Silicon Valley – The New Detroit?

It’s about time someone took Northern California’s high-technology prowess and applied it to building the green car.

In San Carlos, California, in the heart of the high-tech capitol of the world, a new company called “Tesla Motors” is taking up the challenge to build an electric car. As we demonstrate in “The 100% Electric Car,” there is technology available now to build a car that will run on batteries, with a range sufficient for nearly all normal commutes. Also in the article is a table that shows that at $.10 per kilowatt-hour (and electricity is often cheaper than that), it can cost under $.03 per mile to drive a car charged with electricity from the grid.

People who criticize battery-powered cars ignore the facts. The legendary General Motors EV-1 had a 1,600 pound battery pack and a range of about 100 miles. This was a great car; it had a range sufficient for most commute cycles, and it had a top speed of 185 MPH! The manufacturer actually installed a governor on the car to restrict drivers from going that fast. But the EV-1 used lead-acid batteries that only held about 90 watt-hours per kilogram. The nickel metal hydride batteries going into today’s hybrids have an energy density much higher, up to 200 watt-hours per kilogram, and lithium-ion batteries have gotten energy densities up to 300 watt-hours per kilogram.

Remember, as the weight of the battery pack diminishes, the range per kilowatt-hour of on-board storage goes up (since the car weighs less), so the improvement in range is more than proportional to the improvement in energy density. It is likely a car powered exclusively with batteries, using today’s technology, could have a range of 200 miles or more.

There’s more – hybrid cars as they are produced today are extremely complex because their internal combustion engine must be linked to the drive train. What if a battery-powered electric car had a range extending internal combustion engine that was connected only to an onboard generator? This engine would be able to run at maximum efficiency, since it would operate at a constant RPM. Also, with such a technology, you could throw away the expensive transmission – electric motors don’t need transmissions since they have a range of practical RPM sufficient for the normal range of vehicle speeds.

Using this ‘serial hybrid’ technology, far easier to manufacture and maintain, a 20 horsepower clean diesel engine, operating at efficiencies up to 40%, could extend the range of a battery powered car with today’s technology by nearly 50% – depending on many factors such as the size of the car, of course.

Tesla Motors was founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. They have received $40M in investor funding and they already have over 80 employees. They intend to sell their first cars sometime in 2007. It will be very, very interesting to see what they come up with.

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