You may or may not know that I covered CES on behalf of NVIDIA last week. You also may or may not know that as part of that gig I published the above video that’s basically four minutes of me drooling all over a Tesla Model S electric car parked in the outdoor pavilion area at the show. See, NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 chipsets are powering the insane 17″ touchscreen and the rest of the 2012 S’ infotainment system and virtual instrument cluster. So I got some up-close time with the car, even if I wasn’t allowed to touch – let alone sit inside of – it. Nobody was.
Why am I all geeked out over the Model S? Two reasons: First, I love the idea of a high performance, fun to drive, zero-emissions vehicle. Yes, I’m a card-carrying member of the hybrid-loving Bay Area; as Jon R so succinctly put it, all of the Priuses up this way have created quite a smug cloud over San Francisco. That as opposed to the SMOG cloud hanging over JR’s part of Southern Cali. And while I can’t speak to the true difference in environmental impact between driving a used gas burner and driving a brand new electric vehicle that left its own trail of emissions in its wake (brand new factory and and tons of battery packs needed for its creation), I can say that I’m all for a future where cars and SUVs emit way less junk into the air I have to breathe. So, you know, thumbs up for green cars, at least in theory, and thumbs up for an electric Tesla that promises enthusiast’ approved handling, 0-60 in 5.6 seconds, a top speed of 121 mph, and up to 300 miles of range on a single charge.
Second reason: Have you seen the thing? It looks like Silicon Valley’s version of a Maserati Quattroporte. And while it may sound strange to the real car geeks out there, I love the five door/fastback style of cars like the Model S and new Audi A7. Coupes are super sexy, no doubt, but a car with four passenger doors and a hatchback provides awesome versatility for hauling friends, cargo, and – in my case – a full set of drums.
Anyway, I got a chance to chat with a Tesla employee at CES, one whose actually driven the Model S in two forms: The show car I ogled in Vegas and “Alpha,” a functional engineering prototype squirrled away somewhere in TeslaLand. He assured me that where Tesla’s first car, the Roadster, is an unrefined beast vying for the title of World’s Fastest Golf Cart, the S is and will be a fully refined luxury sport sedan, replete with a mix of sport handling and ride comfort, instant torque (a hallmark of electric drivetrains) and all manner of creature comforts (personally I think that 17″ display is overkill, but I dig the powered door handles that greet your hand as you approach them).
He also told me a bit about the car’s construction, explaining that by positioning the battery packs beneath the passenger floor and the engine between the rear wheels, Tesla not only found the secret sauce for optimum driving dynamics, but also was able to create front and rear trunk space. Pretty sweet. Throw in a modernized version of the old-school “rumble seat,” and you can carry seven passengers with room for some luggage in that front trunk. In theory, anyway.
Interested yet? Tesla recently published a few videos talking about the engineering that’s going into the Model S. And Engadget just posted a nice writeup of their interview with Chief Engineer Peter Rawlingson that’s worth a read if you want to dive deeper into the techno-auto wizardry his company wants to sell you by way of a $57,00 sedan slated to go on sale next year.
Car nerds out there, what say you? Interested in the green future? Prefer a more affordable and practical Chevy Volt to the S? Happy with your petrol-burning four banger, thankyouverymuch? Sound off in the comments!