THE author of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, E.L. James, has mused at length about a billionaire inflicting punishment in her bondage-based bestseller. As the recipient of one of the first right-hand-drive versions of the Tesla Model S to hit Britain’s roads, personally handed to her at an event in London last week by Elon Musk, the carmaker’s wealthy boss, she is clearly attuned to billionaires dishing out pleasure too. The “range anxiety” that afflicts other electric-car owners has been minimised in the Model S by packing it with lots of batteries; the agony-inducing cost of filling up at the petrol station need never bother Ms James again.
Other all-electric cars, costly and with limited ranges, have proved a hard sell. The models from most mainstream carmakers still look and feel like gimmicks. Tesla’s main achievement is producing a car which can be judged credibly alongside any fast and expensive petrol-propelled saloon. But the Californian company’s long-term growth prospects, and the widespread adoption of electric cars, are both dependent on a big drop in battery costs. Tesla’s next mission, to begin making a cheaper, mass-market electric vehicle in 2017, will rely heavily on ambitious plans for a new battery “gigafactory” in America.
Batteries are the priciest bit of electric cars. Mr Musk, a founder of PayPal and a serial tech investor, claims that his come much cheaper than those of other carmakers. Although Tesla has designed the powerpacks and their associated circuitry, each of them contains up to 7,000 standard lithium-ion cells of the sort found in laptops. The firm is said to buy more of these sorts of cell than all the world’s computer-makers combined.