They were founded in 2003 by a group of engineers in Silicon Valley, California who wanted to prove electric powered cars could be better than petrol ones.
Electric power gives instant driving torque, high power and no emissions at the tailpipe. To promote the use of electric power for passenger cars Tesla have made all the patents on their technologies ‘open’ for other manufacturers to use. To date there are now over 50,000 Tesla cars on global roads.
In 2008 they launched the Tesla Roadster which eventually went on sale in 30 countries. That has now ceased production and their latest product is the Model S the all-electric, four- door premium class D-segment saloon. The Model S will be joined a Model X SUV with 4×4 drive and elevated body for more ground clearance. It will be based on the same platform and technology as the Model S and will be introduced in 2016. A smaller all-electric City Car is planned for the future once battery technology allows for more compact and less costly battery packs.
Tesla in the UK
In February 2015 Tesla opened their 21st Supercharger station in the UK. The rapid expansion of their fast-charging network allows owners to realistically undertake longer-distance travel. Tesla expects to have full UK coverage by the end of 2015. Currently UK Supercharger stations span routes from Exeter to Edinburgh with the latest being in Leeds close to the M62. In Europe there are 130 Supercharger stations with over 670 points.
When it comes to customers in the UK so far they have a choice of seven Tesla Stores to choose from where they go to see the Model S, take a test drive and there are more Stores in the pipeline. These Stores are in high footfall locations such as shopping centres. Alternatively visiting the Teslamotors.com website will give potential customers an insight into the very modern world of Tesla, the technology, the specification, the options and the pricing. Booking a test drive or even ordering a car can all be done on-line. In many ways it’s like the world of Apple for marketing, sales and computer technology meeting the world of Dyson for electric power then merging with the likes of Maserati for distinctive but niche premium brand styling.
Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S is built in a former Toyota-GM factory in California USA at a rate of 1,000 units a week. Tesla promotes their ‘green’ credentials by using components such as aluminium to the interior trim that can be sourced to them from suppliers close to their location. The same cannot be said about the battery pack which currently comes from Japan, then shipped to California and in the case of EU cars then shipped to The Netherlands. There are in reality lots of CO2 emission miles in that process. To improve the ‘green’ process Tesla is planning to open a battery factory in Nevada.
Cars for Europe are completed and tested at the USA factory before the battery pack is then removed and the body and batteries are shipped to their assembly plant in Tilburg in The Netherlands where the battery pack is reinstalled, software updated to the latest specification and then re-tested before arriving with customers. Tesla’s 50,000 global sales see the USA being its largest market followed by Norway, China and The Netherlands. Tesla in the UK do not give out sales information or predictions, “it’s not the Tesla way” apparently and as yet the brand does not show up independently in the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders official new car sales figures.
However a web search shows the UK is in tenth position in the global registrations chart after sales began in June last year and estimated sales so far are between 400 and 500 units. Customers range from technology loving geeks to business users to eco conscious owners wanting a premium quality performance executive saloon.
The current Model S range consists of the 60kWh battery version with a 240-mile range, a 380hp electric motor, rear wheel drive with 120mph and zero to 60mph in 5.9 seconds and priced at £50,500. Next in line and the likely best seller is the 85kWh version again with a 380hp motor but with a range of 310-miles and a top speed of 140mph with 0-60mph taking 5.4-seconds with a price of £58,300. From July there will be a range topping P85D Performance dual motor all-wheel drive version with a monstrous 691hp with a range of around 300-miles, a top speed of 155mph and zero to 60mph time of approximately 3.2 seconds. The price is £78,700 and like all prices shown this includes the Governments £5,000 plug-in vehicle grant. As usual there is a wide range of extra cost options to boost the personalisation of your Tesla including two additional rear facing seats for child passengers which costs an extra £2,100.
