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Tesla Roadster provides a jolt of fun

Green means go, and in the case of the Tesla Roadster, green means go! That's because the little sports car has the advantage of instant torque that all-electric power provides: It rockets from 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds. How quick is that? It's the equal of a 505-horsepower Corvette Z06 and faster than many performance cars — all without the tailpipe emissions.

"It's guilt-free fun," said Tesla sales adviser Neil Joseph, who, on a recent weekday, parked the little sports car in front of the Museum of Fine Arts in downtown St. Petersburg. It was there that its eye-catching appearance — imagine the progeny of a Lotus and a Ferrari — had pedestrians reaching for their cameras and even stopped a few motorists.

"There's always a sports-car market, even during a down economy," Joseph said of the Roadster's appeal. "It sends a different message than a classic sports car — you're happy to support the future of energy consumption."

The Roadster, which has a carbon-fiber body, is both a production vehicle and technology showcase for Tesla Motors, a California company founded in 2003 with the goal of demonstrating that electric cars need not be pedestrian in design or performance. (On the horizon: a luxury sedan in 2012.) The Roadster is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack that gives it a range of 245 miles on a full charge, Joseph said. The car can be plugged into conventional 110- and 220-volt outlets and it comes with a power connector. (Tesla recommends buying one of two more powerful connectors — $1,500 to $1,950 — to cut charging times to as little as four hours.)

Tesla's other goal: be a producer of powertrains. It already has forged alliances with Toyota (for an electric RAV4) and Daimler (for a Smart electric car).

But all that technology doesn't come cheaply: The Roadster's price starts at $109,000.

"It's really gone from early adopters to people who say, 'I'm looking at the Porsche, Audi and the Tesla,' " Joseph said of potential buyers.

One of the early adopters was Greg Sembler, a fan of electric cars who owns a Toyota Prius that he has converted to a plug-in hybrid.

"I love it," the St. Petersburg developer says of his first-generation Roadster. "I frustrate a lot of Porsches and Vettes out there (from 0 to 60 mph).

"I really think electric cars are the future."

Joseph said Tampa Bay may be an important part of that future. The company owns its retail and service network and has 13 "Tesla Stores" worldwide; Joseph said the company eventually would like to have one here. For now, the closest store is in Miami. For service, the company will send a "Tesla Ranger" mobile service technician to owners.

Joseph will be based in Tampa for the next several months doing sales and market development. The first Roadsters were delivered in 2008, and according to Tesla, there are more than 1,300 on the road worldwide; about 15 are in the bay area.

Ultimately, Tesla's goal is bigger than being a niche automaker.

"Overall," Joseph said, "we want to be a luxury brand like BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, with a similar range of cars."

For more information, call Neil Joseph at (941) 681-0198 or go to teslamotors.com.

How'S it drive?

Some owners who bought the Roadster as a weekend runabout have been so impressed by its characteristics that it has become their daily driver, according to Tesla's Neil Joseph. "It has a pretty direct connection to the road. It's a pure driving experience," he said. It certainly is a simple one. There isn't power steering, so the wheel requires a little effort. There's no shifting — it has one fixed gear. It corners as well as many high-end sports cars I've driven. And unlike many hybrids, the regenerative braking isn't noticeable. (Just taking your foot off the accelerator slows the car rapidly.) The only learning curve is one of perception: It will change how you view acceleration. From 0 to 60, it is gasp-inducingly quick. I took several co-workers for rides, always warning them before I floored it; they all reacted as if on a theme-park ride. The best comparison seems to be the launch of the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The Tesla isn't quite that quick — yet.

Peter Couture, Times staff writer

Tesla Roadster provides a jolt of fun 11/25/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 6:41pm]
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