Tesla's Original Roadster: Price, Specs and Range of the Vehicle That Sparked the Electric Revolution

By Kevin Armstrong
Tesla released the original Tesla Roadster in 2008
Tesla released the original Tesla Roadster in 2008
Alexandre Prévot from Nancy

In 2008, Tesla Motors, now known as Tesla, Inc., introduced the world to the first high-performance electric vehicle, the Tesla Roadster. Launched when gas-guzzling cars ruled the roads, the Roadster represented a paradigm shift in the automotive industry. Let's look back at the Roadster's origins, development, and impact on the automotive world.

Birth of a Legend — The Roadster's Timeline

In 2004, Tesla Motors was created by engineers Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning with the goal of revolutionizing the automotive industry. Elon Musk joined the company as its chairman and lead investor and is considered one of the founders of the company. The company's first project aimed to develop an electric sports car, and in 2006, the prototype of the Tesla Roadster was revealed. Production began in 2008, with the first Roadster delivered to Musk in February of that year.

The Roadster was an important milestone for Tesla because it was the company's first production vehicle. Before the Roadster, Tesla had only produced a prototype electric vehicle, which was used to generate interest and secure funding for the company.

Musk's Vision in Quotes

Musk, the 2021 Time Person of the Year, had high hopes for the Roadster. In a 2008 press release, Elon Musk stated. "The delivery of the first production Tesla Roadster marks a great historical milestone along the way to Tesla becoming one of the great car companies of the 21st century. The Roadster now in production is just the first of a series of models from Tesla, soon to be followed by our 4 door sports sedan. Eventually, Tesla Motors will offer a full line of electric vehicles, leading the way in the changeover from gasoline cars to an electric future."

In an interview with The Telegraph in 2012, Elon Musk explained, "With the Roadster, we wanted to create a product that would break the mould and convince people that an electric car could be cool, sexy, and fast."

In a 2008 interview with the New York Times, Musk said, "The goal of Tesla is to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we could have done that with the first version of the Roadster, we would have. But we can't." (Source: The New York Times, Nov. 2, 2008)

The interior of the original Roadster features two screens
The interior of the original Roadster features two screens

During a presentation at the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco in 2008, Elon Musk stated, "I think the Roadster has had a significant catalytic impact on the industry. And the intent with the Roadster was to change the image of electric vehicles."

In a 2011 interview with Autocar, Musk talked about the Roadster's production: "The Roadster has been a great success, proving that we could make an electric car with the range and performance of a petrol sports car, but we always knew it was a stepping stone to producing more affordable, mainstream cars."

Musk also saw the Roadster as a way to pave the way for Tesla's future vehicles. But, he said, "The Roadster is not our end game; it's just the beginning. We want to use the technology we've developed for the Roadster to create more affordable electric vehicles that can be used by the masses."

The Lotus Connection — The Roadster's Foundation

The Tesla Roadster was based on the Lotus Elise, a lightweight, two-seat sports car from the British automaker Lotus. Tesla Motors collaborated with Lotus to develop the Roadster, leveraging the expertise of the established automaker. The Roadster borrowed the Elise's chassis, but its drivetrain, battery system, and body were unique to the electric vehicle. The final product was a marriage of cutting-edge electric vehicle technology and the timeless appeal of the sports car.

The Tesla Roadster has also left a mark on popular culture with its appearances in various films and television shows. For instance, the Roadster made a cameo appearance in the 2010 film "Iron Man 2," which was driven by Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr. This appearance further solidified the car's status as a symbol of cutting-edge technology and sustainable luxury. Musk also appeared briefly in the Marvel movie.

Unrivaled Performance — 0 to 60, Top Speed and Range

The 2008 Tesla Roadster boasted impressive specs for an electric vehicle at that time. Equipped with a 53 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, the Roadster's max speed was 125 mph, with a range of 245 miles on a single charge.

The electric motor produced 248 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque, enabling the car to reach 0-60 mph in just 3.7 or 3.9 seconds, depending on the model. These performance figures were a testament to the capabilities of electric powertrains, showcasing that electric vehicles could be both efficient and exciting.

Original Roadster Price

When released, the Tesla Roadster carried a base price of $98,950, positioning it firmly within the luxury sports car market. Later versions sold for $120,000. Despite the high price tag, the Roadster was embraced by enthusiasts who recognized its significance in ushering in the electric vehicle era.

