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Tesla Tweaks Roadster to Run Harder, Faster, Longer

By KBB.com Editors on September 10, 2008 4:44 PM
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Following delivery of its first 27 production models, Tesla Motors has completed a fairly sweeping update of its electric-powered Roadster that promises to make the sleek zero-emissions two-seater even more formidable. Highlights of what the San Carlos, California-based carmaker is calling its "powertrain 1.5" changes include matching a revised motor package capable of producing greater current and torque with a new single-speed transmission sourced from gearbox specialists Borg-Warner. Together, this new powertrain pairing delivers major good news on every functional front. Torque is up by 33 percent, from 211 to 280 pound-feet while the effective EPA range rises by 10 percent to give the $109,000 Roadster a new combined per-charge rating of 244 miles compared to the original 221-mile range. Owners of Roadsters built prior to this changeover will be eligible to have their cars upgrade free of charge. While acceleration enhancement was not addressed in Tesla's press release, a company spokesman advised that the new 1.5 package hardware will finally allow the Roadster to meet its advertised 4.0-second 0-60 mph bogey.

"Last December, when the two-speed transmission designed by a previous supplier proved not to be durable, we announced we would modify our approach," said JB Straubel, Tesla's chief technology officer. "By using a more powerful inverter and an enhanced motor design, we were able to implement a single-speed gearbox and still achieve our original performance goals. In fact, the new setup is superior in almost every way."

To date, Tesla has started or completed build-out on over 50 vehicles. With approval of these new powertrain updates, production will be ramped up from the current four units per week to 10, doubling again by December and rising to the current maximum figure of 40 cars per week by March 2009.

"Successfully implementing the new gearbox in less than a year was an incredible technical challenge and huge accomplishment for Tesla's engineers," said Ze'ev Drori, chief executive officer of Tesla Motors. "Now that we have a final powertrain design, in a matter of months there will be hundreds of Tesla Roadsters across the country. We're heralding nothing less than a new era of the automobile."

Drori's arguably hyperbolic enthusiasm notwithstanding, Tesla truly is riding the crest of an impressive electric vehicle wave following what turned out to be a somewhat challenging startup period. It recently named ex-Ford exec and industry finance expert Deepak Ahuja to be its new chief financial officer and lured design wunderkind Franz von Holzhausen away from Mazda to create an in-house styling team. Work continues on the upline Model S sedan due out in 2010 and expected to start around $60,000 as well as an even-more-affordable four-door due later on. A stripped-down competition version of the Roadster also is rumored to be lurking in the Team Tesla product pipeline.

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