Being professionally involved with innovation I couldn’t remain indifferent to the events of Tesla, intrigued by this Californian start-up created by a serial innovator as Elon Musk. The promotional road show, having Rome as one of its scheduled stops, was an opportunity I couldn’t miss and after some contacts by email I got in touch with Roberto Toro, Communications Manager Europe, who showed immediate interest and availability, even for a blog as Automotive Space .
We met at a hotel in Rome and as we approached the parking lot I immediately noticed the intriguing yellow Roadster. Seeing the real thing it is possible to better appreciate the dynamics of its forms much more so than looking at pictures, up close it expresses a feeling of greater width that makes it more imponent than what one can perceive from the images. I immediately noticed a level and a quality aligned with that of the best sport cars on the market.
As Roberto backs up the car from its parking spot I remain speechless admiring the absence of sound. The electric toy car of Flavio (my 5 year old son) is noisier!
I get into the car, sit down on the passenger seat and the car begins to move without producing the slightest sound. The same feeling we have sitting in the roller coaster at the funfair, before the first slope!
We leave the hotel parking lot and, as we reach the first deserted straightaway, Roberto unexpectedly floors the accelerator. The response is instantaneous, the car is thrown forward with a powerful but smooth acceleration, my back and my head stick on the seat and the headrest. The thrust lasts about two seconds and Roberto releases the accelerator immediately. The car is tame, and thanks to the “engine braking” (the energy recovery system) immediately returns to the ranks as if nothing had happened. I cling to the door handle almost incredulous of that energetic forward sling that occurred in total silence. You never know!
Roberto goes through the access ramps to Rome’s commuter highway introducing the first acceleration and the first bold turns. In this situation I can’t help but remember Supercar the American TV series of the 80s with Keith (the intelligent car) which made the turns at right angles gluing the passenger against the inside of the door!
We reach the highway after passing the various entrance ramps. Roberto speaks to me of the car and its features and, as soon as the way is free, he pushes back on the accelerator … but this time does not release it! The feeling is that of the spaceship jump into hyperspace in Star Wars (just to stay on the subject of movies). He continues to speak naturally and I remain in silence trying to show a false image of confidence. The forward thrust is remarkable, constant and continuous and the speed grows rapidly even briefly breaking the speed limits in a crescendo that seems limitless. The sound of the wind (we have the soft top down) lets me feel the speed increasing. We draw the attention of the vehicles ahead of us that move aside to leave us a free path. The motorists we overtake watch us with quizzical looks wondering what’s the brand of that yellow missile!
We leave temporarily the highway and finally I get my turn. I climb in the driving seat with the excitement of a child who is about to drive a go-cart for the first time in his life and the apparent “tight” driving position fits all my 6’ 4”(190 cm) comfortably, including my size 13 (45) stylish pointed shoes. The small sport steering wheel is almost vertical and is positioned perfectly. Just tapping my foot on the accelerator begins the magic. The car starts to move in a silence that, when driving, is even more astounding. In a residential area street with no traffic I begin to accelerate moderately and move the steering wheel slightly to the left and right just to start getting the feeling for the car. The car reaches the desired pace, with a perfect linearity and does not go outside the boundaries of my control, as if it were able to read the driver’s intentions. I reach the straight uphill ramp that brings us back to the highway and I understand that it’s time to move on.
I push the accelerator gradually but decisively, and the Tesla shows instantly his powerful thrust that I feel on my back and especially at the neck providentially protected from the headrest. As before, the strong and constant pressure is expressed with an astonishing ease as the stunning silence that surrounds us. Once I enter the highway, with a little extra pressure on the accelerator I’m capable of passing the vehicles traveling at cruising speed. I push a little bit more and I free myself from a column of cars in the middle lane. The fast lane is quite free and I do not hesitate to press the pedal. The speed rises steadily, and we begin to feel the rustle of the wind. In a few seconds we reach the cars preceding us and I release the pedal a little. The road is now free in a straight line sloping upward and I push again. The speed increases rapidly and in a moment reaches prohibitive levels, and even Roberto, who until then had left me free, advises me of slowing down anticipating the traffic that we see in the distance.
No problem, Tesla Roadster is able to travel at high speed with such ease that you do not feel the need to “to set record speeds”. If you want to go faster you can be confident that it will respond flawlessly but you can also enjoy it without reaching stratospheric speeds.