A Journey Beyond Earth — The Roadster in Space

In February 2018, Elon Musk's SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy rocket on its maiden voyage with a unique payload onboard: Musk's personal Tesla Roadster. The car was sent into space as a symbol of human innovation and a nod to the powerful synergy between Tesla and SpaceX.

The Roadster, with a mannequin named "Starman" in the driver's seat, and the stereo system played David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on repeat, was placed into a heliocentric orbit around the sun. The vehicle now serves as a symbol of the limitless potential of human ingenuity and the boundless ambition that has driven the advancement of electric cars and space exploration.

The Roadster's Lasting Impact

Roadster was not without its challenges, however. The first models had issues with overheating and battery life, which required Tesla to make some adjustments and updates. In addition, Tesla faced problems with the car's transmission resulting in several recalls and updates.

In 2010, Tesla announced a battery upgrade program allowing Roadster owners to upgrade their battery packs to a newer and more efficient design.

Despite these challenges, the Roadster remained a popular vehicle among Tesla enthusiasts. As a result, the company produced approximately 2,450 Roadsters between 2008 and 2012, most of which were sold in the United States.

The 2008 Tesla Roadster began a new era in the automotive industry. It shattered the prevailing perception that electric vehicles were slow and unexciting, proving that they could compete with their gasoline-powered counterparts in terms of performance and driving experience. Moreover, the Roadster laid the groundwork for Tesla's subsequent models, which have continuously pushed the boundaries of electric vehicle technology.

A New Generation of the Roadster

In 2017, Tesla unveiled a new version of the Roadster, which promises to be faster and more powerful than its predecessor. The upcoming Roadster, boasting a top speed of over 250 mph and a range of 620 miles, aims to solidify Tesla's position as a leader in electric vehicle technology.

As a result of the Roadster's success, other automakers began to take notice and invest in electric vehicle research and development. Today, almost every major automaker has an electric vehicle in their lineup, and the market continues to grow at an unprecedented pace. In addition, governments worldwide are setting ambitious targets for adopting electric vehicles, and charging infrastructure has expanded rapidly to accommodate the increasing demand.

Tesla Roadster demonstrated the potential of electric powertrains to deliver impressive performance, efficiency, and environmental benefits. The Roadster's legacy inspires new generations of electric vehicles, pushing the industry toward a cleaner, more sustainable future. Although the Roadster is no longer in production, its legacy lives on in the current generation of Tesla vehicles and the company's commitment to pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the world of electric cars.

Tesla's Dojo Project Faces Leadership Shakeup

By Kevin Armstrong
Dojo Leadership Shake up
Dojo Leadership Shake up

Ganesh Venkataramanan, Tesla’s project lead for its ambitious Dojo supercomputer project for the past five years, has left the company. Bloomberg reported this development, stating that the news was confirmed by sources familiar with the matter. Peter Bannon, a former executive at Apple Inc. and a director at Tesla for the last seven years, has now taken the helm of the project.

Venkataramanan's departure from Tesla last month is now stirring conversations about the potential impacts on Tesla's future initiatives. His contributions to the Dojo project have been pivotal, especially in designing the custom D1 chip that powers the supercomputer. Venkataramanan, with his extensive experience, including a significant tenure at Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), was a crucial asset in setting up Tesla’s AI hardware and silicon teams in 2016.

Dojo: A Cornerstone for Tesla’s Self-Driving Aspirations

The Dojo supercomputer is a critical element of Tesla's strategy to enhance its self-driving capabilities. Designed to train machine learning models integral to Tesla's autonomous systems, Dojo processes vast amounts of data captured by Tesla vehicles. This rapid data processing is essential for improving the company’s algorithms, with analysts suggesting that Dojo could be a significant competitive advantage for Tesla. In a recent estimation by Morgan Stanley, the project could potentially add $500 billion to Tesla’s value.

Elon Musk has been vocal about the company's commitment to the Dojo project, planning an investment exceeding $1 billion by the end of 2024. The project's importance was underscored in Tesla's decision to shift from relying on Nvidia Corp.’s supercomputers to developing Dojo, poised to rival systems from Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. and IBM.

Looking Ahead: Impact and Future Prospects

The recent leadership changes raise questions about the future direction of the Dojo project. Venkataramanan's exit, coupled with the departure of another critical artificial intelligence player from Tesla last year, Andrej Karpathy, signals a transition period for the company’s AI and self-driving teams.

