50 State Legal

Malcolm Powell, Vice President, Vehicle Integration, January 24, 2008

It has been quite a while since I have put finger tip to key board and joined the Tesla blogosphere. This might have something to do with my being a little bit busy as we have been maturing the Roadster from an amazing prototype to a full-blown production car.

From Darryl: I am experimenting with a new thing for our blogs – video. I am planning on using this to do intro videos like the one with Mac here, and perhaps to answer questions raised on the blog for follow up video interviews. In some cases, we may have the entire blog be a video blog. One of the things that inspired me to try this is the fact that we have a lot we want to talk about but the reality is many of the folks hard at work on the car have very little time to spare to write blogs (it’s harder and more time consuming than it seems). Since we are just trying it out, I am using a cheap “Flip Video” camera and YouTube to shoot and host the videos. If it catches on maybe we’ll invest in some better stuff.

You’ve heard us say this many times but, “This isn’t easy”. Being the guy who’s done this sort of thing before, I’ve often warned my colleagues that this was going to be hard. If you think you know about cars because you’ve tinkered with them during the weekend, I can assure you that it is a whole new world when you design a new one and try to put it into production. Unfortunately, no one told me how hard this particular one was going to be.

Having said that, I can’t imagine a more rewarding job than getting the Tesla Roadster from concept through to production - and we are so nearly there.

Last time I wrote, we had just started crashing the early prototypes. As I stated at the time, this exercise is both expensive and scary. I have since found that although crashing the final validation cars is less expensive due to pre-production parts costing less than early prototypes, it is even more scary. Although we needed the early tests to be successful, I also knew that they represented a learning opportunity and that there would be subsequent repeat tests.For the final certification tests, the consequences of failure would have had a serious impact (pun intended) on our program.

Some of you may have seen some recent blogging about the safety of EVs during crash testing. There is nothing intrinsically less safe about an EV than a gasoline car. It’s all about the energy absorption of the periphery of the vehicle and the integrity of the structure that protects the passengers and anything else that it is a good idea not to damage - in our case this is the ESS (battery box); in the case of regular cars it’s the fuel tank. I always find it interesting when people say, “Isn’t it dangerous carrying all those batteries around?” Well I don’t know about you, but I’d rather carry a load of relatively inert battery cells than 10 gallons of highly volatile, flammable liquid. I will not comment on how other companies design their vehicles but at Tesla, we have paid great attention to the integrity of the design for crash management.

Front Crash Test

Side Crash Test

This relates not only to the aforementioned structural integrity, but also to the safety systems within the ESS itself. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) are slightly different for EVs in that they cover spillage of electrolyte and avoidance of electric shock rather than the spillage of fuel as in a conventional gasoline powered vehicle. We have therefore incorporated numerous safety systems into the ESS to prevent such dangers. The most significant of these systems opens the primary contactors during a crash event and thus completely isolates the high voltage system from the rest of the vehicle. This system when combined with the physical protection of the enclosure, results in an electrically safe vehicle following the prescribed impacts.

Rear Crash Test

Rear Crash Test

So, back to the plot, how did the final certification tests go? Well, I still have some hair and it’s not all grey. Thanks to great design, structural analysis, build quality and well run test management, we have successfully completed the entire suite of dynamic impact testing to meet both FMVSS and, as importantly, our own very strenuous internal performance targets. This is a great achievement for Tesla; it takes us another (major) step closer to our final goal and is another demonstration that EVs are as real as any other vehicle on the road.

And while we’re on the FMVSS theme, while crash testing gets the headline attention there are roughly 40 other specific federally mandated requirements that apply to the Roadster. Tesla needed to meet all of these requirements in order to be in a position to affix the much coveted Manufacturer’s Certification Label on the car.Here’s a few that you may or may not be aware of.

Defrost Test

“Windshield Defrosting and Defogging”
The roadster has been in a climate chamber getting itself truly chilled and frosted. During these tests, we start the vehicle and ensure that defined zones of the windshield are cleared within a specified timeframe.

Come on, who was thinking, “That must be hard for an electric car with cold batteries”? Not so. The Roadster has the advantage of not needing to wait for an engine to warm up (and warming by means of all that otherwise wasted energy - how inefficient!) but can immediately get to work on the windshield using our electrically powered PTC heating system. We passed the defrost test with flying colors.

"Rear View Mirrors”
This one amuses me - not because the regulations require that important rearward areas must be visible via the mirrors, a very sensible precaution, but rather that federal rules do not specifically regulate the forward field of vision as is the case in Europe. Crazy huh? Anyway, we passed this too.

There is some standard stuff covers things like,“Flammability of Interior Materials,”- very sensible. In a similar vein there is a, “Controls and Displays”. These standards may answer the question of why so many cars look similar - perhaps, but we do tend to recognize what all the symbols mean, whatever car we jump into.

Did you know that you can’t just make any old lighting thingy that shines down the road? Check out your current car, there should be “DOT” markings on the lens to confirm that they meet the FMVSS prescribed intensity and lighting pattern to provide sufficient illumination and avoid dazzling oncoming traffic. Yup, I agree. It would help if people adjusted them occasionally. Or is that just because I drive a low slung car and suffer jacked up trucks coming the other way! The lights must also be within prescribed positions on the vehicle. One problem with such a low sleek design like the roadster is positioning the headlamp high enough to meet these requirements - not a problem for designers of the Suburban!

Last on the list was seat testing. We have to heave on the seat belt system to ensure that it is strong enough, and we have to impact the head restraint to ensure that it absorbs energy within prescribed limits - too stiff and it can cause unnecessary head injury in case of an impact. This testing has now been successfully completed resulting in the Tesla Roadster meeting the necessary FMVSS test requirements to allow sale in the Federal Market. Ok, I’m a Brit so that was a bit understated.


Is that more appropriate?

Is that the whole story? Not quite. As well as ensuring that the vehicle meets all of the safety standards, we have also had to provide the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) with a full description of the vehicle and our range test data that was recorded during rolling road testing at an independent third party certified test house. The result of this was that on January 16, 2008, the EPA issued a “Certificate of Conformity with the Clean Air Act of 1990” to Tesla Motors Inc. This was the final step necessary for DOE /Customs to accept the importation of Production Roadsters.

These are immensely significant milestones in the history of Tesla Motors and the future of electrically powered, zero emission vehicles.

Burn rubber, not oil and enjoy the experience.