Jan 022011
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Tesla Motors says its all-electric Model S sport sedan will join the Roadster in late 2011 and be sold initially with battery packs offering 165 and 230 miles of range.

But Tesla has also said that the $57,400 base-price car (which is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit) would have a third option a year after launch: a battery pack that will give it an impressive range of 300 miles between charges. But just how big would that pack have to be?

In an interview, J.B. Straubel, Tesla’s chief technical officer, said that the size of the pack has not been finalized. But, he said, a range of 85 to 95 kilowatt-hours is possible. “We hesitate to print a number,” Mr. Straubel said. “It would be the biggest pack on the market, and we’re designing and building it ourselves.”

Mr. Straubel seems unfazed by the prospects of building — to size, weight and cost — an unprecedented battery pack. “Saying it can’t be done is like saying there’s never been a gas tank that big,” he said. The pack is within “technical reality,” given the experimental high-density cells Tesla is now working with, Mr. Straubel explained, adding that these cells could, with today’s technology, give the Roadster a range of 280 to 300 miles. “When we announced the Roadster, the skeptics said we would never get over 200 miles,” he said. The Roadster has an official range of 244 miles.

Needless to say, there are some skeptics about the 300-mile battery pack, at least with today’s technology. Dick DeVogelaere is the vehicle chief engineer for Magna International on the Ford battery car project, scheduled for 2011 production. “It would take a pickup truck to haul that battery around,” he said. “It would probably weigh in excess of 1,000 pounds, maybe 1,200.”

Mr. DeVogelaere also predicted that the cost would be three times that of a standard pack. “It’s all about mass,” he said. “If Tesla has a way to make it very light, maybe they can get there. But they would need some major breakthroughs — it would be difficult based on existing technology.”

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