RIP, Tesla: You Deserved to Die

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Chalk this up to Lesson Not Learned.

The Tesla electric sports car is dead – a victim of its own defective economics. This was not unpredictable.

The company created an electric version of the gas powered Lotus sports car – and tried to sell it for twice the price of the gas powered version.

Just 1,650 of these electric lemons found people rich enough – and dumb enough – to spend $109,000 for a $51,845 Lotus Elise stripped of its perfectly good gasoline engine and converted to run on electricity.

Apparently, some forms of green still matter more than others.

And gray too. As in brain matter.

Or lack thereof.

Yes, the Tesla electric was mighty quick. So is the Lotus it’s based on. Maybe not quite as quick, because electric motors have the mechanical advantage of tremendous and immediate torque while a reciprocating engine has to rev to build power. But the gas-powered Lotus doesn’t run out of juice – literally – after a couple laps around the track. And for a fraction of the cost differential between the electrified version and the gasoline powered version, one could easily hop up the gas-powered version to be quicker than the electric and have probably $20k or so still jangling in one’s pocket for gas money.

That would cover fuel costs for, oh, the next 110,000 mile or so of driving. This calculation is very conservative; it assumes the gas-powered Lotus gets only 22 MPG on average (it’s rated 27 highway) and that gas prices are $4 per (they’re currently down to around $3.60).

So: $20k = 5,000 gallons at $4 per.

And the above is based on the assumption you spent $30k to hop up the Lotus instead of just being happy with a 5 second to 60 car (the Lotus) instead of a 4 second to 60 car (the electric Tesla) . If you’re ok with the slightly less quick but much longer-legged Lotus, you’ve got $50k left to spend on gas.

You’d have to drive that electric Tesla for a long time before it caught up with the gas-powered Lotus.

Not counting in-betweens for those hours’-long recharge sessions.

And isn’t the point of an electric car economy rather than performance? The Tesla roadster is a six-figure exotic. Whether it’s powered by electricity or gas, it’s a car for the extremely affluent only. People who can afford to spend $100k on a car – any car – don’t have to worry about what its gas mileage or cost of operating is. Right?

The Tesla was ostensibly built as a way to sex-up the idea of electric cars. Well, fine. A Lamborghini is sexy, too. I’m sure plenty of Wal Malt associates would very much like to have one of those, too. Also a supermodel wife. And a vacation house in Monaco. Yeah. That’s the ticket!

Anyhow.

Tesla – the company – has not taken a lesson from this experience.

It is going to try again.

It’s true the pending Tesla Model S electric sedan is less expensive – just $58,000 (to start) this time. Instead of being priced like a 911 turbo as the Tesla sports car was, the sedan will be priced more along the lines of a Lexus GS460 sedan.

Well, maybe not quite so much along those lines, since the Lexus, at $55,370, is still nearly three grand less – which would buy you a year’s worth of gas at current prices.

And the $58k Tesla S is only good for 160 miles before its exhausted batteries need to be recharged. To get one that will go 300 miles (about half the range of a $22k VW Jetta diesel) before its batteries are exhausted will cost you closer to $80,000.

Meanwhile, a really nice 2011 BMW 330d (diesel) could be yours for only $44,150. It gets 36 MPG on the highway. Run the math above assuming that figure and a cost differential of about $40k and see what you get… .

So, my question is: What’s in that pipe that they’re smoking?

And next: Who is backing this venture?

Someone is putting money behind this mess. People who see a market for a $58k-$80k electric Edsel that can’t do what a $15k gas powered car can do.

There are only so many rich idiots out there.

Someone really ought to tell ’em about it.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. Can’t wait to see how these electric pieces of crap will be viewed 10 years from now! Probably much like the “electric” commuter cars of the early 80’s…..LOL- i.e. obsolete toys.

  2. I suggest looking at the Tesla through the lens of relativity. While ~2% of Americans could reasonably afford a Tesla about .0003% bought one. It makes the author of this article seem a little foolish. Why get so worked up about a car you’ll see about as often as you score big on a scratch-off lottery card? I have a Tesla and I share it with strangers. I’ve handed the keys to my car to at least a dozen people I’ve never met. They walk away with the same silly grin the car has plastered to my face. This article is morose. No one walks away from this kind of bitterness and ignorance feeling good. keep it to yourself, bro.

    • Hi Fred –

      I get worked up about BS and stupidity – and also government-subsidized boondoggles. The Tesla meets all three criteria.

      I’m glad you’re happy with your Tesla. But do you think it’s right that taxpayers be forced at gunpoint to help finance it?

      Take away the government payola and this car – this company – would never have found “investors” to throw money at it.

      That’s why I’m mad.

      A six-figure electric car makes about as much sense as pre-moistened firewood.


