Stoking Electric Car Lust in Detroit

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Behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S. (Credit: Tesla)

As the Detroit Auto Show gets ready to open to the public this Saturday, I direct your attention to one of the most detailed discussions of Tesla's hope for the future, by Wired's Chuck Squatriglia.

The Palo Alto automaker sent an “alpha build” of the Model S sedan to Detroit, ahead of a promised roll out to the public  sometime next year.

Eventually, the Fremont factory will start working on the “beta builds,” to be used for testing, as in federal crash-testing and certification.

The Model S has been touted as the Tesla vehicle for the rest of us, given that the Roadster retails north of six figures. But for Squatriglia, the sedan is best compared to a BMW 7-Series or the Audi A8.

"There’s the legitimate question of how Tesla will sell what amounts to an electric BMW 7-Series (which starts at $70,650 and rises quickly) for a base price of $57,400 and turn a profit doing so. Tesla says it will rely upon vertical integration, developing as much of the car in-house as possible and “forcing suppliers to meet cost targets."

In other electric car news, the Wall Street Journal tells us BYD, the Chinese battery and automobile producer reportedly shopping for a factory in LA or Lancaster, is making last-minute design tweaks to its sedan ahead of test marketing in Southern California in the second half of this year.

The redesign of the e6 is expected to improve the car's rear seating, currently a tad cramped for American tastes. The e6 debuted last March as a taxi in Shenzhen, reflecting a strategy common to the electric car market: roll out first in public and private fleets, which feature predictable driving routes, guaranteed parking spaces, and managers willing to take calculated risks with new vehicular technologies. Already, BYD's F3DM hybrid is in trials in Los Angeles.

In China, BYD is better known for its gasoline-fueled vehicles. In the U.S., "BYD is going to be a new energy-car brand," says the company's Chairman Wang Chuanfu. "That's because in the U.S. there is fierce competition for gasoline cars. I don't think we have an advantage, but with electric cars it's a different story."

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About Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow hosts the California Report for KQED. Over 17 years in public radio, she's worked for Marketplace and KPCC, filed for NPR and The World, and developed a sizable tea collection that's become the envy of the KQED newsroom. She specializes in politics, economics and history in California - but for emotional balance, she also covers food and its relationship to health and happiness.

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