Despite what some electric car conversion advocates will tell you, making a good electric car is extremely hard. It takes skill, money, resources and many hours of time. What’s more, the history books are littered with the names of small independent companies who tired and failed to produce great electric cars.
What of those who have succeeded? And where does the future lie for them?
Enter Tesla Motors. Since 2008 2003 the Californian company has been producing small numbers of its all-electric roadster, probably the world’s favourite high-performance electric car.
While Tesla sells its flagship 2011 Tesla Roadster for far less than a small condo in the less popular areas of Silicon Valley and has customers worldwide, the automaker is still a very small fish in a very large ocean of hungry automakers.
Though Tesla’s Silicon Valley startup roots and independent spirit are clearly visible with its aim to bring a second car, the all-electric 2012 Model S sedan to market, many industry analysts remain skeptical of its ability to go it alone. Tesla has previously said it will produce a Sedan, Cabriolet, Van and Crossover/SUV based on the Model S, its current production scale is a long way under what could be achieved by a mainstream automaker.
Unless that is, it sells the knowledge that makes the company so very special.
Tesla’s drivetrain, battery system and power electronics are the diamond encrusted jewel in Tesla’s automotive dreams. Rightly so. The company has hired some of the very best engineers in the world to ensure the Tesla Roadster keeps running, no matter what the ambient temperature, weather, or road conditions.
Put another way, Tesla’s skill doesn’t lie in car design or mass production. It lies in making great cars run great on the power of electricity.
Think of Tesla as the electric equivalent of Lotus, the British automaker whose Norfolk-based factory makes the Tesla Roadster Chassis.
You see, Lotus isn’t known for its hand-built sports cars. Lotus is best known for its tuning devision, Lotus Engineering.
Responsible for some of the best performing cars on the market in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, Lotus’ engineering devision turned everyday family sedans and hatchbacks into monsters of the road, replacing standard transmission and engine blocks with units that would make all but the hardened of gear-heads quiver in fear.
lotus carlton favorite vauxhall ever 002
Take the 1990 Vauxhall Lotus Carlton. Sold in Europe, Lotus turned a mild-mannered sedan into a 174 mph racer costing over nearly $80,000.
Could Tesla follow in Lotus’ footsteps? Quite possibly. Electric drivetrains are notoriously difficult to build and require millions of dollars to develop. And while mainstream automakers may know gasoline engines intimately, very few automakers know electric drivetrains like Tesla.
For automakers like Toyota, paying Tesla to make the drivetrain for its up-coming 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV is a no-brainer.
In addition to its $50 million shareholding in Tesla, Toyota has paid a reported $60 million to Tesla for an all-electric drivetrain for its new electric SUV.
2011 Mercedes-Benz A-Class E-Cell battery electric vehicle (Europe only)
Let’s not forget too, that Tesla has other ties to mainstream automakers.
While the unofficial Tesla/Smart ForTwo mule is little more than an exercise in engineering and scaring visitors to its headquarters, Tesla has provided battery packs to Mercedes-Benz for its up-coming A-Class E-Cell hatchback. Its battery pack for the 2012 Model S Sedan also happens to be one of the most impressive battery designs of any automaker to date.
While the Tesla Roadster and Model S may steal most of the limelight at the moment, we don’t think Tesla’s future lies solely in its own brand. Sure, it may continue to produce niche market vehicles, but there’s something bigger for the automaker.
Imagine a future where Tesla’s now famous badge is shown on everything from electric Kias to electric Fords, not as a symbol of the company’s involvement in the standard version, but as an indication of performance pedigree.
In other words, an indication that a car has been Touched By Tesla.