Downshift meet december 2012 nerd

Land of the Rising Sun | Downshift

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DownShift Xmas Meet 2012

Lotus had its financially separate Lotus Engineering division, so they were already working with other carmakers. Eberhard briefly considered going after Porsche, which has a similar consulting arm, but he remembers the German company's rate being three times that of Lotus. So the Lotus Elise it was. The tiny British sports car had already been used as a base by other companies.

The Lotus Elise S1. With those pieces put together, the new year of became the time to start pitching to VCs in earnest. Actually Raising Funds The thing about having a product that's really "out there" — like building an electric sports car, as opposed to launching a messaging app — is that it screams risk to possible investors.

In raising their first round inEberhard and Tarpenning secured small investments from family, friends, and a handful of VCs, but there wasn't anybody to lead the round, to make the gigantic keystone investment to allow the young company to rapidly start maturing. But there was this one guy. Peter Thiel, left, and Musk in the early s. His name was Elon Musk, and his ideas about what to do in the space industry were strikingly clear.

Tarpenning and Eberhard introduced themselves. By this time inMusk was already deep into SpaceX, though the company had yet to successfully launch anything into orbit. Eberhard had previously made a handshake deal with the head of AC Propulsion, agreeing that they wouldn't pitch to the same investors. A young Elon Musk. On March 31,Eberhard sent him an email. I believe that you have driven AC Propulsion's tzero car. If so, you already know that a high-performance electric car can be made.

We would like to convince you that we can do so profitably, creating a company with very high potential for growth, and at the same time breaking the compromise between driving performance and efficiency. It lasted two hours. Eberhard realized that Musk was the first guy he had met who shared his vision for electric cars: Make a vastly superior car, not just a car that sucks less. A car like that would redefine what an electric car could be.

And given the relatively small size of the sports-car market, a new automaker could have an effect on its first at bat, rather than trying to force its way into the crowded economy market. Then, once the Roadster had destroyed the myth that electric cars had to apologize for being cars, Tesla could move into more accessible price points.

Hong Eberhard and Wright walked Musk through their business plan. For all their shared enthusiasm, Wright remembers Musk being skeptical about what the production and design of the car would cost. Tarpenning was out in Washington, D. Musk said he was in, but they would have to make it quick. His then wife was pregnant with twins, and once those boys came into the world he wouldn't have time to deal with the guys from Tesla.

The paperwork was quickly drawn up and finalized on April 23, It was time for Tesla to grow. A Lotus Europa. Eberhard and Wright first bonded on a flight to Tokyo where they took turns damning and praising the Lotus Europa, an idiosyncratic s-era sports car they had each owned. The New Zealand-born Wright, who used to build and race sports cars back in the day, had come on as the "car guy" for Tesla when he joined as the third member of the team in As part of the fellowship of Tesla, Wright's biggest responsibility was nurturing the relationship with Lotus.

The first time he visited the Lotus factory, in Hethel, England, he was amazed by two things. The first was the ingenious way Lotus had managed to intersperse Vauxhall s with Lotuses on the assembly line. The second was what a ridiculously difficult project Tesla had signed up for. He was shocked when a Lotus engineer told him that it was easier to redesign an engine than remake a door. In what would become a theme for Tesla, seemingly simple parts revealed unending intricacies.

Perhaps most maddeningly, a would-be carmaker has to navigate manufacturing tolerances. In car manufacturing, a tolerance is the allowed variation of some measurement in a part, whether it be a dimensional factor such as length or an electrical one like resistance. Part of an engineer's job is to make sure that the car's design will work within those tolerated variations — so that, for instance, the longest length of one part still works when mated with the shortest allowable version of another.

The Elise chassis would require tons of modifications — with Tesla's electric powertrain and battery pack included. The other big task for Wright, who would amiably leave the company about a year after joining, was to form a relationship with AC Propulsion, the manufacturer of the tzero, which was so effective at convincing people that electric cars didn't have to suck.

Tesla's original plan was to acquire the company and get its powertrain technology, motor tech, and the management system. The AC Propulsion executives didn't want to be acquired, but they agreed to a license deal instead. With those partnerships in place, Tesla could start creating cars. Martin Eberhard Malcolm Powell had been working as a project manager at Lotus for over 15 years when he walked into a meeting with Eberhard and Wright in early They were in England to talk about building a car.

Powell couldn't help feel skeptical. While Lotus was always a progressive company, he said lots of people would approach the carmaker trying to make their ill-conceived ideas into a reality. Their product was therefore out of the ordinary. He acted as a bridge between the companies — he knew everything you could about the Elise, and he had worked intimately with the whole team at Lotus.

In those days, Lotus held a lot of the cards. Tesla was an unheard-of startup; Lotus was an established name in racing. Powell recalls that Lotus didn't want to do anything that might dent the reputation of its ace product. The Roadster was to be new in a way that almost every other new car was not, Powell recalls, because when GM or Ford or Toyota wanted to roll out a product line, they were limited to a pool of parts from preexisting vehicles.

