Auto blogFri, 14 Feb 2014
A Tesla owner in Toronto returned from a drive only to have his fire alarms go off shortly after powering down his Model S in an incident that is once again raising concerns about the electric hatchback's safety. Where previous cases of Model S combustion were anything but spontaneous -the car was always involved in an impact before going up in flames - this latest case has no obvious cause.
According to Bloomberg, as far as its owner knows, this particular Model S was not involved in a collision during the drive. It also wasn't charging when the fire started. According to Tesla, though, it wasn't any of the Model S' major components that caused the fire.
"In this particular case, we don't yet know the precise cause, but have definitely determined that it did not originate in the battery, the charging system, the adapter or the electrical receptacle, as these components were untouched by fire," said Tesla in an official statement.
According to the accident report compiled by the California Highway Patrol, 63-year-old driver Navindra Kumar Jain fell asleep at the wheel while driving northbound on Highway 1 in Santa Cruz, crossed into the oncoming, southbound lane, crested a small hill and then while doing 55 miles per hour hit a southbound cyclist who was riding on the shoulder. The cyclist, Joshua Alper, died at the scene. Jain was driving a Tesla Model S he had bought ten days earlier and said that the intense new-car smell - which he attempted to counter with a baking-soda scented air freshener - caused him to fall asleep.
The accident happened in November, and after a three-month investigation the Santa Cruz district attorney has decided to charge Jain with "misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter." As you could guess, there are still plenty of unresolved issues. Jain has said he "fell asleep" and there was nothing mechanically wrong with the car he had bought ten days before the incident. His attorney, however, says "he passed out while driving and still does not know what caused the accident," and that the Tesla "and all its component parts" must be thoroughly tested. The CHP tore the Tesla apart, standard practice in manslaughter cases, and, not having found anything amiss, declared the driver at fault. Observers, and especially cyclists, want to know why Jain was only charged with a misdemeanor, and why he hasn't yet been arrested. Some might ask why he didn't just roll down a window.
It will take the courts to decide - that's "courts," plural. In addition to the criminal case, Alper's family is suing Jain and Tesla, appearing to cover its bases with the new-car-smell defense by accusing the Model S of being "defective and unreasonably dangerous when used in a normal, intended and foreseeable manner." That seems like a stretch to us, but it's not like bizarre defenses haven't ever swayed a sentencing before. No matter the verdict in the criminal or civil cases, though, with Joshua Alper gone, nobody wins.
According to Consumer Reports, the automotive brands that stand out in the minds of car buyers are, in order: Toyota, Ford, Honda and Chevrolet. This news comes after the magazine polled its readers, asking them to take into account vehicle quality, safety, performance, value, fuel economy, design/style, and technology/innovation - which are the factors that car shoppers are most influenced by.
It's important to note that this award is only about perception. In other words, it's perceived quality, not actual quality. "Often, perception can be a trailing indicator, reflecting years of good or bad performance in a category, and it can also be influenced by headlines in the media," said Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports deputy automotive editor.
The brand that made the biggest jump in perception amongst Consumer Reports readers is Tesla, which posted an impressive 47-point gain to finish in fifth place. Subaru is also notable for finishing in the top 10, despite being one of the smaller manufacturers doing business in the US. Scroll down below for all the details from Consumer Reports, if you're so inclined.
Saleen has made its name on building some of the meanest modern muscle cars around, which was why it was so surprising when it announced in December that its next project will go electric. Has the famed pony car modifier lost its mind? Or is it right in thinking the performance potential of the Tesla Model S is too big to ignore?
Details remain scant about the project, but Saleen promises to transform the Model S into an electric supercar. Power is getting a boost but exactly how much more than Tesla's own 416-horsepower Model S P85 is not known. Saleen has also not set a completion date for the car yet, but it promises that renderings and specs will be ready soon. The only real detail that Saleen gives about its version of the Model S is that it has "a revolutionary design all our own," so we're expecting some visual differentiation to go with its inevitable augmented power.
"I fully intend to produce one of the most compelling Tesla's to ever hit the roadway," said Steve Saleen, company founder and CEO. You can read the entire brief press release below.
Most cars exported to China end up with a hugely inflated price tag - often hovering around twice as much as what we'd expect to pay in the United States. Part of that can be chalked up to duties and taxes - which can be quite prohibitive in the People's Republic - but a big part of it comes down to profitability. Tesla, however, is committed to doing things differently.
While some sources were expecting the Model S to carry a price tag in China more than double that of the US model, Tesla has announced a far lower MSRP for the Chinese market than that. Instead it will sell the Model S for 734,000 yuan - equivalent to $121,000 at today's exchange rates.
Now we know what you might be thinking: that's significantly more than the $69,900 Tesla buyers pay in the United States. And you're right. But you have to take into account several factors. For one, the US price includes a $7,500 federal tax credit. For another, Tesla is including the 85 kWh battery pack as standard in China - an option that would already tack on an extra ten grand Stateside. There's shipping costs to take into account (about $3,600 worth, Tesla figures). And last but not least, there's the considerable taxes the Chinese government rakes in on imported cars: $36,700 of it, to be precise.