However, Tesla's robust talent pool, blending experienced and emerging professionals, offers a silver lining. Bannon's promotion to lead the Dojo project is seen as a strategic move, leveraging his experience and insights gained from his tenure at Apple. Moreover, the recent installation of Dojo hardware in Palo Alto, California, marks a step forward in centralizing and enhancing the project’s capabilities.

Tesla’s ambitions for Dojo extend to making it one of the world’s top supercomputers. The company envisions reaching a computational capability of 100 exaflops* by October 2024, a testament to its commitment to advancing artificial intelligence and self-driving technology.

* Confused about "exaflops?" "Flops" stands for Floating Point Operations Per Second. It's a way to measure how fast a computer can process data. "Exa" means a billion billion, or 1, followed by 18 zeros (1,000,000,000,000,000,000). So, when we say a computer can perform 100 exaflops, it can do 100 billion billion calculations per second. That's incredibly fast!

New Parking Visualizations and Custom Locking Sounds Also Coming in Tesla's Holiday Update

By Kevin Armstrong
Tesla is adding a new 'High Fidelity Park Assist' feature in this year's Holiday Update
Tesla is adding a new 'High Fidelity Park Assist' feature in this year's Holiday Update

Following initial reactions to Tesla's 2023 Holiday Update, Elon Musk acknowledged the need for improvement, stating, "We need to step up our game." His post on X was followed by Tesla shedding more light on the Holiday Update than what was in the initial leak.

Call me old, but I remember a time when you bought a car, and that was it; the dealer and manufacturer didn’t give you anything else. So is the Tesla community acting a little bit spoiled here? Absolutely. But it also shows how high Tesla has set the bar with its previous Holiday Updates.

Initial Release and Feedback

The initial release of the 2023 Holiday Update, version 2023.44.25, received mixed reactions from the Tesla community, with some owners expressing disappointment over the lack of groundbreaking new features. But the newly announced features may serve as better stocking stuffers.

The initial rollout included something owners have been asking for, the blind spot monitor. The camera that turns on when you change lanes will now have a red color added if there is something in your blind spot. It’s not clear whether it will be accompanied by a tone.

Here are other features in the leaked update that are being tested by employees:

Navigation and Safety Features: Including symbols for speed cameras, stop signs, and traffic lights in navigation, and the automatic 911 call feature in case of an accident.

Trip Planning via Tesla Mobile App: Allowing for more detailed trip planning, including multiple stops and charging points.

Apple Podcasts Integration: Allowing users to sync with Apple devices for a seamless podcast experience, directly addressing the demand for a richer in-car entertainment system.

New Games and Enhancements: The update brought updates to Tesla Arcade, with Beach Buggy Racing and Polytopia Diplomacy updates, as well as the Vampire Survivors Chilling update.

Light Show Improvements: There’s a new light show that’s included with your vehicle. You’ll also be able to upload several light shows on a single USB drive and pick one from the vehicle, instead of having to use multiple USB drives, one for each light show.

More Live Sentry Mode Cameras: You will now be able to view the B-pillar cameras directly from the Tesla app. This brings the number of viewable cameras in the app up to seven. The only ones still missing are the alternative front-facing cameras that are telephoto and wide-angle, which wouldn’t bring much additional value. Although the B-pillars are viewable in the app with this update, they will still not be used to record during Dashcam or Sentry Mode events.

High-Fidelity Park Assist

Tesla's High Fidelity Park Assist
Tesla's new parking assist feature will dynamically recreate scenes in real-time

In response to the feedback and Musk's statement, Tesla unveiled additional features in its updated holiday update, including an improved park assist with enhanced visualizations.

This feature provides a 3D reconstruction of the vehicle's surroundings while parking, akin to a 360-degree camera system found in other high-end vehicles. The system is clearly leveraging improvements to Tesla Vision to create the surrounding environment, such as cars, pillars and walls.

This feature also appears to change the color of objects depending on how close they are to your vehicle. In the image we can see the pillars are orange, but if we look closer, the object behind the vehicle is also orange near the bottom. The sides of the vehicles next to the Tesla also have a slight hint of orange, indicating their proximity.

However, it looks like this feature may be even better than it initially looks. The vehicles in the image aren’t just predefined 3D models that Tesla created, like the ones used in Autopilot visualizations. These models appear to be dynamically created using vision, so that no two cars would look alike, much more similar to what LiDar is able to achieve. The visualization provides a true representation of the environment around the vehicle. You can see that each vehicle is made up from layers and have blurred edges toward the rear, where the camera would have a hard time seeing.

