The Tesla Roadster Hits The Road…To Tahoe

teslagavin2.jpgWhat could be more “San Francisco” than Mayor Gavin Newsom taking the Tesla Roadster — Silicon Valley’s clean tech hot rod — for a spin around the block down at Fisherman’s Wharf? I almost choked on the orange smoothie the caterers were passing out as the lanky mayor drove the silent silver electric sports car out of the Hyatt Hotel parking lot this morning — it was too classic.

Newsom was there as part of a Roadster roadtrip publicity stunt in which the car will be driven up to Tahoe and back, stopping off in Sacramento on the way. The driver making the trip, Andrew Simpson, a vehicle test engineer, looked as responsible and clean-cut as someone about to make a long journey in an expensive test vehicle should. Tesla spokesman David Vespremi told us he is their “efficient driver” – i.e. he doesn’t speed. Simpson said he was excited to start off on the journey.

Newsom is actually a bona fide Tesla customer; the company just received the mayor’s $98,000 deposit, according to Vespremi. Wow. Vespremi also said Tesla has more than 600 preorders for the Roadster; other famous customers reportedly include George Clooney and Jeff Skoll.

Newsom told me he wasn’t interested in a hybrid, which he called a “halfway” solution, and he’s buying the Roadster as a luxury item, he said, as it’s “perfect for a trip up to Napa.” He told a crowd of reporters that he was formerly an owner of an EV1 — the now-recalled electric car of ‘Who Killed the Electric Car’ fame. The Roadster [and all its buzz] is needed, he said, to create a market and an industry for electric cars. So true. He’s smarter than his hair looks. (Just kidding, Gavin — I’m always up for a trip to Napa).

Over the past few weeks, the San Carlos, Calif.-based startup that has raised at around $100 million in funding has faced a few speed bumps. The company’s founder and CEO, Martin Eberhard, stepped down, citing his inexperience in running such a large-scale business. Michael Marks, former CEO of Flextronics (FLEX), has stepped in temporarily.