“We wanted to buy three of them, one for each of us, but Tesla wouldn’t budge off the $100,000. We offered them $150,000 for three, and they said no. By the time we got back to them, they had sold all 100 of them for $100,000 each.” So was the plight of Barry Skolnick and his CFO Don Ruggiero, a buyer of the electric car that Tesla sold out of their Signature 100 in 3 weeks.
Skolnick and Ruggiero flew from New York to Pebble Beach to attend the 56th Annual Concours d’Elegance. The Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach is the mecca for beautiful people, old money and rare and very, very expensive cars. The cars can be prewar, postwar, one of a kinds and concept cars. There are also car auctions for the wealthy and the very wealthy. At the Christie’s annual kick-off car auction held at the Monterey Jet Center last night, August 17, a 1928 Mercedes-Benz Type S Torpedo Roadster sold for $3,645,000. It is no mistake that Tesla is at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
The Tesla Roadster is not being “shown” at the Concours d’Elegance, it is sitting at the Peter Hay Hill for the public to view, dream and drool over. According to Kandace Hawkinson, media manager for Pebble Beach’s Concours d’Elegance electric cars have been shown for years, ” In 1961 the 1917 Milburn Electric won 3rd place in the Antique class, in 1962 the 1915 Milburn Electric won 2nd place in the Antique class, in 1965 the 1914 Baker Electric won 3rd place in the Antique class, in 1968 1914 Baker Electric Roadster won 3rd place in the Antique class, in 1970 the 1902 Waverly Electric Buggy won 3rd place in the Antique class, and in 1992 the 1913 Rauch and Lang Electric Town Car won 2nd place in the Antique class.
The Tesla is rare, in fact, only ten have been built so far, and some of those will be crashed to get a safety rating. It is past the concept stage and in electric vehicle terms, it is very expensive, and the beautiful people are lining up to buy them. Ruggerio is the CFO of CAMBR Company, Inc, a money management and real estate company. Skolnick is the son of the owner, Allen Skolnick, and he owns three homes and at least one Ferrari. I know because he compared his Ferrari to Tesla.
To Skolnick, Tesla is a bargain. The Tesla “feels like a roller coaster ride with the torque curve. It’s as fast as my Ferrari.” said Skolnick as he got out of the Tesla after his first ride in a car he put $100,000 down for, sight unseen. According to Tesla, The Tesla Roadster’s peak torque begins at zero rpm and stays powerful beyond 13,000 rpm. In a gasoline engine, usually one reaches peak torque well after they have accelerated through a couple of gears. This makes the Tesla Roadster six times as efficient as the best sports cars while producing one-tenth of the pollution.
Tesla claims that their prototypes have been able to accelerate from 0-60 mph in about 4 seconds, and reach a top speed of 130 mph. The Tesla Roadster is expected to have a range of 250 miles on a single charge of its lithium-ion batteries with equivalent fuel mileage of 135 miles per gallon.
With Lithium-Ion batteries in the news today because of exploding batteries in laptop computers, everyone is concerned about batteries. Eberhard said, “Sony was disqualified as a battery provider. We use laptop batteries, 6,831 individually wrapped so that if one battery catches on fire, all the others are safe.”
Skolnick lives primarily in New York, where he says electricity runs about 16 cents a kilowatt. The Tesla Roadster would cost about 1 cent per mile to charge completely. I reminded Skolnick that there was a rolling blackout awhile back in New York and asked him what he would do then. “I have a big propane generator that I could use to charge my car, but remember, a gasoline car would be stuck because it takes electricity to pump gas.”
CEO and Founder, Tesla Motors, Martin Eberhard, says that “most people will charge their cars at night. Tesla can program what time the car will be charged, so you can hook your car up, and depending on when your rates are the cheapest, you can charge your car.”
According to Ruggiero, Cambr bought this electric vehicle “because Allen Skolnick wants to be a front-runner in alternative fuels. Mr. Skolnick believes we are heading down the wrong road when it comes to oil. We can’t rely on the government for this; it has to come from the people. We’re investing in nanotech companies that deal with alternative fuels, and we are especially interested in windmills. We would love to have the opportunity to invest in Tesla, and it would excite us even more if it could be a 4-door sedan. That’s when people will make a change.”
About 25-30 percent of the people buying these Tesla’s have queried Tesla about investing in them, according to one Tesla employee, but the company is not currently seeking investors. Tesla is the furthest along in the electric vehicle field, but there are other makers at their heels. The Venturi Fetish, shown at the 2004 Paris auto show, the tzero, and the Wrightspeed X1. None seems to have the excitement of the Tesla Roadster. One that excited Eberhard is the purchase of the Th!nk car, “REC solar panels are huge, and they just bought Think cars, the cars Ford took off the market when the zero-emissions program was lifted. They are calling it Th!nk again. They are friends and have bought a car already.”
Tesla just finished their third round of financing and received $40 million, in addition to the $10 million they received from the 100 cars they sold at $100,000 they got $20 million in the first round of investing. One of those investors is Nicholas J. Pritzker, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Hyatt, whose family owns the Hyatt hotel group. Eberhard relayed a phone call he had received from Pritzker earlier, “Lou Ann, you may not remember, but Hyatt had chargers for the first EVs. Pritzker got out of a board meeting and called me and said there might be some interest in having chargers for EVs again.”
Lotus engineering does a lot of engineering for a lot of car manufacturers. Lotus designed the chassis which uses the same bonded aluminum chassis as the Elise. The chassis on all Tesla’s will be manufactured by Lotus manufacturing in Hethel, Norfolk, on the northeast coast of England. Tesla invented a new electric vehicle service equipment (EVSE) charger that connects to the car. The connecting battery charger on the car is based on a military-style connection.
Quick and light are two things Lotus is known for. The whole chassis that Lotus uses in their car weighs 150 pounds, according to Colin Price, manager, marketing and communications, Lotus Cars USA. By using the Lotus chassis technology, this allows Tesla to keep the overall weight down. Eberhard says that Lotus will do the ride, handling and tuning as well as the final assembly.
According to Eberhard, “we still need to get the engineering prototype cars crashed and prove to NHTSA that we can meet the safety requirements. That will prove to NHTSA that the car is safe to the occupants, but will also prove to us that the computer model we have modeled this car on is doing what we predicted. We will then make the next round of validation prototypes in January 2007 and hope to start production in the Spring of 2007.
Eberhard has thought about servicing and repairs and will have five service centers: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and New Jersey. “We thought about hooking up with Lotus, but servicing an electric vehicle is different from servicing internal combustion engine,” said Eberhard. When asked if it scared him, he didn’t hesitate, “It puts a lot of pressure on a start-up company to be this much in demand. But I would rather be scared than bored.”
It is time to start getting back in line: the next set of 100 Tesla Roadsters is going up for sale today. They won’t be Signature 100 cars, but they will be fully electric. The price will be $100,000, but you only have to put down 75 percent. And don’t waste time trying to negotiate the price, or you’ll be left at the gas station.