Monday, June 27, 2011

R.I.P. Tesla

R.I.P. Tesla
By Eric Peters on 6.27.11 @ 6:07AM

Chalk this up to "Lesson Not Learned."

The Tesla electric sports car is dead -- a victim of its own defective economics. This was not unpredictable.

The company created an electric version of the gas-powered Lotus sports car -- and tried to sell it for twice the price of the gas-powered version.

Just 1,650 of these electric lemons found people rich enough -- and dumb enough -- to spend $109,000 for a $51,845 Lotus Elise stripped of its perfectly good gasoline engine and converted to run on electricity.

Apparently, some forms of green still matter more than others.

And gray too. As in brain matter.

Or lack thereof.

Yes, the Tesla electric was mighty quick. So is the Lotus it's based on. Maybe not quite as quick, because electric motors have the mechanical advantage of tremendous and immediate torque while a reciprocating engine has to rev to build power. But the gas-powered Lotus doesn't run out of juice -- literally -- after a couple laps around the track. And for a fraction of the cost differential between the electrified version and the gasoline-powered version, one could easily hop up the gas-powered version to be quicker than the electric and have probably $20K or so still jangling in one's pocket for gas money.

That would cover fuel costs for, oh, the next 110,000 mile or so of driving. This calculation is very conservative; it assumes the gas-powered Lotus gets only 22 MPG on average (it's rated 27 highway) and that gas prices are $4 per (they're currently down to around $3.60).

So: $20K = 5,000 gallons at $4 per.

And the above is based on the assumption that you spent $30K to hop up the Lotus instead of just being happy with a 5-second-to-60 car (the Lotus) instead of a 4-second-to-60 car (the electric Tesla). If you're okay with the slightly less quick but much longer-legged Lotus, you've got $50K left to spend on gas.

You'd have to drive that electric Tesla for a long time before it caught up with the gas-powered Lotus.

Not counting in-betweens for those hours-long recharge sessions.

And isn't the point of an electric car economy rather than performance? The Tesla roadster is a six-figure exotic. Whether it's powered by electricity or gas, it's a car for the extremely affluent only. People who can afford to spend $100K on a car -- any car -- don't have to worry about what its gas mileage or cost of operating is. Right?

The Tesla was ostensibly built as a way to sex-up the idea of electric cars. Well, fine. A Lamborghini is sexy, too. I'm sure plenty of Walmart associates would very much like to have one of those, too. Also a supermodel wife. And a vacation house in Monaco. Yeah. That's the ticket!


Tesla -- the company -- has not taken a lesson from this experience.

It is going to try again.

It's true the pending Tesla Model S electric sedan is less expensive -- just $58,000 (to start) this time. Instead of being priced like a 911 turbo as the Tesla sports car was, the sedan will be priced more along the lines of a Lexus GS460 sedan.

Well, maybe not quite so much along those lines, since the Lexus, at $55,370, is still nearly three grand less -- which would buy you a year's worth of gas at current prices.

And the $58K Tesla S is only good for 160 miles before its exhausted batteries need to be recharged. To get one that will go 300 miles (about half the range of a $22K VW Jetta diesel) before its batteries are exhausted will cost you closer to $80,000.

Meanwhile, a really nice 2011 BMW 330d (diesel) could be yours for only $44,150. It gets 36 MPG on the highway. Run the math above assuming that figure and a cost differential of about $40K and see what you get...

So, my question is: What's in that pipe they're smoking?

And next: Who is backing this venture?

Someone is putting money behind this mess. People who see a market for a $58K-$80K electric Edsel that can't do what a $15K gas-powered car can do.

There are only so many rich idiots out there.

Someone really ought to tell 'em about it.

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