The Tesla Model S will have strong appeal to business users and to London commuters or residents. All customers will benefit as the Model S costs nothing in VED road tax, it’s exempt from the London Congestion charge, it has a 0% Benefit-in-Kind company car tax rating and for businesses it is eligible for the 100% First Year write down allowance. Already known is that Benefit-in-Kind tax rates are due to be increased in the March Budget this year so in April the Tesla will go up to 5% BIK.
Tesla claim the aluminium constructed Model S is the first premium electric saloon, although it has a five door hatchback body design. Each model has market specific software suitable to meet local driving conditions and this software can be updated when upgrades come along. Depending on the model they have a range of up to 310 miles per charge enough to cover daily commutes and the majority of daily driving requirements.
Tesla high powered Superchargers replenish half the charge in as little as 20 minutes and are relatively conveniently placed along well-travelled routes enabling long-distance travel. The Supercharger stations are being complimented by high-powered electric wall boxes for homes which cost around £95 on the government incentive scheme which will charge the car at a rate of 30 to 40 miles per hour. From a regular three-pin domestic socket the charging rate is around six miles per hour of charge.
Other public electric car charging points can also be used but with varying degrees of charging rates and costs. Tesla suggests only charging the lithium battery pack to 80% of its capacity due to lithium-ion’s dislike of low and high charge states of charge.
The arrival of the Model S in the UK in June 2014 was accompanied by its own iPhone app, available in the UK iTunes store. The app puts owners in direct communication with their cars anytime, anywhere.
Owners can use the app to check on the charging progress, start or stop charging and heat up or cool down the car before driving it even if it’s in its garage. The car’s software can also be upgraded with free downloads to it using a 3G mobile network or Wi-Fi connection. Look on this function as the same as Microsoft updates for a PC or similar for a Smartphone.
That is all the positive stuff but as we know UK customers have so far been slow to take up buying an electric only powered car due to range anxiety, durability and to some extent the residual values. The Tesla Model S has a guaranteed 50% residual value after three years of use.
The car requires an annual inspection but without a combustion engine servicing is minimal. As for warranty there is 8-years cover for the battery and drivetrain with a 125,000-mile limit for the 60kWh models and unlimited mileage for the 85kWh single and dual motor versions and 4-years or 40,000-miles for the body for all variants.
The number of electric cars sold in the UK was 2,512 in 2013 and this went up to 6,697 sales last year as more models like the Tesla joined the market. However slowly more customers are becoming more confident in the practicality of all-electric cars and of course by the current tax savings and low running costs they offer. But all that could change in the longer term when or if there is a change in the Government or their motoring taxation policies after the forthcoming general election.
The all-electric car market is speared-headed by such models as the Nissan Leaf, the Renault Zoe and Twizy plus the BMW i3 non range-extender version and now the Tesla Model S. This has quickly become the third best selling plug-in vehicle in the UK after the Nissan Leaf and the plug-in electric/hybrid/petrol Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.
This was followed by a 77 mile drive on the M5 motorway to the Tesla Supercharger location at Dart Farm Village in Exeter and then back again.
The 77-mile trip would never cause a range anxiety issue for the more or less fully charged Model S. We left Bristol with the car’s electric system showing a range of 220-miles and it arrived with 120-miles left in the battery. So cruising at 70mph with the electric heater working plus sat-nav etc took 100-miles out of the battery for the 77-mile run.
Motorway travel gives limited opportunity for the very strong braking regeneration to boost battery range. Heading back to Bristol after a short Supercharge the potential range was shown as 202-miles. After another motorway cruise at 70mph, into a stronger headwind, the range left in the battery was only 95-miles.
The charging times might be fast but our drive just showed how mileage predictions can change en-route depending on speed, weather and the demands placed upon the electric system for in-car components such as heating and heated seats, radio and so forth. It appears the vast majority of early UK adopters of the Model S in fact charge their vehicles at home overnight and only use the Supercharger points for en-route top-ups. It all works but it just needs a little extra planning for longer journeys. The good thing is the huge amount of information supplied to the driver by the computer system shows where Tesla charging points are – which is comforting.
