The Tesla Roadster Story

The Tesla Roadster Story


If you were to point to one car that started
the electric car revolution, it would be hard to choose between General Motor’s EV1 and
the Tesla Roadster. Its stats look quaint now, but in 2008 when
it was launched it was nothing short of a transportation revolution. Electric cars were slow with limited range. This car could go over 200 miles on a charge
and get to 60mph in under 4 seconds. Tesla had created the first practical and
thrilling electric car. But it nearly drove the company into bankruptcy. This is the Tesla Roadster Story. (music) The story of the Roadster starts way back
with the General Motors Sunraycer in 1988. Before this, electric cars were slow, with
snail-like acceleration that was measured in 0-30 times, as many couldn’t even get
to 60mph. With the Sunraycer, GM developed a motor and
drivetrain that handily beat the competition. They believed they could productise this technology
into a real electric vehicle and developed the Impact prototype in 1990 that they tested
with customers. Alan Cocconi was one of the Impact’s designers,
and he left GM to form AC Propulsion in 1992. He worked on developing an electric drivetrain
that could be used by other car companies. AC Propulsion demonstrated that they could
develop an EV that could get to 60mph in around 5 seconds which was unheard of at that time. EVs up until then were known for being slow
and full of compromises. AC Propulsion’s innovative drivetrain would
be used on the Volvo 3CC, Venturi Fétish (yes, they called it that!), Courreges ZOOOP
and Wrightspeed X1. In the late 1990s two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs
– Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning had just sold an electronic reader startup and
were looking for a new challenge. Lithium Ion battery technology for devices
such as laptops was advancing quickly, and they wondered if this technology could be
combined with advanced EV powertrains from companies like AC Propulsion, who were still
using lead acid batteries. The two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs incorporated
their company as Tesla Motors in 2003. They used computer simulation to determine
the best type of car to make the best use of an electric powertrain and found a small
sports car would work the best. By this time GM’s EV1 had been launched,
and research showed EV1 owners had an average income of $200,000, and they loved their cars
with a passion. With GM recalling and crushing all their leased
EV1’s, despite customer protests, an expensive but compelling electric sports car seemed
like something that would sell. AC Propulsion developed their own car, the
tzero, and attempted to get funding themselves with no success. As Tesla were using AC Propulsion’s drivetrain,
they borrowed the tzero to try to get funding for their own electric car. This was no mean feat. The last successful US car start-up was Chrysler
in 1925. And Tesla were based in Silicon Valley where
people knew more about writing software than building cars. Detroit looked on with wry amusement. But Tesla realised that modern car companies
don’t make the whole car. They focus on final assembly and engine development,
leaving component production up to a myriad of suppliers. Tesla decided to install AC Propulsion’s
electric drivetrain into an existing car. They would integrate the parts together, and
provide the battery smarts, getting the most out of an array of 18650 Lithium Ion laptop
batteries. The car would be sold directly to customers
to save on dealership costs. The founders paid to retrofit AC Propulsion’s
tzero with lithium ion batteries to test out their concept but ran into a roadblock getting
enough funding to take it to the next level. They heard that SpaceX founder Elon Musk was
looking to invest in an electric car company. He invested $7.5M into the company and was
installed as Tesla Motors chairman. Elon brought on EV engineering wizard and
eventual CTO J.B. Straubel who’d developed his own electric
Porsche in the 1990s. Elon continued to invest in the company, and
the enthusiasm of such a high profile investor encouraged others to fund the new car that
was now codenamed “Dark Star”. By 2005 Tesla had a deal in place to use Lotus’
Elise. Lotus agreed to supply 2,500 cars, so that
would make up the entire production run for “Dark Star”. The team got to work understanding how the
Elise’s dashboard, pedals and other mechanical parts interacted so they could integrate their innovative
