The Electric Car is for Real

by Bradley Miller on April 8, 2010

The Tesla Roadster Sport - really, there's nothing like it

Here’s a non-traditional Medicine Think entry, but I wanted to share my first drive of an all-electric car – the Tesla Roadster Sport.

I feel like last night I had one of those rare experiences where you feel like you’ve seen the future.  It might sound like a hyperbole, but that’s what it felt like to test drive the Tesla Roadster Sport.  And, no, I’m not in the market for one, but after driving it, I really wish I had about $110,000 in disposable cash laying around.

So, what is it about the Tesla that makes it feel so futuristic?  It’s an all-electric car – there’s no hybrid or gas component – it’s a 100% electric motor.  That means that from the moment you put your foot on the “gas” (is it more appropriate to call it an accelerator pedal? The “electric?” The “juice?”) it’s a different driving experience than you’ve ever had.  The only similarity is that there are four tires, the car looks like a Lotus Elise, and there’s a steering wheel – most other experiences are different.

There’s no engine noise.  Honestly, you don’t miss it.  An electric motor, by nature, has 100% of torque at 0 RPM – that means the thing accelerates so rapidly that it’s hard to believe.  0-60 in 3.6 seconds – that’s Lamborghini fast.  Instead of having to “rev” the car up, all the power is there and ready to go when you push down on the pedal.  It’s unlike any car I’ve ever been in.

There are no gears – nothing to shift, no transmission beyond forward and reverse.  After the car bolts to speed, the engine itself has a tremendous amount of braking power.  The moment you let up from the accelerator, the car begins to drag to a stop.  You literally don’t need a brake other than to come to a full stop at stop lights.  Put another way, to maintain speed, you have to keep the pedal down – even on downward slopes where gas power cars would shift to neutral or have a very low factor of engine braking.

Apparently, a lot of Tesla’s patents and intellectual property in how the car electronically mimics the way we drive today in gas cars.   By that, I mean it’s not in the nature of an electric car to cruise forward when you let up on the brake.  But the Tesla does – that’s a purposeful design and apparently very hard to do in an electric car.  From my understanding, this technical achievement will be difficult for others to mimic.  Apparently this technology bleeds over in to how the car accelerates smoothly and the car reaches cruising speed.  Whatever they’re doing it’s definitely working.

With the electric engine comes the need to store the electricity to power the car.  The battery “pack” alone weighs just shy of 1000 pounds.  That’s a lot of weight.  It’s positioned mid-car just like in a gas powered sports car, which helps balance the handling overall.  Regardless, the 1000 pounds is a lot of weight, especially when the car weighs a mere 2,700 pounds overall.

Otherwise, the car is definitely a stiff little roadster and to be honest I had a hard time seeing through the windshield.  I’d love for the car to have a few more inches, and I hope that comes at a later date.  Maybe by the time I can afford one.

It was truly an exhilarating ride, and I don’t think it really hit me until I stood up and I felt like I had just stepped out of a rollercoaster – the same shakes and legs feeling almost like rubber.  I don’t know if that was because I’m a pretty novice sports car driver, or the all-electric roadster really is that cool.  My gut sense is that the car really is that cool.  I was on a high for the entire rest of the night – I’m not kidding.

And, this sense had nothing to do with the environmentally friendly nature of the car.  That said, I’d be really curious of the overall carbon footprint of a mile in a Tesla versus an efficient gas car.  How many carbon emissions are released during the production of the electricity to power the car?  Is it really less than driving a mile in a gas car?  Either way, the electric car really is that cool.

Heading back tomorrow to get a behind the scenes look at the dealership and shop in Seattle.  More to come!

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