Tesla is poised to have a very big 2017.
Apart from the carmaker’s surging $50-billion market capitalization, which on the back of a $300-plus-share price has vaulted the company’s valuation above Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford, Tesla aims to launch its mass-market Model 3 in the next few months.
The automaker is also bringing its Gigafactory online in Nevada, preparing for the launch of its solar-roof product, and expanding its Tesla energy business.
All eyes will be on the Model 3, which is slated to be priced at $35,000 before incentives and come with a range of at least 215 miles on a single charge. But Tesla will also introduce an electric, possibly self-driving semi truck in September. CEO Elon Musk says a pickup will follow in 18-24 months.
That’s a lot, but for true Tesla lovers, the really exciting news is that Tesla will most likely commit to a new Roadster — a convertible sports car that will take the automaker back to its roots. It sexy, thrilling, go-fast-with-all-electric-style roots.
I’ve always been an unabashed fan of the Roadster. I’ve driven all of Tesla’s vehicles, but the Roadster is the one that really grabs me: it did the first time around and again just over a year ago when we got reacquainted.
My Roadster love is awkward of course because the car wasn’t a proper Tesla, unlike the clean-sheet designs of the Model S sedan and the Model X SUV. The Roadster was built from vehicle “sleds” created by England’s Lotus, which were then finished by Tesla in California and outfitted with Tesla’s electric battery packs and drivetrains.
That said, the Lotus chassis combined with Tesla’s tech was a juicy combination. The Roadster Sport, the final version of the vehicle that was produced before Lotus stopped supplying platforms and Tesla shifted to focusing on the Model S, was blisteringly fast (0-60 mph in 2.7 seconds) and a kick to drive. It lacked much in the way of in-vehicle tech, the steering was precise but heavy, there was barely room for two people and a tote bag, and the ride was pretty stiff. But sweet lord was it ever fun!
“Speed” and “Tesla” have always been two great tastes that go great together. It was with the fast Roadster that Tesla effectively rebranded the whole idea of the electric-car-as-glorified-golf-cart — and wound velocity in the company’s DNA. Ever since the Roadster, Tesla’s have been fast. The P100D Model S is, by 0-60 mph time (2.3 seconds), the fastest production vehicle in the world. And it has four doors and two trunks.
The Model X is also quick, but it’s an SUV. And frankly, there are plenty of us still out here who want our fast cars to be fast sports cars that look like sports cars.
That’s why the time has more than come for the new Roadster — or whatever Tesla wants to call it, as long as it has two doors and seating for only a pair of people. A sports car isn’t supposed to be practical. That’s the entire point.
Not what Silicon Valley wants
I will admit that a super sexy Tesla sports car isn’t exactly what Silicon Valley is calling for right now. Between Google’s self-driving podmobiles, whatever Apple might be up to, and Uber’s autonomous taxi fleet, the action now appears to be with incredibly boring platforms that are more about riding than driving.
Tesla is also getting a little too psyched about semi-trucks and pickups. These are cool vehicles, but they aren’t Ferraris or Lamborghinis. It bears pointing out that Musk was once the owner of a McLaren F1 hypercar, so we have a sense of where his heart might be when it comes to cars. I sort of wonder if he’s ever even driven a truck.
Not that a Tesla supercar would edge out the pickups. Tesla will probably produce something on the order of 100,000 vehicles in 2017 and maybe twice that in 2018 (although Musk is pushing for 500,000). There’s probably a market for a few thousand sports cars with the Tesla badge. Satisfying anyone who wants one wouldn’t be a mighty lift. Just think of the bumper stickers on the Model X’s: “My other, sexier car is a Tesla, too.”
Make it wild
The great thing about Tesla is that its vision of a fossil-fuel-free transportation future has never been so virtuous that it excludes the breathtaking experience of zipping into a corner at high speed and coming out just as fast. Musk always knew this, but in recent years, as the Roadster has receded into fond memory, it’s been less of a Tesla priority. That takes nothing away from Ludicrous Mode performance in Tesla’s current cars. But as I’ve noted, Ludicrous gets old fast in a family sedan.
I’d personally like to see Tesla do something wild with a new sports car. Something flamboyant and supercar-ish. Spoilers and needless hood scoops and air dams and such. Make a fast car that really looks fast. Make it a tad tasteless. Make it something that would look defiant when parked next to a Ferrari or a Lambo.
But even if that doesn’t happen, I welcome whatever does. As will the many, many Tesla fans who’ve been waiting for a new Roadster.