electric drivetrain and Energy Storage System. To provide space for all those batteries,
6,831 in the final design, the chassis was stretched by 5”. And it was quickly determined that putting
a bunch of combustible batteries inside an aluminium chassis was a recipe for disaster. Having a celebrity go up in flames in an expensive
Tesla wasn’t likely to help sales! Tesla worked on ways to dissipate the heat
and effectively cool the batteries to eliminate the chance of the batteries ever catching
on fire. A test mule was built, but changes to the
Lotus body needed to be made, and Elon was particularly vocal about this. The fibreglass body was switched to carbon
fibre. The tiny Elise doors meant the driver and
passenger had to sort of “fall into” the car, so these were made larger. Elon wanted high end features such as sleek,
disappearing door handles. “Dark Star” was unveiled to the public
in July 2006 as the Tesla Roadster in a splashy media event with celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger. CEO Martin Eberhard promised a range of 250
miles, 130mph top speed and 0-60 time around four seconds. The car would use a two-speed gearbox to transfer
the electric motors power to the wheels and back again through regenerative braking. But demonstrations were carefully controlled
as the cars needed to be swapped out or else they’d overheat! Elon promised a larger four seat Tesla that
would appear in 2009. But it would take until 2012 until the Model
S entered production. Tesla promised the Roadster itself would arrive
the following year. With prices promised between $80,000 and $120,000,
the car was a hit, and deposits started rolling in. By the end of 2006 the first of ten engineering
prototypes had been built, starting with the black “EP-1”. 26 validation prototypes were made, but Tesla
saved time and resources by using computer simulations to pass US safety regulations
instead of crashing real cars. The original goal had been to add batteries
to a Lotus Elise with AC Propulsion’s drivetrain, but Tesla kept reengineering different parts
of the car, partly because of necessity to get the car to work, partly through a desire
to make the “perfect” car. By 2007 the car only shared 6% of the Lotus
Elise’s parts, and Tesla had done so much work to AC Propulsion’s drivetrain that
their version didn’t use any of AC Propulsion’s patents! There were problems getting the two-speed
gearbox to work. The gearbox would be destroyed after a few
hundred miles from the forces of shifting gears from the 14,000 rpm AC motor, and Tesla
went through several companies trying to get a workable gearbox. Using just a single gear would kill their
0-60 time, making the car much less desirable. In the end Tesla had to bite the bullet and
accept a single speed gearbox, meaning to get their sub four second 0-60 time they had
to shed a lot of weight from the car, costing the team time and money in rework. Multiple other production issues like painting
the carbon fibre body, visible body gaps, and battery problems meant the release date
would slip from 2007 to 2008. The company was burning through cash and getting
further into debt. But production problems were just the start
of Tesla’s problems. With parts of the car being produced internationally,
it took 6 months for the car to travel halfway around the world before it was ready to be
sold. Due to management ineptitude it was discovered
that the $80,000 car Tesla had promised customers would cost up to $200,000 to make! CEO Martin Eberhard, who had started the company,
had messed up and was demoted in August 2007. A short while later both the co-founders had
left the company, leaving new interim CEO Michael Marks to somehow try to make a profit
from each car. The company became laser-focused on costs,
with team workers charged with drastically cutting the price of each of the car’s parts. Elon Musk got the already tired employees
working weekends to get the car out on time. With delays bringing the car to market, and
venture capital running out, the company was looking at bankruptcy if it couldn’t deliver
a car soon and make a profit. The Roadster’s development was originally
priced at $25M, but it had already cost over $140M.
New CEO Michael Marks wanted to prep Tesla for a takeover from an established car company. This was standard operating practice for a
Silicon Valley start-up, but Elon wanted Tesla to be independent despite its financial problems,
and him and Marks crossed swords. It led to the CEO’s eventual departure and
