2008 Tesla Roadster
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
Named after genius inventor Nikola Tesla and founded in California in 2003, Tesla helped pioneer lithium-ion battery technology and soon got a hefty investment from entrepreneur Elon Musk. The batteries were ideal for use in an automobile, but Tesla had no vehicle in which to put them. So, in order to produce and sell its first production car, Tesla chose not to start from scratch but to turn to British carmaker Lotus, specifically for the brilliant bonded extruded aluminum chassis out of the Elise.
Tesla ordered 2500 gliders (completed cars minus powertrain) from Lotus, with final assembly and distribution handled by Tesla in California. At well over $100,000, Tesla Roadster was staggeringly expensive compared to the $42,000 gasoline-powered Elise, and the hefty batteries meant that the Tesla weighed about 700 pounds more than the Lotus.
That said, the EPA estimated a 244-mile range meant that the Tesla was the first EV to top 200 miles on a single charge. And its massive, instant torque meant that 0-60 mph came between 3.7 and 3.9 seconds, about a second quicker than the Elise. The Tesla was shown to the public at the San Francisco Auto Show in November 2006 and, despite the high price and novel powertrain, the first 100 cars were sold in three weeks.
The first production Roadster was delivered to Elon Musk in February 2008 and regular production began on March 17 that year. The first major upgrades were announced for the 2010 model when the Roadster Sport was introduced with more power and luxury features. A facelifted 2.5 model was introduced in July 2010.
Major 2010 upgrades included push-button gear selector and carbon fiber and leather interior. A centrally mounted video screen, which delivered range, regenerated power level and – bizarrely – how many barrels of oil you had not consumed. Sway bar and shocks were now adjustable, while electric motor, heating and air conditioning were improved.
Tesla built the roadster until January 2012, when the supply of Lotus platforms was exhausted and the company turned its focus to the Model S sedan. US sales of the Roadster stopped in August 2011, when the federal exemption from having 2-stage airbags expired. Owners could upgrade their Roadster to the 3.0 model until 2020. The upgrade included a more slippery aero package a new battery pack which increased capacity by 50 percent, and tires with less rolling resistance.
When Car & Driver magazine evaluated a Tesla Roadster in 2008, testers were generally impressed by its performance, though much of the story explained how the vehicle functioned. Testers noted that 65 percent of the car’s weight rode on the rear wheels, against 61 percent of the donor vehicle. The steering was found to be heavy below 25 mph but smoothed out later, and the ride could be harsh at low speeds over potholes, likely due to the weight and the need for firm suspension.
Car & Driver reported 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds and a quarter-mile at 13.4 seconds. Tests of 20-50 mph and 50-70 mph acceleration resulted in 2.3 seconds for each, which matched a 2007 Mercedes-Benz AMG Black Series.
Once something of a curiosity from an upstart carmaker, the Tesla Roadster can now be viewed as the opening act for what rapidly became the world’s most valuable carmaker. Its significance will only grow as EVs become more prevalent, and while some purists may scoff at the lack of a stick shift and an exhaust note, the Roadster’s Lotus DNA makes for a rewarding driving experience.