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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tesla Roadsters are almost sold out

With production drawing to a close, Tesla Motors Inc. has sold almost all of the remaining electric Roadsters destined for the U.S. market, said Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk. Supplies will last longer in Europe and Japan, but not by much.

"I think there's a handful of cars left to sell in the U.S.," Musk said. "People in Europe and Japan probably have another six months to place orders for the Roadster. In the U.S., it's maybe a month or two."

And that's after Tesla reached an agreement with Britain's Lotus Cars, which makes the Roadster's chassis, to produce an extra 100 of the vehicles. The full production run, which began in 2008, will end at 2,500 cars.

"So if somebody has an interest in buying a Roadster, they had best put in an order very, very soon," Musk said.

Tesla, based in Palo Alto, reported last year that it would stop making the Roadster before the company's next car, the Model S, hits the market in 2012. Lotus plans to retool its manufacturing facility, and Tesla chose to devote all its effort to the Model S rather than find another supplier.

But buyers have snapped up the remaining Roadsters faster than expected. In Tesla's last quarterly earnings report, the company predicted that Roadster sales in North America would finish by the end of the year.

Many electric-car aficionados will be sorry to see the Roadster go, even if few of them could afford one. With prices starting at $109,000, the car was never meant for the mass market.

And yet, the Roadster played a unique role in changing the public's attitude toward electric transportation.

Low-slung and high-powered, the Roadster popularized the notion that plug-in cars could be objects of desire. With movie stars and politicians among its buyers - think Gavin Newsom and Brad Pitt - the car quickly became an emblem of eco-chic. It caught the public imagination in a way that previous electric cars, like General Motors' EV1 or Toyota's electric Rav4, never did.

"That was the vehicle that stopped people from thinking electric cars were golf carts," said Felix Kramer, founder of the California Cars Initiative, a plug-in vehicle advocacy group. "It totally transformed the conversation."

The Roadster helped usher in the new wave of electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf.

The end of Roadster sales will leave Tesla without its most visible product. But the company will continue selling battery packs and chargers to German auto giant Daimler. Tesla also is developing a power train for Toyota's next-generation electric Rav4.

And Musk says Tesla remains on track to start building the Model S next year at the former New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont.

"It's not a concern, because we all knew that there was a limit on the number of the Roadsters that would be produced," said Andrea James, research analyst with the Dougherty & Co. investment bank. "The fact that the company is selling out sooner rather later speaks to demand. The company does very well at creating buzz, and this feeds the buzz."

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