Before I start, I want to apologize for the recent lack of content in the past few weeks. With the college year winding down, the focus that students put towards it has really increased substantially...which includes 100% of our writing staff. Also, the end of Spring-Summer season tend to be light on automotive news, so creative content tends to be the go too. Expect some exciting creative content over this Summer, which will include but is not limited to videos, photo shoots, reviews, and editorials (like this one). Thanks for all of your support! It truly gives us motivation to continue creating content. Now, enough blabbering. Onto the main point of this post; Tesla Motors.
“Plant your foot firmly on the brake. I’m going to put it into “Insane Mode” and then you can press the accelerator when you are ready. The acceleration will be intense, so make sure your neck is supported completely by the headrest.” That’s what the Tesla rep said right before my eager right foot stomped on the accelerator pedal. The acceleration was instant and neck breaking. It came like a sucker punch, except it was enjoyable. Before I knew it, I was already doing 80mph and then the rep politely asked me to slow my speed. He put the car back into comfort mode, and we both skedaddled back to the parking garage, as if we were in a Lincoln Towncar. But we were not; instead we were in a Tesla Model S.
Now I have been a car geek ever since I was first brought into this world. I, for a long time, lived by internal combustion engines. I mean, to me a sputtering engine is like the beating heart of a car. Every engine has a different rhythm or heartbeat. They sound different, look different, and most importantly perform differently. But that’s what makes car so appealing to me. Engines give cars character and personality. But people also say that engines are the cause for global warming and rising energy costs. While I will say that engines aren’t the cleanest or most efficient aspects of our society, they certainty aren’t the worst. Take coal power plants for example. Nonetheless, people still complain about emissions and the environment, which is why we have the monstrosity that is hybrid cars (specifically the Toyota Prius).
The Prius was created to appeal to this newborn environmentalist, and in the process became arguably the most hated car of our time. The Toyota Prius is a gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, which is supposedly very good for the environment and very cheap to run. It is underpowered, fugly, and the people who drive it tend to be down players of internal combustion. It is because of these people, and the Toyota Prius, that I developed a hatred for the electric car. If anyone even mentioned the word “electric car” to me, I would almost instinctively picture a slow, ugly car being driven by some dude wearing flip-flops and a “Green Peace” t-shirt printed from environmentally friendly ink.
Look, the Prius isn’t a bad form of vehicular transport in anyways. It’s efficient, cheap to run, and practical. But, two things really make me despiser. First are the people who drive it. These people tend to think that a car is just a form of transportation, nothing more. They usually downplay conventional cars, turning to their stellar efficiency and low cost as a way to place the Prius higher than hero cars like the BMW M3. Not all people are like this, but from my personal experiences most are. Second, as a car, something that I value dearly, the Prius is horrible. There is no passion, no fun in a Prius. It’s soulless. Think of the Prius as a robot; it’s one of the ways that the future can be seen. For me, a car guy, this is not a future I want to experience, let alone think about. It’s scary.
I hated electric cars, and I really could not see myself ever driving one, let alone wanting to own one. That is until a company called Tesla Motors came into the scene. I first heard of their work on a Top Gear episode in late 2008. Jeremy Clarkson was reviewing the Tesla Roadster, and I could not help but wonder how this was even possible. The Roadster was fast, looked like a proper sports car, and Jeremy Clarkson (whom I adore) was driving it and not trashing it completely. According to Jeremy, “This car was shaping up to be something wonderful, but then…although Tesla say it will do up to 200 miles, we worked out that on our track it would run out after just 55 miles” (Clarkson). The Tesla Roadster sputtered to a halt, and so did my interest in having an electric car as my first car. Still, I wouldn’t be driving for another two years, and this electric car actually seemed pretty cool.
Tesla is actually a borrowed idea. A small company called AC Propulsion created an electric sports car in early 2003, tZero. Two engineers who loved cars, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarppening, were able to test drive this car one day and quickly realized that this car could lead to something. During the same time, California’s “Zero-Emissions Vehicle”, a program requiring automakers to produce a percentage of zero-emission vehicles, was announced. AC Propulsion had a cool toy, but it lacked the refinement of a everyday car. The pair saw this as an opportunity to profit. Eberhard and Tarppening decided to start an entirely new automaker, Tesla Motors, which they did in summer of 2003.