Elon took his place running Tesla. Production started in early 2008 and Elon
took delivery of the first car in February. The car’s price had increased to $100,000. Initial production was slow, but steady and
increased throughout the year. Reviews were generally good, with critics
praising how much fun an electric car was to drive, while giving a practical 240 miles
of range. In autumn 2008 the influential car show Top
Gear tested the Roadster and although they praised its acceleration, they critiqued the
handling, especially compared to the Lotus Elise. They highlighted its battery life, with it
doing just 55 miles when being thrashed around the test track. Tesla eventually sued Top Gear and lost, but
the upshot was that any publicity is good publicity and it helped to bring the car to
the public’s eye. Despite raising $187M, $70M alone from Elon
Musk, the company’s finances were in the toilet. And getting new capital was tough with the
2009 Great Recession, especially when existing car companies were going bankrupt. They got an additional $50M from Mercedes
who took a 10% stake in the company, but it was a 2009 $465M Department of Energy loan
that kept them afloat. Similar loans were given to other car companies
such as Ford and Nissan at the same time, but Tesla was the first to pay their loan
back in full in 2013. Their financial problems were further eased
the following year when the company went public; the first US car company to do so since Ford in 1956,
producing a large influx of capital from investors. The Roadster got an update at the end of 2009. The interior was improved, with better heating
and air conditioning, plus a centrally-mounted screen for the first time, showing real-time
car data. This foreshadowed Tesla’s increasing reliance
on the centre touchscreen for future models. The suspension was adjustable, the motor improved,
producing 288hp up from 248, and the car had better sound-proofing. Tesla offered an open top for the first time
as the Roadster Sport with an improved 0-60 time of just 3.7 seconds. To help promote the car and show how practical
an electric car could be, Tesla sent the Roadster on a round the world trip in 2010, starting
in Geneva in March and ending in Paris in September. And in keeping with this global trip, the
first right hand drive Roadsters appeared, selling for £86,950 in the UK. When Tesla started producing the Roadster,
they got an exemption from installing a two-stage airbag from the US safety authorities until
the end of 2011. So as that date approached, and they closed
in on the maximum 2,500 cars they could make, Tesla’s marketing switched to sales outside
the USA. By January 2012 the 2,500 Lotus bodies had
run out, and Tesla was switching its focus to the Model S that would begin deliveries
in June that same year. 2,450 Tesla Roadsters were delivered to customers,
over double the number of EV1’s GM produced. For Tesla, the Roadster project was a massive
learning experience, as well as a near death experience, but they would take these lessons
and apply them to future cars. Although Tesla moved on to produce other cars,
in 2016 they offered an 80kWh upgrade to give the car longer range, and in 2017 Tesla announced
a new Roadster, set for a 2020 release. The new car would use a shortened Model S
chassis and would have a 1.9s 0-60 time with a 620 mile range. But the original Roadster story wasn’t over
yet. Elon still owned the first ever car Tesla
produced, Roadster number 1, and SpaceX were looking for a test cargo for the first launch
of their new Falcon 9 Heavy. SpaceX had a history of putting fun ballast
on new spacecraft, and sent a large cheese wheel in the first Dragon capsule launched,
a reference to Monty Python’s cheese shop sketch. And I’m sure they were the only people who
got that joke! After asking around for suggestions, Elon
decided he would launch his Roadster. The car was launched in February 2018, with
a tiny Roadster model on the dashboard and a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit, dubbed
“Starman”. I’m sure the Lotus workers building this
car in Norfolk in the mid-2000s didn’t think their work would not only go into space, but
would leave Earth’s orbit and head out towards Mars! As the car sent back live pictures from space,
it could be seen as a fitting tribute to the car that started it all for Tesla. A big thank you to all my Patrons for supporting
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100 thoughts on “The Tesla Roadster Story

