Thinking Tech

I test-drive a Tesla Roadster

I test-drive a Tesla Roadster

Posting in Cities

Tesla is marketing the car with meat.

Tesla invited me to drive its Roadster Sport on Saturday -- a red convertible with two seats that's supposed to go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds.

I couldn't test this feature because we were confined to city streets where the speed limit was 35 mph, but the rest of the drive went mostly as planned. The car handles well, looks good -- other drivers defer to red convertibles, I found -- and was extremely quiet, except for the times when I braked to stop and the brakes squeaked.

My Tesla handler said the squeaking occurs because brakes aren't used much in an all-electric car -- when you take your foot off the accelerator the car slows immediately, so you don't need brakes as often. (I'd never driven an electric car, and this feature did feel odd). He said the squeaking would go away for awhile if I ran the car up to 60 mph and then slammed on the brakes, but I didn't have the courage to try that.

Tesla appears to be working hard to sell this car -- this test drive was a promotion done with a high-end men's clothing store called Hlaska, which served hors d'oeuvres made almost entirely of meat. There were little pancakes drizzled with maple syrup and topped with big chunks of bacon, and little sandwiches stuffed with rare roast beef, all meant to appeal to the young Silicon Valley males that Tesla sees as its customers now.

Was it organic pork and beef? Who knows. Given the price of the car (about $100,000), the number of cars Tesla has sold (about 1,200), and the losses Tesla has racked up (over $260 million so far, with more to come, according to an SEC filing), the potential environmental impact of the hors d'oeurvres is probably not at the top of Tesla's list of worries.

There are still so many unknowns with electric cars, and with Tesla. You have to be "proactive" about finding charging stations when you drive, another Tesla handler told me -- RV parks are good, and sometimes hotels will accommodate you.

Still, Tesla's management is convinced that all-electric -- as opposed to hybrid, like the Chevy Volt -- is the way to go, the handlers said, even though the battery that allows the Roadster to go over 200 miles on a single charge is so big that it takes up one-third of the car's weight.

Tesla's Model S, which is supposed to carry five people and cost half as much as the Roadster, is due out in a couple of years -- Tesla just accepted an investment from Toyota and will build the Model S in the now shuttered Toyota-GM plant across San Francisco Bay from its headquarters.

It'll be very interesting to see if Tesla, which filed in January to go public, can make it as a company. I bet (hope) that the U.S. government, which has loaned Tesla over $450 million, is watching too.

UPDATE: Guys, I got 10 minutes with the car on a busy street. Tesla has offered another test drive -- we're working on scheduling it.

To SymbioticDesign, driving the Roadster in traffic was no different than driving my 2006 Honda, except that a) the car slowed immediately when I took my foot off the accelerator, which means you don't brake as much; b) the brakes, when I did use them, squeaked; and c) there's no motor noise (obviously). Steering, acceleration, maneuverability all seemed the same.

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Deborah Gage

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Deborah Gage has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Minnesota Public Radio, Baseline and various magazines and newspapers. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure