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Tesla Model S: The Battery Car Market’s Moon Shot

Sales of new mainstream model begin today.

by on Jun.22, 2012

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk with a Model S.

After a few faulty starts, entrepreneur Elon Musk’s Space-X finally became the first private company to launch a cargo ship into orbit last month.  But what has taken real rocket science is coming up with the right product and technology to make Musk’s other firm, Tesla Motors, a viable competitor in the hotly competitive auto industry.

After running up losses off more than $750 million since its founding in 2003, the Silicon Valley start-up will launch a product arguably even more important than the Space-X Dragon cargo ship.  The 2013 Tesla Model-S will be the firm’s first mainstream passenger car and quite likely its make-it-or-break-it attempt to crack a market dominated by multinational giants like General Motors, Toyota Motor Co. and Daimler AG.

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“If it delivers on its promises – not only in sales volume, but also in quality and reliability – the S will propel Tesla into the black and provide working capital to develop of the next line of Tesla vehicles,” said green car analyst John Odell, of the automotive data firm Edmunds.

But Musk and company have made some big promises – with relatively little history to show they can deliver.


Tesla Delivers First Production Model-S Weeks Ahead of Schedule

But maker’s big ambitions could run afoul of slow growth in U.S. battery-car market.

by on Jun.06, 2012

The first production Tesla Model-S.

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson got an unexpected surprise this week when he was handed the keys to a new Tesla Model S – more than two weeks before the California electric vehicle maker had officially planned to begin retail deliveries of the new battery-powered sedan.

Tesla investor Jurvetson is tooling around in a maroon Model-S with the California license plate “TSLA S1.” While other buyers will have to wait until June 22, the battery-car start-up is hoping to have thousands of the new sedans on the road before year-end, with a second product, the Model-X crossover, set for launch in 2013.

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But will the market live up to expectations?  There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical, though demand for plug-in hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Volt, and battery-electric vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf, are slowly gaining momentum.

“There are now approximately 30,000 plug-in vehicles on U.S. roads, four or five times as many as there were a year ago,” writes Tesla founder Elon Musk in his personal blog, adding that “We firmly expect that the electric-car sales rate will continues (to) rise, though it will be slow.”


Indiana Aiming to Be EV Central

Why Think thought Indiana was the right site.

by on Apr.07, 2010

Think-ing of you. The Norwegian maker will open an Indiana assembly plant next year.

When the Norwegian electric vehicle maker, Think, started looking for a site to build a U.S. assembly plant, it was deluged by offers from states and communities lined up coast-to-coast.  In the end, it chose the Northern Indiana town of Elkhart for the plant, which will begin rolling out a version of the Think City two-seater next year.

These days, any deal that can deliver jobs and investments is likely to be greeted with gusto – and the offer of government assistance, and the Think project was no exception.  In the end, state and local officials cobbled together a package of assistance worth $43 million for the battery car maker.

That certainly didn’t hurt, admits Think CEO Richard Canny, not for a long-struggling company that had just emerged, a few months earlier, from bankruptcy proection.  But even with what he describes as a “competitive” package of incentives, the executive says that wasn’t the clincher when it came to choosing Elkhart.  “You don’t choose a location just based on incentives,” Canny explains.

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What sold Think was the fact that Elkhart had a pool of experienced labor – workers who were more than happy to get a good-paying job considering that the region’s traditional manufacturing base, the recreational vehicle, or RV, industry, has all but collapsed – along with an existing battery car infrastructure.