  1. Excellent video until you tried selling me the 'car in space' bollocks. He had a mouse crawling around outside a rocket in space the other week.

  2. 7:00 I can't believe a country as litigious as America would allow cars to be put on sale having only ever been crash tested virtually! This from the country who forced sports cars like the 911 and MGB GT to wear hideous, huge bumpers to pass safety laws!

  3. No mention of why Tesla actually sued Top Gear? Because the main gripe was that the review said that it broke down when it never did. That was something Clarkson & Co completely made up and only won because they successfully argued that Top Gear is an entertainment show, not a factual one, so they can just make things up like that.

  4. we where bringing a new car manufacture to California … you know Schwarzenegger was the governor at the time…not a celerity guest…you know, jobs, clean transportation, technological innovation, policy stuff for the state…comon' man.

  5. Best video yet. I'm a huge Tesla fan and I'm sure every other Tesla fan will want to watch this too. Bet it gets your highest number of views. Keep up the good work on Big Car and Little Car.

  6. I said: "It's a Lotus with miscellaneous Ford parts and a drivetrain made mostly by AC Propulsion. And with Tesla badges."
    But I was wrong, it was even more of a flop than I thought. The engineers and especially the leadership should be ashamed.

  7. "Having a celebrity go up in flames would be bad "……Having ANYONE go up in flames would be bad. Good video good informations. And ..,.no you're not 😉

  8. The cheese wheel may have been a Monty Python reference but the Don't Panic on the roadster in space is a Hitchhiker's Guide reference. And Douglas Adams who wrote that also wrote for, and occasionally appeared in, Monty Python.

  9. In my opinion. Electronic cars will not catch on due to their comparative faults over a Well Designed Petroleum Powered vehicle

  10. I previously commented on the preview for this. A wealthy friend of mine was an early adopter of Tesla technology and had a roadster S. I got to go in it a couple of times and it was a surreal experience at the time. Very quick and of course virtually silent. Build quality was not the best for the £95k he paid for it but it was his only car for a couple of years which he used to travel between Nottingham and Essex a couple of times a week. Completely impractical but it was more of a test bed as this was the car that laid the foundations for the electric revolution we are seeing today.

  11. If I ran an American car company, I wouldn't let Jeremy Clarkson within five miles of my car. Maybe Richard Hammond, but only if I could drive Oliver.

  12. I wonder if an old GM Powerglide two speed autobox could be made to work. They are still commonly used in drag racing because of their robust nature. Probably better that Tesla didn't, but who knows.

  13. This show my favored youtoob car show. Thanks “Stig”.
    Better dig more under my rock so I can buy an used Tesla. Hopefully before I retire.

  14. Excellent video as always. I absolutely despise Elon Musk and his scams (including Tesla), so I wouldn’t normally spend time on a video about Tesla, but your excellent videos are worth watching regardless of the subjects. Thanks a lot!

  15. I eally don't care for or about this cat, but because the video was made by Big Cat I watch it and enjoyed just as much as ever other video

  16. There are many misrepresentation of Tesla formation, it was not founded by

    Martin Eberhard
    , Marc Tarpenning
    in fact it was formed after Elon Musk, J. B. Straubel, Ian Wright joined the funding rounds. listen to third row Tesla interview with Elon
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxmO_QuD4Do&t

  17. This was a great and much-needed retrospective on the Roadster. However, a couple of little niggles…
    The 2009 interior update did not introduce the tiny touch screen, which had been in the car from the beginning. They did relocate it from an awkward position next to driver's door to the center console at that time. On the instrument panel they also replaced the useless tachometer with a power gauge, and they replaced the stick shifter with a push-button shifter — both changes that made sense after switching to a single-speed gearbox.
    "Tesla offered an open top for the first time…" I have no idea what you were even referring to there, since every Roadster was produced with the same targa-style open top design.

  18. CNBC 2050 HEADLINES =SONY BECOMES TOP AUTO MAKER FOLLOWED BY APPLE , WHILE FORD RELEASES NEW F-PHONE WHILE MARKET SHARE OF GM PHONES IS SHRINKING

  19. Didnt they have ELECTRIC cars 100 years ago could you do a story all so the humble milk float ran for MANY years ELECTRIC cars in plain site but no one talked about it [email protected]$^^&&£££€£$#$

  20. All so the size of the TESLA cars is far to big to make it economical on power they couldn't make the cars smaller and have a much longer range it's quite obvious a bigger car less miles smaller car more miles you don't have to be Einstein to work that!! OUT

  21. If you buy a ELECTRIC car you have absolutely no freedom so you get a phone call the hospital and your mum who's in her 80s has just fallen over and broke her hip she was rushed to hospital the only problem is your in London and she's in Glasgow how are you going to get up there in your electric car how you will need to stop to recharge you car , manufacturers should be working on ways to make the engine run cleaner and make the petrol and diesel much more efficient not inventing electric cars that are are only good for doing short mileage

  22. +Big Car can you do a video on the failure of GM's Oldsombile 5.7L Diesel from 1977-1985. Recall in the double digits and GM had to replace engines due to weak head bolts and gaskets. The Diesel also lead to a massive lawsuit as well The single engine almost bankrupted GM back in 1981. Please do, a video on the notouries Oldsombile 5.7L 350 Diesel this would be a good video as these were sold in most countries.

