Watch or Participate
Most consumers have a herd mentality which makes setting trends rather easy for manufacturers. Sometimes though it is us who sets the trend and the mighty are forced to either concur or surrender.
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Last week, I had possibly one of the most surreal evenings of my life. Without boring you on the minutia on how I got the invite, and to cut a long story short, I found myself having dinner with a group of individuals who were once famous household names. They were lens fodder for the paparazzi and their every waking moment was microscopically written about. But that was then. Now, their star has fallen so far outside the trajectory of the media spotlight even the Hubble telescope would have trouble tracking their exact movements. Actually, I found it all rather sad. We made them believe their own hype and they quite happily accepted the unfounded amount of adulation we showered upon them. Except we are a fickle lot who jumped ship once a brighter and more interesting personality started to grace the front pages of the red-top rags. And all this got me thinking. Certain cars which were once globally feted are now seen in the same pathetic light as an ex-glamour model selling her kiss-and-tell story to a Sunday tabloid. Both General Motors and Chrysler have learnt this lesson the hard way. As the history books will tell, while we all grew a green social conscious at the beginning of the 21st century, these so-called bastions of the US motor industry completely lost sight of what their customers actually wanted. When the consensus moved towards smaller and eco-friendly cars they relentlessly continued to build monolithic gas-guzzlers no one was buying. They even had the audacity to keep on producing these V6 dinosaurs right up until they filed for bankruptcy. So, with the exception of a very few automakers, what we are starting to see on the roads today has been governed by trends in political correctness. Unquestionably, diesels have come on leaps and bounds in the past decade or so. They are clean, quiet and very efficient, but without fossil fuel in the tank they just become chunks of stationary metal. The petrol/electric hybrids alternatives have made some headway, however, they are still in their infancy stages and have failed to really ignite our imagination. Pure battery driven cars are becoming more readily available, except their problem is they are hardly one step up the evolutionary ladder to a golf buggy. The biggest obstacle all alternative fuelled cars have to overcome is to get us to love them for more than just their green credentials. All this brings me neatly to this month’s review on the Tesla roadster. Sure, it`s a sports car, but its electric power train eclipses any of the alternatives currently on offer from mainstream manufacturers. Using lithium-ion batteries, an electric motor and single-speed transmission to power it, the Tesla is a quantum leap over other electrically-powered vehicles. Able to sprint to 60mph in just 3.9 seconds - that`s Porsche and Ferrari fast – as well as managing to cover useful distances between charges, Tesla claims its Roadster will travel up to 227 miles before it needs plugging in. That`s extraordinary when you consider that Tesla has come from nowhere - it`s the brainchild of keen Silicon Valley billionaires. That know-how, as well as plenty of investment has resulted in the Tesla Roadster, an electric sports car that`s so far ahead of other current electric cars it`ll surely be considered a landmark. What impresses most is that the Tesla Roadster is more than just a good electric car; it`s a good sports car in its own right. Tesla had help here, however, as the Roadster is based on the extruded aluminium chassis of the Lotus Elise. Tesla has added its electric drive train, a redesigned carbon-fibre body and a serious amount of money to the price tag. A figure of £92,000 buys you one of the fully-loaded `signature edition` cars. By any measure that is a lot of money, however, its drive train technology will come down in price in time - it not unusual for early fans of new technology to pay handsomely for the privilege of being among the first. Despite the price, Tesla has cracked the biggest issue with electric cars, that being its range. The Tesla Roadster`s lithium-ion battery pack lasts up to 227 miles between recharges. A full recharge then takes anywhere between 4-16 hours - 16 hours from a conventional 12-amp outlet. For real green credibility owners will need to source clean energy, many early adopters likely to charge their Roadsters with electricity produced at home from solar panels and wind turbines. The Tesla`s range might astonish but it is also seriously quick. The electric motor delivers 250bhp, but it is the 280lb.ft of torque that really delivers; all that torque available from zero rpm. That makes for instantaneous response to the accelerator; lifting off slows the Roadster quickly, too, thanks to the regenerative effect of the motor. It handles like a heavier Elise, the steering unassisted and heavy at slow speeds, yet light and full of feel on the move. It`s easy to drive, with a single-speed, two-pedal set up that while initially odd to drive soon becomes completely normal and actually good fun. All that performance comes with no noise either, the electric drive train working almost silently even when revving at its 14,000rpm maximum. What is quite amazing is that it has taken a small Californian firm to come up with such a revolutionary car and underlines how slow-witted the response from mainstream manufacturers to customers` genuine green concerns has been. Certainly there remain some compromises; being a sports car means the Roadster is massively impractical, charging is slow, battery life is only anticipated to be 100,000 miles and it is expensive. However, there`s a Tesla saloon car in the pipeline, battery technology continues to improve in both life and charging times and prices will inevitably drop as production numbers increase. What Tesla has demonstrated with real authority is that electric cars are a viable future proposition and that they can still be fun to drive. For some then, the future for motoring doesn`t look quite so bleak after all.
CAR MAKE & MODELTesla Roadster 2009 Pictures
CAR REF NUMBER19022
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