Mr. Elon Musk came into the picture soon after. He shared the vision these two had, “To make a vastly superior car, not one that just sucks less. A car that would redefine what an electric car could be”. Mr. Musk, who had sold PayPal for billions, quickly had the papers made up and in April of 2004 became the CEO of Tesla Motors.
Ever since then, Tesla has had its ups and downs. The Roadster had a rocky start; with criticism’s concerning it’s range and cost being quite prevalent. The Model S was released for sale in 2012, and is still one of the best selling cars in the country. Tesla paved the way for cross-country electric transportation by implementing their “Super Charger” systems. Tesla also expanded internationally, where in countries like Norway they prospered and in countries like China they failed. But over all, Tesla has had a really nice ride since it’s conception back in 2003, and is still moving forward rapidly.
The main problem with electric cars of today is the batteries that are used to power them. As David Levinson of Foreign Affairs reiterates in his essay Electric Avenue, “The key challenge with electric vehicles involves figuring out how to store more energy in less mass -- in other words, increasing what is known as energy density -- and how to make the resulting battery affordable”. Affordable electric cars (and by affordable I mean around $40,000) usually have a range around 100 miles per charge. For most people this is enough, however when compared to a cheap gasoline car, which can get at least 300 miles a tank, the figure seems really low. Levinson provides a few possible solutions to this problem. One is a system of charging stations, much like gas stations right now. However, the gas industry is probably not interested in converting to electricity. Another system is the use of ultracapcitors, which have a high capacity, and discharge rate. Unfortunately, the life span of these devices is very low, making them impractical for real world use.
Tesla, as you may figure, is very dependent on the batteries for it’s vehicles. This is why Tesla is now working on not only creating electric vehicles, but also on improving battery technology for all devices. Now as Peter Elkind of Fortune Magazine puts it, “The plan is “a tremendous risk…But “Do the impossible” is one of Tesla’s slogans, and Musk set out to make it happen”. Tesla’s current Lithium Ion battery is already superior too it’s competitors. Tesla is partnered with Panasonic to produce these batteries, which are already an achievement by themselves as Steve LeVine of Foreign Affairs states. “Tesla has done well, thanks to a strategy of using off-the-shelf batteries manufactured by Panasonic. Whereas its competitors pay about $500 a kilowatt-hour for their custom-made lithium-ion battery packs, Tesla says that it pays around $225”. Still, the cost of an entry level Model S is around $70,000. Tesla has noted this, which is why they have decided to build their own batteries in the United States.
Dubbed the “Gigafactory”, Tesla has already received close to $2 billion dollars in funding from the state of Nevada for this project. Elon Musk highlighted that the factory will have an output of roughly 500,000 cars worth of batteries per year, which is currently the worldwide output for electric vehicle batteries. He also announced that the next Tesla vehicle, the Model 3, would be put into production in early 2017, around a year after “Gigafactory” is set to open. The Model 3 has been touted to start at $35,000 before any tax incentives, which means it will be very cheap. And yet, Tesla are saying that it will have a range of at least 200 miles. If you ask me, Tesla is seriously trying to make their vehicles affordable, and practical for everyone.
But, that still isn’t enough for Tesla, which is why on April 30th, 2015, Tesla announced their next big move. In partnership with Sun City Solar, a sister company of Tesla which provides affordable solar panels, Tesla has released an industrial grade battery that would be used to power homes and businesses. This battery, dubbed the Tesla Powerwall, will help decrease the load on the power circuit by allowing users to store excess energy from solar panels which can be used for later. The current battery technology used to store the energy created by renewable systems, like solar, are not so good. As said by Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, “They suck”. The Powerwall takes the already superior battery technology used in the Tesla electric cars, and integrates them for home and commercial use. And compared to the conventional battery systems of today, which can cost upwards of $10,000, the Powerwall starts at $3,000 for a mid-sized model.
This move makes Tesla not only a car company, but also a major player in the battery industry and energy industry. Tesla is doing this in the hopes to make alternative energy affordable and more appealing to us everyday folk. With this technology, the dependence on fossil fuels would ultimately be reduced, leading to lower pollutants being emitted into the air. The rate of global warming can be reduced, and people could actually save money in the long run.
What really strike me is that all of this is coming from a car company, something that was blamed to be the cause of the global warming and energy problems. Tesla and their innovations have changed the face of the automobiles today, as well as completely change my view on electric vehicles. What was once a dull, unexciting segment of the auto industry, is now leading the way for clean energy and independence. And, the future of cars doesn’t look bleak. Instead, it’s actually pretty cool.