Sometimes it’s easy to forget how early electric car startup Tesla was in terms of getting commercial EVs on the roads. Monday morning, Tesla said its Roadsters have driven a collective 10 million miles, which has saved 500,000 gallons of fuel and 5.3 million pounds of carbon emissions.
Yes, this is another one of Tesla’s fluffy press releases that it will continue to release until it gets closer to selling its next-generation EV, the Model S sedan, in mid-2012. But the news also points to two things: 1. Most of the big auto makers have been taking their sweet time getting any EV volumes on the roads, and 2. How important collected data from the first EV consumer cars out there will be.
Tesla had only delivered 1,500 first-generation, electric Roadsters (at a price tag of over $100,000 a pop each) by February, according to its most recent earnings report. But Tesla says those cars represent “the greatest collective distance covered by any electric vehicle maker to date.”
GM (s gm) and Nissan, the two most aggressive of the big auto EV makers, don’t have those volumes yet. GM reportedly delivered 647 Volts by the end of January and brought that up to 925 by the beginning of March. Nissan shipped 106 LEAFs by the end of January in the U.S. (much higher in Japan). These volumes are small, but are growing every month, and will soon surpass the volumes of Tesla Roadsters out there.
Tesla has been using its early lead to collect data about the driving habits of its early-adopter EV customers. When Tesla technicians service the Roadsters, they can download information, such as how the Roadster batteries perform in various conditions. That means Tesla has been able to use hard data to tweak the design of the Model S based on one of the largest bodies of knowledge regarding how EVs drive in everyday life.
Tesla will stop selling its current Roadster model this year to concentrate on the Model S and won’t consider developing a next-gen Roadster until at least 2013. As Tesla Model S Program Director Jerome Guillen (who has been driving the Model S Alphas to and from work) told me in an interview, the Model S is now the core product for Tesla. See my interviews with Guillen and a test drive of the Roadster 2.5 below.