When will Tesla Motors make an electric supercar? Someday, says Elon Musk, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who started or co-founded Paypal, Tesla Motors, and SpaceX. Musk was interviewed today by the readers of Jalopnik who got him to say a number of interesting things about Tesla Motors.
When asked if battery technology would ever allow recharging as flexibly as refilling a gasoline tank, Musk gave a very curious answer: "I think it can be even better. The Tesla Supercharger, to be unveiled in a few months, will do a lot more than anyone expects." While the SuperCharger is an awesome piece of technology in the context of the electric car market, it is not going to be as flexible as refueling with gasoline. A gasoline vehicle refuels at a rate of 300 miles or so in under five minutes. The SuperCharger will, according to Tesla's website, refuel the 85 kiloWatt-hour Model S at the rate of 300 miles in about 1 hour. For an electric vehicle to refuel at this rate is an amazing advancement, but it is nowhere near the rate of gasoline cars. This refueling rate means the Model S is the first electric car that can realistically implement the Great American Roadtrip experience (drive 300 miles, refuel, take a lunch break, drive another 300 miles, etc). Musk did hint at June's shareholder meeting that the SuperCharger network would incorporate solar panels into the system in a way that may include quickly swapped battery packs.
When asked about new models designed by Tesla, Musk talked about the Model S, the Model X, and then said "Maybe an E :)". The company has long promised that following the Model X, they would unveil a more affordable electric car. Maybe 'E' is Musk's sideways reference to "Economical".
Later he was asked about the possibility of an electric "supercar" from Tesla, to which Musk said "Yes, we will do an electric supercar at some point. It was going to happen right after the Model X, but it is more important to the world that we do a more affordable electric car. Hopefully, we will get to an electric supercar in 4 to 5 years." This reiterates the long-stated plan of developing an affordable electric car. Given that Elon Musk is currently 41 years old, in 4-5 years he'll be in his mid-to-late 40's and just in time for a mid-life-crisis, and an electric supercar might be on his mind at that time.
Talking about the benchmark Tesla strives for in designing their vehicles, Musk described the corporate goal with the Model S "is to create the best car in the world.. not to win any awards.. but simply to show that such a thing is possible with an *electric* car." Why? Because of the stereotype "that electric cars can't be better than gasoline" which must be shattered.
Another question asked when there would be "electric cars in major motorsports events," to which Musk answered "We could do it right now and that would be super fun." Indeed there are electrically powered motorsports events today. For example there is an electric motorcycle race this weekend, the finale of the 2012 TTXGP North America series. At the e-Power/TTX electric motorcycle race held in July, five of the bikes ran at lap-times within the range of the 600cc SuperBikes that also raced that same day. Earlier in July at the REFUEL race, a small electric vehicle racing event, several Tesla Model S's smoked the Tesla Roadsters, with the fastest Roadster finishing in fifth place.
The technical problem with this picture is the range issue. The TTXGP electric motorcycle races run for a distance of 22 miles or so, when gas bike races run for 55 miles or more. The REFUEL race runs for 3 laps at a time, when gas car races run for a much longer distance. In the gas powered races they do come into the pit to refuel, but the quickest way to recharge an electric vehicle is to swap the battery pack for a fully charged one. That is solvable, and many people have used fast swapped battery packs in race conditions (Better Place did not invent this idea).
For generations of vehicle technology development races have been the venue for testing and improvements. To have an electric vehicle outright win races against gasoline powered vehicles would further the cause of shattering myths about electric cars. Reading between the lines of Elon Musk's psyche, we expect he's not willing to fund a Tesla Motors racing team until they can develop a race car that can beat gas cars.