The next generation of electric vehicles could be getting a head-start in California, thanks to a generous state grant. The Tesla company, famous for introducing the first electric sports car in 2008, is receiving $10 million to upgrade its factory in Fremont, near San Francisco.
Built in the high-tech new facilities will be the futuristic-looking Tesla Model X, which is due to go on sale in 2014. The SUV will boast falcon-style ‘winged’ doors, and reach 0-60 mph in less than five seconds.
While electric cars have often been seen as an also-ran in the recent past, Tesla hopes their new offering will be able to hold its own with the gas-guzzling SUVs from the big boys like Ford and General Motors, which are already on the market.
What does the golden state get for their cash giveaway? Jobs, which could have gone somewhere else. It’s hoped the sizeable grant will allow Tesla to employ 500 more employees to keep the production line running – as well as give the factory a bit of a spruce-up.
The new car seats seven adults – with room for luggage on top. As well as looking like a prop from the film Minority Report, its makers hope it’ll be useful as a day-to-day vehicle, and tempt Californians away from their destructive Hummers.
Plug in, baby
Up to now, the electric car has been on a rocky road. Around the turn of the 20th century – the real year-zero for the modern car – electricity was actually the preferred source of power for vehicles, made possible by the recent invention of rechargeable batteries.
However, the inconvenience of needing to find ‘charging points’, as well as the cheaper production cost of petrol-powered vehicles meant that the popularity of electric cars soon nosedived. It was not until the environmental movement of the 1970s onwards that they have seen a renaissance.
The current situation
Recent years have seen big companies like Mitsubishi, Ford, Nissan, Chevrolet and Honda all try their hand, with varying degrees of success. Most popular by far has been the Toyota Prius, a hybrid vehicle that has become a byword for trendy middle-class eco-activism.
Of course, an electric car is only as green as the source of the juice. If you’re still hooking your motor up to a coal power station, you’re just shifting the damage further down the line. But the potential is at least there – whereas petrol-powered cars are never going to be green.
Tesla (named after the Serbian electricity pioneer Nikola Tesla) will be hoping their latest model will capture the public imagination where other recent electric cars have failed. Rather than looking dorky like the Indian G-Wiz, the Model X is just as sexy as anything coming out of the great European manufacturers.
But with the reservation deposit alone starting at a hefty $5,000, the final cost of the car could price a lot of would-be eco-drivers out of the market. For any company that can crack that magic price-point, the rewards could be astronomical.