Austin Man's Roadster Goes Fast--Without Gas

Associated Press + More


Austin American-Statesman AUSTIN, Texas—Just before Barry McConachie presses down the pedal of his bright red Tesla Roadster, he likes to give a quick glance up and down the wooded road to make sure his neighborhood is all clear.

Then, as the car pins him back with roller-coaster-like acceleration, he breaks into one of his self-described "Tesla grins" — a smug mug that says, man, can this thing move.

It can leap to 60 mph from a standstill in less than four seconds, but it requires not an ounce of gasoline: His convertible is electric-powered, with total emissions of zero.

"It's a guilt-free experience," said McConachie, who has solar panels atop his Lake Austin home that cover the charge required for the car. His license plate reads "SUN PWR." ''I'm not fooling around in some Ferrari that gets eight miles to a gallon and is consuming all kinds of resources."

The car costs $109,000 but gives the luxurious lie to the idea that an energy-saving future means mankind's return to cave life.

McConachie, 45, who hails from western Canada, made his fortune in the software business, figuring out ways for businesses to hook up to the Internet when the World Wide Web was not yet worldwide.

In 2001, Siemens bought Dallas-based Efficient Networks, a company of which he was part-owner, for $1.5 billion.

A self-described fiscal conservative who was always inclined to do environmental work, he says watching the Al Gore movie "An Inconvenient Truth," about the threats of global warming, spurred him to do more for the environment.

Realizing that the film would inspire him to spend money cutting carbon emissions, he said he "leaned over to my wife and told her this is the most expensive movie I've ever seen."

McConachie now runs a small consulting company called Global Climate Strategies, which partners with businesses to help them buy carbon offsets, such as paying for the planting of trees in Ecuador.

The company also has a philanthropic arm that McConachie said has donated 100,000 efficient light bulbs to low-income people in the U.S. and abroad.

At his 4,500-square-foot home, which he shares with his wife, Kathleen, and three young boys, he cut energy use, switched to more efficient light bulbs, put in a programmable thermostat and installed solar panels on the roof.

In August 2006, he sent $100,000, sight unseen, to Tesla Motors, a high-end car company that counts among its investors the founders of Google and PayPal, to buy a roadster. The price tag reflects the car's status, as well as the technology and high-end material that make it a top-notch performer.

It would be more than two years before it was ready, but in February, the California company shipped him car No. 85. (The company has delivered fewer than 400.)

Tesla says its sports cars produce one-tenth the pollution of conventional sports cars, tracing it to the emissions from the power plants that provide electricity. But McConachie's car charge is covered by his rooftop solar array.

In as little as 3½ hours, the car can gain enough power to drive at least 220 miles, McConachie said. Put another way, it costs about five bucks in electricity to fill the tank, he said.

"If gas goes up to three or four dollars, it will pay for itself," he said with a grin, "in about 90 years."

McConachie has taken the car up to 110 mph, though he would not say, on the record, just where he had done so.

He has also trained at a NASCAR track and has driven fast cars and motorbikes since he was a teen.

The Tesla does not have gears — just forward and reverse, like some sort of super-souped-up golf cart. Tesla recommends that its owners replace their lithium ion battery pack after five years, or about 100,000 miles. A new pack costs about $12,000, McConachie said.

The acceleration comes from the peak torque of the 248-horsepower engine, starting at zero revolutions per minute.

"I closed my eyes the first time," said Mark Kapner, a senior strategy engineer at Austin Energy whom McConachie invited for a test drive. "This felt to me like what it must be to go rocket sledding."