Tesla’s very first car is back. It’s red. It’s fast. And it will cost you upward of $200,000.
The Roadster, the electric sports car that put the automaker on the map, made a surprising appearance at Tesla’s semi-truck event late Thursday. The next-generation Roadster is Tesla’s first new sports car since it discontinued the original in 2012 and marks the company’s bid to remain competitive across several categories in the world of electric vehicles that it helped reshape.
The updated Roadster will achieve world-record speeds, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk said during the event in Los Angeles. The base model can travel from a dead stop to 60 miles per hour in less than two seconds, making it the fastest consumer car on the planet and the first to break the two-second mark, Musk said. He declined to give the Roadster’s top speed but said it would surpass 250 mph.
But while Musk and his audience were characteristically gleeful, investors and some auto analysts were skeptical about the company’s prospects. Tesla’s stock fell nearly four percent in midday trading Friday. Some industry observers pointed to the company’s production delays in its mass-market Model 3. Ed Hellwig, a senior editor at auto research website Edmunds.com, described the Roadster as a “very unnecessary distraction” whose reintroduction was likely designed to divert attention from Tesla’s business struggles.
The company reported a net loss of $619 million, or about $2.92 per share, in its most recent earnings report, compared with a net income of $21 million and a gain of 71 cents per share during the same period last year. Tesla also said recently that it had fired hundreds of employees after annual performance reviews. And it’s unclear, even as the company faces production bottlenecks, where the new Roadster will be manufactured.
Analysts said that it’s too early to tell if the Roadster will help lift Tesla to profitability, but the sports car gives the company’s image a boost. “You can say a lot of things about Tesla, but one thing it’s done is built a brilliant brand,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Autotrader.
The original Roadster, released nearly a decade ago, was Tesla’s the first step in a multistage process to entice the public with its promising technology and eventually offer all-electric vehicles to the masses. The company showed that electric vehicles could preform just as well, and perhaps even better, than cars powered by fossil fuel. Its limited run, in Tesla’s view, was part of the plan.
“We started Tesla with a sports car, the Tesla Roadster. That baby got us going. It was the foundation of the whole company,” Musk said. “People have asked us for a long time, ‘When are you going to make a new roadster?’ We are making it now.”
The successor, like the original, was designed to make a splash. The unveiling itself was a surprise, coming after Musk showed off Tesla’s long-anticipated semi-truck. But beyond Musk’s flair for showmanship, experts said the new Roadster gives Tesla a prestige product to showcase and compete with.
“It’s got a lot of sizzle. It worked before, and why not,” said Krebs. “If they get it on the roads it will be something that will go head-to-head with Porsches and Ferraris and all the exotic vehicles.”
Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Bernstein Research, described the Roadster as a “brand enhancing” car in a note to investors Friday. But he also said he sees it as a low-volume product. He cautioned that Tesla should focus on building and selling the economy-class Model 3, rather than broadening its initiatives with new vehicles and energy projects.
While experts did not go so far as to describe the Roadster as a game changer, they said it will allow Tesla to challenge automakers of high-end sports cars who have been nudged — largely by Tesla — to make high-powered electric vehicles of their own. Musk made that argument in more colorful language. “The point of doing this is to just give a hardcore smackdown to gasoline cars,” he said. “Driving a gasoline sports car is going to feel like a steam engine with a side of quiche.”
Tesla says the car will come with a 200-kilowatt-hour battery, giving it a range of 620 miles at highway speeds without the need to recharge. In comparison, the current 75-kilowatt-hour battery in the Model S gives the sedan a 250-mile range. To put the Roadster’s battery endurance into perspective, Musk said a driver would be able to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back again on a single charge.
Up to four people can fit in the Roadster with “plenty of storage,” Musk said. But he was quick to add that you can’t put “giant” people in the back seat. The car will feature all-wheel drive and will have three motors.
The first customers of the new Roadster will have to wait a few years before they can climb in and let the top down, however. Musk said the car will not be available until 2020. The “Founders Series” will go for $250,000, but its specifications won’t be shared until at least next year, Musk said.