Tesla Roadster: The Electric Car that Redefines "Power" (Part 1)

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[This is a post by Eckhart Beatty. -Ed] Engine trouble? Forgot to change the oil and air filter--again? Or did the transmission give out? Need any other major repair job? Someday you may never have these headaches again. Enter Tesla's Roadster. It's electric and its features eclectic. This new uber sports car—launched in July, 2006—will never require a call to Car Talk. The two popular Boston radio hosts might be scratching their heads between calls.

We've profiled the car at TreeHugger already, but given its paradigm-shifting design, we feel its technical side merits a review in itself; here we'll demonstrate what actually makes it tick.We're looking at an electric car that is fundamentally different in probably almost every conceivable way from any other vehicle you've heard of or driven. Taking a closer look inside, we examine the mechanical specifications of the car as discussed in the whitepaper co-authored by founder and CEO Martin Eberhard; it is available at Tesla's website.

Tesla's flagship Roadster sports a very unique design—in more ways than one. The power system comes most immediately to mind. Historically battery capacity was limited by its unweildly mass as well as of the inconvenience of finding recharging stations and then waiting to get the juice refreshed. In this marque, those employed are based on essentially the same Lithium-ion variety found in the typical laptop PC. Chosen due to their superior charge capacity as well as longevity, the batteries themselves are far superior to the lead-acid variety (well over 100,000 miles—a four to one advantage).

The power supply is partitioned into 11 sectors of 621 cells, each of which is linked to its own processor, serving to monitor both the rates of charge and discharge for each cell. This structure makes for "intelligent," dynamic charging throughout to coordinate optimal performance of the system as a whole.

The inverter relies upon 72 insulated transistors to convert DC energy into AC power. Since transistors generate little heat, the air cooling system is simple and not heavy. As for heating inside, electric-generated heat can be delivered "immediately" on demand—no more waiting for the engine to warm up on a sub-freezing winter morning!

The regenerative braking system (popularized by cars such as the Prius but discussed in scientific journals for decades) captures some of the vast amount of energy typically lost in automotive systems. As a by-product of this integrated system, it places virtually no wear on the brakes themselves since gears in the generators capture much of energy normally wasted when the typical car brakes.

More importantly still, there are far fewer moving parts to repair or maintain, since it has no internal combustion engine. According to the whitepaper, "The only work that a well designed electric car will need for its first 100,000 miles is tire service and inspection." The battery longevity is rated for the same distance.

Owing to enhanced technology, the Roadster gives its driver nearly 80% greater power than the now-defunct EV1, GM's famous flagship electric car. The rotor at the center of the AC motor is made of brazed copper, which is more efficient than the conventional construction made of aluminum. A revolutionary design, it represents a new "plateau" of sorts in the electric car world. The start-up derives its name from the famous engineer Nicholas Tesla who invented the AC induction motor, a breakthrough in his time.

To ensure optimal safety, a host of sophisticated features are always on the watch for signs of trouble. A computer works in conjunction with the drive train and sensors to deliver optimal road traction and reduced wear on the tires. Some other devices include a smoke detector, voltage meter, temperature gage, water sensor, and accelerometer to detect rapid changes in car velocity typical of accidents. Upon impact in such an event, the batteries' built-in "intelligence" enables them to shut themselves off to avoid an explosion or fire.

More tomorrow in part 2.

See also: ::Official Tesla Motors Website, ::Tesla Motors Blog, ::The Tesla Roadster: Electric Sports Car, ::Tesla Motors: Affordable Electric Cars are Coming

[This has been a post by Eckhart Beatty. -Ed]

Tags: Tesla Motors

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