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Tesla, Fisker to beat Volt

Supercar: After production delays and retail price blow-outs, the Tesla Roadster is a reality.

US electricar-makers Tesla and Fisker on target to build luxury sedans by late 2010

22 Sep 2008

GENERAL MOTORS may have put on the table its plans, pending “satisfactory government incentives”, to produce the world’s first mass-produced electric family sedan in the Chevrolet Volt by late 2010, but some unlikely US rivals have stepped up their campaign to deliver luxury electric sedans in the US before then.

Last week luxury electric car-maker Tesla Motors announced plans to build a $US250 million production facility in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley at San Jose, to manufacture its zero-emissions five-seater luxury sedan, the Model S.

Formerly known as the WhiteStar, the Model S is expected to start being shipped out of the 89-acre site, to where Tesla’s corporate headquarters and research and development centre will be relocated, in late 2010 – when the facility is expected to employ about 1000 workers. Factory construction is due to commence in mid-2009.

55 center imageLeft: Tesla Roadster and Fisker Karma.

President and CEO Ze'ev Drori said Tesla selected the San Jose site, 32km from Tesla’s current HQ in San Carlos, because of its high concentration of skilled engineers and support infrastructure, and to minimise the inconvenience for more than 250 of its current staff.

“Big deals like this happen when both parties have something significant to gain,” said Mr Drori in reference to San Jose mayor Chuck Reed’s 15-year job-creation initiative dubbed ‘Green Vision’.

“Locating Tesla’s headquarters, manufacturing and R&D in San Jose will allow us to proceed with minimum disruptions and virtually no dislocations.

“Clearly, no one would argue that Silicon Valley is the center for electronics and electrical engineering. The heart and soul of the electric car is the electric drivetrain, and for that, we need the type of skills available here.” Assembly of the current $US109,000 ($A131,000) Tesla Roadster two-seater, 27 of which have so far been delivered in the US and Europe, will remain at the Lotus factory in Hethel, UK and is scheduled to increase to 40 per week by early 2009.

Some 1200 deposits have been taken for the Tesla Roadster, which commenced production in March, while the Model S sedan, which will be powered by a lithium-ion battery pack, is expected to cost about $US60,000 ($A72,000).

Central to the production of both the two-door Tesla Roadster and four-door Model S will be a “final powertrain solution” from US transmission specialist BorgWarner, which was announced two weeks ago.

The new single-speed transmission, which will be retro-fitted to the 27 Tesla Roadsters sold to date free of charge, is claimed to deliver 30 per cent more torque as well as a 10 per cent better travelling range of 355km.

“Last December, when the two-speed transmission designed by a previous supplier proved not to be durable, we announced we would modify our approach,” explained 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 set-up is superior in almost every way.” The new BorgWarner gearbox is designed to cope with the Roadster’s increased performance, which now includes 380Nm of torque (up from 286Nm with the “interim” transmission). The Tesla Roadster is claimed to accelerate to 100km/h in less than four seconds.

“Successfully implementing the new gearbox in less than a year was an incredible technical challenge and huge accomplishment for Tesla’s engineers,” said Mr Drori.

“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.” Meantime, an even newer US-based plug-in hybrid vehicle maker, Fisker Automotive, also announced two weeks ago that it has secured a further $US65 million ($A78 million) in funding, from the Middle East's Qatar Investment Authority.

The Irvine, California-based start-up car-maker, headed by former BMW and Aston Martin designer Henrik Fisker, says it is now on target to produce its Karma EV by the fourth quarter of 2009, with peak production volume of some 1250 vehicles per month due to occur by late 2010.

The 15,000 Karmas Fisker plans to have built annually by Norwegian contractor Valmet will also be bankrolled by Palo Alto investors and Kleiner Perkins, while their electric powertrain was developed by Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide, which co-founder Fisker Automotive with Fisker Coachbuild LLC in 2007.

Dubbed Q Drive, the Karma’s drive system is claimed to offer 80 miles of emissions-free motoring if it is charged overnight. Fisker claims to have taken more than 500 deposits since the Karma made is global debut at the 2008 Detroit motor show in January.

“We are extremely pleased to have closed our financing round at this time, particularly in light of the current market conditions,” said Mr Fisker on September 10. “This shows that Fisker Automotive has a solid business plan and a globally experienced automotive team with very strong investors behind the company.”

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