The Department of Energy is handing out nearly $8 billion in loans today, and $465 million of the funds will go to Tesla Motors to produce its Model S electric sedan, the company’s first attempt at a mass-market car. The company already manufactures the Roadster, a high-performance electric sports car. Nissan and Ford Motor Company will receive the other loans; they’ll get $1.6 billion and $5.9 billion, respectively, to help produce fuel-efficient cars.
Nissan will use the funds updating a plant in Tennessee to produce the company’s upcoming electric sedan, and Ford’s loan will help expedite production of cars that go farther on less fuel. Tesla was perhaps the wild card in the funding equation because it is a small startup. The company has delivered slightly more than 500 Roadsters to customers, and the government loan will help pay for a Southern California manufacturing plant for the Model S sedan, due in 2011. A second plant in the Bay Area will make battery packs and electric drivetrains [The New York Times].
The Silicon Valley startup that’s seeking to revolutionize the automobile industry has unveiled the prototype for its all-electric sedan, which the company, Tesla Motors, describes as the first mass market all-electric car. But the cars won’t be rolling off the assembly line any time soon–because the company hasn’t built the assembly lines yet. Tesla couldn’t build a factory for the sedan, called the Model S, until it rounded up more money, which became more difficult over the last year as the economic climate worsened.
Elon Musk, Tesla’s founder, says he hopes the first cars will be delivered to customers in 2011. The company plans to produce 20,000 cars a year. However, Tesla has yet to secure finance for the project. It says it is confident of negotiating a $350 million US government loan from the $25 billion bailout package approved by the Department of Energy last year. The government fund is intended primarily to help struggling carmakers to make more fuel-efficient cars [Times Online].
Researchers may have found a way to drastically increase the performance of the lithium ion batteries that power everything from electric cars to laptops. By reconfiguring the battery to allow lithium ions to rush in and out about 100 times faster than before, researchers say they’ve created a prototype that provides fast bursts of power and also, crucially, recharges in seconds. A prototype of a battery made with the new technique could be charged in less than 20 seconds compared to the six minutes it took to charge cells made in the standard way [Australian Broadcasting Corporation].
Lithium ion batteries are capable of storing a great deal of energy, and have therefore been selected for use in electric cars like the Tesla Roadster (which uses 6,831 individual cells) and the Chevy Volt. But getting the lithium ions in and out is a drawn-out affair. This phenomenon explains why some electric vehicles (the rip-roaring $109,000 Tesla Roadster with its massive battery pack excluded) can reach high speeds, but they suffer from poor acceleration compared with the propulsive force unleashed by the rapid succession of mini explosions in an internal combustion engine. The slow exchange of ions also means lithium ion batteries recharge slowly—just think of how long you have to charge your tiny cell phone [Scientific American].
Earlier this month, the much-hyped electric car company Tesla Motors admitted that the hard financial times were taking a toll, and scaled back its goals to mass-produce flashy electric sports cars and sedans in the next few years. In that announcement, company founder (and space entrepreneur) Elon Musk revealed that the company would cut staff, close a Detroit office, and postpone production of its next generation vehicle, the Model S. Now the company has acknowledged that it was forced to cut almost 25 percent of its workforce, and analysts are wondering about its future.
The company is reportedly reeling because a number of investors withdrew their support or demanded tougher terms as financial markets collapsed over the past month. The company restructuring means that the Model S, a four-door sedan, won’t be ready until 2011, and the startup could lose its first-mover advantage: By 2010, everyone from General Motors to Toyota Motor, Nissan Motor, and Daimler expects to launch their own electrified vehicles. James N. Hall, who runs the auto consulting firm 2953 Analytics, sees trouble ahead. “If the market wants [electric cars] in the number Tesla is talking about,” he says, “a larger auto company will bury them on cost” [BusinessWeek].