The one interesting thing about being a technology writer is that there’s actually a lot of technology around to write about. Some of it may be boring, other stuff may end up being the stuff of dreams for you and your computer and the ultimate gaming experience that we all aspire to have. Some of you, however, aspire to own something a little different. Maybe its a pair of original Levi jeans, for others it might be a house. For some, even going on a holiday is far more exciting than building up a machine based around Intel’s Ivy Bridge Core i7 processors and a Geforce GTX690. But what about those of you who like computers and cars?
What if some of you would like to own a car that almost breaks the laws of physics? What if you like the idea of doing funny things to inertia, burning rubber on tarmac and smelling that sickly sweet scent of petrol? You won’t find that last bit here in the Tesla Roadster S, a super electric car built by a huge bunch of geeks that came together to form Tesla Motors in Silicon Valley, California. With the Model S coming later this year, electric sportscars are now a thing, as opposed to something people only imagine happens in science fiction.
Here’s the thing: modern sports cards rely on internal combustion engines that use gears, crankshafts and occasionally low-weight flywheels to drive the front, back, or all four wheels of a car to dizzying speeds. Half the time though, that power is held back by the weight of the car as well as how the drivetrain is optimised to deliver power to the wheels and to the way the aerodynamics help keep it on the ground.
The Tesla Roadster uses an electric battery-driven motor driven by a pack of Lithium-ion battery cells located in the rear of the car underneath the driver and passenger seats. All Tesla models are rear-wheel drive, which helps the handling and weight distribution which is close to 50:50. The battery pack contains 6831 cells for a power rating of 53kW/h and is the same size as your average chest freezer. The Tesla is based off the Lotus Evora, with the two cars only sharing aerodynamic qualities and suspension systems. The rest is all made and assembled in-house by Tesla in their California factory.
Performance-wise, it digs a hole into your ability to comprehend speed. The Tesla Roadster achieves 0-100km/h in less than four seconds. The Roadster S trims that down to 3.6 seconds which firmly puts it in Veyron and Lamborghini territory. Most electric cars (with the exception of the tremendously crap G-Wiz) have this advantage – a flat, linear torque curve that starts at very low revs and only tops out at around 8000rpm for the Roadster S. Tesla’s engines max out at 14,000rpm, which is in the same region as Mazda’s legendary 13B rotary motor. So its fast, we all get that. In fact, most of Tesla’s projects and cars are capable of the same insane speeds and acceleration thanks to the one-speed gearbox and low center of gravity.
With the Model S, Tesla hopes to put a foot in the door of exective saloon buyers. Its a good direction for the young start-up, considering that that’s going to be where all the money is and almost definitely where all the people who don’t want to buy a Prius also sit (not their fault really, seeing as the Prius really is ugly). Putting this king of technology in the hands of people who could actually afford it might drive up adoption rates and bring down prices. But will we ever see one on our shores?
I wouldn’t bet on commercial availability locally for some time. Its cheaper and easier to fill your car with Petrol than it is to charge it up using the plugs that Tesla’s engineers fit in your home for you. Eskom, that money-grabbing government-owned corporation with as much foresight as three blind mice wouldn’t take kindly to charging cars like the Model S or the Roadster off the national power grid. Its actually a similar situation in many other countries who can’t afford the extra electricity, with newly-built Hydrogen filling stations in California also offering quick-charging outlets for electric cars. We might eventually have systems like those we see in the movie Gattaca, but that’s years away, decades even. Don’t worry about maintenance though, Tesla sends out engineers to your location for services every six months for three years. For free. If you want one of these in your garage, save up or figure out a way to make lots of money in a very short time.
Or you could just sit back, play some Diablo III and enjoy life without the complexities of owning a car so expensive that driving it in Jozi or Cape Town traffic with taxis would probably be the last thing you’d want to do anyway. But the look on the face of a BMW M3 driver as you silently pull away at blistering speed would be worth every cent. There’s only one Roadster S in South Africa currently, so who knows how long it will take before any of you reading this could buy one.