Business, Sci-Tech, Multimedia

Age of the electric car dawns at last, says New York Times

By Branko Brkic 11 February 2010

According to America’s paper of record, which likes to make pronouncements about new Ages in human history – and sometimes even pronounces right – the electric car is finally a viable reality. Why have they said this now? Because they’ve test-driven SA-born Elon Musk’s new Tesla.

Like JM Coetzee and Dave Matthews, Elon Musk doesn’t talk much about his origins. Best known as the co-founder of PayPal, the online micropayment company that according to The Daily Maverick will soon be coming to South Africa, Musk left the land of his birth for Canada in 1989 so that he wouldn’t have to serve in the apartheid government’s military. Since then, he’s done moderately well for himself. In 1995 he sold a software firm called Zip2, which he started with his brother, to Compaq’s AltaVista for $340 million; in 2002, as the largest shareholder, he sold PayPal to eBay for $1.5 billion; and in 2008, as the co-founder of Space X, a manufacturer of space launch vehicles, he landed a $1.6 billion Nasa contract.

Ja, nee, as they say in the town where Musk went to school. Of course the PBHS old-boy is also the CEO and chairman of Tesla Motors, manufacturer of the electric Tesla Roadster sportscar, which looks like the Lotus Elise and is supposed to drive like one too. Since the Roadster’s launch in mid-2008, Tesla has become Musk’s most high-profile project – hundreds of celebrity-style photo ops picture him standing before the gleaming car, hands thrust down into suit-pants pockets, jaw tightly clenched.

Thing is, to extend the Hollywood metaphor, Musk’s carbon-free high-performance vehicle has also become the Greta Garbo of the motoring industry – its mystique is such that not even Jerry Garrett, senior car critic for the New York Times, could get himself a test-drive on his own terms.

“Even my abbreviated [one-day] drive took nearly two years to arrange,” wrote Garrett last week, after the company finally gave him a bright orange two-seater to evaluate. “[It] often seemed as if Tesla was dodging me. Earlier test-drive offers from the company, contingent on having a chaperone ride along, were declined.”

Given his limited time in the vehicle, what Garrett didn’t get to test was the claim of a “hyper-miler” – a breed of car enthusiast that likes to squeeze every last mile out of a tank – that the Roadster can travel as much as 500 miles on a single charge when the average speed is 10 miles per hour.  

Not that he really wanted to test this claim. The 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport – a new upgrade, which is $20,000 more expensive than the $110,000 tag on the base model – can accelerate from standstill to 60 mp/h (100 km/h) in less than 3.7 seconds. At a top speed electronically limited to 125 mp/h, but easily achievable, it isn’t the sort of car to go slow in.

For Garrett, the drive was worth the wait; he reported for America’s paper of record that even at the price level of an Aston Martin, the car exceeded his expectations. He also had no reason to challenge the claim that the Roadster can get around 244 miles out of a single “tank” at reasonable speeds, or that eight hours of overnight recharging in a plain household socket would be enough juice for 40 miles driving the next day.

Further, according to Garrett, “[The] 2010 model is more refined than the original Roadster. Tesla has addressed many of the most egregious complaints it received about the first Roadsters: crude interiors, annoying controls, anaemic air-conditioning, squeaks and rattles, awful seats, a clattering ride and less range and power than many early adopters were hoping for.”

So it would seem that a product of Pretoria Boys has finally ushered in the Electric Age of the Motorcar. Maybe, if and when the car is introduced in South Africa, he’ll want to do something about the company that’ll have to power it here.         

By Kevin Bloom

Read more: The New York Times

WATCH: Tesla Sedan video


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