Tesla recently announced that it would revise its service relationship with owners of its original Roadster, while simultaneously encouraging them to considering trading in Tesla’s first car for a new model.
The original Roadster is perhaps the most important car in the history of electric vehicles.
Here’s a look at what made it great – and why it still is.
Tesla’s first vehicle was the original Roadster, and even CEO Elon Musk now admits it was an early draft of what Tesla could do. The design was borrowed from Lotus, and the UK automaker supplied Tesla with chassis through the Roadster’s run, from 2008-2012.
The Roadster announced, dramatically, what Tesla was all about: fast, sexy, all-electric cars. No more glorified golf carts.
The Roadster hit the market priced at $US80,000, but by the time the third upgrade was retired, the sticker had topped $US150,000. Around 2,500 were sold.
Many are still on the road, and Tesla recently announced it would provide separate customer service and maintenance support to Roadster owners; these folks are a committed crew of early adopters and Tesla continues to care about them.
Here’s a closer look at the Tesla that fathered all that followed, from the Model S to Model X, Model 3, Semi, Cybertruck, and forthcoming New Roadster.
The original Roadster hit the street in 2008, after several years of development by an upstart Silicon Valley automaker called Tesla, after Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American inventor.
Elon Musk had taken all his winnings from selling PayPal to eBay and sunk them into Tesla and another company, SpaceX. He was determined to make electric cars a viable alternative to gas-powered vehicles.
The first Roadsters arrived in 2008, and Musk himself later admitted that they weren’t the greatest cars in the world. But they made a statement, and over three iterations, Tesla ironed out the kinks.
The Roadster wasn’t an original Tesla design; “glider” chassis were borrowed from Lotus.
The electric drivetrain consisted of a rear-wheel-drive motor, a 53-kilowatt-hour battery pack consisting of 6,000 lithium-ion cells wired together and serving up over 200 miles of range, and a single-speed transmission. The 0-60 mph time was an impressive 3.9 seconds.
Tesla later improved the Roadster, launching the Sport 2.0 version in 2010. I drove it then, and was blown away. The 0-60 mph time improved to 3.7 seconds, but the price tag went up to about $US100,000.
About five years, later, Tesla found a Roadster for me to revisit. It’s still my favourite Tesla and the one I’d buy.
By the time the Roadster had been officially retired, the battery pack had been upgraded to an 80 kWh capacity.
What the car never lost, even as it got beefier power and more carbon fibre, was blinding straight-line speed and point-and-shoot handing. The car was a joy to steer, so precise was the rack.
The soft top could be quickly removed and stowed in a tiny trunk for open-air motoring.
The Roadster was how we got to know Tesla and understand Musk’s ambition.
The car was rudimentary, however. Sure, the powertrain was high-tech. But you still started it with a key.
The interior was bare-bones.
The transmission was basic.
Readouts were digital, but they were like an early 2000s video game.
The infotainment system just barely got the job done.
Still, if you don’t count the Lunar Rover, this is the only Earth-bound car to make it into space. Piloted by “Starman,” Musk’s personal Candy Red Roadster was mounted atop SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and sent into orbit in early 2018. It’s still up there.
For Roadster lovers, there’s currently no two-door on sale from Tesla. But the New Roadster, unveiled in 2017, is on the way. The 0-60 mph time is projected at 1.9 seconds, which would make it the fastest street-legal car available.
Was a great car, still is. It’s wonderful that Tesla continues to look after owners, even as it encourages them to think about adding newer Teslas to their fleets.