On the road

The roadster and the rocket man

The Tesla Roadster introduced the world to a car manufacturer that is also a technology company. It was also a vehicle with the core technologies of a battery, computer software and electric motor. Now discontinued, it holds an important place in the story of the modern electric vehicle.

The specs

Model: Tesla Roadster

Engine: 3-phase, 4-pole, induction electric motor

Claim to fame: The first all-electric vehicle

When the complete history of the world’s transition from combustion to electric powered vehicles is finally written, one person will stand out as having had an impact arguably up there with the likes of Karl Benz, inventor of the first internal combustion powered automobile, and Henry Ford, who masterminded automotive mass production. That person is Elon Musk, the South African born dot.com entrepreneur who introduced the world to the electronic payment firm PayPal and the rocket manufacturing and space exploration company SpaceX, before investing in silicon-valley electric car start-up Tesla in 2004. Few could have imagined that Musk and his quartet of Tesla co-founders’ first production model, a quirky carbon-fibre bodied two-seater based on the Lotus Elise sports car, would lay the platform for the modern automotive colossus that is Tesla today.

The seminal Tesla sports car was produced from 2008 to 2012 and is notable for being the first road-legal car to use lithium-ion batteries to power its rear-mid-mounted electric motor, and the first to have a range of more than 320km on a charge. Only around 2400 were built, with an estimated 30 making it to Australia, where its $240,000-plus price tag and compact two-seat body ensured it was never a volume player. Instead, this remarkable little machine established the technical template for the Tesla Model S and subsequent models that followed, helping make Tesla not only the world’s best-selling EV brand until recently, but also the most valuable car brand by market capitalisation.

In 2018, Musk’s personal 2010 Tesla Roadster also became the first production car launched into space, in a publicity stunt for SpaceX. These days the Tesla Roadster is a rarely sighted but highly collectable car, sought after by EV enthusiasts as much for its sharp handling and eager acceleration as for its historic role in the development of Tesla and EVs more broadly. In April 2022, a 2011 model year red and black roadster was advertised by a Perth seller on Carsales.com.au for $190,000, with the owner promoting its 394km battery range and 0-100km/h acceleration in 3.9 seconds.