These 3D models could be a sneak peek at the future of FSD visualizations.

High-Fidelity Park Assist Requirements

A big question on everyone’s mind is who will receive this new park assist feature. Tesla didn’t address this in their post on X besides providing a disclaimer that the features in the holiday release are subject to model and region availability. Tesla often likes to test features in select markets before making them available everywhere. It’s hard to say whether that will be the case here. There likely aren’t any legal ramifications around providing visualizations, so that’s a good sign that this feature will be available in most regions, either in the holiday update, or soon afterward.

However, there are still questions around which models or hardware will be required. From the image shared, we can see it’s offered on a Model Y, removing any speculation of it possibly requiring the HD radar in the new Model S/X. We also don’t think it will require FSD hardware 4.0, so the remaining questions are whether it requires MCU 3, or the FSD package.

Given that Tesla is calling this Park Assist, it doesn’t appear to be linked to Auto Park, which is a FSD package feature. When Tesla rolled out visual and audio alerts for vehicles without ultrasonic sensors, it called the feature Park Assist, and that was available to all owners.

Whether this improved Park Assist feature requires a vehicle with MCU 3 will depend on the level of processing power required. It’ll certainly require more than the current visualizations given that its building the scene in real-time, so we’re hopeful that it’ll work on MCU 2 vehicles too, but we just don’t have enough information right now to make the call.

Custom Lock Sounds

Soon you'll be able to choose a custom locking sound for your car
Soon you'll be able to choose a custom locking sound for your car
Not a Tesla App

Tesla also announced a fun and whimsical feature that allows owners to customize the lock sound of their Tesla. No longer will you need to listen to the car’s horn when it locks as you walk away. Now you’ll be able to customize the lock sound of the vehicle. Tesla is including several options, including sounds like a screaming goat, a jingle, a rubber ducky, a quack sound, an old school horn and applause. However, you’ll also be able to upload your own file to create a truly unique experience.

You can pick anything, from a bird’s tweet to a favorite video game sound. You’ll only be limited by the maximum upload file size, which according to a Tesla engineer, is a 1MB file in WAV format, which is roughly about 40 seconds at good quality.

This feature is possible due to the vehicle’s external pedestrian warning speaker. So if you have Tesla’s Boombox feature or your vehicle makes a sound when traveling under 20 MPH, then you should receive this fun enhancement.

Rear Seat Audio and Gaming

You'll now be able to play games on Tesla's rear screens
You'll now be able to play games on Tesla's rear screens

Enhancing the Tesla Arcade experience, passengers in the rear seats can now play games on the rear touchscreen. This feature, especially when paired with Tesla Arcade’s compatibility with PS4, PS5, Xbox Controllers, and rear-screen Bluetooth Headsets, is a welcome addition for families and long trips.

Much like the new Model 3, which received rear audio over Bluetooth support in the 2023.38 update, the new Model S and Model X will also receive this ability in the holiday update.

New Game - Castle Doombad

Tesla announced one other feature in the 2023 holiday update that hadn’t been previously leaked, and that’s a new game called Castle Doombad. Castle Doombad is a single player tower defense, puzzle-like game that’s currently available on iOS and Android, but has an upcoming release on PC and the Nintendo Switch. This game is expected to require MCU 3.

Release Timeline

The rollout of the 2023 Holiday Update is expected to follow a similar timeline to last year. Tesla announced that the update will roll out starting next week. However, it’s not clear whether this will also include FSD Beta testers that are on a 2023.27 update.

Looking back at the 2022 Holiday Update, it started on December 13 and took about a week to get to the entire fleet.

Speculation on Future Features

Like a spoiled child on Christmas morning, Tesla owners still ask, “Is that it?” Well… possibly, but there may be more to look forward to early next year as Tesla builds off of the new High-Fidelity Park Assist feature.

Advanced Smart Summon: Upgrading the Smart Summon feature to be more intuitive and efficient, especially in complex parking scenarios.

Reverse Summon / Park Seek: What happened to Tesla dropping its passengers and driver off at the location and then finding a parking spot on its own?

Enhanced FSD Visualizations: Expanding the Full Self-Driving visualizations to more regions or models or completely recreating the FSD visualizations using the same neural networks Tesla is using for the High-Fidelity Park Assist feature.

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