The votes are in, the ballots have been counted and the envelope is open. Together with our partners at AOL Autos, we're proud to announce the winner of our second annual Technology of the Year award. After having awarded the inaugural prize last year to Chrysler for its UConnect infotainment system, this year we've selected the Tesla Supercharger network as the top technological advancement in the automotive industry.
While enthusiasts will likely associate the name "supercharger" with forced induction, Tesla has successfully redefined the term to apply to its increasingly sprawling network of charging stations across the country. Drive your Model S up to one of the 54 such stations in the United States, and you can be on your way with a full charge in just 20 minutes, instead of the full eight hours it usually takes. With much of the industry and government still wringing its hands over a lack of infrastructure for alternative fuels, Tesla has taken the reins and is working to fix the problem itself.
The winner was selected from a compelling list of candidates by a jury including editors from AOL Autos, Autoblog, AutoblogGreen, Translogic and even Engadget. The Tesla Supercharger beat out such contenders as Chevy's MyLink Valet Mode, Infiniti Backup Collision Intervention, Volvo Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, Mopar In-Vehicle Wireless Charging and Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive to claim the hardware, which was presented at this week's CES show in Las Vegas.
There's little question that Tesla has come at the automotive industry as an outsider. But will it last as an outsider for much longer? Not if you ask Yra Harris of Praxis Trading. According to USA Today, the veteran financial analyst recently predicted on CNBC that General Motors will try to buy Tesla in 2014.
It certainly wouldn't be the first time that GM acquired another automaker. It did just that when it purchased the rights to the Hummer brand from AM General in 1999 and completed its takeover of Saab the year after. But, of course, The General has since divested from both, shutting down its Pontiac and Saturn brands in the process. Daewoo and Oldsmobile are gone too, as is Geo. Chevrolet is to be withdrawn from Europe, and over the past few years, GM has sold its minority stake in Isuzu, Subaru, Suzuki and PSA Peugeot-Citroën as well.
Of course, none of these are dedicated electric carmakers like Tesla is, and the Volt may not be doing as well as Detroit had initially hoped. But does that mean it's ready to start expanding its brand portfolio again? With all due respect to Mr. Harris, somehow we doubt it - especially with Tesla currently enjoying sky-high market valuation. The company's market capitalization stands at over $18 billion - more than 100-plus times its earnings. That would make mounting a Tesla takeover a hugely risky and costly endeavor unless Wall Street tempers its stock value greatly.
In early December, Ford filed an application with the US Patent and Trademark Office for the name "Model E." Historically, Ford never produced a Model E, and while automakers are known to file for trademarks they never use, some have wondered if the application might be used for a concept car.
Based on other recent events, though, it could be a legal move. In 2000 Ford sued an online start-up called Model E over the similarity of that name to Ford's industry-shaping Model T, but the judge dismissed the case citing lack of proper grounds. In August 2013, Tesla applied for trademark registration for Model E, and at the time, Ford said it would review the application. Tesla actually made two applications for Model E, one for automobiles and structural parts therefore, the other for "providing maintenance and repair services for automobiles," and there are plenty of theories about what the name could be applied to.
The Published for Opposition date for Tesla's applications is December 31, 2013, after which anyone who thinks they'd be harmed by Tesla being granted the trademark gets 30 days to register their issues. This is just speculation, but Ford's application - which was filed for automobiles only - might be about protecting what it sees as unwelcome encroachment on the name Model T, protection it wasn't able to enforce before when the stakes were only online and much smaller.
Car buyers in China can now start shopping for a new Tesla Model S. Only problem is, the California-based automaker doesn't seem to have hammered down a brand name for that market. According to Reuters, Tesla is still dealing with a trademark squatter for "Tesla" (or "Te Si La"), so in the meantime, it is a brand without a name.
Tesla has launched a website in China under the Tousule name, but it doesn't appear that will be the official nomenclature for cars sold in China. According to the report, a Tesla salesman in Beijing doesn't know when - or even if - Tesla plans to come up with a Chinese name for its brand. We reached out to Tesla for a comment on the matter, but we've yet to receive any response regarding this ongoing situation in China.
Tesla Motors' plans to expand just got a big boost, as the state of California has announced it will give the Palo Alto-based company a $34.7 million tax break to increase its production capacity. The EV manufacturer is being given a pass on sales and use taxes on up to $415 million worth of equipment, according to a report on the San Francisco Chronicle's website.
Tesla is currently on track to produce 21,500 cars, although the planned expansion should more than double that capacity to 56,500 units, adding 112 jobs at Tesla's Fremont factory. "I'm pleased we could take this action to encourage Tesla to expand its electric vehicle production in California, which will create green jobs and improve our air quality," State Treasurer Bill Lockyer said. The state estimates that between the additional jobs and (hoped for) increase in sales, it will recoup the costs of the tax break in more taxes.