Tesla steals the show in Geneva

Tesla’s exhibit here is so mobbed, it’s almost impossible to get a photo of the cars, and people are waiting in line to sit in the driver’s seats.

 

The two overarching themes at the Geneva Auto Salon are: saving gas and kicking…well, let’s just say high performance. Tesla is the only company here that’s really offering both. The Model S will have no trouble keeping up with the Audis, BMWs and Porsches on the Autobahn while – by the way – using no gas at all.
 
Tesla’s exhibit here is so mobbed, it’s almost impossible to get a photo of the cars, and people are waiting in line to sit in the driver’s seats. It’s worth the wait – you have to touch the huge (double iPad size) control screen to realize how cool it really is. The more you examine this car, the more you understand why it leaves other EVs – and most other cars – in the dust.
 
Cargo space is a sore point with plug-in vehicles. While most boast a respectable number of cubic feet, the fact is that most of them are modified gas vehicles, and the battery had to go somewhere, which means that the cargo area tends to be carved up into odd-shaped sections – no problem for grocery bags, but impossible for hauling large objects. Not so Model S – there’s a generous expanse of wide-open space in the back, plus the frunk.
 
 
Don’t ask to look under the hood – there’s no engine to see there. Service personnel get at the motor from underneath, but there’s no access for the driver – and no real need for any, as there’s no oil to change or fluids that need checking.
 
Tesla Product Planner Ted Merendino assured us that, contrary to popular belief, Model S is not “sold out,” but very much available. European buyers will have to wait a while, but can expect delivery before the end of 2013 at this point. In the US, “we’re essentially at the spot where we want our backlog to be, which is about three to four months. Our intention was always…to custom-make each car for the customer, which is the best sort of ownership experience.”
 
Tesla has no plans to lower the price of Model S. “If anything, it will go up,” says Merendino. “The idea is that the profit and learning that we take from Model S will get transitioned into our third-generation vehicle, which will be something priced on par with the BMW 3 Series. So, with everything we learned from Roadster, we cut the price in half and built Model S, with everything we learn from Model S, we’ll cut the price in half and build our third-generation vehicle. That’s been the not-so-secret Tesla plan all along.”
 
The third-generation Tesla should arrive sometime in the 2016-2017 timeframe. “We hope that will be our 100,000-unit per year car for the masses, at maybe a 35-40 thousand dollar price point.”
 
 
The new gull-winged Model X crossover on display here is quite different from the low-slung Model S, but it’s built on the same platform. “This will do probably 15,000 units per year, in addition to Model S’s 25,000 per year,” Merendino told us. “It shares the same batteries and rear drive unit. We’ll introduce a secondary optional front drive unit for dual-motor all-wheel drive.”
 
What about a new generation of batteries? “Tesla has one of the largest cell characterization laboratories in the world – we have just about every cell you can imagine on test. Energy density is one attribute that we’re looking at, but we’re also looking at durability, reliability, susceptibility to heat, discharge/recharge cycles – hundreds of different attributes that make the best cell for automotive use, not the least of which is price and availability in the marketplace. We don’t want to get into a situation where we’re dependent on one supplier.
 
“Our cells are a commodity form factor that can be produced in the billions per year. At the moment, the cells that we’re using in Model S represent the state of the art, the best possible cells for automotive use, a nice steady improvement over Roadster’s cells. We probably won’t see any improvements in driving range for the next five years or so.”
 
 
Images: Charlie Morris