Tesla has a long history of pushing back target dates and it seems it’s doing it again, delaying the launch of the second-generation Roadster until 2022.
The electric carmaker’s halo product isn’t the only thing it has fallen behind on, however. Tesla recently confirmed it is slipping on the launch schedule for the heavy-duty Semi truck, as well as with the introduction of the oft-delayed full self-driving technology it has promised for a number of years.
“Finishing engineering this year, production starts next year. Aiming to have release candidate design drivable late summer. Tri-motor drive system and advanced battery work were important precursors,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in one of constant flow of tweets.
(Tesla rolls out next-gen Model S with nod to the past.)
The new Roadster, which Tesla has billed as capable of delivering sub-2 second 0-60 times, debuted in concept form in November 2017 and was first expected to reach market in 2020. The automaker blamed the coronavirus pandemic for the initial delay — and it wasn’t alone. A number of major automakers have delayed a variety of products due to the coronavirus, including higher-performance variants of the Chevrolet Corvette.
But, it now appears that there were other challenges that have slowed down development work. That echoes what happened when Tesla introduced the original Roadster, its very first production vehicle. Back then, it ran into a number of technical difficulties, notably including the 2-seater’s gearbox. The company originally wanted to use a two-speed transmission but found that several candidates couldn’t handle the massive, off-the-line torque the electric motor drive was developing.
Beyond the terse tweet from Musk, the automaker isn’t offering any details about the latest fallback on timing but, there is no question that the development of the Roadster is challenging from an engineering perspective.
The new model will use three separate electric motors, one up front, two driving the rear axle. Tesla has not revealed horsepower figures, though it is expected to deliver something close to the 1,100 hp that the new Tesla Model S Plaid+ will punch out. During the 2017 unveiling, Musk did note the Roadster will deliver 10,000 Nm of torque. And, no, that’s not a typo. And for the metrically challenged, 10,000 Nm translates into an equally mind-bending 7,376 pound-feet of torque.
Along with an estimated 1.9-second 0-60 mph launch, the new model will have a top speed of over 250 mph and – using a 200 kilowatt-hour battery pack – deliver up to 620 miles based on the EPA test cycle.
Each of those targets, individually, would be tough to meet, never mind collectively. And the electric drivetrain won’t be the only challenge. Launching from 0 to 60 that quickly will require some significant developments in terms of tire technology, Musk acknowledged during a debut news conference.
Whether Tesla can pull it all together remains to be seen. It had to back off some early promises for the first-generation Roadster and, among other things, eventually had to settle for a single-speed transmission. That’s pretty much the approach nearly every battery-electric vehicle now follows, (Porsche using both single and two-speed transmissions on some versions of the Taycan sports car).
The Roadster isn’t the only product Tesla is delaying. It was unveiled during a splashy California event that also featured the debut of the big Semi. Like the Roadster, Musk announced some startling numbers, the cross-country hauler promised to achieve 0-60 times of a mere 5 seconds while also offering up to 500 miles range.
There have been plenty of sightings of Semi prototypes driving on public roads by now, but during Tesla’s fourth-quarter earnings call last month, Musk candidly acknowledged, “Prototypes are easy, scaling production is very hard.”
(Tesla narrowly missed 500K delivery target for 2020.)
Indeed, Tesla doesn’t even have a place to produce the Semi yet. There’s no room at the company’s original plant in California and no indication it would build the truck in Beijing and ship it back to the States. If Tesla is good at nothing else, it took the Chinese plant from a barren site to production in record time, but even if it does use the new plant it’s erecting in Texas, the odds of seeing any real numbers for the Semi seem unlikely before 2022.
That would also seem to mean the delay of getting the Cybertruck into production, as Musk acknowledged during the earnings call.
“If we’re get lucky, we’ll be able to do a few deliveries toward the end of this year, but I expect volume productions to begin in 2022,” Musk said. “We finished almost all of the Cybertruck engineering. So we’re no longer iterating at the design center level or design level. We’ve got the designs fixed. We will soon order the equipment necessary to make the Cybertruck work.”
Another complication for launching new products: Musk has warned that Tesla’s Gigafactory in Reno, Nevada can’t keep up with demand for battery cells.
“The main reason we’ve not accelerated new products is – like for example Tesla Semi – is that we simply don’t have enough cells for it,” the CEO said.
All those delays are problematic for Tesla which could use the added revenue stream. Though most of the headlines indicated the company earned a full-year profit for the first time, it actually operated vehicle production in the red. It flopped onto the black side of the ledger by selling zero-emissions credits to conventional manufacturers like Stellantis.
Tesla claims to have taken hundreds of thousands of advance reservations for the Cybertruck and Roadster, the latter backed by $50,000 downpayments. It also has received significant orders for the Semi from customers like UPS and Walmart. The question is whether some customers might ask for refunds now that Tesla is facing substantial new competition in most sectors with products such as the Ford Mach-E and GMC Hummer.
Tesla has also been taking orders for the full self-driving technology it has long promised. It claimed to have brought a version of FSD to market last year but it fell quite short of what Musk had previously announced. In fact, all the way back to 2016 he tweeted that the ability to drive pretty much anywhere, anytime hands-free would be available “in ~ 2 years.
” The new target date is 2021 but whether that will happen is running up against an increasing number of skeptics.
Indeed, there is a broad mix of anticipation and skepticism about Tesla’s latest product promise, the long-awaited Maximum Plaid version of the Model S which, Musk declared last month, also will hit 60 in less than 2 seconds – while introducing a yoke-style steering wheel without turn signals but with the ability to intuit when a driver wants to make a turn.
There have been plenty of other promises, including a goal of getting a million FSD-capable Teslas in use as robocabs by 2020. That, the CEO said, would help Tesla buyers cover the cost of their loans.
(Tesla Q4 results miss Wall Street mark despite record numbers.)
While Tesla continues to win praise from buyers, along with a soaring stock price from investors, the company has a history of missing key targets. And after a short run of meeting and even beating targets, i.e. the Model Y, missed deadlines are stacking up again and need to be sorted out if Tesla hopes to plant itself firmly in the black as more and more competitors determined to topple it come to market.