The Roadster, Tesla’s first car: igniting the era of mass-produced EVs

Fifteen years ago, Elon Musk, in collaboration with Lotus, launched a car to be recharged through the home socket: a paradigm shift that started a revolution that is still ongoing.

Everyone now talks about electric cars. According to car manufacturers, starting from 2030, only lithium-ion-powered vehicles will be produced in Europe. A real revolution is underway, a revolution that the Tesla Roadster has the merit to have triggered fifteen years ago.

The first four-wheeler Elon Musk put on the road now seems a retrofuturistic object – surpassed by competitors, but incredibly avant-garde at the time. Making it was certainly not easy, so much so that Tesla risked financial collapse several times in the four years following its launch. The most long-standing issue regarded the battery design, since at that time no one had aver connected about seventy batteries in parallel in order to install them on a car.

In the plant that slowly became a development and research hub, the engineers tried to understand what the best way to dissipate the heat generated by the current flow was, then they connected the battery pack to an air-cooled three-phase asynchronous motor; this transmitted power to the rear wheels through a continuous torque BorgWarner single-speed transmission. It was October 2004. Four months later, the powertrain was assembled on a modified Lotus Elise, a car Musk has always loved for its shape, lightness, and performance – the prototype of the first Roadster was ready. Musk used the prototype to go to the board meeting, declaring himself satisfied and that he would continue to invest in the project.

The Tesla Roadster of 2006
The Tesla Roadster of 2006

In 2005, in order to manufacture the Roadster, Tesla signed a contract with Lotus that included a supply of glider-cars, cars entirely made by the British manufacturer, but with no powertrain which was instead assembled at the Menlo Park facility in California.

On June 19th 2006, the first Roadster was presented to the public: it had a range of 340 to 390 kilometers, reached a maximum speed of 200 km/h, and an acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds. Last but not least, the model could be recharged through the normal home electrical system in about 10/15 hours.

The small two-seater boasted clean lines that echoed, almost in every way, the Elise designed by Julian Thompson. Extremely compact, it took after the 1960s race cars; a small spoiler that had small, tapered fins extending from the rearview window and created an aerodynamic lift at high speeds. Official production started in March 2008 and ended in January 2012.

The Tesla Roadster of the future
The Tesla Roadster of the future

The Roadster was sold in 31 countries and provided both Tesla Motors and the entire EV branch with precious lifeblood, redrawing the conceptual boundaries of electric cars which were regarded, up to that moment, as something clunky and not applicable to the automotive industry. The Roadster proved that a full electric car could compete with the combustion engine vehicles from the same market segment, in this case sports cars. Tesla learned a lot from his Roadster and spent all its expertise and earnings to build the Model S, the first vehicle to be entirely manufactured in-house.

It's worth adding that 2023 – after countless postponements − should have been the year of the new Tesla Roadster, whose prototype should be able to sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 2 seconds and exceed 400 km/h, all of it with a range of about 1,000 kilometers. Dream or reality? We just have to wait and see − that the visionary Elon Musk knows how to turn sci-fi-like projects into concrete experiences is already an established fact.

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