Its Electric

Tesla Motors founder Martin Eberhard thinks that in the coming years the electric car just might zoom into the spotlight. By Edit Staff

In 2003, engineers Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning founded Tesla Motors. Their mission? To revive the electric car. It seemed like an awfully lofty goal back then, but three years later, the Tesla Roadster is on the market—and there’s reason to believe that despite the high price tag (about $100,000), it’s catching on. Word has it that George Clooney will soon be spotted taking his new Roadster for a spin.

On Monday, Plenty picked Martin Eberhard’s brain about his vision for the company, the future of the electric car, and Tesla’s mainstream (read: cheaper) model that’s set to hit the market in 2009.

Plenty: Will electric cars ever become cheap enough, or have the battery life, to compete in the mainstream auto market?

Eberhard: They already have the battery life, and it’ll only get better with time. And yes, they will become cheap enough, gradually.

Plenty: We hear that you’re going to introduce your four-door sedan model and that that’s going to be significantly cheaper. How much cheaper can we expect it to be, and how are you going to keep the costs down?

Eberhard: We hope to come out with a second car in around 2009, and the base amount will be half the price of the Roadster. We’re aiming for an under $50,000 entry level price for that car, which is very difficult for us to achieve as a start-up company. Making cars is expensive. But the way we’re getting the price down largely has to do with building our own factory rather than paying somebody else to assemble the car. And then also taking advantage of everything we’ve learned making the Roadster and applying that to the new car.

Plenty: Will the sedan, like the Roadster, be able to do 0-60 in 4 seconds?

Eberhard: It won’t be 4 seconds, but it’ll still be pretty darn quick. We think we can do under 6 seconds, probably, for 0 to 60. It’s a bigger car.

Plenty: Could you tell us a bit about the solar power option you’re offering?  

Eberhard: There’s a magic synergy between solar generation and electric cars. When you buy an electric car you wonder about where the electricity comes from: Is it burning coal? Is it any better than the gasoline-powered car? The answer actually is yes, it is still better than the gasoline-powered car because there’s less pollution produced. But you can skirt the whole argument if, at the same time that you buy your car, you also buy solar generation that offsets what your car consumes. When you buy the Roadster, we will be offering an option to buy solar generation and have it attached on the roof of your house. During the daytime that will generate electricity, spin your meter backwards, dump electricity into the grid. At nighttime, when your car is charging, it spins the meter forward and charges up your car.

Plenty: Electric cars have failed before, most recently in the 1990s. How are you going to be different?

Eberhard: Compared to the cars that existed in the nineties, the real difference is the approach we’ve taken. We’re not trying to make, as our first car, an ultra low-cost people mover. We’re trying to make the best car we can. With that mentality we have a whole range of technologies available to us that wouldn’t have been otherwise: lithium ion batteries, for example; designing our own custom super high-performance motor; our own highly efficient electronics to convert the energy from the batteries and put it into the motor. All of those kinds of things you couldn’t do if you were making a cheap car. What we’ve produced is a car that doesn’t ask the buyer, the driver, to compromise. It’s a beautiful, fun, quick car with a very long driving range that is appealing in its own right as a car, which is not what electric cars did in the past. You had to be kind of a hero to drive one before.

Plenty: Three years ago, when everyone was driving SUVs, what made you decide to build an electric car?

Eberhard: Maybe it’s just arrogance or something. I assume I wasn’t the only one in the world that wanted a car that was a great sports car and also efficient. As an electrical engineer, I know that you can make an electric car that rocks if you want to. I looked around said “Isn’t somebody making that car?” And the answer was really no. I know that you’re writing about some of the other electric car companies in your magazine, but as far as I’m concerned, I couldn’t manage to buy a car from any of them. Nobody else was making cars that one could actually buy. Or else I would’ve just bought one and I would’ve been a happy customer. But since it didn’t exist, I said, “Can I start that company?” I know how to start companies; I’ve done it before, successfully, a couple times now. And I thought, well, if I can figure out how to take Silicon Valley know-how about how to fund a company, and apply that to this problem, then we have something.

Plenty: Is this the beginning of the end of the gas car?

Eberhard: I think so. I’m not sure if we’re the beginning of the end, or if running out of oil is the beginning of the end, or global warming is the beginning of the end. But this is certainly part of the same constellation of issues. It’s time for us to find a different solution than burning gasoline.

Plenty: Does this mean that the Big Three is going to have to start switching over to electric cars, sooner rather than later?

