Auto blogWed, 02 Jul 2014
Tesla may have made major inroads with its Model S, and it's poised to enter new territory when it finally starts selling its Model X, an iconoclastic gullwing crossover. Neither of those may be as important as the model thereafter, which is expected to be its make-or-break sedan. It won't be called the Model E (thanks a lot, Ford), but the BMW 3 Series-challenging EV will be the litmus test that will determine if Tesla's EV future is palatable to the masses.
Part of that means proving that Tesla can be an affordable alternative to conventional internal-combustion-powered vehicles. According to the company's VP of engineering, Chris Porritt, the new sedan will do just that, thanks in no small part to the company's forthcoming gigafactory battery operations. But beyond that project, there are other things about this new EV that will make it a more alluring option to the average consumer.
Porritt mentioned "appropriate materials," to the UK's Autocar, which is likely another way of saying it's ditching the aluminum-intensive architecture of its big brother.
Ford's 1.0-liter EcoBoost is proving to be The Little Engine That Could, and it continues to acquit itself well, finding favor as one of the best powerplants in the world. To confirm it yet again, the tiny mill just won the International Engine of the Year award for the third year in a row, likewise also nabbing the title in the Sub 1.0-liter category.
Packing 123 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque with overboost (125 lb-ft normally), the tiny engine combines impressive power in a size small enough to be a carry-on item for a commercial flight. US buyers only got a taste of the award winner in the 2014 Fiesta, while the 1.0 EcoBoost has been available throughout the Ford lineup in Europe for a few years now. American sales have reportedly been strong, however, and next up in the US, the mill will find its way into the 2015 Focus.
The panel of 82 jury members from 34 countries also named the Mercedes-AMG 2.0-liter turbo found in the A45, CLA45 and GLA45 AMG models with 355 hp and 332 lb-ft as the best New Engine for 2014. The electric powertrain from Tesla won Green Engine prize, and the 4.5-liter V8 from the Ferrari 458 Italia took home the honor of top Performance Engine yet again. You can check out all the winners below, and scroll down further to read Ford's celebratory announcement of its award.
If you had to choose one automaker, out of the dozens out there on the marketplace, to identify as the single most important in the world, which would it be? Toyota, the world's largest automaker? General Motors, which once laid claim to the same and is still the largest in America? Volkswagen, the largest in Europe? Or maybe Hyundai, which has risen like a phoenix from the proverbial ashes to become the fourth largest in the world? Nope, nope and nope, says financial services company Morgan Stanley: it's Tesla.
The potentially startling conclusion came in the form of an investment report cited by the LA Times and issued by Morgan Stanley research analyst Adam Jones, who wrote that "Tesla Motors has transformed from a fledgling start-up to arguably the most important car company in the world."
To back up the claim, Jones asserts that Tesla is not only an emerging force to be reckoned with in its own right, but has also spurred other, more established automakers to take electric vehicles (and their champion) more seriously. It's also prompted local governments to solicit Tesla to build its new gigafactory in their state, and encompasses more US content than any other car on the road.
You sometimes get the impression that Tesla CEO Elon Musk says wild things just to gauge people's reactions. You have to be crazy to think that the Hyperloop is ever going to happen. Train travel is barely accepted in much of the country. Recently, he boasted in an interview with Britain's The Independent newspaper that he could build a flying car and a submersible one. If he's to be believed this time, one of them might actually happen.
"We could definitely make a flying car - but that's not the hard part. The hard part is, how do you make a flying car that's super safe and quiet? Because if it's a howler, you're going to make people very unhappy," said Musk to the newspaper. Obviously, the flying car has been an automotive dream for decades, but it has always been so disappointing. Even the long-delayed Terrafugia Transition needs a runway to takeoff and can't just pop in an out of traffic like we all want.
While the flying car likely remains a pipe dream, Musk seems much more serious about the prospects of a vehicle that can go underwater. He told The Independent: "We will be making a submarine car. It can transition from being a submarine to a car that drives up on the beach. Maybe we'll make two or three, but it wouldn't be more than that." The man does have some experience in this area. He bought the submersible Lotus Esprit last year from the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, and planned to install a Tesla Model S powertrain in it. Now, let's see if either of these big ideas ever comes to fruition.
With the first UK deliveries of the 49,900-pound (about $84,000 at today's rates) Tesla Model S completed, it's time for the company to get back to business. For CEO Elon Musk that means discussing a long-anticipated rumor - a dedicated European production facility to build the luxurious EVs from the ground up.
