Tesla Model S as displayed at last year’s Detroit auto show. Car runs on full electric power. AFP PHOTO

    Tesla Model S as displayed at last year’s Detroit auto show. Car runs on full electric power. AFP PHOTO

    CONSUMER Reports last week named the electric luxury car Tesla Model S the top vehicle of 2014 to buy, calling it a “technological tour de force.”

    The US consumer shopping guide selected Tesla as the best overall in test performance, reliability and safety as the car made its first appearance on the annual list of top 10 vehicle categories.

    “The Tesla is a glimpse into a future where cars and computers coexist in seamless harmony. Its 362-kilometer driving range and five-hour charges, using Tesla’s special connector, also make it the easiest, most practical, albeit pricey, electric car to live with,” said the magazine.

    The Model S that the magazine tested had a sticker price of $89,650, compared with an average of about $34,900 for the remaining nine best model categories.

    There were three other new model winners on the Consumers Reports list; Hyundai’s Santa Fe, Subaru’s Forester and Chrysler’s Ram 1500 pickup truck.

    It was the first time in 16 years that a Chrysler model has made the ranking. The Consumer Reports’s thumbs-up came a month after Italian carmaker Fiat completed its takeover of Chrysler, which helped the company get back on track following a US government bailout.

    Honda and Subaru were the only carmakers to have more than one spot.

    Honda’s Accord topped the midsized sedan ranking and its Odyssey came in as best minivan. In addition to the Forester, Subaru’s Impreza landed the best compact car nod.

    Audi’s A6 took the luxury car prize while BMW’s 328i was named best sports sedan.

    A day following the Consumer Reports accolade, Tesla unveiled plans for a “Gigafactory” for advanced electric car batteries as part of a strategy to move from niche manufacturer to mass-market carmaker.

    The maker of pricey and coveted electric vehicles said the new battery factory calls for an investment of $4 billion to $5 billion, and will include partners, with some reports saying Japanese group Panasonic was in talks on the deal.

    “The Gigafactory is designed to reduce cell costs much faster than the status quo and, by 2020, produce more lithium-ion batteries annually than were produced worldwide in 2013,” the company said on its blog.

    “By the end of the first year of volume production of our mass market vehicle, we expect the Gigafactory will have driven down the per-kilowatt-hour cost of our battery pack by more than 30 percent.”

    Tesla said it would invest $2 billion of its own funds in the new factory, and announced at the same time an offering of $1.6 billion in notes

    “At full implementation, the Tesla Gigafactory is expected to have 6,500 dedicated Tesla and production partner employees,” the company said in a document filed with regulators. “The Tesla Gigafactory is currently expected to attain full production capacity in 2020, which is anticipated to be sufficient for the production of approximately 500,000 vehicles annually and stationary storage applications.”

    The company noted it had not selected a final site for the facility, but “we currently expect that it will be located in one of the following states; Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico or Texas.”

    The Japanese daily Nikkei said the new facility, expected to handle everything from processing raw materials to assembly, is intended to go on-stream in 2017 and to produce small, lightweight batteries for Tesla and, possibly, for Toyota Motor and other carmakers. Panasonic has worked with Tesla on developing next-generation auto batteries and last year expanded the contract to supply lithium-ion units to the firm to about two billion cells until 2017.

    Panasonic said it is “studying every possible way to strengthen ties with Tesla,” without confirming the report.

    Tesla hinted at the plans last week as it reported a quarterly loss of $16 million, with revenues up 43 percent from the prior quarter at $615 million.



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