Eberhard: I think so, or else I’ll have to buy them out later when I’m bigger than they are.

Plenty: Are you profitable already?

Eberhard: Heavens no. First of all, this car is not the answer. We expect to make more cars to reach more people, and eventually make a big dent in the amount of oil consumed in this country. But you have to start someplace. It’s one step at a time. You have to make a product that you can actually get on the road, to sell and make money, and that allows you to make another model and a more ambitious company. We hope down the road to have cars that we can all drive. It’s not going to be next year or the year after that. Our next model car will be a lot lower priced and much more accessible, and the one after that will be lower priced and useful in other ways. I’m not sure what that one will be. Is it a smaller car? Is a bit more of a people mover? I don’t know, I haven’t decided yet. The goal is to become a real car company and sell lots of cars.

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The Tesla won't revolutionize anything if they keep using those slow charging lithium ion batteries. The Altair NanoSafe batteries, to appear in the Spring in an electric pickup truck for fleet operators, are far more appropriate for an elctric vehicle, since their batteries can be recharged in 8 to 12 MINUTES , as opposed to the 3 1/2 to 4 hours for the Tesla's batteries. They also will last more than 4 times longer than the Tesla's 8631 lithium ion laptop batteries, making them much cheaper than the $20,000 it will cost your to replace your Tesla batteries when they wear out in 4 to 5 years. The Tesla will have obsolete technology when it is delivered to its initial customers. Eberhard needs to keep abreast of battery technology if he doesn't want his car to be a laughingstock.
Small laptop batteries (all 8631 of them) is NOT the optimal size for a battery
used to power an electric car.

Full disclosure: I work for Tesla Motors.

Kent, consider for a moment why it takes 3.5 hours to charge a Tesla battery pack: it holds 50 kilowatt-hours of energy. If you do your math you will see that 220volts at 70amps for 3.5 hours comes out to about 50 kilowatt-hours. Battery technology is only 1 factor in how long it takes to charge. Very few people have enough power capacity in their homes to go beyond the 220v/70amp service that is required. Maybe the pickup truck fleet you mention has a much smaller battery which means less range and/or maybe they are planning to have a much larger voltage/current capacity (commercial building potentially have 440 and 100's of amps).

One last thing, Kent: get your facts right. It's 6831 cells, not 8631.

you think that Eberhard is building electric cars and not paying attention to battery technology? You are mistaken

Also, where did you get your info that batteries will have to be replaced in 4-5 years? I think you work for the big three auto makers and are afraid that electric cars are going to take your job away! I sure hope they do! I can't wait to buy one!

Thanks for the interview with Martin Eberhard.

It's unlikely that Mr. Clooney would have been spotted "taking his new Roadster for a spin," since the first production vehicles have not yet been built by Tesla Motors. There are prototypes on the road and the first "Signature 100" cars have been sold out for several months, but those cars are not yet on the road.

Oops! Thanks for catching our error.

What error?

The opening states:
"Word has it that George Clooney will soon be spotted taking his new Roadster for a spin."

It says "soon", not "has been".

Soon is relative.
The first should be delivered in 2007, and after decades of waiting for a non smelly, noisy, polluting meaning of decent travel, that time could be considered soon.

Tesla Motors won't of course be able to change the negative impact of transportation by themselves.

Hopefully they will show the current car companies, both the destructive and the poor designing, that their is a demand and a market for clean tech. It would be nice if they could survive to continue to contribute, and maybe even continue to lead the way.

Serious mass-production is needed to get prices down.

kent, even if the batteries had to be replaced in 4-5 years, by 2010 the cost of the cells will be far less and the capacity far better.

The more important question about batteries is not which technology to use but which technology will give the best cost per mile for the intended vehicle usage. The idea of 6831 cells is not outlandish. Only time will prove out this technical concept. You will be surprized how long some form factors survive. Aircraft have not changed substantially on the outside since the 1930's (they have large swept wings in front and smaller wing and tail in the rear with a cylendrical body.)

Tesla should strongly consider car#3 as a small car "people mover" in the $25k range. This would allow Tesla to tap directly into the same driver markets as Hymotion and EDrive Systems (retro-fit plug-in hybrids), but with a no-gas, no-retrofit proposition...

