Tesla's Model S invades dreams and soon showrooms

The Tesla Model S beckons to me from a poster tacked to the wall behind my computer terminal.

It's a sleek silver with custom rims that look like blades of a jet turbine. I can imagine popping the door, climbing in after work and blasting quietly onto the freeway listening to AC/DC's Highway to Hell. 

That's the thought anyway.

Daydream nation

Many motorheads are likely tuning to a similar daydream. Cool car, custom and the latest technology. Great name too. Tesla, after Nikola Tesla, one of the greatest electrical engineers of the modern era, responsible for developing the alternating current electrical supply system. He even demonstrated wireless energy transfer back in 1891 and inspired a pretty decent rock and roll band.

Suffice to say the dude is cool. And so is the car named for him. Although this vehicle's arrival has more to do with Tesla Motors Inc. Chairman Elon Musk, another bigwig in the innovation realm. In addition to his co-founding of Tesla, Musk also has been instrumental of the commercialization of space travel via his efforts on SpaceX and its Dragon spacecraft, which returned successfully from a trip to the International Space Station.

Summer is the S season

The Model S is due in showrooms June 22, but the first cars will likely go to reservation holders as the manufacturer slowly rolls out each completed vehicle from assembly lines at the Fremont, Calif. plant. In an 8-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Musk writes that reservations for the Model S topped 10,000 soon after first quarter 2012.

"We plan to continue making customer deliveries on a slow, methodical ramp, and remain confident in our target of 5,000 vehicle deliveries by year end," he says.

Anticipation is building. "Eagerly waiting for delivery in LA 'Lower Alabama,' writes jlswit on a post by George Blankenship, Tesla vice president of sales, on the company website. There are many more such fan responses.

Range is key

The car sounds like a major step ahead of the competition. In addition to Chevy's Volt and Nissan's Leaf, Ford's come out with an electric Focus, trumpeting "You'll never need a drop of gas or an oil change." Mitsubishi has its odd looking MiEV, which according to the manufacturer is the "greenest vehicle of 2012." And there are the independents: Coda, Fisker and others.

The base price of the Model S is $49,900. But the statistic that catches my eye is the range. Darren Quick of posted a chart provided by the company that shows a potential distance of 450 miles on a single charge. Of course the driver would have to limit speed to about 25 mph, but it's possible.

Quick says the company plans to issue a prize to the first customer who logs more than 400 miles on a charge. More likely drivers will see their range between 250 and 350 miles, he says.

That range beats the pants off other electrics and makes the car more likely to win converts from the internal-combustion crowd.

Turning dreams into reality

And it makes me want one. This kind of interest in a car reminds me of my dream back in high school. Then I was deep into 1950s retro and Hot Rod magazine.

I daydreamed of a 1957, or 1956 (I wasn't too proud), Chevy Nomad. Black. In fact, I just spotted one on Blackstone Avenue in Fresno, Calif. A Bel-Air version in mint condition. It looked awesome but didn't quite have the same appeal to my present-day self. I ended up in high school (class of '79) with a $300 1963 Ford Galaxie. Four-door land yacht. Still, I loved the stupid thing.

The Model S has a taste of the exotic. In fact, it looks far more high-end than its price would indicate.

I recently stumbled across a peek at an Austin Martin DBS concept car that shared a look similar to the Model S's sweeping lines and tough, eat-you-for-dinner grill and front end. Not bad. To me the DB series will always be one of the coolest cars ever.

So if my fortunes change and I'm following this particular daydream to reality, you can expect to see me picking out a color and adding custom features to my own Model S. Yeah, right.

Coda ships first car; electric vehicle news accelerates

Coda is shipping its small electric cars to customers.

Mercedes, meanwhile, has confirmed that it will begin building an electric version of its SLS super car .

And recharging stations are popping up. Oregon's got a 160-mile section of Interstate 5 covered with eight recharging stations, enabling electric-car drivers to conquer range anxiety. Even in California's sunny and fossil-fuel dominated San Joaquin Valley, such docking stations may be on their way.

"Change is coming," writes John Voelcker, senior editor of Green Car Reports, in a piece about the declining price of electric car batteries that touched on EV trends. He advises taking the long view of the industry and forecasts a price decline in batteries of about 7 percent a year.

Developments continue

Activity in the electric car sector -- despite the lackluster sales of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf in recent months -- has been nothing short of frenetic. Automakers and parts and component manufacturers just keep announcing developments, far beyond the prototype stage. And while Coda's deliveries are about a year and a half later than initially promised, the cars are on their way to a dealer network. Tesla's also planning to bring its Model S sedan to market in big numbers next year, and its Model X SUV is in the works.

Even the resurrected DeLorean Motor Co. is back with an electric version of its flagship gull-wing "Back to the Future" car.

Now there's even an option for the person of means. Say this average high-brow consumer has a little spare cash, maybe something north of $200,000, for a unique environmentally conscious ride. The Mercedes SLS E-Cell would be the perfect selection.


Electric cars can perform

And it will be U.S. made. Brian Dodson of says the offering from Mercedes-AMG has been "confirmed for production in Detroit in January will be available in 2013."

