The latest electric vehicle to hit the road can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds with barely a sound. But will it overtake the competition?
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, says his company has already set the trend, forcing other automakers to launch their own electric vehicles for fear of being left in the dust. Tesla will release its second all-electric vehicle on June 22.
But Tesla faces a slippery road ahead. The high price and low range of the company’s new Model S have led many on Wall Street to bet against the company, making it one of the most shorted stocks on the NASDAQ stock exchange.
The basic model, for $50,000 (after federal rebates) can reach 150 miles on a fully charged battery. A fully loaded $100,000-version of the Model S can go 300 miles without a recharge.
Alison van Diggelen visited the factory on June 14 on assignment for The California Report.
At the factory, Gilbert Passin, VP of manufacturing, explained the care the company is taking to impress its first buyers. “The people working here know this is the end of the line, so it has to be good,” he said.
He pointed to the assembly line. “See the robot is actually picking up the part in slow motion to make sure that everything works well…you don’t want anything to break.”
The Model S is phase two of Musk’s master plan to disrupt the car industry and create efficient, sustainable transportation. The Roadster, released in 2008, cost $100,000.
So far, Tesla has 10,000 reservations for the Model S and will deliver about half this year, ramping up to 20,000 in 2013 if the orders continue to come.
As for Tesla's car "for the masses," priced around $30,000, there's no confirmed release date.
Although these challenges seem formidable, Musk is attacking them like a tech superhero, reportedly working 80-90 hours a week, with his time split between Tesla and his space exploration company, SpaceX.
Last month, Musk proved naysayers wrong with his historic SpaceX Mission to the international space station. Can he do the same with the Model S?
“It’s not just so much a make or break it for Tesla, it is very much a make or break it for the entire [electric vehicle] industry,” said Damon Lavrinc, a transportation writer for Wired Magazine.
For many in the Bay Area the question is not abstract. Many of the company’s 1,400 employees work at the former New United Motors Manufacturing Inc (NUMMI) auto plant in Fremont built as a collaboration of Toyota and General Motors.
NUMMI closed in 2010, leaving 4,800 workers out of work. Tesla, which bought the factory, has employed a much smaller workforce there so far.
So many of the former NUMMI workers remain unemployed that the U.S. Department of Labor is giving them a $5,990,725 National Emergency Grant for retraining and related services.
With this new grant, announced on June 19, the department will have awarded these workers a total of $25,032,732.
A new successful new California automaker might be the best news possible for the former plant workers -- and taxpayers as well.