Preview: 2013 Tesla Model S tesla reviews car previews electric green news
2013 Tesla Model S. Click image to enlarge

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Tesla Motors

By Grant Yoxon
photos courtesy Tesla Motors

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2013 Tesla Model S

On June 22, a small car manufacturer in California that most consumers might at best be only vaguely familiar with began deliveries of a mid-size sedan that may well be the future of automotive transportation.

The company is Tesla, the Palo Alto–based manufacturer of electric vehicles and EV powertrain components whose stated goal is to “accelerate the world’s transition to electric mobility with a full range of increasingly affordable electric cars.” The company started business in 2003 to design and build electric vehicles and in 2008 launched the Tesla Roadster, an all-electric sports car based on the Lotus Elise. The Roadster was the first production automobile to use lithium-ion battery cells and the first production battery electric vehicle (BEV) to travel more than 320 km (200 miles) per charge. Tesla also builds battery packs for the electric Smart Fortwo car, as well as the Mercedes-Benz A-class E-cell. With Toyota, Tesla is also designing and building the powertrain for the upcoming RAV4 EV. Both companies have bet on the future of Tesla, investing US$50 million in the company.

Preview: 2013 Tesla Model S tesla reviews car previews electric green news
2013 Tesla Model S. Click image to enlarge

The car is the Tesla Model S, the world’s first premium sedan engineered from the ground up as an electric vehicle. Depending on the battery option selected—40, 60 or 85 kWh—the Model S travels as far as 426 km (265 miles) according to US EPA testing (further according to Tesla), accelerates from 0–96 km/h (60 mph) in 4.4 seconds, and produces zero emissions (although there are emissions involved in the production of the vehicle and the electricity it consumes).

While Canadian prices have not yet been announced, in the US the Model S starts at US$56,500 with 40 KWh battery and tops out at US$92,400 for the Model S Performance, less available US federal and state incentives. Optional extras like a panoramic sunroof, tech package, audio upgrade, and active air suspension can bring the total cost much higher. But that has not prevented Tesla from selling out an initial offering of 1,200 vehicles, termed Model S Signature (US$94,500–$105,400). More than 10,000 reservations have been taken for the car worldwide and Tesla is currently taking orders for cars to be delivered in the spring of 2013. Tesla expects to build 5,000 cars this year and 20,000 next year.

Since February 2008, Tesla delivered more than 2,250 Roadsters. The Model S could well outsell the Roadster within six months.

Preview: 2013 Tesla Model S tesla reviews car previews electric green news
2013 Tesla Model S. Click image to enlarge

An advanced electric powertrain is the core of the Model S’ lightweight architecture. Comprised of the battery, motor, single-speed gearbox, drive inverter, and control software, the compact drivetrain module is mounted below the passenger cabin and within the rear subframe module. This layout provides exceptional rigidity and safety, a lower centre of gravity and more useable cabin and cargo space.

The Tesla-designed active suspension system was developed for the unique architecture of the Model S. It works in harmony with the rigid and light Tesla platform to provide precision handling and optimum comfort. Unencumbered by an engine, the lightweight front suspension optimizes wheel control. The rear multi-link suspension is designed to seamlessly integrate with the powertrain. With a rigid body structure, nearly 50/50 weight distribution, a flat battery and low center of gravity, the Model S should provide responsive, precise handling.

The Model S body is a state-of-the-art, aluminum-intensive design. Weight-saving benefits make aluminum a natural choice for the body and pack structure. Extrusions, stampings, and castings were combined to provide exceptional rigidity and strength. In the event of collision, the strong frame protects occupants as crumple zones soften and absorb the energy of an impact.