The Tesla Roadster is a roller-coaster ride without the rails - except it's much, much faster than anything you've ever ridden at the most amped-up amusement park.
And I want one.
Unfortunately, it's $109,000 (U.S.). But after an afternoon behind the wheel, sun blazing on my forehead, darting in and around and through traffic on the 405 in L.A., then a rousing spin up and down the winding, narrow switchbacks of ritzy Bel Air, I not only want one, I want our government to get more serious about electric cars.
I mean, the United States has already stepped up with some serious cash. It has put in place an as-yet-untapped $25-billion fund for research and development of green automotive technology.
Canada only invests $500,000 annually.
At least Ottawa is in the early stages of developing an Electric Vehicle Technology Roadmap ( http://www.evtrm.gc.ca). But so far it seems to be sadly un-ambitious: 5 per cent or one in 20 new cars sold in Canada should be electric by 2018. At 2008 sales volumes, that's just 80,000 electric vehicles a year! Not enough. We should shoot for 20 per cent, at a bare minimum.
What the Tesla Roadster proves is that electric vehicles don't need to be golf carts, or low-speed runabouts for elderly retirees living in gated communities. Electric cars don't need to be just for early adopters who have seen the Al Gore light, either. You know the ones, the angry sorts who disdain anyone who questions their received green wisdom.
The Tesla is certainly crude in terms of cabin refinement and creature comforts, but it proves that zero-emissions cars can be amazing - instant torque, blistering acceleration, quick and snappy driving responses and no emissions from the tailpipe.
And they're selling. Michael van der Sande, a Tesla vice-president, says more than 150 roadsters have been delivered, with plans for hundreds more both in the United States and Europe. There is also a plan to sell Teslas in Canada, though details are scant.
A Tesla sedan is under development, too. However, its future seems tied directly to U.S. government aid. Tesla's founding investors, mostly high-tech zillionaires from California's Silicon Valley, are apparently tapped out for venture capital and are looking for government assistance.
Tesla's future as a viable company aside, the Roadster is a real working car powered by thousands of water-cooled lithium-ion batteries not unlike the ones running your BlackBerry, mobile phone and laptop computer.
Sure it's small, small as a Lotus Elise - which, by the way, forms the basic mechanical foundation here. That's right: Tesla and Lotus have teamed up on the roadster project.
Despite the similarity between the Elise and the Roadster, the Tesla people tell me only 7 per cent of the Roadster's parts are from Lotus. At only 3,937 mm long, the Roadster is 152.4 mm shorter than the Honda Fit. It sits low, too; the removable roof stands at hip height or 1,118 mm. The Roadster is kiddie-car size.
The carbon fibre body is lightweight and the body panels themselves are relatively unadorned, other than the word "Tesla" written across the back. Two sharp vents across the hood and a big air intake hint at the need to cool those batteries, but they don't look odd or out of place. The oval headlamps look scary.
The performance numbers are certainly frightening: 0-96 km/hour (60 mph) in less than four seconds; the electronically limited top speed is 201 km/hour (125 mph); the range is about 320 km (200 miles) on a single charge.
The batteries recharge in 3.5 hours using Tesla's own special high-voltage charging system. Owners can get one installed at home. Thankfully, an optional recharge kit allows the roadster to be charged up from the same kind of outlet that runs your hair drier. Tesla says the batteries will last about five years or 160,000 km.
What gets you moving is a 115-pound electric motor. It spins out 248 horsepower and more than 276 lb-ft of torque. Instantly. Hit the throttle and the 1,225-kg roadster explodes down the highway.