Tesla Model S draws crowd to Menlo Park showroom

Tesla S is an attempt to build a luxury car with a sports car feel

Dozens of prospective buyers and curious gearheads formed a line on Saturday at Menlo Park's Tesla Motors dealership to sit inside the first mass production car to be developed and built entirely by a Silicon Valley company.

As members of the public got their first close-up look at the new Tesla Model S sedan, Menlo Park resident Rich Shane said he'd already made up his mind to buy the new Tesla, potentially the first electric sedan that can go as far as a conventional gas powered car on a tank of gas.

He said he canceled his reservation for a Nissan Leaf because its 100-mile range is well beat by the Tesla, which can run for 160 miles if you buy the $59,000 base model and as far as 300 miles with an optional $20,000 battery pack. "I couldn't accept not being able to get to and from Sacramento," Shane said.

Set to compete with BMW's profitable five series, the Tesla S is an attempt to build a luxury car with a sports car feel. With a compact electric motor, no transmission and a lithium-ion battery spread flat under the floor, the company claims the car has twice the storage room as the BMW five series, with substantial trunk space at both ends. It can also seat seven, if two optional rear-facing seats are installed in the back that can only be used by small children.

The placement of a battery that weighs as much as 1,000 pounds under the floor gives the Model S the lowest center of gravity of any production car, Tesla claims, helping the 3,700 pound car to handle better than other car in its class and almost as well as the Lotus-designed Tesla Roadster, said store manager Neil Joseph.

The electric motor generates 306 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 362 foot pounds of torque until a 14,000 rpm redline. Tesla claims it can accelerate from 0-60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds and reach 130 miles per hour. A sport version is said to be able to do that in less than five seconds.

Once inside the car, most could not get their eyes off the 17-inch, high-definition display in the center of the dash, a $1,900 option. It functions like an enlarged iPad with Internet access over a 3G connection, allowing clear access to Google maps and climate controls.

More than 6,000 people have already put themselves on a waiting list to buy the car and more than 600 have put down a $40,000 refundable deposit, said Tesla sales adviser Kyle Thompson. The car is set to be built in 2012 in Tesla's new assembly line at the former NUMMI plant in Fremont, with 5,000 to be manufactured in the first year and 20,000 a year after that.

A federal tax rebate brings the price of the car down to just under $50,000, "which sort of seems in the range I would expect," Shane said. The price can go up for those who want more than the 160-mile range. An intermediate option for a 230-mile battery pack costs another $10,000.

Thompson said the expensive battery was well protected from road hazards by a steel plate and a frame. It can also be removed from the bottom of the car in minutes, should the need arise.

Hooked up to a 240-volt outlet, the 300-mile battery can charge in only five hours. Unlike the Nissan Leaf, the battery charger comes standard in the price of the car. Tesla expects the battery to retain 70 percent of its capacity after 100,000 miles.

The Model S has yet to undergo crash testing, but Tesla expects a five-star rating.

While the $50,000 car may be too expensive for many, Tesla may use profits from the Model S to pay for the development of a cheaper model. Thompson said in three years, Tesla expects to sell a $30,000 to $40,000 electric car.

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Like this comment
Posted by Forrest
a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2011 at 9:43 am

A beautiful car and great for the environment...a win-win.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 12, 2011 at 12:21 pm

I am all for Tesla and electric cars ... though I prefer hybrids, but it seems really stupid to have a touch-screen keyboard in a car - not to mention ugly.

Like this comment
Posted by Scott
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm

I am excited about a car for the first time in years! Until now, all luxury, sport, or sexy cars were bigger polluters. I want to contribute less to climate change. Finally something interesting and more environmental. I had planned to keep my '98, 40 mpg, VW diesel until it fell apart, but maybe it's time for a new car!
Aron, I'm hoping that while underway, the display computer is limited to running maps and minimum distraction things that can be easily accessed . I sure hope Tesla wouldn't be stupid enough to design a display for their car that would allow a driver to do anything distracting, like text, websurf or watch a movie, while the car is in motion.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Driver
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 12, 2011 at 10:22 pm

This picture Web Link accompanying the article is disturbing.

It depicts how a driver can circumvent all existing laws regarding cellphone usage, texting, and distracted driving.

Additional photos showing how a driver can use a full-size browser to read the New York Times while driving can be seen here Web Link (scroll down to the Photo Gallery of the Autoblog article).

Given the car has Internet connectivity, a driver could also stream Hulu movies to watch while driving to work which is a violation of many laws such as California Vehicle Code 27602 which can be read here Web Link and which clearly states:

"A person shall not drive a motor vehicle if a television receiver, a video monitor, or a television or video screen, or any other( )1 similar means of visually displaying a television broadcast or video signal that produces entertainment or business applications, is operating and is located in the motor vehicle at a point forward of the back of the driver’s seat, or is operating and the monitor, screen, or display is visible to the driver while driving the motor vehicle".

The Tesla S is NOT a robot-driven autonomously-operated vehicle using GPS such as those in the last DARPA competetion or the Google self-driving car -- it requires the FULL attention of the driver while on the roads.

Unless something is changed before the 2012 debut, the Tesla S will likely be the most dangerous vehicle for other drivers on the roads given all the Tesla's opportunities for distracted driving.

Like this comment
Posted by Pete
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 13, 2011 at 9:08 am

Does this mean that they are going to start repaying their loan?

Like this comment
Posted by Clarence Boddicker
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Detroit already makes better and cheaper alternatives. Tesla is going to plop just like Solyndra. I'm sure the exec's and board members have already safetly squirred away the gov loan dinero. A wise man once said: "There's a sucker born every minute".

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Boddicker, you are right!
One wonders how much the taxpayers will subsidize each car. One wonders how long the doors would be open if subsidies were ended.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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