The Tesla Roadster debuted in 2008, marking a historical milestone in the development of clean, zero emissions electric vehicles. The Roadster was the first attempt from Tesla at building an electric car and it generated an extraordinary response because it proved that a high-performance electric car could work in the real world. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h was 3.9 seconds from its battery rated at 53 kWh powering the rear wheel driven motor.
However, the Roadster was not a car built on a dedicated EV platform. Tesla licensed the chassis from Lotus and used drivetrain technology from start-up AC Propulsion. The original Roadster was never intended to be the end goal for Tesla, rather it was a proof of concept that would showcase what an EV is capable of, paving the way for their future electric cars, the Model S luxury sedan, and the Model X crossover SUV, Model 3 and Model Y.
The successor to the first production car is the new Tesla Roadster slated for release in late 2022, destined to break all production car records as the quickest car in the world. The all-new Roadster is built on a dedicated EV platform and will maximize high-performance and efficiency with spectacular figures: 0-100 km/h in 1.9 seconds, wheel torque of 10,000 Nm, top speed of 402 km/h. It will feature an all-wheel-drive layout with torque vectoring (one electric motor at the front, two at the rear). With these specifications, it should outperform most supercars. It gets a 200-kWh battery with supercharging at 350 kW DC offering a range of 620 miles (997 km) at highway speeds, the longest driving range on a production EV. The new Roadster will offer seating for two or four in its state-of-the-art cabin featuring a removable glass roof that can be stored in the trunk.
Elon Musk has said the new Roadster will come with what the web calls the ‘SpaceX package’ consisting of cold air thrusters around the car to improve top speed, braking and cornering. Tesla is currently taking reservations for the Roadster priced at $200,000. In the past few years, Tesla has proven that electric vehicles can be desirable, have high performance and be usable as an everyday car. Tesla also holds an advantage over traditional automakers because it attracts some of the world’s top talent, being based in the cradle of innovation, Silicon Valley. Tesla is now valued at USD 164 Billion, which is more than the combined value of Detroit’s top three automakers: General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler.
The company has learned many lessons since their first attempt at building an electric car. Here are 5 things that Tesla has learned from the launch of the first generation Roadster:
1. The 2008 Roadster was a conversion of an IC engine platform
Then: Tesla’s first-generation Roadster was a reworked Lotus Elise replaced with an electric drivetrain. Rather than build an electric car on a dedicated EV platform, Tesla chose to redesign the Elise’s aluminium chassis and increase the wheelbase to accommodate a battery pack that used licensed technology from a US start-up AC Propulsion (Tesla re-engineered the information system from analogue to digital). Suspension was designed to be stiffer, and body panels were made of light weight carbon fiber to reduce weight.
Now: The new Roadster is a purpose built EV, using Tesla’s propriety technology developed over a decade since the original Roadster. Tesla will leverage the full capabilities its existing model line-up for the all new Roadster, giving it an advantage over the first-generation Roadster built on a traditional vehicle architecture.
2. A faulty transmission bungled the launch
Then: The first version of the Roadster featured a two-speed transmission that was prone to failure. Tesla had to rework the gearbox to be locked in second gear, decreasing the Roadster’s acceleration, and compromising its performance. Tesla engineers also had to limit power output to the wheels to achieve a smoother start. It was eventually replaced by a single-speed transmission supplied by BorgWarner. Tesla announced that they would upgrade faulty gearboxes under warranty.
Now: Current Tesla models have a more sophisticated power electronic module and advanced transmission systems that are robust enough to handle very powerful motors. The new Roadster isn’t likely to have the same reliability issues given the current track record of Tesla’s four models.
3. Earned a negative reputation for safety
Then: Tesla recalled 345 of the first-generation Roadsters due to issues with the rear hub flange bolts being under torqued and leading to poor handling which could cause the driver to lose control of the car. Initial prototypes of the Roadster had battery cells which were prone to catch fire due to overheating. Tesla had to introduce a liquid cooling system to keep the battery temperature optimum (the battery pack supplied by AC Propulsion was air cooled). Yet another safety recall was issued effecting 439 Roadsters involving a power cable causing a fire.
Now: Tesla has since ironed out all of these safety issues after having brought battery development in-house and developing the chassis specifically for electric motors. In fact they’ve done much better. The new generation of the Tesla Roadster should carry forward the Model 3’s award of the highest safety honour from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and a 5-star rating from EuroNCAP. A significant endorsement of Tesla’s safety systems is from the inclusion of advanced features such as driver assist technology, semi-autonomous auto pilot driving system with adaptive cruise control, emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane keeping and departure warning.
4. Very limited range when driven fast
Then: The first-generation Roadster had a battery capacity of 53 kWh, and offered a driving range of 245 miles (394 km) on the combined EPA cycle on a single charge. However, the Roadster was designed for fast acceleration and buyers expected high performance. When driven hard, the range was extremely limited and the batteries would run out after heavy use. The battery pack added around 450 kg of weight to the car further limiting the total travel distance on a single charge.
Now: Tesla’s new generation of battery systems offer unparalleled performance while setting records in driving range for an electric car. The new Roadster is expected to have 1,000 km of travel distance on a single charge, and the chassis is made from lightweight aluminium and carbon composites to reduce weight and increase efficiency. In addition, the new Roadster will have a vast network of rapid charging infrastructure across the U.S. and parts of the world enabling Tesla owners to recharge their cars free of cost.
Video Courtesy: Tesla Motors Youtube channel
5. Negative media coverage
Some websites reported that initial demos for the first generation Roadster were not as expected, and the car could not achieve its specified top speed. At the Roadster’s launch party, there were not enough cars for the attendees to test, and some of them broke down. There was also controversy when Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear reviewed the Roadster, claiming that the car ran out of battery very quickly and had issues with the brakes. Tesla has overhauled its product development since then, and Tesla models on the road offer quality and reliability.
The new Roadster has learnt some important lessons about bringing new technology to market in regards to transforming the auto industry. If Tesla delivers what is promised in 2017 at the unveiling the prototype, there is no question that the 2022 Tesla Roadster is the new benchmark in electric vehicles offering supercar level performance with everyday drivability.