It might sound like science fiction but driving between Sydney and Melbourne powered purely by the sun could be a possibility as early as next year – thanks to a new electric SUV from US entrepreneur company Tesla.
The car will be able to be recharged at a number of “super-chargers” that will dot the road between Australia’s two biggest capital cities, and can boost the car’s battery pack in just 30 minutes instead of the usual eight hours.
The new car, called the Model X, was unveiled at the Detroit motor show overnight under the noses of the heavyweights of the global car industry. Tesla is owned by Elon Musk, the entrepreneur who sold PayPal for millions of dollars and, with a separate company, send rockets into space for the US government. He also just invested in a solar panel business.
Tesla is one of the more successful electric-car companies in terms of sales and award-winning technology and has plans to expand globally, including a sedan with up to 500km driving range due on sale in Australia later this year priced about $80,000.
Tesla is the only electric-car maker to offer such a long driving range because of its revolutionary battery design, which doubles as the structural floor of the car.
Tesla plans to cover the major routes across North America with 100 so-called “super-chargers” but could cover the distance between Sydney and Melbourne with just two. Major highways between other Australian cities could follow.
“I haven’t put [the map] together for Australia yet ... but we will do it. And we will do it logically,” Tesla’s global sales boss George Blankenship told News Limited at the Detroit motor show overnight.
“In a place like Australia where there’s lots of sun and big distances in between [cities], the ultimate way to do that is with is solar panels that put solar energy into a battery that then charges to a car whenever it needs it.”
Tesla says production of right-hand drive electric car sedans and SUVs begins late this year. The sedan is due on sale this year and the SUV is due to follow in 2014. Once customers buy the cars, they can charge them at home – or for free using the so-called “super-chargers”.
“Our CEO Elon is on record as saying ‘free forever on sunlight’,” said Blankenship. “We think it’s incredibly important to do this because we think it’s part of the reason that people will acknowledge that you can take an electric car and go on a trip.
“Our goal is to make our car better than a gasoline car so that people will adopt it.”
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling