Lost stories: Is AC Propulsion the first Tesla?
A story about a small california company from the 90's, with electric sportscars on the mind.
Tesla has made itself the king of the electric car market at an unprecedented pace. The brand achieved a special milestone last year under the leadership of Elon Musk. The best-selling car in the Netherlands in 2019 was none other then the Model 3. But this success is largely due to the company AC Propulsion or Tesla 1.0. To understand why, let's go back to 1992 and sunny California.
AC Propulsion, Tesla 1.0?
GM Impact concept ’90
The story begins with the GM Impact pictured above, the concept car of the 1996 GM EV-1. The Impact had made such an... impact, that California was tightening up its rules regarding emissions from the US automakers. If they wanted to continue to sell their cars in the state, 2% of cars would have to be zero-emissions cars by 1998. With the promise that this percentage would rise to 10% in 2003, AC Propulsion got to work. The small tech company specialized in Alternating Current propulsion, or electric motors. The brand wanted to get a car to the people as soon as possible and decided to use a kit-car as it's base. The Piontek Sportech from 1987 turned out to be the perfect candidate, a small light sports car with a lot of potential.
AC Propulsion tzero
AC Propulsion tzero ’97
From this Piontek Sportech the original 1325cc Suzuki block was removed and replaced for 28 batteries. The electric engine now produced 200 hp and accelerated the sports car, weighing only 1040 kg, to 100 km / h in 4 seconds. The range of the AC Propulsion tzero as the car was called is approximately 130 to 160 kilometers. This is partly due to the regenerative braking system of the tzero. Despite this high-tech approach, a major upgrade was carried out in 2003 that would form the basis for the first Tesla.
Lithium Ion batteries
AC Propulsion decides to replace the 28 batteries with a Lithium Ion package. In 2003 a prototype is converted to these new "laptop" batteries and the result is astounding. A 0-100 km / h time of 3.6 seconds, 230 kg lighter than the previous model and a claimed range of 480 kilometers! Impressive values even for today, however, the price of $ 220,000 would be also have been impressive. Various interested parties applied, Including Martin Eberhard and Elon Musk. Both believe they have seen the future and try to convince AC Propulsion to put the prototype into production. Martin Eberhard even tests the Lithium Ion version as a daily driver for about 3 months. However, AC chooses to put the gained experience in the eBox, an electric version of the Scion xB. Martin and Musk decide to join forces in a new company, called Tesla.
Tesla Motor Company
Tesla Roadster ’08
In 2003, the Tesla Motor Company is founded with its goal of making the electric car mainstream. They claim that the destruction of the EV-1 in 2003 inspired them to start Tesla. Elon Musk uses his Paypal earnings to buy himself a spot into Tesla as the largest investor. He becomes the chairman of the board of directors and the face of the company. The team put its focus on the first prototype Tesla, that would put the brand on the map. The choice is made to take the frame of a light sports car, the Lotus Elise. Which would then be converted to run on a Lithium Ion battery pack, sounds familiar?.
The story for AC Propulsions would be less positive. the eBox project would be well received, with none other than Tom Hanks receiving the first model. However, the $ 55,000 price tage for an electric conversion on a Scion box, turns out to be a bit to high most people. Some concept cars would appear such as the Courreges ZOOOP, Venturi Fetish and a first attempt at the Mini E. Ironically, the most famous name associated with AC Propulsions would be Tesla. Who uses the AC Propulsions electric motor patent to research their own propulsion system for the Tesla Roadster. In the 20th century it's Nikola Tesla's dream to put his name on the map with AC current, his dream will no be furfilled in his life time because of a richer and more cunning Thomas Edison. In the 21st century, a company named after Nikola's most famous invention would again share this faith, but this time ironically, it's because of Tesla.