In that sense, a new car from one of the major manufacturers couldn't be truly new. But the Roadster — with parts sourced from the dispersed ecosystem of auto manufacturers and Tesla's proprietary technology — was legitimately new.

With that came headaches and opportunities. How would it look? Equally as important, how would it feel?

The Making Of Tesla: Invention, Betrayal, And The Birth Of The Roadster

The following summer, Eberhard had a clear understanding of what he wanted the Roadster to look like, so he sent out his first call for design submissions. The proposals that came back were "awful," he recalled. They were all loaded with doodads and thingamajigs that screamed "electric. AP In the fall ofBill Moggridge, a long-time friend who happened to be a legend in design, had Eberhard over to his elegant, modernist home two doors down from Eberhard in rural San Mateo, California.

The London-born Moggridge, now deceased, was something of an elder statesman of industrial design. He was a cofounder of IDEO, the legendary design consultancy. He's credited with styling the first modern laptop. In his upper-crust English accent, the Santa Claus-looking Moggridge spent two afternoons with Eberhard talking about what he wanted out of the car and the place it would have in the world.

The Tesla intrigued Moggridge because IDEO had designed almost every consumer product the world had seen, but never a car. Ignoring the view of the Pacific stretched out before them, the two slowly untangled what this mystery car would look like. After a few glasses of wine, Moggridge suggested a way for Eberhard pinpoint his vision. Where would you want your car to be on that axis? The Roadster needed to say "sports car" the moment you laid eyes on it, plus anything futuristic would put the vehicle in the uncomfortably crunchy territory of the Prius or Leaf.

It should be appealing to men, but it didn't need to be a Mustang. While the Roadster certainly leaned toward the future, it was designed to be rooted in timeless forms. After all that articulation, Moggridge created a presentation.

It was "magic," Eberhard said. Moggridge had translated his engineerspeak into something design people could understand. Eberhard put out another call for styling, and this time people understood it.

Submissions came back, and he knew just the way to evaluate them. For the company Christmas party, Eberhard invited the 15 other members of the Tesla team, advisers, and their families to a company holiday party at his home in San Mateo County.

Aside from Elon Musk, everyone who mattered to the company was there. Eberhard stripped his guest bedroom of anything but the white walls. On those walls he placed the sketches and computer renderings from the four design finalists. The guests were each given three red Post-it notes and three green Post-it notes. The contestants for the Roadster design contest. Martin Eberhard He told his guests that red was bad, green was good, and they could put the Post-its wherever they wanted.

Throughout the course of the night, guests drifted down to the guest room, studied the designs, and placed their Post-its.

By the end of the night, one wall was full of green: The Roadster had found its form. Barney Hatt of Lotus Engineering won the design contest. The Mule being built. Martin Eberhard Malcolm Smith recalled that when the time finally came to take the mule for a spin, there was some debate about who should drive. In interviews with other employees, Straubel was repeatedly described as a wunderkind.

The guy rebuilt an electric golf cart when he was He had cofounded the Aerospace firm Volacom. The MIT Tech Review wrote that "more than anyone else, [Straubel] is responsible for the car's impressive acceleration," the engineer who engineered the Roadster's electronic controls, electric motor, and battery pack.

Pretty fitting, then, that he got the first ride in the first true Tesla. The car was missing all its body panels, but it had a revised battery pack, software, and hardware. Straubel hopped in and stepped on the accelerator. The mule rocketed down the pavement. The wheels didn't fall off, the software didn't crash.

The Roadster, embryonic as it was, could drive, and drive like hell. Tesla Roadster wireframe, June But it's hard to stay stealthy when you're making something as crazy as a high-performance electric vehicle. The creators of the documentary film "Who Killed The Electric Car" had already come a-knocking, and more buzz was gathering around Silicon Valley.

Though it wasn't his quite his job, Mike Harrigan, who was brought in as VP of customer service and support, realized that the time for staying quiet had passed. Tesla needed to announce itself to the world. It would need to do something spectacular. A publicity plan was hatched. Tesla hired one PR firm to set up the event and another to wrangle Hollywood stars.

For Eberhard, the day was a "complete panic," between setting up the event, getting the whole team arranged, and taking care of the friends and family who had flown in from all over the world for the big day.

The strong guest list included Ed Begley Jr. Everybody who came to the party was told to bring a checkbook. At the center of the hangar was a stage. A track looped around the inside of the hanger, went out the door, ran down the airport runway, looped around on a straightaway, then back into the hanger, as if you took a long rubber band, made a rough T shape out of it, and laid it on the tarmac of Santa Monica Airport.

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A fan shot of the Tesla launch party in Santa Monica on July 19, By the end of the day, both cars were making some alarming noises. The drivers were hearing a loud clunk in the back of the car whenever they punched the accelerator. The upper motor mount — which they had built out of magnesium — had broken. You couldn't see it by popping open the trunk; you had to crawl around inside the car.

