A Tesla in La Jolla

Last week I spent a couple of days in San Diego talking to Joe and Bryan at DriveCurrent about projects we can do together.  Some exciting developments came out of the meeting and will be the subject of an upcoming post, but this post is devoted to the brief respite we had from meetings to check out the fastest street legal EV available.

On the one sunny day between days of constant rain that some San Diegans had never seen before, the three of us made a trip to La Jolla to accomplish two things:

1. Have our ideas for commercializing EV conversions bashed to pieces, and

2. Get a ride in a Tesla.

The dismemberment of our business plan wasn’t what we were expecting, but at least it was mostly constructive criticism we’ll be using to make our case stronger.  We see a lucrative market for conversions in quantities below the volumes that the major automakers require for them to become profitable, given their large overhead.  Now we know we have to show that in our plan.

Anyway, back to the interesting part, the ride in the Tesla.  Our business consigliere set us up with a friend of his that had taken delivery of Roadster #37 just a month before.  As we rolled up to his garage in the hills of La Jolla he and the car were waiting for us, resplendent in dark red with contrasting black leather (the car, I mean).

Aside from all the drama surrounding the company, the Roadster is a beautiful car.  The lines flow smoothly and belie the car’s size; it looks bigger in pictures than in real life.  To my eye, the design is far more attractive than the Lotus Elise it’s based on.  The Lotus has all sorts of bumps, strakes, wings and spoilers that scream to everyone near and far how hardcore racer it is but it comes off a little too much like little man syndrome to me.  The Tesla design is much cleaner and mature, letting the basic physicality of its low stance, trim proportions, and the sparing use of functional cooling and aerodynamic features to let everyone know that it’s something special without getting all red in the face about it.

Though there are plenty of pictures of the Roadster on the net, I had to snap my own.  While I worked my way around the car, Joe and Bryan were getting the guided tour by the owner.  As I was shooting the front end, the three of them were gathered around the charge port.  Right then I heard a “PING, whack, thunk, thunk” coming from around where Bryan was standing.  The owner turned around and started asking “What happened?  What was that noise?  What happened?”  Bryan didn’t know as all he did was open the charge door and then heard the noise.  He was extremely contrite and apologetic but no one could figure out what exactly happened.  Seeing the melee of the owner loudly and repeatedly asking what happened, Bryan extremely contrite and worried sick about the whole thing and Joe trying to stabilize the situation by acting as a go-between, I figured there really wasn’t anything I could contribute and decided to ignore the whole situation and keep shooting.  If we were going to get thrown out now I at least wanted some proof I had been there.

It turns out the owner was not so much upset about Bryan mauling his new $100K limited edition Roadster but was more interested in what happened in a more detached, scientific sense.  Bryan guessed that the part fell down the air intake right behind the charge port butsince no one could see, much less reach down there, we kind of moved on with apparently no hard feelings from the owner.  Bryan, of his own accord, now maintained a safe distance from the vehicle.

Amazingly, the owner still wanted to give us a ride so I clumcily clambered over the wide sill and dropped myself into the very comfortable and low bucket seat.  The wide structural sills mean the occupants literally sit shoulder to shoulder, as opposed to the MR2 where a tall and wide center tunnel gives each occupant their own personal space.  I wasn’t sure what kind of demonstration I would get but the owner, who’s about 80 years old, wasted no time in flooring it through the residential streets of his neighborhood.

Several times I got to experience the full, unyielding acceleration from a standing start up to probably 65 mph.  Preparing for launch in a Tesla is simple with no fancy throttle, gearshifting or clutch technique to perfect, the only requirement being a driver willing to punch it and hold on.  The traction control nixes any unnecessary wheelspin, channeling all the energy from those 6831 liquid-cooled lithium cells into pure forward motion.  The closest sensation is that of a jet on take-off: the whir and whine of the motor increasing in pitch as the speed piles on and the unrelentingly powerful yet smooth thrust that hurtles the car into the distance.  As powerful as it is from a standing start, the owner insisted the really impressive feat was mid-range acceleration.  From about 40mph on, nothing can catch it.

Joe said I had the ultimate in stupid grins as I got out of the car and I believe him.  He got a little shorter ride and came away just as impressed.

While we were away, Joe and Bryan found a little metal bracket that was the cause of all the earlier commotion.  The spring that held open the charge port had fractured and from the looks of it was close to breaking before Bryan ever saw it.  That’s our story and we’re stickin’ to it.

About Suhas Malghan

This blog documents the design and development of environmentally sustainable machines and humane design practice in general; machines that work for humanity as well on the move as they do sitting still.
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