Tesla Roadster: No Gasoline, Plenty of Juice

It goes zero to 60 in about four seconds. Its top speed is 130 miles per hour. And it doesn't use an ounce of gasoline.

It's the Tesla Roadster, a new car that's fueled entirely by electricity and could be hitting the lot just in time.

The Tesla Roadster is named after Nicola Tesla, the largely forgotten genius inventor of alternating current electricity, and it's the brainchild of Martin Eberhard, who said he designed it because he cares about the environment and because he wanted one for himself.

"It's time for us to do something about our dependence on foreign oil," Eberhard said. "It's time for us to do something about global warming. But I wasn't ready to go drive around some goofy little car. … Think of how electric cars look. All the ones you've ever thought of."

There haven't been many electric cars. Early automobiles ran on electricity, as did General Motor's ill-fated and quickly abandoned EV1, which debuted in the 1990s and died soon thereafter. Eberhard said there's "nothing beautiful" about the Prius, perhaps the best-known hybrid car. "It doesn't do anything for me," he said. "Think of it this way. A world of 100 percent hybrids is still 100 percent addicted to oil."

'The Next Great American Car Company'

So Eberhard, who made his fortune with a couple of Internet companies, set out to build the car he wanted to drive, one that would change the image of the electric car forever. Eberhard said he wanted "to get people to think of electric cars as being actually hip and desirable and fun."

And that's only the beginning. Eberhard also wants to achieve something even he admits is audacious.

"Our ultimate goal is to be the next great American car company," he said, "to have a whole line of cars for every kind of driver and all of them not burning gasoline."

Eberhard teamed with another Internet millionaire, Elon Musk, the man who invented PayPal. The 35-year-old Musk is busy with another venture called Space X, which, among other projects, is contracted to design, build and operate NASA's replacement shuttle for transporting astronauts to the International Space Station. Musk said it took only five days for him to decide to invest in Tesla after meeting with Eberhard. He's put $37 million into the company so far.

"I am a big believer in Tesla, and I believe it's going to be a great success," Musk said.

Behind the Wheel

Instead of starting with a mass market vehicle, Tesla's doing just the opposite: starting at the high end and working its way down.

"I really believe the right entry point in the market is a sports car," Musk said. "Because there, people are willing to pay a high unit cost. So you get that into the market, and you continue to innovate and optimize and go progressively higher volume and more affordable with each successive model."

In four months they had orders for all of their "signature" cars. The first 100, with a $100,000 price tag, sold to the likes of George Clooney, the founders of Google, Arnold Schwarzenegger and William of the Black Eyed Peas.

Going forward, they plan to make 1,000 Roadsters a year, with a sticker price of $92,000. That investment gets customers a two-seater that weighs in at a relatively light 2,600 pounds and is powered by lithium ion batteries, like the ones in your computer … exactly 6,381 of them.

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