I am an electric vehicle convert.
If I had driven a Volt, or Leaf, or Prius, I might not be. But I drove a Tesla Roadster, and it changed my worldview on this technology.
Driving this car was a profound experience. I have never experienced acceleration like this. Hit the “gas”, and you are launched. The performance of this vehicle is simply unmatched. Yeah, it costs $110,000, but…
There is a Lithium-Ion battery pack, connected to a motor/generator that is, in turn, connected (via a gear) to the drive axle. That’s it. One motor, one gear. No shifting. There's a button with a "D" on it, for "Drive". That's the transmission. [In a neat trick, the speedometer and the tachometer are the same gauge in the (very spartan) instrument cluster. One gauge, two scales, since there is only one gear. Not that you need to worry about the revs, though.]
I said “motor/generator” back there. When your foot is pushing the pedal, you are consuming battery power and making the car go (the “motor” part). When your foot lets up, the same component now generates power, recharging the battery a bit. (Oh, and the car slows down due to the work being done.) Magic to most; standard operating procedure for electrical engineers.
And another benefit -- the car is nearly silent. (Shaun Phillips, the Tesla rep who enabled this life-changing experience and the dude on the left in the picture, told me that the sound of the the Tesla motor was used in the Batman film “The Dark Knight”. Cool!)
The car is extremely drivable - the road manners are exquisite. Handling is tight -- the steering is rack and pinion, for a good, solid mechanical connection to the road. I didn’t get a chance to wring it out on the track, or even on an interstate, but I was very impressed with the driving around the city of Raleigh.
The range is about 245 miles. One driver got 350+ by driving at a steady 35 mph or something like that, but you have to have a pathological level of restraint to do that (IMHO). Shaun says that the 245 number is very reliable.
Before I got into the car, Shaun asked if I would like him to show me how it drives. I have driven a few cars in my time, so I was reluctant to share any seat time with him. His concern appeared to be that I wouldn’t be willing to push the accelerator as hard as he thought I should. I assured him that I would be willing to stomp on it.
We left the parking lot, and wound through some city streets. I asked him if he had ever had a test driver get a ticket in a bright orange Tesla. He said that they had been pulled over a few times, but the constabulary was generally more interested in the vehicle than administering justice.
As we turned onto Wade Avenue (two lanes in each direction), Shaun said, “Punch it!” So I did. Hit 65 mph in a heartbeat. The gauge in the car showed an acceleration of 0.65 G. It sure felt like it! It was exhilarating.
The officer coming the other way flipped on his lights, but never turned around to follow, for which I am grateful.
Save the planet? Maybe not, because charging the thing up still is most cheaply done by burning coal and shipping the energy over transmission lines.
But in terms of sheer performance, and what this technology enables, the future of electric vehicles is very bright. Tesla has interest from Toyota and several other companies, and is working to introduce a “BMW/Mercedes-killer” in the $60,000 range, and then a “Camry-killer” in the $30,000 range. (They think of the Roadster as a Lamborghini-killer.)
This technology isn’t just about alternative fuels, it is about what new energy sources enable. And what they enable is awesome.