Tesla Motors To Start Production

The first production Lotus Elise-based, $98,000 battery-electric Tesla Roadsters will be exported to the U.S. from Lotus Engineering in March, now that Tesla Motors has received all regulatory approvals to import the first production Tesla Roadster (“P1”) for sale. Initially at a limited rate pendng the supply of a redesigned single-ratio transmission, series production is scheduled to begin on 17th March.

Transmission problems have delayed series production, and early production units will be equipped with an interim transmission that meets durability requirements but limits acceleration to 5.7 seconds from 0 to 60 mph. Tesla Motors engineers have designed a permanent solution for mass production that supports the original specification of 0 to 60 mph in 4 seconds.

The planned solution is said to offer some very positive benefits. Instead of a complex two-speed transmission design, Tesla will achieve the original performance goals with a more simple one-speed unit paired with a higher rated Power Electronics Module (PEM.) The existing motor will be modified to have advanced cooling capabilities to handle the additional power. The permanent transmission unit will be engineered to handle the higher torque of the powertrain.

This should also provide better efficiency, lower weight, equal or better range, better thermal performance and quicker quarter mile acceleration due to the elimination of the need to shift gears.

Early production will proceed at a “limited rate” and then ramp up to full production when the permanent powertrain solution is production-ready later this year. The upgrade from the interim solution to the higher power, permanent solution will be provided to Tesla buyers free of charge when available later this year.

The Detroit Free Press reports that Tesla Motors had been granted a three-year exemption from federal U.S. airbag standards for the Roadster from federal regulators. Its contract manufacturer Lotus Cars and other small car manufacturers have struggled to meet a 2006 federal rule requiring air bags that vary their deployment based on a passenger’s size.

The Elise was granted an exemption from the rule in August 2006, after Tesla had decided to build the Roadster off the Elise, but while Lotus is assembling the Roadster in England, Tesla had to seek its own waiver for the car to be eligible for sales in the United States.

A statement reported by the Detroit Free Press but not on the NHTSA’s website said Tesla has had operating losses of $43 million from 2002 to 2006, and that denying the request for an airbag waiver was “likely to put Tesla out of business in the U.S. and potentially worldwide.”

The NHTSA estimated that the three-year waiver would cover 3,825 Roadsters, including 625 this year and 1,600 in each of the following two years.

For more information, go to http://www.teslamotors.com.