A very big difference between Tesla Motors and just about all of the other companies/technologies being posted: Martin waited until he had vehicles ready for EPA & crash testing before even going public. Tesla Motors has been out there three years, and no big PR splash or speculation from day one. No gosh! Wow! Here's what we're doing in the lab, like EEStor. No "demonstration electric SUV" like ANS. Just, here's the actual product.

It would be nice to have Tesla in the $25k car market, but I think it would be a mistake for them strategically.

Yes, the market for $20k cars is huge, but Tesla does not have the manufacturing capability yet. If they hurt the big car manufacturers before they're ready to produce they'll have ten electric cars to compete with for every model. The big car companies can take a loss on every car until they run Tesla out.

Altair produces a great and safe battery, but their battery has less than half the energy density than standard Lith-ion batteries. That means for the same weight the range of a Tesla using Altair batteries would be 100 miles or so.

I'd prefer having both models, one with Altair and one with standard. 100 mile range would suit me fine and I'd take the longer battery life and quick charge over the range, but it's not a clearly better deal.

The price of Altair batteries is higher and because the range is shorter, the cyclye life would be reached faster. It might have 6 times the cycle life, but it would reach that in only double the time.

Half a dozen of one, six for the other.

The only clear winner for energy storage is EESTOR if their claims come even close to truth.

We'll have to wait another year just to hear if they actually can come within light years of their claims.

As I currently see it, electric cars can't become maintstream unless and until a critical mass of people demand them and have access to them. That being said, I would ideally hope that Tesla Motors, AC Propulsion and the other major players in this breakthrough market would develop and market reasonably priced conversion kits (batteries, motors and controllers) that would enable the planet's gearheads to assist in the world's conversion to primarily non-combustion (ie. electric) propulsion. With not much difficulty, many, many older cars could have their engines, transmissions, and gas tanks removed and replaced with electric components using well designed conversion kits. The not very recognized deep collaboration between the oil companies and auto manufacturers designed to keep electric cars and trucks from being mass marketed would then no longer be so effective. I can't imagine that the oil companies and auto manufacturers have failed to see the writing on the wall, and I imagine they don't like it very much. G-d willing, they won't be able to impede much longer the worldwide abandonment of cars and trucks that combust.

Mr Everhard should look at the newly improved Lithium Ion batteries now in the market. The best out there that really meet the Dept. of Energy(DoE) baseline specs is the Nano-Safe Battery pack made by a company called Altair. This battery pack has fast charging, safe, high density power capacity compare to any LiIon battery out there in the market. Tesla Motor should step up to the plate, and go out there with EV cars exposures. So as to gain early market exposure and customers. Right now oil price is down, Tesla should not be discourage. Instead, it should speed up by inviting big names investors to pool in capital in order to build the manufacturing infrastructures it needs. ICE(Internal Combustion Engine) is an 100 years old plus technology. Ford,GM, Chrysler, and the rest are just to slow to adopt like the "Computer Mainframes mentality" of the old. TESLA should be a leader armed with new fresh thinking,ideas, agressiveness, ready to roll, adopt, embrace the comming dawn/age of an all electric cars. I say ICE you are finish!!!!!!

Additional specs for the Nano-Safe Battery pack by Altair: Environmentally Safe, 20 years battery life and charging cycles, 10 minutes 80% fully charged,11watts-hr per Kg, density by weight is 4000 watts per Kg, by volume it is 5000 watts per liter. Compare to the other Li-Ion batteries manufacturer. Nano-Safe Battery Pack is the best compare to others.

I don't want to be a critic of Altair. They're a great company with a great product.

With that said I think it's important to understand their product compared to what Tesla uses.

On Altair's own site there's a presentation that's downloadable that compares standard Lith ion to Altair Nano-safe.

Standard Lith Ion are over double the energy density. There's a difference between energy density and power density.

For the same weight as standard Lith, Altair would only go 100 miles compared to 200 and some change.

Not that 100 is a bad number, but along with that Altair costs more per weight.

Tesla Motors has a battery blog that I recommend everyone look at. They've covered every emerging battery technology that I've heard of, including Altair.

The bottom line is that elect. cars powered by home solar panels will change everything-sooner or later, and the sooner the better.This is a pivotal event-the beginning of major things to come.