Obviously, though, such a hefty investment would need to be worth the company's while, which is why Musk told Automotive News Europe that sales will need to hit 160,000 units before a factory is considered. The company has recorded over 3,400 sales in Europe during the first four months of 2014, which actually surpasses the 2,000 cars sold in the US.
Tesla currently maintains a factory in the Netherlands, although it only installs batteries in cars shipped from Tesla's Fremont, CA facility, rather than building cars from scratch. The factory, in Tilburg, is set to expand, while a new research and development facility is set to open in the UK in 2015 or 2016, according to Musk.
When Tesla CEO Elon Musk says that he's thinking about something, you definitely need to pay attention because it's likely something big. In an eloquently worded press release (a very rare thing indeed) Musk explains reason after reason why Tesla is opening up all of its patents, effective immediately.
According to the missive, Tesla initially applied for patents on its technology because it was afraid bigger, more powerful automakers would take its ideas and destroy the tiny automaker. However, that hasn't happened. Musk claims that while the company has grown, "electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn't burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent." At the same time, the global auto industry continues to grow, and Tesla's main competitors aren't from other electric carmakers, but the traditional internal combustion engine.
Musk claims that if you walk into the company's lobby right now all of its patent forms are gone from the walls. "We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform," he writes.
Toyota is not bullish on EVs. That comes from the company's North American CEO, Jim Lentz, who said the company will focus not on electrification, but on continued hybridization with a long-term focus on hydrogen fuel cells.
Lentz questioned the long-range ability of EVs, saying that Toyota feels "there are better alternatives, such as hybrids and plug-in hybrids, and tomorrow with fuel cells." Lentz spoke about Toyota's focus on hydrogen following Forbes Brainstorm Green conference and barely a week after a battery deal between Tesla and Toyota ended, according to Automotive News.
That deal provided for 2,500 battery packs for the Rav4 EV. While valuable to Toyota, the deal "was never about open-ended volume," Lentz said. "It was time to either continue or stop. My personal feeling was that I would rather invest my dollars in fuel cell development than in another 2,500 EVs."
Tesla has knocked off Toyota as the biggest auto employer in the state of California, employing over 6,000 people to the Japanese company's 5,300. That lead is only likely to grow, as the EV manufacturer prepares to add another 500 jobs by the end of the year, and as Toyota begins its relocation to its new North American headquarters in Texas. The news comes barely a week after the company announced a $50 million loss during the first quarter of 2014.
Tesla's statewide employment could be set to double, beyond even 6,500 people, if it follows through on rumors to construct its eagerly awaited gigafactory in the Golden State. The $5-billion venture could add another 6,500 employees, making Tesla not just the largest automotive employer in the state, but making it one of the largest employers in the state full stop.
The investment of Tesla and its founder (and real-life Tony Stark), Elon Musk, has been substantial. The company has added 3,000 employees in the state since 2013, reopening the Toyota and General Motors joint-venture factory that use to be known as NUMMI in 2009 and constructing a design studio in Los Angeles, all in addition to its Palo Alto headquarters.
Tesla buyers in in Shanghai, China, are getting even more of an incentive to choose its electric sedans. Each purchase of a Model S in the city will come with a free license plate.
That might not sound very important, but Shanghai operates under a government-organized auction system to distribute plates. Last year, they were selling for as much as $15,000, according to Car News China. The measure is a way to control the number of cars on the road, which contribute to the city's bad traffic and poor air quality.
Electric cars are exempt from the auctions and get a free license plate. However, that rule only covers Chinese-made electric cars. Obviously, Tesla doesn't build cars there (at least for now). But the Shanghai government will exempt 3,000 foreign electric cars per automaker to receive free plates, according to CNC. After they are gone, the company would have to go back and ask for more.
The future of the Toyota RAV4 EV appears to be in doubt. Tesla supplies the EVs battery packs, and it says that production ends later this year.
"Toyota is expected to end the current RAV4 EV model this year," Tesla said in its quarterly financial filing obtained by Bloomberg. "Our production activities under this program are expected to end in 2014," the company said.
This timeline fits closely with the original production plans for the RAV4 EV. When the $100-million project was first announced, Tesla said that it expected to supply battery packs for the vehicle from 2012 to 2014. Building components for the Japanese automaker continues to bring in money, though. In the company's Q1 2014 letter to shareholders, it said: "Automotive revenue included $15 million of Toyota powertrain sales." According to Bloomberg, Toyota has sold just 1,594 RAV4 EV models from 2012 through April 2014. Initially, the business had estimated that it would sell 2,600 units of the electrified crossover.