Dodson says the E-Cell accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 4 seconds, just a hair shy of its gas-powered counterpart, which covers the same distance in 3.8 seconds. The e-version tops out at 155 mph, while the other can manage a whopping 197 mph.

"You will not believe the performance," says David Coulthard, former Formula One race car driver from Scotland and sometime TV commentator. That's him in the video.

Another sports car heavyweight, Porsche, has a monster of its own in development, the 918 Spyder. It boasts two electric engines, one for the front wheels, another for the back and an 8-cylinder engine. In all the hybrid offers up 770 horsepower, says Damon Lavrinc in
Smaller market larger

OK. So most people will be thinking smaller. Coda comes to mind. And the Tesla Model S does 0 to 60 mph (about the same as 100 kilometers) in 4.4 seconds.

The intent of Benicia, Calif.-based Coda Automotive appears to be the average, environmentally minded consumer who's not afraid of dealing with occasional range anxiety. The targeted consumer would see the car as a plus, a way to save gas on perhaps about 90 percent of his or her routine travel.

Ben Coxworth of says three buyers snapped up the Coda soon after its debut, two from the Los Angeles dealership and another in Northern California. He says the car reportedly averages 88 miles on a charge despite a maximum listed range of 125 miles.

Market for the Coda

The Coda has an understated and rather generic look, bypassing the otherworldly unique design of the Leaf and the custom and aggressive stance of the Volt. In a somewhat counter intuitive move not likely to attract a thrifty audience, the Coda has been priced at $44,900, higher than the Leaf at $35,200 and the Volt at $39,145.

"As an upstart automaker, Coda Automotive always faced an uphill fight against electric cars like the Nissan Leaf," says Chuck Squatriglia of's Autopia. "Slapping a $44,900 price tag on its forthcoming EV has made the road ahead that much steeper."

Federal tax incentives for electric vehicles shave up to $7,500 off the sales price. Residents of California can qualify for a $2,500 tax rebate through the state's Clean Vehicle Rebate Program.

EV forecast cloudy

The reign of the electric car remains somewhere in the future. Coda and struggling competitor Fisker, which also recently rolled out its first cars, don't appear likely to alter that forecast. Escalating gasoline prices enhance consumer interest, but the American public is notoriously fickle and resists change.

However, Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research projects that by 2017 "more than 1.5 million locations to charge vehicles will be available in the United States, with a total of nearly 7.7 million locations worldwide."

About a third will be home-charging units

Charging centers coming

Infrastructure to support electric cars is beginning to materialize. A $200,000 grant issued by the California Energy Commission to the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District will enable the regulatory agency to study the best locations for plug-in recharging stations and assist jurisdictions in crafting permitting processes. The Air District plans to set up a coordinating council to help promote the use of the cars in the politically and fiscally conservative region.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy has offered up a new grant program intended to take a bite out the diesel and natural gas big truck market. The agency, which has done quite a bit promoting the electrification of the highways in the past several years, has made up to $10 million available to proposals that "demonstrate and deploy electric transportation technologies for cargo vehicles, such as trucks and forklifts."

The Energy Department's intention is to help reduce the nation's reliance on gasoline and diesel and diversify the nation's energy portfolio. Money would go to "demonstrate cost-effective zero emission cargo transport systems and collect detailed performance and cost data to analyze the benefits and viability of this approach to freight transportation."

Getting electric power into cargo transportation is the goal. The move, if successful, would significantly cut consumption of fossil fuels and slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Integration takes coordination

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions is working a different angle with similar intent. The nonprofit succeeds the Pew Center for Global Climate Change and generates analysis and seeks to find solutions to avert global warming.

The center, in the report "An Action Plan to Integrate Plug-in Electric Vehicles with the U.S. Electrical Grid," says electric cars could become an important part of the U.S. market if given "a fair chance to compete with conventional vehicles."

It proposes standardizing regulations as they relate to the electrical grid. These are multi-tiered involving everything from commercial recharging stations, home chargers and the finance of such infrastructure to protecting the grid, rate structures and encouraging beefing up the system for demand.

Jacking the grid

Between a major new source of energy consumption (electric cars) and power generation (solar, wind and other renewables), utilities will have a heck of a time sorting it all out while providing a steady stream of consumeable current over power lines. Analysts expect changes at many levels with smart grid technology emerging as an important element to maintaining system integrity.

This includes integrating smart meters, meter networking and communication, in-home energy management, demand response, meter data management, other smart grid software and services and related gear into an outdated and often overtaxed grid, according to Jeff St. John of

"The smart grid market continues to move ... to a wide swath of new, advanced applications ranging from consumer behavior analytics, to next-gen control and protection, to greentech integration and grid optimization," St. John writes.

How all this turns out is anybody's guess. We were talking with our friends at the Air District about the subject, and the conclusion is that we probably won't be seeing noticeable change, at least in the San Joaquin Valley, any time soon.

Other stories of interest:
The DeLorean is back and this time it's electric
Electric car sales ramp up, is change coming?
Stockton electric truck company scores big with UPS

Electric cars: Drum solo for Coda

Tis the season of the electric car.