As for the Model S itself? The pictures of the saloon tell you more than words can. It looks stylish, substantial and classy on the outside.
Inside its relatively roomy although being a six-footer I found the headroom through the door frames a bit low. The fact that this model is being used by business chauffeuring companies, mainly in London because of the exemption of the Congestion Charge, says much about the roomy rear seat space. For luggage carrying there is a boot at each end of the vehicle. The rear electric motor is positioned between and below the rear seat backs.
The most noticeable interior feature is the 17-inch vertical touchscreen, it’s massive and it has numerous display and set-up options but it is easy to read and logical to use providing you understand computer or phone touchscreens.
All the Bluetooth and other connectivity functions, sat-nav, regenerative braking response, sound system, Autopilot and much more is operated via the touchscreen plus for navigation there is a second display contained within the instrument panel.
The interior is a mix of high quality leather, some suede on the top of the fascia and some hard and non-European style textured plastic trim also used on the dashboard areas and some small parts of the doors.
Another likeable feature is the polished zinc exterior door handles which automatically extend and retract into the doors when the key-fob is close by.
It’s easy to drive, turn up with the fob, open the door engage the Drive setting on the steering wheel mounted short stalk, depress the accelerator and glide away. The same stalk selects Reverse gear and Park. There is nothing to turn on or turn off with a key or push-button.
As for the driving experience, it’s eerie. I’ve driven lots of all-electric cars and vans before but the performance offered by the Model S is unique. The BMW i8 plug-in, petrol electric hybrid comes close but that is not an all-electric car. Press the accelerator of the Model S and the response from the electric motor is immediate. There is a distinct lack of noise and for some people – like me they will miss the ‘noise theatre’ of a sports combustion engine and its exhaust note. Cruising at 70mph is hushed, only the slight whine from the motor with some more obvious wind and tyre noise intrusion due to the lack of a combustion engine.
The handling seemed well planted as the heavy lithium-ion battery pack is mounted under the platform of the car. This means the centre of gravity is very low so the ride is flat and level. The air suspension generally did a good job of ironing out poor road surfaces although aluminium platforms tend to allow impacts to resonate through the body rather than absorb them as efficiently as steel. The steering was light and precise although it lacked feedback.
Overall the driving experience was a bit sterile, lacking the usual high performance thrill and character of a turbocharged petrol or high torque diesel engine but there can be no argument it is a very modern, efficient and a ‘greener’ way to travel.
But there is a big ‘but’ – whilst CO2 emissions from the Tesla’s exhaust, if it had one, would be nil most non-nuclear energy power stations supplying electricity are not CO2 free.
Do we want more solar and wind farms to meet the demand for more electricity as more electric-only cars join the market? The higher potential driving range and performance you get from the Model S does make it the most efficient all-electric car to date. That probably off-sets to an extent the negative aspects of its true CO2 emissions.
Technology geeks will love the Tesla Model S as will ‘green warriors’ and the low taxation for business, affluent retail owners and London residents will also appeal.
Tesla Model S 85kWh, all-electric 300hp, 4-Door executive saloon £58,300 (after Government grant).
Drivetrain: rear transverse mounted three-phase induction motor, single forward fixed ratio + reverse gearbox, 380hp.
Performance: 140mph, 0-60mph 5.4 seconds, range 310-miles, (on test a 77-mile motorway at 70mph used 100 miles of battery power).
Dimensions/capacities: L 4,978mm, W 1,963mm, H 1,435mm. Warranty: 8-years unlimited mileage for drivetrain including battery pack. Insurance group: Variable due to home location and use.
For: A worthy alternative to conventionally powered executive saloon rivals, stunning exterior design, clever interior layout, filled with computer age driver support, information technologies and connectivity, fast effortless cruising speeds with brilliant acceleration performance, seems well made, low for all taxes.
Against: Adjustments need to be made to compensate for its range limitations, some cheap feel textured plastic trim inserts, limited number of UK sales, service and Supercharger locations.