After remaining dormant for several years, electric cars are surging back into the news. First, there was the summer debut of the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? followed soon after by the announcement in Los Angeles of the Tesla roadster, a $100,000 electric sports car built by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

The battery-powered Tesla is based on a modified Lotus Elise chassis. Its maker, Tesla Motors, of San Carlos, California, claims it'll zap 60 mph in four seconds, juice it to 130 mph, and spin the meter for up to 250 miles between charges (the GM EV1 did up to 150 miles). And, unlike the Lotus, the Tesla Signature One Hundred Collector's Edition (the first 100 cars, in other words) will have a cup holder.

The company is named after inventor Nikola Tesla, who patented the first induction electric motor in 1888. Deliveries of the fully federalized two-seater are due to begin in mid-2007. Tesla claims it has deposits for 50 so far, no doubt because co-founder and CEO Martin Eberhard delivers a convincing sales pitch with the rapid cadence of an Uzi.
Eberhard is a Silicon Valley millionaire, having cashed out his interest in two startup companies he co-founded. He has since made a deal with Lotus to produce the electric roadster.

"We've got to change the way people think about electric cars," he interjects between elucidations of off-peak electric-grid capacity and the economics of small-car production. "This car won't be a punishment with bad styling and a terrible range."

Changes to the Elise structure accommodate the Tesla's higher curb weight — it's 2500 pounds, says the company, about 500 more than an Elise — and allow a larger cockpit and a comfort level above that of a kielbasa casing. Lotus Engineering performed much of the rework, and the Tesla will be assembled on the Elise line in Hethel, England.

The proliferation of hand-held electronics and the subsequent development of small, stout lithium-ion batteries to power them for days without charge are what make the Tesla possible, says Eberhard. Think of the pack as 6831 batteries measuring 1.0 by 2.6 inches, about the same size as a C battery. With a 220-volt, 70-amp charger made by Tesla that is hard-wired into your garage, the roadster will go from flat to flat-out in 3.5 hours. The car will be offered with a cord and a conventional 120-volt wall plug, should you be away from home, but charging time stretches to 33 hours. The pack will be warranted for five years or 100,000 miles.

The Tesla has a three-phase, 248-hp motor with a 13,500-rpm redline. A solenoid-operated two-speed manual transmission performs gear reduction and torque multiplication. A/C, anti-lock brakes, and airbags are part of the standard kit.

Criticism that electric cars are hardly green considering that amps have to be made, usually by burning coal or in the production of radioactive waste, is "bullshit," Eberhard declares. "The amount of actual pollution put into the air per mile is much smaller."
These challenges notwithstanding, the first Tesla Roadsters have been shipped, breaking open a new era of possibility for electric cars. The company plans to produce 625 Roadsters in 2008, and another 1,600 annually for 2009 and 2010.