The automotive design industry is full of companies that purport to be ‘design-led’. Many throw about the design-led idiom so freely that it’s become a bit of a cliché. Tesla’s not such a company. Its main focus instead is performance and safety — specifically the performance and safety afforded by its technology. And the Roadster has that in spades.
Franz von Holzhausen’s sketch of the 2020 Tesla Roadster
Driven out of the new Semi’s trailer by Tesla design director Franz von Holzhausen as a surprise addition to the truck unveil, there was no design speech. Von Holzhausen only uttered a brief “Yeah!” before the limelight was again put on Elon Musk, who continued his presentation and cited the reason for the new car: “The point of doing this is to give a hardcore smackdown to gasoline cars.”
The all-new Roadster will become the brand’s halo car when it becomes available in 2020, a replacement for the initial road car launched by the company to test out its technology in 2007. Roadsters — or targa sports cars if we’re to get the typology right — are a wonderful company halo. No longer considered a functional tool, they speak to the joy of driving and create an emotional connection with the driver.
Embodying many of Tesla’s current design traits, the car’s surface language, front fender and rear haunch accentuation, and lower lightcatcher element are all present on the Roadster, though in an exaggerated state. The DLO retains some of the character of the Model S and Model 3 — though the kick-up at the rear is more pronounced — and there’s no chrome surround for a more typical sports car look.
The front and rear end designs are where the Roadster clearly differentiates from its sedan siblings. Evidenced by the low hood, front splitter and sinister headlamps recessed into the fenders, the front clearly communicates its performance intent. The large rear diffuser, a rear wing that deploys at speed and tapering cabin accentuates the rear haunches, while slender free-floating taillamps bridge the negative space below. Seen from the rear, there’s no denying its sports car stance.
Inside is the minimalist aesthetic we’ve become accustomed to in other Tesla products. A large free-floating center screen occupies pride of place between the driver and front passenger, flowing off the unadorned triangular-shaped IP. Unfortunately, the steering wheel looks like it came out of KITT, though thankfully it’s trimmed in a lighter colorway and in more contemporary materials. While a familiar shape to aircraft pilots, we’d argue a driver’s car clearly needs a more substantial, rounded item that’s been tried and tested on the road.
The big news, however, comes in the form of a rear passenger compartment, which Musk concedes is only large enough to accommodate those of smaller stature. We doubt that will dissuade buyers. Most will likely cross-shop the Roadster with a vehicle capable of insane speeds, most of which only have two seats. It’s closest competitor, judging by format alone, is a Porsche 911 Targa. Though woefully underpowered in comparison, it costs significantly less than the new Tesla Roadster. Potential Roadster customers aren’t likely to consider the Porsche.
New electric vehicle startups have always purported EVs as performance cars. We’ve all watched videos of sedans racing Ferrari and Lamborghini’s supercars, pulling off the start line and leaving the others to gather dust on their expensive paintwork. Tesla’s gone a step further with the Roadster, as von Holzhausen depicts in the video below.
Franz von Holzhausen behind the wheel of the new Roadster (credit: David Hodge)
Three electric motors — one powering the front two wheels and two further torque vectoring units spinning each wheel at the rear — source power from a 200kWh battery pack in the floorpan, enabling the Roadster to reach 60mph from a standstill in a claimed 1.9 seconds and 100mph in a scant 4.2 seconds. Generating 7376 lb-ft of torque, the Roadster is also claimed to be capable of speeds in excess of 250mph.
Those frankly staggering numbers better the performance figures of the quickest two-wheeled superbikes and crown the Roadster the fastest production car in the world (once it reaches production). Better still is the car’s claimed 620-mile range, which Musk cited as “going from LA to San Francisco and back on one charge, at highway speed!”
The Tesla Roadster reinforces the notion that the electric car has matured — it no longer carries the stigma of ‘efficiency’ as its prime objective. This is a car to take down windy roads, wind in your hair, benefitting from the incredible performance on offer. The polar opposite of the function-led Semi truck revealed, the Roadster is the performance car halo product enabled by mind-blowing technology.
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