Passing from the brisk pace on the highway to the constant speed driving we immediately switch from sport driving to the enjoyable and relaxing pace of leisure cruising. There isn’t the mental effort (apparently negligible in traditional cars) of the gear management, there is no vibration or noise that reveal the exasperation of the elements (engine speed to rise, engine torque to be reached). The accelerator is the main input to this extraordinary system and through the weighted modulation of the pedal you drive relaxed easily and naturally, able to instantly pass in the “hyperspace” in the blink of an eye … and returning to the ranks just as swiftly. And all without the noise, smoke, skidding, vibration and deceleration inertia. All this with a combustion engine is impossible. In this type of transient is felt the maniacal work done on the engine management system which always allows a smooth and relaxing drive, passing with remarkable ease from one pace to another without requiring a special effort of mind … and no gear changes ( manual or automatic). The Tesla is not to be driven at the right engine speed, as with the combustion engines, but it reaches the desired pace as if reading our minds. It’s always at the right gear!
This car is a complex system in which all subsystems are in harmony with one another as close-knit members of a symphony orchestra. The perfect engine power delivery is in line with a precise servo-controlled steering ensuring safety in sport driving and a suited comfort in town. The suspensions package is no exception. The setting is decidedly sporty and on the high speed curves it behaves as if traveling on tracks but it is good even at low speeds and on uneven terrain, where the suspensions filter the road roughness giving an acceptable comfort that goes beyond the expectations. The brakes are powerful, durable and gradual. Honestly driving in relax the brakes are rarely used thanks to the progressive engine braking effect which allows to control most of your driving by simply modulating the accelerator with the foot. I do not deny that traveling in low-relaxing pace in town for a moment I had the feeling that the car was driven by the wind! Before concluding the test I accelerated into a sharp turn with rough asphalt in search of the skid and the spin of the tires. Result? No abnormal reaction. The Tesla doesn’t lose its balance at all! Think about how you can have fun in mixed tight or fast driving and uphill!
When we stop we get off and Roberto open the trunk showing the battery pack while the cooling fans are running to cool the (electric) motor . The power source has the shape of a flattened box (in width) and extended vertically. The volume is similar to that of a fuel tank. The question arises, anticipated by a resounding “Tell me honestly … and please do not exaggerate …” and I continue: “what is the minimum and maximum range with the full charge?” The answer is convincing: more than 300 km (186 miles) driving normally (with not particular parsimony) possibly using the “Battery Saving” mode selectable from the small touch screen on the center console, and over 180 km (110 miles) in extreme sport driving. Reasoning on these data it is clear that the “electrical solution” of Tesla has become a real alternative to traditional cars. The ghost of the dead batteries that leave us in the middle of the urban jungle is just a thought that is no longer realistic thinking about the Tesla. And my imagination goes wild thinking about how this remarkable know-how can be extended to other type of vehicles : city cars, crossovers, sedans … as the Model S that I look forward to testing!
Looking at the details of the Roadster one can feel the charm of high technology that gives a character “factory-inspired” to this wonderful product, although the industrialization is impeccable. How flawless are the realizations of the body parts and their couplings. The materials are of high quality: carbon fiber and light alloys everywhere. Looking carefully at the details one feels that nothing has been left to chance giving credit to the minds which have worked methodically, diligently and with passion to the continuous improvement of each detail.
After saying goodbye to Roberto, while driving home, all I do is reviewing the feelings that are milling around in my mind to better fix them in my memory. After all I realize what this has been the very mission of the men and women of Tesla who have made this extraordinary product: the ability to give customers a unique experience. For those who want to make great products like this, experience becomes the new design paradigm. And to those who wish to explore this concept further, I suggest taking a look at a this presentation:
The Tesla Roadster is an excellent product and its uniqueness has deep roots coming from an innovative business model based on a lean and efficient organization, free of complex hierarchies, where talented people have found the right environment to express themselves and possibly even get surprised of their achievements. Undoubtedly, a model and a philosophy that are not easily put in place by large industrial groups unless profound and important changes are implemented. The uniqueness of the products and the originality of the company are in line with the sales strategy that uses luxurious showrooms located in major cities as a base. The Tesla Roadster deserves the commercial success that I am sure will be achieved especially taking into account that it is a car that more than being bought must be sold, like any high-tech solution. The potential customers should be allowed to live temporarily this driving experience and understand the value inherent in this solution for sustainable mobility with effective “evangelization” aimed at winning those weak and understandable mistrust that people have towards any innovative technology.
Finally, someone will inevitably ask: “it has to have at least a defect!” This expression reminds me of an old friend. When he looked at a beautiful girl walking he would ask me: “well, now find a defect in her.” I looked at the beauty passing by and not to give my friend any satisfaction I would said, “but haven’t you seen she has the ingrown toenail?”. Back to our electric sport car, if you really want to be picky, we can point out that the luggage space is limited to a briefcase. But, on this type of car, it is a restriction that we can forgive.