  3. I bet you’re just gloating that when Thomas Edison proclaimed the electric car to be dead that he has been proven right to this day. Alternatively, deep down you’re also glad that as there’s no real alternative to the oil-based fuel car and as fuel prices go up then owning and driving a car will become the preserve of well-to-do and rich just like in the early 20th century. In such a future, driving will be a breeze as you have fewer people on the road with less traffic jams as well as less start-stopping. Best of all, it may quite possible traffic laws will be more relaxed as most people will be walking, cycling or taking a bus. In other words, if a well-off driver of the future loses control he will probably no one but himself because there would be so few drivers.

    • I’m not gloating, just pointing out that electric cars still aren’t ready for prime time as economical and/or practical alternatives to IC cars. If an electric car or other type of non-IC car actually did provide an economic/practical alternative to an IC car – if it made sense – I’d say so. But I’m not going to bullshit my readers like so many car writers do by regurgitating press kit crap about the Great Miracle of electric cars that may be interesting as engineering exercises but which make no sense as either a way to save money or “be green.”

      • To go further, I would add that in a free market, if there is a demand, entrepreneurs will find a way to supply it to the customer’s satisfaction (high quality, low cost) while still making a profit. Government subsidization of projects does not direct limited resources to the areas of greatest use.

        Or, to translate into English, if Tesla’s business model made sense in the slightest, there would have been no need for a government grant in the first place. Investors would have been lining up to get in on something that stood to make a lot of money. They weren’t because it didn’t. Sure, Tesla motors may have proved them all wrong in the long run had it succeeded, and those early investors would have been rewarded for the risk they took. However, it would have been their money, and their risk. They would deserve the reward, and the rest of the industry would have taken note of it and altered their strategies immediately based on available information. Asking a government to substitute its skewed priorities for that process is asking to throw away money.

        If fuel prices continue to go up, or more accurately, as the dollar’s value continues to plummet, such that driving a car starts to become the exclusive realm of the wealthy, then there will be an opportunity for entrepreneurs to develop alternative technology to fill the niche created by the rising cost. It’s not a static system, but a dynamic one. The only role government plays is that of another obstacle, and an unnecessary one at that, to creating the most fuel efficient, cheapest, most reliable and safe means of transportation possible with developing technology.

        I, for one, wouldn’t mind if my 4×4 pickup got 100mpg, but I’m not willing to pay $200,000 for the privilege. The $160,000 difference could buy a lot of gas between now and when technology increases the fuel mileage to 30mpg for a reasonable purchase price.

        This is not a zero sum game.

  4. The company was a monument to Elon Musk’s ego. A few engineers have revealed some stories of incredible waste… Like the one where they used the Elise so they would not have to go through crash testing with a ground-up new design, but Musk’s wife complained that it was too hard to get out of the car in a gown, to they redesigned the doors & sills, which meant they had to co though crash testing again.
    So glad to see my tax dollars went to ensure some rich twat didn’t show hers off.

    • That and the idiocy of people who actually bought one!

      Why, sure… I’ll buy a $100k Tesla to show everyone how green I am. Brilliant.

      Meanwhile 100k could have bought five brand-new VW Jetta TDIs. Keep one for yourself and give the other four to ex-SUV drivers.

      But there’s no flash or green bling in that.

      • Right on… Once you’ve sold these things to Ed Begley Jr. and Leonardo DiCaprio, I don’t know how much of a customer base is left…

  5. At least in part, Tesla survived through you and me paying them $465 million in the form of a grant.

    http://www.engadget.com/2009/06/23/tesla-ford-nissan-all-receive-electric-car-development-loans-f/

    If it’s dumb for one rich person to buy one bastardized Lotus Elise, how much dumber is it for a nation of recession-riddled sheeple to buy a whole failing car company?

    I wonder if I duct tape a gas generator onto the back of one if I can get a full 200 miles on one.

    • Don’t forget about the Top Gear lawsuit. Great… a car company that generates most of its “revenue” through government grants and litigation. Awesome. Only in America.

      • Hey Aaron,

        I forgot about that… thanks for the reminder!

        Tesla’s probably gonna go after me now, too, for daring to mention da Troof (as Clover calls it).

  6. I wonder how Tesla motors continues to attract investors. They rightfully should have been out of business a decade or more ago.

    And perhaps that’s the actual point, to keep the investor money flowing until they get bought out or just offer the principles a good salary until the well runs dry. But still what does it take to get people to hand over the cash like that? I know a good story helps, but it has to be more than that.

    • Me too!

      I’m certain there’s some government payola involved, somehow.

      They say they want t make the idea of electric cars sexy. But isn’t the ultimate point – allegedly – economy? And isn’t The Tesla essentially a high-end exotic?

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