Cool wheels

If you think electric cars are boring, Tesla Motors wants you to think again

MEAN GREEN MACHINE<br>Tesla Motor’s Model S offers all the room of a modern mid-size, without the fill-ups and oil changes.

Tesla Motor’s Model S offers all the room of a modern mid-size, without the fill-ups and oil changes.

Photo courtesy of TESLA MOTORS

Plug-ins with pizzazz For more information on electric vehicles manufactured by Tesla Motors, go to

Small though they may be, sports cars generally tend to be gas guzzlers. In terms of miles per gallon, there are those that get in the 20s, but many are in the teens, no better than an SUV or truck.

Then there are electric vehicles, which use no gas but tend to go only about 30 or 40 miles per hour. That’s why the Tesla Roadster might just become the vehicle of choice for environmentally conscious driving aficionados—or anyone else who can afford the $109,000 price tag.

“They might buy this despite the fact it’s a sports car,” said Tesla spokeswoman Rachel Konrad.

The Roadster is an electric vehicle unveiled in 2006 that can travel 244 miles off of one charge. It was on display earlier this month at the Tahoe Green Fest in Tahoe City.

“It goes from zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds, which is a pretty unique thing, and it doesn’t use any gas,” said Mike Walden of Sierra Green Building Association, which organized Green Fest. “You can have some fun, go fast, and you’re really not hurting the environment at all.”

As concern about greenhouse gases and oil depletion have ramped up, so have sales of electric vehicles. Konrad said the Roadster is on track to become profitable next month.

MOVE OVER, MASERATI <br /> Tesla’s Roadster Sport goes from zero to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds.

Photo courtesy of TESLA MOTORS

“For the past 30 or 40 years, the main huge automakers have said, ‘Sure, we can make this little science project as an electric vehicle, but we can’t sell it commercially and make a profit,’ ” Konrad said. “Well, guess what? We’re going to do that next month. So the demand of the Tesla has sent a clear message to the auto industry that electric vehicles are the future.”

It’s a message that has not gone unheeded by the federal government. In late June, the U.S. Department of Energy offered up $465 million in federal loans to Tesla in order to speed production of its Model S sedan.

Tesla will use the money for a new assembly and battery plant in California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has offered generous tax incentives to EV manufacturers. Konrad said the new car is “on track to be the first mass-produced electric vehicle ever.”

The Model S is a spacious EV that seats five adults and two children, goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than six seconds, with a cost around $50,000 after consumers take advantage of a $7,500 tax credit. Factor in low maintenance costs—there’s no oil to change or valves to adjust—and the Model S almost begins to look affordable.

The feds have also provided $5.9 million in loans to Ford, which will go toward improving the fuel economy of vehicles like the Focus, Escape, Mustang, Taurus and F-150. Nissan is to receive $1.6 billion to retrofit a plant to build an electric sedan that’s yet to be named. For now, Tesla is at the head of the EV pack when the rubber hits the road.

“For the last 100 years, consumers have had no choice about the fundamental propulsion system of their car,” Konrad said. “It’s only been in the last few years with the Toyota Prius that consumers have started to think differently about their cars. Thinking that maybe the type of power of their car is something they should consider, just like they consider getting a two-door or four-door.”

Currently, the Roadster is the only highway-ready EV, but Tesla expects to start construction on the Model S in 2011. They’ve already taken 1,200 orders for it.

“It just shows there’s a lot of pent-up demand for electric vehicles that are stylish and practical,” said Konrad. “Hybrids are a transition step, but we’re moving to a place where personal transportation is beyond oil.”