Monday, June 2, 2014

Tesla & the Innovation of Alternative Fuel Automobiles

My Kindergarten-age child is learning at school about energy use and the environment. She is quite concerned about our use of the car that drives her to and from school, and trips to the gas pump are met with troubled stares. “I wish there was a better way to drive,” she told me last week. “I think we are going to ruin the earth.”

My daughter is not alone in her concern. Overuse of fossil fuels and its resulting pollution scare a lot of people, no matter on what side of the political fence you stand. One solution proposed to allow us to maintain our car-dependent lifestyles while stabilizing the climate is the use of vehicles not completely dependent on gasoline. After years of false starts that forced consumers to fit their needs to the alternative-fuel car, Tesla Motors has developed vehicles that finally allow the dog to wag the tail. Tesla wants to change the world, and they just may be able to do it.

Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles, usually in the form of electric-gas hybrids, have been in existence since the mid-1800s but were not made practical. Limited battery power and range of distance were often drawbacks, but even their brief use in the late 19th Century was hampered by the building and use of roads that required cars able to travel long distances. Throughout the 20th Century attempts were made to rejuvenate interest through the use of new and emerging technology, but with the comparative smaller expense of the gasoline powered car widely available, interest was small to none.

Energy Crisis

The repeated energy crises of the past few decades have renewed interest in more fuel-efficient vehicles, and several attempts were made to produce consumer-friendly electric automobiles. This need could not complete, however, with the proliferation of affordable Sport Utility Vehicles, for which Americans clamored, and in return they were willing to pour money into lower-priced gasoline. Larger cars had larger profit margins, and Americans were willing to pay.

Hybrid Vehicles

Hybrid electric vehicles, which utilized gasoline and electric powertrains, gained viability in the 2000s, as they improved fuel economies without the low range of traditional electric cars. The Toyota Prius was seen as the commercially viable car of its type, and many automakers jumped on the bandwagon to create models of their own. Fuel inefficient SUVs were abandoned in favor of cars that got you where you were going with less gas use.

Something Better

The history of innovation is crowded with thinkers who took a good idea and made it better. This rings true with Tesla Motors, the most successful new American startup carmaker since Ford. Tesla founder Elon Musk, the same entrepreneur who started the online payment service PayPal, started the company with the objective of solving the problem of sustainable production and energy use. The Tesla Roadster sports car, the first offering from the new company, uses an AC motor design descended from that created by inventor Nikola Tesla in 1882. The Roadster was the first car to use lithium-ion battery cells, allowing a range of more than 200 miles per charge. Creating high-priced, high-end cars for high-end consumers, Tesla sold 2,250 Roadsters between 2008 and March 2012, after halting orders for the car in August 2011. In March 2009, the company introduced an all-electric sedan version of its car, the Model S.

Pumped Up Consumer Electronics

What makes Tesla motors different? Their corporate strategy was similar to that of purveyors of consumer electronics. They created a high-end product targeted at moneyed consumers. As the company and its product grew and matured, so could their line of products, and the expense could slowly start to decrease, bringing more consumers into their line of sight. The price of the Roadster averaged $109,000 whereas the Model S had a base price starting around $57,400. Next for the company is a car in the $30K price range.

Quality Is King

What makes Tesla Motor vehicles really special is, well, their vehicles. The Model S averages a range of 265 miles. You can charge the car in your garage and wake up to a full tank every morning. It goes from 0 to 60 MPH in 4.2 seconds. It is a well-built car that is showing America that it can have its cake and eat it too, without the messy emission crumbs of gasoline excess. The Model S was awarded Motor Trend magazine’s coveted car of the Year in 2013 as well as the highest ranking ever bestowed on an automobile by Consumer Reports. It has a five-star crash test rating. Tesla Motors decided not to build just the best electric car but the best car, period. Many believe they have achieved this goal and with further models designed to be more economical for purchase, there is finally a chance that consumers will have a car that does good and is good.


  1. This "sounds" like a wonderful machine; I would love to see one first-hand. I welcome the success of this marvelous concept into our society. We have always been a mobile society; now we can continue to function collaboratively without the negative side effects of ruining our environment from diminishing limited resources.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Randi! It really is awesome the steps that our society has made to make our technology more "green."

  2. Hybrid or any other type of environmental friendly cars or machines out there are going to help this earth big time. I've always wondered why it took us so long to produce a safer car or machines until now. I mean, it was probably possible to make different cars that took different and more organic fuels. But alas, we finally have alternatives today, which is great!

    1. Roger, it is definitely an improvement that we have alternative fuels! What other environmental changes would you like to see happen?

  3. The way cars are going the world is going to be a healthier and happier place to live. Gas guzzlers helped put a hole in our o-zone layer and that's no good. With the many new cars coming out with different fuel sources and electric abilities, I really think we're going to save the world even more.

    1. Andrea, thanks for your input. Would you drive one of these new cars?