  23. the first car ever was electric. killed by big oil… 120 years later tesla uses electric cars as if he was the first to do so! apple marketing lol

  24. There's some errors in your info.

    1) All roadsters were convertible with both hardtop and soft top options not just the sport. The sport was simply a 288hp electric motor and PEM with 0-60 in 3.7 seconds.
    2) As for Top Gear, the main complaint was that the 2 cars broke down and ran out of charge which wasn't the case at all because the telemetry on the vehicles showed the battery never fell low enough to stop the cars and there was no faults.
    3) the 2 speed gearbox was to enable the vehicle to go to 160mph however, the failure of these gearboxes meant the 2nd gear was replaced on the 5 cars already produced and all subsequent models with a single speed Borg Warner gearbox speed limited to 125 mph.
    4) It was Musk that sacked Martin Eberhard and decided to call himself a founder.
    5) The rocket was called Falcon Heavy not Falcon 9 Heavy.
    6) Tesla did actually crash a number of vehicles for safety testing and validation and Type approval. Some of these videos are also on YouTube. https://youtu.be/R2b9aW1qE9E

    When you make a history video you have a responsibility to be accurate.

  25. 14:20 I just watched the entire cheese shop sketch and I don't see the correlation? Maybe if they told people they were going to launch cheese and then on the day of launch there was no cheese to be found, not even cheddar?

  26. I’d no idea the Tesla Roadster actually was part-Lotus. You really can learn something new everyday day. Keep up the excellent work!

  27. 10:26 The car didn't run out, top gear straight up lied about it. The battery never dipped below 20% during the entire shoot, as shown by the roadster's logs. The reason they lost the lawsuit is because they couldn't actually prove top gear had actually made them lose sales.
    Look, I like top gear as much as anyone, but what they did was just shitty.

    Then again since you are the stig I can't expect you not to be partisan in this.

  28. The reason why the electric car revolution didn't happen sooner is because the traditional car industry killed it. Twice.

    Electric cars were hugely popular in the early 1900's. New York alone had 15,000 of them. They could go 15-20 mph and had a range of 20-25 miles on a single charge. The car industry, working closely with the oil industry, killed them off and lobbied for increased support for ICE vehicles, which made sure no more R&D on any significant scale could be done in regards to electric vehicles.

    When the global warming craze started in the 70's, the car industry pretended to have an interest in saving the planet but knew very well they couldn't give up their extremely profitable ICE market, so they designed ugly low performance electric cars and asked the public what they thought. Predictably, 98% of all people said they didn't want one, allowing the car companies to stand up and say "well, there's no public interest so we won't continue. But at least we tried".

  29. The way I see it is EV1 is the catalyst for early ev like roadster, and roadster is the one who change the perception from weird looking and slow ev to that ev can be can be a sexy looking sports car too.

  30. Slight off track but bear with me, I have been a big fan of lotus cars since being a kid. Always remembered how lotus struggled over the years with productions and going thru many owners. One of problem was the getting the right engines. They didn't make enough cars to warrant making their own (yes,they did their own V8). So they brought in their engines. Now jump to the present(ok a decade ago or so), It's good that Tesla took the Elise body and stuck their battery and motor on it.

    I hope lotus can now see what an electric motor could do for them and they could release their constraints and head upwards. Yes I know they are making what looks like a brilliant Evija. Alas that's £2m car.
    Just saying, lotus can now have a electric motor(s)that they could manufactured in quantity and power that suits their needs for their "normal" cars. And yes there's batteries to contend with buts that isn't surmountable.
    My hats still goes off to Tesla and what they have pulled off.

  31. This automobile is the repetition of the MVS Venturi Fetish which is the first electrical super-car. Tesla ows a lot to the French and Hydro-Quebec as they started in the 90s.

  32. I almost forget about this car. this is my favourite car in NEED FOR SPEED cause of no noise on roads. thinks for this video.

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