Martin Eberhard, Co-founder of Tesla Motors, July 19, 2006

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Tesla Motors blog. This is my space to comment without marketing filters. I have quite a few subjects I want to talk about over the next several months, but I will also look to you, my readers, for suggestions and ideas for future topics. I expect this to be a lively conversation.

Today, I will talk about what we are doing here at Tesla, and why it is different than any car company that has come before.

If you look hard at the numbers, it is very clear that an electric car is the cleanest and most efficient kind of car in existence. We have done exhaustive “well to wheel” energy and emissions analyses, and the numbers are undeniable. (Check out our White Papers section for details.) This is pretty technical, but you can check the sanity of this claim by looking at the actual cost to drive an electric car. My electric rate at home is 13 cents per kilowatt hour. At this rate, the Tesla Roadster costs about 2.6 cents per mile to drive. Compare this to my Mazda 3, which goes 33 mpg, for a fuel cost of about 8.6 cents per mile at today’s gas prices. (The story gets better if I sign up for the 5 cents per kilowatt hour incentive EV rate from PG&E.)

If electric cars are so great, why have they failed? Over the next few months, I will talk a bit about what has changed on the technology front – and indeed, technology is a key component of the answer. But today I want to focus on Tesla’s different attitude.

My observation is that most electric cars were designed by and for people who fundamentally don’t think we should drive. Ideally, we should walk or take public transportation; EVs are a necessary evil for when these don’t work. This mentality has lead to dozens of unappealing electric “punishment cars” such as:

  • Electra King (1961?)
  • Stuart (1962)
  • Electro Master (1963)
  • Bucy Lectric Car (1960’s)
  • Spook Electric (1968)
  • Vanguard Sport Coupe (1972)
  • Marathon C-300 Electric Car (1980)
  • Commuta-Car (1981)
  • PIVCO Citi (1995)
  • GEM (1998-current)
  • Amerigon Reva (now in India)
  • Zap Xebra (current)

The electric cars sold by the big car companies under California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate of the 1990s were a bit better, but the mandate’s requirement that a significant percentage of the companies’ sales be zero-emissions cars by 2003 again forced them to make less-than-desirable cars – cars with limited range, limited performance, and limited appeal. In most cases, they simply converted gasoline cars without any optimization for the unique characteristics of an electric drivetrain. Yet, the owners of the cars loved them. (And in the case of leased cars, fought like crazy to prevent them from being taken back and crushed.)

We at Tesla Motors love cars. We love to drive; we appreciate beautiful and fun cars. And Tesla cars are built for people who love to drive. So our optimization is not for ultimate low cost, but rather for performance, aesthetics, and sex appeal.

Tesla’s pro-driver attitude:

Since we were creating a no-compromise driver’s car rather than the cheapest possible car, we took the opportunity to fix the worst problem of past EVs: driving range. It is no secret that fitting enough batteries to get a decent driving range is not easy. So most EVs could only make it 60 or 80 miles on a charge – short enough that you would spend most of your time worrying about where you might get your next charge, instead of enjoying the drive.

Yes, we spent more on the batteries than would possibly fit the budget of a commuter car. But there is a bit of magic (okay, advanced technology) in Tesla’s batteries too. By using advanced lithium ion cells in a radical way, we deliver 250 highway miles’ driving range. (Caveat: this is the EPA’s highway driving cycle – and as all the big boys say, your driving range may differ, depending on your driving style. I’ll expect more like 200 miles range with my driving style!) This is enough that you can enjoy driving all day and never worry about stopping to charge. (Remember that you start every morning with a “full tank” because the car charges overnight in your garage.)

We designed the Roadster around high-performance chassis technology licensed from one of the world’s finest sportscar companies. We wrapped the Roadster in a carbon fiber body after spending over a year on styling. We include expected creature comforts like A/C, sat-nav system, leather and carbon fiber heated seats, a usable trunk, etc.

And how about efficiency? That’s a honking powerful motor we put in the Roadster. Everyone knows that the bigger and badder your gasoline engine, the more gas it sucks – no matter how gently you choose to drive it.

For gasoline, bigger equals less efficient – there’s no way around it. Amazingly, the opposite is true for electric motors: the bigger the electric motor the more efficient it is. So by making a powerful electric car, we are also making a highly-efficient car. It seems almost like cheating.

It’s all about attitude.