Tesla Motors, the electric car company that has dominated headlines for so long, announced today that its highly anticipated 'gigafactory' will be in Nevada. In November 2013 founder Elon Musk set off a frenzy of competition with the announcement that he would build a factory to make about 500,000 lithium-ion batteries a year by 2020. That's more than the number of lithium-ion batteries produced by all the automotive suppliers in the world. For months, Nevada, Texas, California and New Mexico have all courted the facility with the ardour of Scarlett O'Hara suitors, carving factory-size havens in their tax and environmental policies. Tesla said it would use the larger volume of batteries from the gigafactory to drive production of a lower-priced electric car for the mass market. The new model would market at roughly half the price of Tesla's premium sedan, the Model S.
Named after Nikola Tesla, who patented the components required for AC power in the late 1800s, Tesla Motors was founded in 2003 by South African Elon Musk. After earning degrees in economics and physics, Musk moved to Silicon Valley in 1995, to capitalize on the dawn of the Internet. Capitalize he did, co-founding Zip2, which was bought by Compaq for $340 million. Next was PayPal in 1998 and acquired in 2002 by eBay for $1.5 billion. One of the main reasons Musk created Tesla Motors was to combat global warming with affordable electric cars [EVs] that would transform the auto industry and change the way people think about driving.
Tesla entered the market with a splash in 2006, debuting a luxury sports car called the Roadster. With two seats and an electric motor that propelled the car from zero to 60 in under four seconds, the Roadster made headlines around the world. The $100,000 price tag made the Roadster unaffordable for most people, but with a range of almost 400 kilometres on a single charge, Tesla made great strides towards proving the viability of the modern electric car. In the five years following the Roadster's 2008 launch, Tesla sold over 2,400 units, which is an impressive statistic given that the car is classified as a supercar, meaning limited production and an extremely high price. Since production was stopped, used Roadsters are in high demand and are already gaining in value, which is very rare in the car business.
Tesla launched the Model S in June 2012 to immediate acclaim. The Model S is a low-slung, four-door sedan with an aggressive modern design described by many reviewers as the most beautiful car in the world. Motor Trend magazine named the Model S the 2013 car of the year. It was the first car of the year without an internal combustion engine in the 64-year history of Motor Trend, which declared, "at its core, the Tesla Model S is simply a damned good car you happen to plug in to refuel." Consumer Reports called the Model S the best car it ever tested and gave it their highest score: 99 out of 100. The base price of the car is C$79,000. In August 2013, the Model S was awarded a five-star safety rating by the National Traffic Safety Administration "not just overall, but in every subcategory without exception."
The primary objection to electric cars is range anxiety, which is worry about the limited distance an EV driver can go on a single charge. It is the main deterrent to buying an EV despite the fact that the vast majority of people drive less than 50 kilometres a day. Also, cars tend to be parked at home 95 per cent of the time, which means they can be recharged with inexpensive night-time electricity. The range for a Tesla Model S is just over 400 kilometres, made possible by its unusually large battery. Elon Musk solved the range anxiety dilemma with a series of supercharger stations powered in part by solar panels. Superchargers allow Model S owners to receive a half-charge in 20 minutes, adding about 200 kilometres to their range.
Tesla now has enough charging stations throughout North America to allow Tesla owners to drive from Vancouver to San Diego, from Maine to Miami or from New York to Los Angeles without worrying about battery range. There will be no fuel cost along the way, because Musk is committed to making superchargers free for all Tesla owners. For those drivers in a rush, swapping their empty battery for a fully charged unit will be an option. In June 2013, Tesla demonstrated how a Model S battery can be swapped in less time than it takes to refuel with gasoline.
While supercharger stations will be free for Tesla owners, the battery-swap service will come with a fee roughly equivalent to a tank of gas. The auto industry flourished a half century ago after North America spent billions to construct a network of highways that spanned the continent. There are thousands of gas stations along the way selling fuel subsidized by billions of dollars. Elon Musk had the foresight to build his own continent-wide network of refueling stations which should allow electric cars to flourish.
This is an excerpt from Capt. Trevor Greene's new, self-published book, co-written with Mike Velemirovich, There Is No Planet B: Promise And Peril On Our Warming World.
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