Insight The Tesla electric sports car has been hailed as the green knight of the road with its sleek, glamorous design and A-list -following.
Tesla roadster proves green means go
It has been hailed as the green knight of the road with its sleek, glamorous design and A-list -following. In just under four seconds, the US$109,000 (Dh400,357) Tesla Roadster can accelerate from zero to 100kph - not bad for an all--electric sports car. The star of Tesla Motors stable has among its fans Hollywood actors George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio, the Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger - and the Abu Dhabi company Aabar Investments. Yesterday, Aabar bought a 4 per cent stake in the Silicon Valley-based company from the German car giant Daimler, marking the latest investment in green technology by the emirate. The deal comes just two weeks after the UN voted to house its new renewable energy agency in the UAE, where $22 billion in investments is planned by Masdar, the government-owned alternative energy firm, in a carbon-neutral city on the outskirts of the capital. A key element of the Masdar City transport network will be a battery-powered pod-car, an automated system run on a track that will pick up and deliver passengers throughout the city. So it is hardly surprising that -Aabar has invested in Tesla, the celebrity customers of which also include former world heavyweight champion boxer-turned grill salesman, George Foreman, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google, who are also investors in the company. With that sort of backing Tesla has become a mainstream brand, despite delivering only 500 Roadsters. Electric vehicles are an emerging industry and many of the world's top car makers are hoping to roll out their own versions. Daimler is planning an electric model of its Smart mini cars, while General Motors is preparing to launch the Chevy Volt. Both build on the success of hybrid petrol-and-electric versions from Honda and Toyota, which has had huge success with its Prius. Tesla has created a niche in the electric car industry with its focus on high-performance sport cars, said Jose Paul Plackal, a regional consulting manager for the market research firm Frost and Sullivan. "The company has created a benchmark of sorts in the electric car segment with its advanced technology," Mr Plackal said, while adding that Tesla "has had its share of pitfalls", namely delayed launches of the new model, production issues, patent challenges and also some management issues in the past. Perhaps the biggest setback was the recall of 345 Roadsters from last year's model to replace bolts that were improperly assembled by Lotus, which makes the Roadster chassis. Despite the recall, Tesla Motors, which was created in 2003 and named after the Serbian electrical engineer and physicist Nikola Tesla, could be close to reaching a financial break-even point. Elon Musk, the chief executive and a major investor in the company, recently suggested it could swing into profit after streamlining its supply chain. Production costs for the Roadster, its sole product, has dropped to about $80,000 from $140,000 after moving its battery production to the US from China, Mr Musk said in a blog post. This has cut transport costs drastically and sped up the ability to respond to design problems, he said. Tesla sells the Roadster for $109,000. The car is rated by the US Government as capable of driving up to 392km on a full charge of its lithium-ion batteries, which weigh 408kg. The company produces up to 30 Roadsters a month, including a souped-up version, the Roadster Sport, which retails for nearly $130,000. Tesla is also preparing to introduce a second model, the $57,400 Model S electric sedan, due in 2011. To support the saloon project, Tesla recently received $465 million from the US energy department's advanced technology loan fund for car makers. The fund was designed to "create thousands of green jobs while helping reduce the nation's dangerous dependence on foreign oil", and will help Tesla build a new plant for the electric sedan and also develop an electric power train plant. Tesla has also received backing from Daimler, which plans to collaborate on the Model S. In January, Daimler announced a plan to buy 1,000 car battery packs over the next two years from Tesla for electric versions of its Smart mini car. In May, Daimler bought nearly 10 per cent of Tesla, and it is part of this stake that Aabar bought yesterday. "Tesla has definitely proved itself with regards to technical capabilities. What it needs to focus on is its manufacturing capabilities," said Mr Plackal. "This is the key to Daimler and Tesla coming together. Daimler would transfer the much required manufacturing technology to Tesla and also jointly developing an electric Smart car which will make electric cars more affordable." email@example.com