On the radio, I hear commercials for the Chevy Volt: "At a car dealer near you soon." The Nissan Leaf won best in class for mileage from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And now the latest: Coda inks deal with Hertz.

Coda still reminds me of the last Zep album and that ripping John Bonham solo, Bonzo's Montreau. But I digress. I must adapt my thinking.

Executives of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Coda are pumped by their news.

"The 100 percent electric CODA was designed to meet the needs of most Americans with dependable, all-season range, and fast, convenient charging," said Mark Jamieson, CFO & COO of Coda Automotive, in a statement. "With one of the world's largest rental car fleets, Hertz is uniquely positioned to catalyze the adoption of all-electric vehicles and infrastructure supporting electric mobility."

That means a big boost for the electric car company that has yet to hit the market with its flagship sedan. If Hertz is cool with the car, others likely will be too.

Many people are like me. Rent a car, enjoy the experience, then buy one.

Coda officials said their sedan hits the market sometime next year. No specific date was given. Here's what they said about it: "The Coda is designed to meet the day-to-day needs of most Americans, featuring space for five passengers, a full-size trunk and a dependable 90-120 miles of range during any season."

They also said the sedan's battery system has "at least 40 percent more usable energy than any all-electric sedan on the market in 2011."

Take that Leaf. Actually, the Leaf offers about the same performance. It goes on sale in California next month.

And neither will make anything like the sound my well-carburated 1974 Bug makes, especially burning the tires on a rainy day.

And this is the best read post on this blog. Amazing. Wonder if it has to do with the Coda reference that has nothing to do with electric cars and everything to do with "The Song Remains the Same."

Top 5 electric cars go head to head

Should the average consumer buy into this electric car craze?

I don't know. Really. I believe in clean energy, but I'm sold on gasoline (even though at 14 I blew myself up in Fairbanks trying to start a pile of debris on fire with my 5-gallon container of chainsaw fuel. But that's another Human Torch type story.)

Gas has that hard-acceleration, immediate-return-on horsepower, lust-for-life feeling.

But give me $101,500 or $9,900 for a deposit and $1,658 a month for a lease and maybe I'll change my mind. That's the price for a Tesla Roadster. At 3.7 seconds from 0 to 60 mph and a range of 245 miles, it's pretty close to perfect.

I pause here on a mental trip in that imaginary Roadster -- black, by the way -- down Highway 99 to Bakersfield. Make that past Bakersfield and up the Grapevine to Vallejo and Magic Mountain, stomping the guts of BMWs and Mercedes that attempt to be fast. Ah ...

For purposes of this post, I have eliminated hybrids. No Toyota Prius or Camry. Skip the Honda Insight and Ford Escape. Electric only. Nor have I included lead-acid or lithium battery conversions.

And at this point, we only have Tesla on the road with a production vehicle. Actually, ZAP has to be tossed into the mix as well. The Santa Rosa-based company manufactures a line of small transporters. In July, the company inked a deal in which ZAP will acquire 51 percent of Chinese automaker Zhejiang Jonway Automobile Co. Ltd. for $29 million "as part of a strategy to capitalize on the growing automotive and electric vehicle market in China."

This list includes models expected to be available soon. So here goes.
  1. Tesla: Hands down. It's fast, cool looking and I could truly blow the doors off my friend Al's TA in OK City. He likes to race that hopped up big block 1977 Pontiac on the track.
  2. Chevy Volt. Very practical. It's versatile and not bad looking. The price is $41,000 and the range id 40 miles. However, it is supplemented by a gasoline-powered generator that allows it to go another 340 miles. Due out this fall.
  3. Nissan LEAF. Not bad. Sort of looks like an early generation Prius with a custom back end. The price tag for the SV package was listed as $32,780, while the SL package was $33,720. The SV includes a photovoltaic spoiler, rearview monitor and universal transceiver. Range is 100 miles. Due in California in December.
  4. Coda. Cool name. Last Led Zep album comes to mind. But unproven company in the United States. I was impressed with the website which calculated an annual expense comparison of my 2000 VW Passat and a Coda. Passat: $725, Coda: $124. Coda's sticker price is not listed on its site but it's expected to be in the low to mid $30,000 range.
  5. Sigma. lists Sigma/Montelle kit cars as a viable option. Manufactured by EV Concepts, it goes from 0 to 60 in 6 seconds and has a top speed of 100-120 mph. Price for two-wheel-drive models start at $23,000, and all-wheel-drive models start at $55,000.
There's also Ford, which is coming out with a stylish electric version of its Focus sometime next year and will follow with a line of electric vehicles, says Range for the Focus will be about 100 miles. And Audi, Mercedes and others are reportedly in R&D.

Fisker Automotive Inc. of Irvine is also coming out with a car, but it's going to be a hybrid.

Disclosure. I've not test driven any of these cars. For that I'd have to defer to Katie Fehrenbacher of, who can be seen in video piloting some of them.

The viability of going electric appears more likely by the month. But who knows. A friend of mine who's worked most of his life in the oil patch says, "Bah!" to most of this talk. His prediction: There's just too much oil and natural gas in reserve, counting shale and oil sands.

Photo: Sigma by EV Concepts.