Tesla’s first production car was called the Roadster. Built on a heavily modified Lotus chassis, it was a direct descendant of the tZero, itself a modification of an existing sports car chassis. The tZero was manufactured by AC Propulsion, a small company near Los Angeles, and it used conventional lead-acid batteries. Its primary feature was that is used an AC motor — a revolutionary idea at the time.
In 2oo3, Martin Eberhard asked AC Propulsion to replace the lead-acid batteries with 6,800 lithium-ion laptop batteries. They did and the car was transformed. Shortly thereafter, Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning founded Tesla Motors. One of the early drivers of the tZero upgraded with lithium-ion batteries was a young entrepreneur named Elon Musk. The rest, as they say, is history.
Since its introduction, the Tesla Roadster has become a bit dated. Its performance — stunning at the time — now lags far behind the Tesla Model S P100D. It suffers from a range that can only be called “modest.” As an historic vehicle, it is still important, but it is no longer quite as outré as it once was. Last produced in 2012, Elon Musk has been hinting a replacement was in the works for several years. On November 16, at the end of the splashy reveal for the Tesla Semi, Musk disappeared from the stage and the whole thing seemed to be over … until a few moments later when a pre-production version of the next-generation Roadster unpacked itself from a Semi (well, Tesla designer Franz von Holzhausen drove it out).
The Roadster 2.0 takes everything Tesla has learned about building electric cars, remixes it, and then doubles it. If the Corvette is the halo car for Chevrolet and General Motors, the new Roadster will be the halo car for Tesla. It is insanely quick — 0–60 mph in 1.9 seconds right out of the box in “base” configuration. That will make it the fastest production car ever made. It’s also fastest going 0–100 mph and in a quarter mile sprint.
Tesla watchers know Elon is a big fan of Spaceballs, the Mel Brooks send-up of Star Wars. The movie features a spaceship that can go faster than lightspeed in Ridiculous mode, Ludicrous mode, or — hold onto your light sabers — PLAID! There is little question Musk and his band of merry pranksters will have a hotted-up optional Plaid mode ready for the Roadster once it actually goes into production.
The other specs for the 2+2 style sports car are a 0–100 time of 4.2 seconds and a quarter mile time of 8.9 seconds. There are professional drag racers who have never gone that fast in the quarter mile. The car will have three motors — two in the rear and one in front — for true all-wheel-drive capability.
The Roadster won’t see production until 2020 at the earliest. Tesla has offered no clues about where it might be made, although we know it is busy adding new production facilities at its Fremont factory location. The Roadster is not likely to sell in high numbers, so the company would not need a large assembly line to manufacture the cars.
In the meantime, those interested in owning one of the $200,000+ cars can plunk down a $50,000 deposit now to get on the waiting list. The first Founders Series cars will come fully loaded and retail for $250,000. If that seems like a lot of money, the Bugatti Chiron — a car with similar performance to the Roadster (but not quite as fast) — sells for $2.5 million. Better performance for one tenth the price? Where do we sign up?
When it arrives. the new Roadster will have a top speed of over 250 miles per hour and a range of more than 600 miles, meaning it can drive from LA to San Francisco and back again on a single charge. How can it go so far? Simple. It has a 200 kWh battery pack. That’s double the size of the largest battery Tesla now includes in a Model S or Model X.
What does that suggest about future batteries for the Model S and Model X? Officially, nothing. Tesla has not suggested it is thinking of increasing the size of the battery packs in its regular production cars. In fact, we know that a 100 kWh battery can’t even fit into the new Model 3 midsize car.
Musk was his usual ebullient self as he told the audience about the new Roadster. “The point of doing this is to give a hardcore smackdown to gasoline cars,” he said. “Driving a gasoline sports car is going to feel like a steam engine with a side of quiche.” Musk has made it clear from the start that his goal is not to manufacture the best electric cars money can buy but rather to manufacture the best cars, period. His mission in life is to deal a knockout blow to cars and trucks powered by internal combustion engines.
With this latest addition to the Tesla model lineup, it’s a safe bet that there are lots of aspirin and AlkaSeltzer being passed around in the executive suites of the world’s major automakers this morning.
Update: Below is a video taken by Gas2 and CleanTechnica colleague Kyle Field yesterday at the Tesla Roadster reveal. Ever wonder what 0–60 in 1.9 seconds looks like? Check this out!