Anybody who got into one of those cars had their opinion of electric cars instantly changed. Another fan shot of the Tesla launch party in Santa Monica on July 19, But Eberhard made by far the bigger impression, according to those who were present. At the time, Eberhard was Mr. He was confident and knowledgeable enough to inspire a following, but nerdy enough to feel accessible. Musk, who had nowhere near the cult following that he has today, was still finding his footing as a public figure.

His presentation wasn't as free-flowing. He just didn't seem to be nearly as effective in making people excited and believe in this trend.

He did dozens that day — some in front of a camera, some for radio, some for print, with some reporters just listening while he spoke with others. In any case, the event worked. Within two weeks of the event, Tesla had sold cars, Harrigan recalled. One of those was Stephen Casner's.

People put the money down to get the Signature One Hundred series cars received this thank-you note. Stephen Casner They received the following thank-you note from Tesla: Congratulations on becoming a member of the Tesla Signature One Hundred You have joined an elite circle of automotive visionaries who have chosen to reserve the world's first high performance, electric sportscar.

Infiniti is teasing its big hunk, the QX80 sport ute concept, with a refreshed wardrobe for its plus-sized bod. It will debut Tuesday night before the show. That should get the kids to soccer in time. Genesis will debut an all-new sequel to that show-stopper this year. Mercedes will not rest on its laurels as it unwraps a squadron of new cars: The TLX sedan will showcase the latest Acura design look, first seen on it MDX crossover last year Amidst all the Broadway glitz and muscle, some smaller-size players will also get their time in the spotlight.

Honda will drop yet another variation of the all-new Civic: Subaru will show an all-new version of the Crosstrek crossover which has vaulted to stardom in crossover-crazed America. The Japanese maker will also show a refreshed version of its popular Outback wagon. Other expected reveals of note: Hyundai and Volkswagen will stick to basics with a refreshed versions of their Sonata and Golf cars. The Mazda arrived in my driveway the morning of an ice storm. But even in such conditions, the 3 begs to be driven aggressively.

Like all Mazdas these days, the compact hatch is gorgeous. My hot-hatch preference is for the Volkswagen GTI for reasons to be detailed laterbut there is no better-looking compact car out there than the 3 — even when painted gray to match the weather. It has a shark nose, flowing lines, slit headlights. The 3 is a front-wheel driver with the expected long front overhang — yet with its long hood, the Mazda hatch sits back on its haunches like a rear-wheel-drive BMW Z4 coupe.

They have soul, all right. Even on the biggest car Mazda makes, the CX-9 crossover a finalist for North American Utility of the Yearthe design stands out. For the 3 has been lightly tweaked with Kodo-rific exterior detail and a quieter interior.

The Mazda brand is all about the joy of driving. Zoom-zoom-zoom go the ads. Where other brands add a sporty car as a brand halo, Mazda starts with its MX-5 Miata and grows from there. As my colleague Ron Sessions likes to say when we do Mazda test drives: I approach my 3 with key in pocket and depress a small, door-handle button to unlock the doors. Inside, the Japanese car speaks with a German accent: It has a tight, predictable stick shift with short throws.

Closely placed pedals for double-clutch downshifts. Tablet infotainment display controlled by remote rotary dial happily, for this touchscreen fan, it can also be controlled by fingertip when the car is stationary. Gauges accented by chrome like Porsche-Audi premium models. The high-beams are particularly useful this wintry day because my schedule will take me through the pocked, wet streets of Detroit well after dark.

Google Maps would have to do. But the predictable, balanced 3 makes every rut and slick patch manageable. With the auto high beam feature, they smartly read oncoming traffic and turn off when another car comes into view. I turn off the traction control for maximum fun, and here I pine for my favorite GTI for the first time.

The 3 may shout zoom-zoom, but it lacks limited slip-limited slip. The limited-slip differential, like the one on the GTI equipped with its performance package, is a clever bit of engineering that distributes torque to help maintain grip under hard acceleration. For the same price as the 3, the GTI will deliver its performance package — limited-slip differential and all. So will the Honda Civic Si for that matter. UntilMazda made a direct GTI competitor called the Mazdaspeed 3 properly equipped with the feature.

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Happily, the 3 does come equipped with an independent rear suspension like the VW, Honda and Ford Focus. Which is a good thing when you are humming along at 60 mph and hit an unexpected Detroit road defect.

On a solid rear-axle Hyundai Elantra or Chevy Cruze this might send your head through the roof. The Mazda just shrugs. But inside, the 3 was surprisingly roomy for your freakishly tall reviewer. Rowing the box with abandon to 6-grand, the front tires howling under too much torque, I kept the revs up for maximum response.

Mazda has thus far resisted the industry stampede to turbo engines, opting instead for a less-torquey, 2. I emerged from the Mazda 3 at the end of the evening refreshed. Even on roads fit for the Dakar.