First Tesla electric sedans hit the road

June 22, 2012 8:06:04 PM PDT
It's a make or break moment for electric car maker Tesla. The Bay Area carmaker rolled out its first mass-market sedan Friday. The Model S was delivered to a few customers who had pre-ordered the car.

Only two years ago, Fremont's former NUMMI plant was idle. Now it's back in business with a new kind of car.

It was an event skeptics wondered would ever happen. But this was a day for believers. The first 10 customers who took a leap of faith and put down cold cash just over three years ago for the Model S. California and the Bay Area are back in the auto-making business.

"We're proud to employ a lot of ex-NUMMI workers here and really show that high-tech manufacturing, automotive manufacturing can be done in California, in fact, in the Bay Area, and make the best cars in the world," said Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk.

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper was there to take delivery of Model S No. 7. He already had taken it for a spin. "It is smooth as silk," he said. "It's the smoothest car I've ever driven in. I don't think there's anything like it anywhere on the road."

There's plenty of enthusiasm among early adopters, but what about the average car buyer? "It sort of relegates a car like the Tesla or the other fully electric cars to sort of second or third car status in the household," said Bill Visnic, senior editor of Edmunds.com. "It can't be your only vehicle."

Range anxiety is another issue that dogs all-electric cars. The models released Friday are upgraded -- the signature series -- with a range of 300 miles. Battery technology research continues with new materials that could extend range in time.

We asked Musk if Tesla is a car company or a tech company that will help solve these issues. He said Tesla has Daimler, Toyota and Panasonic as investors, and this will help spread electric car technology.

"We certainly have some great investors," said Musk. "I think it's unlikely we'll be acquired, and we see ourselves being independent long-term."

The newly-delivered cars quickly found themselves on the test track, pedal to the metal.

The extended car is priced at $88,000, while the regular model sells for $50,000 after tax rebates.

What's next for Tesla? Plans for an SUV in 2014 along with a hope they can eventually sell for under $30,000.


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