It is quite normal for technicians to continuously search for the very best and low-cost solution and in the mean time forgetting where the first-market is, as I believe some state about the batteries. That will hardly make you money as testing of the latest and greatest blows your margins away every time due to insufficient scale economies when starting up. Selling the actual product, at relatively high prices is a solution to bring the cash and could create a fine prestige brand. It is proven, as here in Europe with numerous studies that - in the upper segment - range is of extreme importance, second comes performance (acceleration and top speed) and only then comes the initial price. Tesla makes the right choices (including the expensive high spec. battery and proven cells). The packaging of the roadster allows that. Eberhard is right not to reveal too much on the sedan yet. It should be considered that the future model line-up should be carefully planned, should never be compromised on range and performance and should keep a relatively high price, maintaining its prestige/cool brand image. It will definitely remain a niche product for some time. Therefore it is better to roam the market gradually and having rich customers waiting in line to buy their beautiful show-off car then it is to step into dangerous and highly competitive volume segments too soon.

I think it's quite comical how people who appear to know nothing about electronics, batteries, motors, residential power systems, or running a development startup are constantly telling Martin he's basically an idiot. Does the fact that Tesla have working prototypes not deter people from their negative views? It seems not. Does the fact that Tesla need real batteries as opposed to vaporware stop people from telling Martin how much better their favourite alternatives are? It seems not. Sheesh. I could go on for a while... Martin I hope you're not wasting your time nad energy thinking about all the naysayers.

What I find REALLY REALLY fascinating is that so far noone has advised you to partner with a company to produce square batteries rather than round ones so that you don't have so much wasted volume in the battery pack. Now THERE's a helpful idea.

Thanks Martin for making an even better electric car then the EV1 once was. Just go ahead and be sure to know we support you 100%.

I would really like to know if and when Tesla will be building or alow the building of retro fit kits for other cars like my 84 vette. I blew my motor and am going to convert it to electric and the performance #s from the roadster ar perfect for this type of retro fit. Jon

Thanks Martin for making electric cars. This is long overdue and you are to be commended for being a forward-thinker instead of a status-quo slave. You have my support and many others too I'm sure. There may be some leadership out there yet...

My first problem is that as it sits right now most housing in Canada only runs a hundred amp service thus having a problem with using too much power when your at home. Most households are running more and more things on the grid and if you run appliances with the new car charger you will blow the breaker every time. Second up here we really have a hard time with power distribution and dealing with the power corps because they do not like the thought of everyone running there own feed back system onto the grid due to everything having to be perfectly synchronized with an a/c genorator. Would not it be better to have a charging system at home using solar energy which stores energy in a batt pack at your house and and when you plug in use it till you are charged?

Frankly I am amazed at what Martin has been able to do. As a Mechanical Engineer and business owner it's not always so cut and dry. Look at what he has been able to accomplish already. To actually have a SOLD product that counters so much of the sterotypical image of EV! That is quite an accomplishment in itself. Think of all the effort and risk it took him to go down that path! I'm sure he and those that work for him, find it insulting for people to infer that they are not keeping up on the "latest and greatest". No I don't work for Telsa (would love to), but I used to own a car dealership and man the car market is TOUGH. So as a fellow Engineer / car dealer(yeah I know wierd combination), I wish them all the best success.

Go on, Tesla Motors!
We want you in Europe!
I will buy your Sedan immediately!

Great effort on Tesla's part but a123systems has got a better battery for their car. I hope they pick it up. It is safer, non-flammable, 4 times longer lasting, non-toxic, american-patented, charges in 4 minutes and has 4 times the energy density and lower weight then lithium batteries.

They are even giving free partnership ( samples) for interested companies.

This is officially my new dream car! So if I win the lottery, sign me up.

However, I do have a question about the solar option: How exactly does it charge your car at night? I assumed it would store the energy in a battery until you needed it, but you say it dumps energy back into the grid during the day. So if all/most of the daytime energy is used, how do you charge it at night? I don't know about you guys, but we don't get much nighttime sun here in Canada.

To Joshua,

If you were referring to my earlier comments about the latest and greatest, they were not aimed at TM, but to others writing in this blog. If you read their white papers you can see that TM is absolutely up to date, and Im sure they dont post their newest ideas/analyses. I commented that (having experienced the EV business) TM makes the right choices. With some volume, cash can be generated using the technology that is in the roadster, combined with the set price. I agree with you, its a great car, born from passion and not from legislation!



Watch out Deiter, Richard & Bill, Jr. pretty soon you'll be forwarding your resume to Martin for a job!
i'm positive after the nov. 7 elections are over...the 85% decrease in gasoline will be on the rise again, just in time for the holidays!

Go Tesla!

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