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Tesla, Aiming for the Stars, or at least Mars

Tesla Model S P85D  (c) Tesla Motors, Inc.
Tesla Model S P85D
(c) Tesla Motors, Inc.

A generation ago, the only electric vehicles around were golf carts, fork lifts, and bumper cars. It’s probably this kind of lineage that Tesla came from. Or maybe not. After all, it’s cool to drive any of the aforementioned vehicles only when it’s winter or fall, and it has nothing to do with style.

But Elon Musk and company changed all that. If you wouldn’t be caught dead driving a golf cart, it won’t be surprising if you’d stop dead in your tracks when a Tesla S P85D passes by.

The funny thing is that it’s a four door sedan, but it accelerates like a sports car, getting from 60mph (100 kph) from a dead stop in 3.2 seconds. It does so at a fraction, nay a percentage of the gas consumption of any of the current Gran Turismos out there. Also, with the best in EV class driving range of 285 miles (458 kilometers), one can get from downtown LA to the Vegas Strip on a single charge.

“We really wanted to break the mould, to show that electric cars aren’t just glorified milk floats,” Musk tells GQ. “This is the fastest accelerating four-door production car in the world. That’s one hell of a milk float.”

The driving public seems to agree. According to Musk, “Demand for the P85D is off the charts.” So expect street sweepers to clean up more drool as more of these babies start rolling down the streets.

Just the same, the nascent EV industry still has a long way to go. “We’re still very tiny in the car industry – this year we might do 32-33,000 cars out of over 9 million.” In fact Musk finds it crazy that seven years after coming out with the Roadster, there is still no other electric vehicle for sale that has a driving range of at least 250 miles (402 kilometers).

Hence the decision to open source the company’s patents. “We’re a minnow from a volume perspective, but technologically we’re on point. This allows other manufacturers to catch up technologically.” Tesla already helped Toyota, Daimler Benz, as well as BMW to release electric vehicles. According to Musk, there is yet another major car maker that is taking up Tesla’s free patent offer. Just the same, Tesla’s CEO is impatient with the rate of progress and has decided to take the game to the big boys by coming out with other models, starting with an SUV called the Model X.

The Model X will use the same drive train and chassis as the Model S, much like how the CRV started off on a Civic platform. It’s a blend of SUV and minivan that drives more like a luxury car. In fact, instead of doors, it comes with Falcon Wings, more like a sports car than an SUV. Unfortunately, it has been plagued with delays and the 20,000 long list of orders isn’t helping much.

Maybe it’s because Tesla will release a lower cost version called the Model 3. It would have been called the Model E, if Musk had his way. Unfortunately, Jaguar had other plans and beat Tesla to the punch, or to the name. Hence, Tesla is getting S3X, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t getting any.

At 32,000 to 33,000 cars projected for next year, they definitely have their hands full. This also means that they almost have their battery production cleared out. Which is where the Gigafactory comes in. The 15 million sq ft (1.4 million sq m) factory outside Reno in Nevada will produce batteries for half a million electric vehicles per year when it comes online in 2017. Tesla had to take the lead because there wasn’t any factory available that can meet the volume demand of a pure electric car. The car company was able to ride on the demand of consumer electronics batteries, but it has clearly outgrown that. Furthermore, having their own factory will help them control costs. That’s because lithium-ion batteries are way, way more expensive than gas fuel tanks.

I guess that we can say that Elon Musk and company are aiming for the moon. Hey, wait, they’re actually aiming for something beyond that – Mars. And if the stars align, they might even hit a target further than that.

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