Thursday, October 24, 2013

Torpedo on Wheels

2013 Tesla Model S

It has been fun following Elon Musk's bid to build the perfect electric car.  His Tesla Model S scored a near perfect rating in Consumer Reports, and since then his stock has soared in the business world, much to the chagrin of the big automakers and Forbes magazine, which continually rants over what it sees as overpriced stock.  Yet, Musk seems to be weathering the storm, thanks to his patented electric drivetrain and other components, which he sells to Mercedes Benz and Toyota.  This is clearly a man with a vision.

He reminds me a lot of Preston Tucker, who created one of the most innovative cars in 1948, nicknamed "The Torpedo on Wheels."  It had a great number of features that would become standard in the automotive world, but were seen as too revolutionary at the time, and his fledgling auto company was buried under an avalanche of negative publicity, largely put out by the "Big Three" auto companies.  Francis Ford Coppola paid tribute to The Man and His Dream in a 1988 movie.

1948 Tucker Torpedo

There is nothing new about the electric car either.  The pioneering vehicle was developed by Thomas Pinker in 1884, but with the advent of internal combustion engines and cheap fuel sources, there wasn't much interest in Pinker's horseless carriages.  The electric car  resurfaced decades later as little carts to tootle around golf courses and retirement communities.

Ongoing efforts to reshape the electric car were repeatedly squashed by "The Big Three," as shown in Who Killed the Electric Car? But, with the collapse of the American automaking industry in 2008, the bailouts stipulated that GM had to market an electric car, offering up the Volt, which hasn't fared very well.  GM seemed ready to shelf the Volt (like it did its pioneering EV1) when all the sudden the Tesla Model S made news, big news, and the major automotive companies were forced to take notice.

1997 GM EV1

Foreign automakers all have their version of an electric car, but similarly haven't made any great effort in marketing them, but Tesla appears to have stimulated BMW and Toyota into action, which like GM plan to introduce high-end electric cars to compete with Tesla.  What makes Tesla truly unique is that Musk is building a network of stations where you can recharge or exchange your Lithium-ion batteries.  This would allow you to drive your Tesla or any electric car cross country, as you would any internal combustion engine car.

Elon Musk, unlike Preston Tucker or Thomas Pinker, has managed to keep one step ahead of the automotive industry.

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