The last 48 hours have certainly been interesting for the electric car industry. While one of its modern pioneers fired nearly all of its Detroit workforce, a newcomer introduced an economically viable solar vehicle.
Tesla, the company famous for all-electric "supercars," officially announced that it would be laying off 90 percent of its Detroit workforce. The "official" is important, because while affected employees were directly informed today, a blog post from two days ago made the same announcement to the rest of the world. Just days after CEO Ze’ev Drori was replaced by Elon Musk (who will continue on as vice chairman), all but 10 percent will receive pink slips, and the remainder will either finish current projects in Detroit and leave the company, or relocate to Tesla’s San Jose headquarters.
Needless to say, Tesla employees were not impressed. "Tomorrow you show up to Tesla, read your name on a board. If your name is on the board you get a pink slip," said an anonymous employee. "If not you go to a room and they discuss how long you will be in the Detroit office to finish your work, then when your done with your project you are either laid off or you report to the [San Jose] office."
While rumours suggest Tesla is slowing down plans on its next car, the S Sedan, the project is not canceled. "Tesla is absolutely committed to development of our next generation vehicle, to be unveiled early next year," said Musk in a blog post. "However, we are going to reduce activity on detailed production engineering, tooling and commitments to suppliers until our Department of Energy loan guarantee becomes effective." With the slowdown, expect to see the S in the middle of 2011.
On a more positive note, while times may not be great for Tesla, a small engineering group in China is garnering a lot of attention for its sub-$6,000 solar-electric car. As part of the 29th annual Zhejiang International Bicycles and Electric-powered Cars Exhibition in Hangzhou, engineering group Zhejiang’s 001 showed off one of its ten solar-powered sedans. The group plans on selling the cars for 38,000 yuan each, or about $5,560 USD. Completely power grid independent (i.e. they don’t have to be plugged in), each car will run for about 150km, or a little under 94 miles, on a 30 hour charge. This long charge time is accounted for by the fact that only 14 to 17 percent of accumulated solar energy can be converted into energy to power the vehicle and these figures are in time with other solar powered offerings on the market.
Hopefully, this "Zhejiang’s 001" car will be picked up by a major manufacturer. Who knows, maybe the 2015 Prius will be a solar-powered.