SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) — Earth-friendly thrill-seekers in Europe can get into the driver's seat of their own Tesla Roadster, provided they have a trunkful of cash to buy an electric sports car that zips from zero to 100 kph (60 mph) in less than four seconds.
California's "green" governor Arnold Schwarzenegger bought one. So did actors George Clooney and Kelsey Grammer.
Tesla Motors opened its first store over the weekend on the Los Angeles coast and has begun taking orders in Europe via the Internet. It plans to show the Roadster off at the Cannes Film Festival this month and at the Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans auto races.
Thanks to a wimpy dollar and stumbling US economy, the Northern California car maker is focusing on Europe a year ahead of schedule and plans to soon open stores in Paris, London, Munich and other cities there.
"The minute the Roadster was unveiled, we had interest from Europe," Tesla vice president Darryl Siry told AFP during an interview at the new-age car maker's headquarters in the city of San Carlos.
"Europeans are much more advanced in their thinking about issues of sustainability and the idea of having a beautiful sports car that produces zero emissions is very attractive to people."
Many of the Roadster parts are made in Europe, Siry said.
The company began taking orders after the sleek two-seater with a sunroof made appearances in Monaco and elsewhere on the French Riviera in April.
With a price tag of 99,000 euros (153,500 dollars), many eco-conscious consumers will likely be left drooling on the curb for the time being.
Nonetheless, industry analysts say that the Roadster will enliven the humdrum image of electric cars and, hopefully, spur competition leading to more affordable green vehicles.
"European companies are all taking electric vehicles seriously," said Gartner Research analyst Thilo Koslowski, who specializes in the automotive industry.
"So a newbie coming into the market will probably poke a couple of the larger manufacturers to get the tools faster to launch electric vehicles."
Unlike tiny Tesla, which employs 250 people and is planning to make 1,500 Roadsters, manufacturers such as Renault and Peugot have capacity to create hundreds of thousands of cheaper electric vehicles, according to Koslowski.
"That's either a challenge or an opportunity, depending on how you look at it," Koslowski said.
The Roadster can go as fast as 200 kilometers (124 miles) an hour and travel 300 kilometers (186 miles) before recharging. The car is hailed as a quantum leap in the effort to reduce world dependence on oil.
A Roadster's simple interior features two forward gears, no clutch pedal and a metal shelf for storing sunglasses and other sundries.
The trunk is considerably smaller than those in most cars, since about half of it is taken up by a lithium-ion battery that serves as the vehicle's fuel tank.
A built-in computer recognizes the voltage of an outlet and adjusts charging current accordingly.
"Tesla's big accomplishment is putting to rest the idea that electric vehicles are puny, underpowered cars," said Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars.org, a San Francisco-area group that advocates for plug-in hybrids.
"People have been waiting for this for a long a time."
Tesla Motors is busy working on a White Star family sedan that the firm hopes to have on sales floors by 2010.
"Their goal is to turn themselves into an electric vehicle company selling at all levels and the way to do that is to start at the top, not at the bottom," Kramer said.
"As battery costs go down and the economies of scale go up, they can deliver down to the middle and the lower side of the market. And that's a good strategy."
While Tesla's cars can be plugged into hotel or other standard electric outlets for charging, the company wants to collaborate with local governments on a network of charging stations so drivers can easily "refuel" on long trips.
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