There are a number of efficiency measures for production-class electric vehicles (EVs), and the Tesla Roadster has just set a record for one of them, travelling 501km on a single charge.
That’s not quite Johannesburg to Durban, but it’s getting pretty close on a single “tank”. The record-breaking run took place during Australia’s 2009 Global Green Challenge over a 2,880km course. The result was fully supervised, and should be made official soon. The Roadster Sport, to the naked eye, is a beauty of a sports car, and is the first production vehicle from California-based Tesla Motors. But its allure goes deeper than just good looks. Its performance matches the benchmark 3.7 second 0-96kph acceleration time of its petrol-powered peers.
With urban drivers often covering low daily distances and elderly motorists driving even less than that, the utility of suitably priced electric vehicles could become mainstream sooner than one might think. EVs are an idea that have been around at least as long as Nikola Tesla, for whom the company is named. Tesla, a Serbian born in 1856, is cited as one of the most important contributors to commerical electricity, whose work formed the basis of alternating current.
The Roadster’s new distance record beat the 390km average quoted in Tesla’s specs. As the only owner of a Tesla Roadster in Australia, Simon Hackett, the managing director of an Australian national broadband company, easily beat his previous record of 385.6 km earlier this year. With its wide-open and sunny spaces, Australia is a test-bed for EVs, and with fears of climate change getting ever more intense, the search is on in earnest for alternatives to petrol- and diesel-driven cars.
Daimler-backed Tesla Motors boasts people with long track records in the motor industry, electrical and energy engineering fields, and aeronautics. It also has a strong South African flavour. The company chairman and CEO is Elon Musk, who left South Africa as a teenager and later started Internet payment company, PayPal. John Walker, vice president of sales in North America, began his career with General Motors and BMW in SA, while chief financial officer, Deepak Ahuja, was formerly CFO of Ford in southern Africa. Other high-power investors (with no SA connection) include Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
The race is now on to achieve economies of scale and performance across energy efficiencies, vehicle weights and general design, creating cars that exceed the capacities of their fossil fuel-driven ancestors. Here too South Africans are setting the standards. In October, the zero-emission Joule six-seater multi-purpose vehicle made its debut at the Paris Motor Show. It’s the first locally developed electric car, designed by Cape Town-based Optimal Energy in association with South African-born automotive designer Keith Helfet, former chief stylist at Jaguar. The Joule, which Optimal says uses just 20% of the energy of a conventional car, is seen as the company’s springboard to global expansion. Built with a chassis that holds two large-cell lithium ion battery packs, SA’s electric challenger takes about seven hours to recharge for a 200km range – with the two battery packs giving a total distance of 400km.
By Mark Allix
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Main photo: Tesla Motors Inc. CEO and Chairman Elon Musk stands in front of the Tesla Roadster electric vehicle as he addresses the media during press days of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan January 13, 2009. Tesla Motors Inc has been working with Daimler AG on an electric Smart car and expects to supply battery packs and chargers for 1,000 vehicles initially, Musk said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook