Tesla made history this past year by becoming the first manufacturer to win several Car of the Year awards with an electric car. The Model S impressed everybody with it’s ability to offer uncompromised performance, practicality and value when compared directly to its combustion powered competitors. Specifications no longer had to be qualified with “which is good for an electric car.” They were just very good. The Model S even superseded the auto industry in several areas thanks to Tesla’s Silicon Valley tech approach to connectivity, touchscreens and operating system configurability and updatability. Now Tesla is poised to begin selling the Model S in Europe. AutoCar UK spent a week with a US spec Model S and they have been equally as impressed with it as the US media. Expect Elon Musk to have some more trophies to hoist in the year to come.
WIRED Magazine got this inside look at the assembly line that build the Tesla Model S. The plant is a former joint venture from Toyota and GM that didn’t work out. What makes the Tesla format interesting is their extensive use of robotic arms from German robotics manufacturer, Kuka. As seen in the video, the robots can be programmed with complex movement paths and are capable of changing tooling for different tasks. You could almost say it was rapid prototyping manufacturing. If this factory suddenly needed to produce Tesla’s next model, the robots wouldn’t need to be switched out just reprogrammed. This gives Tesla flexible manufacturing that can more easily follow market demand for their products and extends the life cycle of the machinery beyond that of the cars they started working on.
Elon Must and Tesla Motors continue to push the boundaries of electric vehicles that are a zero compromise replacements for combustion power. Their first car, the Roadster, proved that electric cars could be cool and performance oriented. Unfortunately it was still an adaptation of an existing car. The Model S was a clean sheet design with enough range for people to use everyday without anxiety. It also didn’t hurt that it could seat a whole family, had two trunks and is faster than a BMW M5. The only real complaint left was the ability to take the Model S on an extended road trip. Tesla has begun to address that concern with their Supercharger Network of quick charge stations along routes between major cities here in the US. Any Model S owner can pull into a Supercharger station and have their battery recharged for free. It takes an hour to charge 300 miles worth of range. Even though this is unprecedented in the electric car world, it’s still not enough for most skeptics. Now Supercharger stations offer a faster option. Model S owners can now swap out their entire battery packs and keep driving in a matter of about 90 seconds. The entire process is done by the same machinery that installs the battery packs into the cars at the Tesla factory. From what I understand, the station installs a rental battery into the car and then you swap for your original pack on the way back.
Tesla recently demonstrated the speed of the battery swapping process at their design studio in Hawthorne, CA. They found the fastest gas pump in Los Angeles to fill an Audi and raced the process with the battery swap. Two Model S pack were swapped easily before the gas pump had filled up the Audi.
Automobile Magazine has just announced the Tesla Model S as their 2013 Automobile of the Year. This is big news for the electric vehicle world because the Model S has won out in direct comparison to equivalent gasoline cars. The car is praised for universally recognized strengths and not for being the best of a standard that was lowered for EV’s. Tesla has finally given the world an electric car that is designed and executed well enough for regular customers to consider purchasing it as a daily use car and not because it’s a novelty item. An EV that’s better than a gas car? It can be done.
Automobile’s full written article about the Tesla S can be found here. I also found this bonus footage of the impromptu drag race between the Model S and the BMW M5:
Translogic’s Bradley Hasemeyer visit’s the Tesla factory to check out their first clean sheet designed car, the Model S. His interviews focus less on the details of the actual car and more on the innovative design philosophies that went into it. The interviewees talk about the reasons why Tesla chose to break certain conventions with the Model S.