Joel Peterson’s Tesla: 0–60 in 3.6,120 mpg, No Emissions
We’re sitting in Joel Peterson’s electric-powered rocket sled a few inches off the surface of Gehricke Road, less than a mile from Ravenswood Winery.
The road before us is bordered by vineyards, straight, flat and empty.
Peterson is the nationally recognized godfather of zin, the founding winemaker at Ravenswood, author of the proclamation, “No wimpy wines!” and, it turns out, something of a car guy. That gives us something else in common, besides a compulsion for drinking zinfandel.
I have driven, and been driven in, countless fast cars, so what Peterson is about to do doesn’t particularly impress me.
Until he drops his foot on the go pedal.
And then my internal organs, including my heart, are flattened against my spine and it feels like I’m riding the nose cone of an Apollo rocket.
I’ve been in all manner of race cars, on screaming-fast motorcyles, and once rode a jet-powered offshore race boat at 180 miles per hour.
But nothing quite compares to the initial acceleration from Peterson’s Tesla Roadster, a tiny two-seater with 288 horsepower that should never be able to go so fast so quickly.
We eat up Gehricke road in a breathtaking flash and when at last we slow, and I am able to move my neck muscles again and turn my head, there is an ear-to-ear grin on Peterson’s face.
“Sixty miles an hour in 3.6 seconds,” he says. “Pretty cool, huh?” It is something of an understatement.
“Pretty cool, huh?” It is something of an understatement.
For those unimpressed with the experience of raw, almost brutal, unbridled speed, it may be hard to grasp the unexpected, adolescent thrill that a big electric motor with instant maximum torque can deliver.
And although my head understands the physics, my body had trouble comprehending the physical reality.
A gasoline engine, even an 800-horsepower racing engine, has to climb a steep horsepower hill before its torque—the twisting force that translates directly into vehicular motion—reaches peak delivery.
With an electric motor, maximum torque occurs as soon as you throw the switch, or, in a Tesla, floor the accelerator.
That means nearly 300 foot-pounds of twist is available out of the gate and miles per hour is gone before you can catch a breath.
That torque is pushing us merrily along Lovall Valley Road when the political
incorrectness of our behavior is mirrored in the face of a female Prius pilot whose disapproval of our presence in the same solar system as her hybrid icon is expressed in an eloquent glare.
Hard to tell whether her contempt is for the sight of two middle-aged men having too much teenage fun in a topless roadster, or if she believes anything so salaciously sporty must be consuming barrels of oil by the minute and spewing more hydrocarbons on the vineyards than an asphalt plant.
Had she only known.
The EPA combined-cycle mileage rating for the third-generation Prius is 50 mpg. Your mileage, as they say, may vary. Along the way, the super low emissions-rated Prius will exhale 178 grams of C02 per mile.
Joel Peterson’s Tesla will go an EPA rated 244 miles on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery pack, which translates into the equivalent of 120 mpg. Calculating the emissions produced by a Tesla depends on how your electricity is generated. In Peterson’s case, it usually comes from solar panels on the roof of his house, so whenever he charges the car at home it produces no emissions at all.
So why don’t we all drive Teslas?
Two reasons: First, they stopped making the roadster version at the end of 2011 because the Lotus chassis it was based on went out of production. Second, you could buy about four Prii for the price of one
Tesla, which sold for between $109,000 and $122,000 depending on the model. (Used Teslas are available online, beginning at about $69,000.)
The 990-pound battery back (containing 6,831 cells) has a projected lifespan of seven years or 100,000 miles. The replacement cost is $36,000, although new Tesla buyers were offered the chance to order reserve batteries for $12,000.
Maintenance costs for the car are
essentially zero, except for tires and brakes. There are no belts, hoses, mufflers, oil filters, catalytic converters, spark plugs, alternators, valves or pistons. Teslas need no oil, no anti-freeze and, of course, no fuel, and the proprietary batteries use no precious-earth metals.
Peterson says, when he has to pay for electricity, driving his Tesla costs about 2 cents a mile. He has never run out of juice, although the power indicator once dropped to zero and he had to push the car’s “range extender” for the extra 20 miles he needed to get home. He always travels with an extension cord and the car takes about 7 hours, on a 220-volt line, to recharge from empty.
“I drive it all over the Bay Area,” Peterson says. I drive it through the vineyards and up to Tahoe.”
In something over 20,000 miles, he’s never had a mechanical problem and the only service Peterson’s Tesla has ever had was a software update.
“It’s really a dream car to operate,” he says. “It’s turned out to be better than I could have imagined.”
Driving the Tesla is a very visceral experience. It is low and stiff, corners flat with exquisite precision and, while the unassisted steering is a bit heavy at rest, once you’re moving it’s easy to steer and your hands feel connected directly to the road. Squirting through curves on the Lovall Valley loop makes you feel like you’re driving a go-kart. A very heavy go-kart. Despite its carbon fiber body, the Tesla weighs 2,700 pounds, including that nearly half-ton battery.
Still, it’s lighter than a Ford Focus and exponentially more fun to drive.
Peterson likes his roadster so much, he says he’s considering buying the new Tesla S sedan that just went on sale.
The company also says there is a second-generation roadster on the drawing boards that may roll out in 2015.
If that’s true, I may be waiting in line.
“Sustainable Performance” may sound like an automotive oxymoron (except to Tesla drivers) but it’s a term that has become common currency in some motor racing circles, especially at Sonoma Raceway.
That’s where the second annual Accelerating Sustainable Performance Summit was held in September, a conclave of auto experts gathered to explore prospects for maximizing performance in sustainable vehicles.
It’s also where a company called KleenSpeed Technologies established a track record for electric vehicles when veteran driver Kevin Mitz drove KleenSpeed’s EV-X11 around the 12-turn, 2.52-mile Sonoma Valley road course in a time of 1 minute, 35.99 seconds, which equates to an average speed of 93.75 miles per hour. The prototype, battery-powered race car completed four laps around the twisting circuit, reaching a top speed of 130 mph.
From the 2012 Winter issue of SONOMA