,000.

Aptera says it is battling the battery problem by making a light, aerodynamic two-seater that won’t require as much energy as traditional designs. Less energy used means lighter batteries, and a more affordable vehicle.

“That’s our goal, to get these in people’s garages,” company co-founder Steve Fambro said.

Aptera has taken $500 deposits from about 4,000 customers and plans to have its Vista assembly line cranking out cars by October, a delay from earlier target dates.

“For us to really make a difference, we want to sell tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands,” Fambro said.

Last night, almost 1,000 deposit holders fawned over Aptera prototypes at an event in Balboa Park. Devoted followers, many of whom drove from Los Angeles and Orange County, had their pictures taken with the car and talked with company executives.

“Thank God I can finally find a car that makes sense,” said Anthony Mack, who is confident his number – 888 – will come up late next year and he’ll get his car.

Getting a big market share will take some doing, Cogan said.

“It takes a leap of faith for people to move to very futuristic designs,” he said. “Changes have been evolutionary, not revolutionary. . . . People want to be reassured they’re driving a vehicle that fits their image, will be accepted by their peers, has a good resale value.”

Still, he’s bullish on the Chevrolet Volt, and calls the Fisker Karma a more upscale version of the same concept – a plug-in car that initially runs on battery power and then switches to a gasoline generator.

“You can drive this car for as long as you want to – as long as there is fuel available to you,” said Dave Grunsdtrom, chief executive of Marvin K. Brown Auto Center in Mission Valley, which has signed up as a Fisker dealer.

At $87,900, the four-seater will go 50 miles on battery power.

“There’s going to be a market for plug-in hybrids,” he said. “Fisker will be the first one that will really meet the needs of a luxury buyer.”

For many, the real question is what are they trying to achieve.

If it is to get a big bang for their buck while reducing greenhouse gases, a fuel-efficient small car makes more sense than a hybrid, Cogan said.

“These are the vehicles that might make the difference in the short run,” he said. “Those cars exist today, but people are not thinking of that. Too many people just don’t understand what choices are available today that fit their needs and accomplish their goals.”

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