It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost 20 years since Tesla established its current business and changed the way the world views electric vehicles. What were once sporadic firsts for homebuilders after a failed attempt by a major manufacturer, Tesla showed that electric vehicles can not only be considered “cool vehicles”, but that the vehicle is far more than a simple device that lets you drive from point to point A to B. It may even be something that could get you there without your inputs, like your grandparents and great-grandparents were promised when they were younger. The Petersen Automotive Museum’s newest exhibit, Inside Tesla: Supercharging the Electric Revolution, is a celebration of Tesla’s achievements, a look into its technology, and even a look back at electric vehicles before Tesla to see where we’ve come in the last century are .
“This is a wide range of Tesla products,” said Autumn Nyiri, Petersen’s associate curator and the person responsible for bringing this exhibit together, “and the largest merger of Tesla products at once.” The main attractions of the exhibit are the concepts and test mules that lead to the cars that EV fans crave today. It also showcases the evolving technologies that have helped make Tesla a leading innovator in the Software Defined Vehicle (SDV) space as well as a manufacturer of electric vehicles. “We have robots, deconstructed batteries, and other manufacturing equipment,” Autumn said.
With all the news surrounding Elon Musk – especially his more controversial issues like his dealings with Twitter – you might be wondering if this exhibition isn’t a little too well-timed. Here’s a secret about museum exhibits — art or automobiles — that you might not know: They don’t happen overnight, or even in a month. “I think we’ve been in the planning phase for about a year,” Autumn replied when we asked why this exhibit is coming out now. “Initially, we met with a small team from Tesla led by Franz von Holzhausen. We originally talked about doing a small installation in our Legends Garage in our Vault with just a few unseen Tesla prototypes.”
Apparently that plan has changed as the Legends Garage is occupied by a certain Porsche enthusiast, Magnus Walker, and his collection. “While we were in discussions,” Autumn continued, “we realized that this story is so phenomenal in automotive history that it really needed a bigger space, and we wanted to tell Tesla about the reach of its products and its impact on the automotive space.” explore beyond.” From the conversations in the Legends Garage, the Petersen and Tesla team concluded that it had to be in the largest space available: the Mullin Grand Salon.
The first on the ground floor
Located on the first floor, The Mullin is a massive space where you could once find the Bond In Motion collection, an exhibition about the cars that made the James Bond franchise what it is known for. This exhibition only closed in October and is now filled with Tesla automobiles, prototypes, pieces and more.
Part of that “more” is that you’re greeted the moment you step inside, a 1908 Columbia Electric Victoria Phaeton. It tells the story of the “heyday and the hard times” of the electric vehicle, according to Autumn. Owned by several companies, including the Electric Car Company in 1899, Columbia was one of North America’s earliest automobile brands. It not only built gasoline-powered cars, but also battery-powered electric vehicles using raw lead-acid batteries.
The Victoria Phaeton was based on the Columbia Hansom and was powered by two electric motors, but these were only found at the rear of the vehicle. So not quite the 19th-century equivalent of the Tesla Model S Plaid, but Columbia has since been regarded as the Tesla of that era. Much like today, buyers of these early EVs were looking for something much quieter than the banging, popping, and pretty smelly ICE of the early 20th century. Ultimately, ICE took over as the Ford Model T not only made cars more accessible to the general public, but also helped push the dominant form of ICE-powered vehicles in the gasoline engine.
Beginnings of Tesla
The next vehicle we see is the 2009 Model S prototype, which would go on to define what Tesla is about today, but it was a very different looking car back then. “One of the premise of the show is that the Model S is one of the most influential vehicles since the Model T,” says Autumn. It was practical in that it could accommodate more than just two people, but also modern in that it contained technology that we are only just beginning to accept as normal. It also brought electric vehicles to a wider audience thanks to its size, relatively normal proportions and impressive performance.
Another influence that drove Elon Musk to Tesla was AC Propulsion’s Tzero vehicle. Originally, this car was a hand-built sports car that used lead-acid batteries. That’s until Martin Eberhard, one of Tesla’s original founders and before Elon Musk’s investment, urged Tom Gage — who was AC Propulsion’s CEO — to use lithium-ion batteries instead and put them into production after driving.
Not only has the switch given the tzero extra range, but it has also made it over 500 lbs lighter than its lead-acid version. JB Straubel – who later became Tesla’s Chief Technical Officer – told Elon Musk about it and then took it for a test drive. While Musk tried to convince Gage to put it into production, Gage was unwilling to go ahead and instead focused on her EV-converted Scion xB.
Musk then invested heavily in Tesla’s startup, building a prototype of the Roadster using lithium-ion batteries and an AC powertrain and powertrain. Only three Tzeros were ever built and the Petersen Museum has two of them, one in the Tesla exhibit and one in the Alternating Currents exhibit on the second floor.
Speaking of early roadsters, on display is a Lotus Elise test mule that would later form the first product for Tesla, an all-electric sports car. Just like the production roadster, this Elise has been rebuilt with an AC powertrain and lithium-ion batteries. At the time, the whole idea of the Roadster was to mass-produce AC Propulsion’s powertrain under license and leverage its then-unique designs for reductive charging by combining the AC inverter and charging system into a single unit.
However, further testing led to Tesla developing its own motors, powertrains and electronics using AC’s licensed technology. It also allowed Tesla to use more of the original Elise frame, since using AC’s power and drivetrain left only about 7 percent of the original Elise, according to Musk.
From this test mule came the actual production Tesla Roadster, and the one shown in the exhibit is the very first Roadster, produced in 2006 (VIN F001, aka “P1”) and owned by Elon Musk. No, the Roadster sent into space in 2010 wasn’t miraculously returned to Earth, this Roadster was another Musk owner and made daily commutes to Tesla’s headquarters when he and it were in California.
The Roadsters were also based on Lotus Elise “gliders” sold under license to Tesla. It was also the first vehicle to use all of Tesla’s in-house produced and designed technology, as design changes for production required a clean approach from AC Propulsion’s original licensed technology and equipment.
A repeat of COTY 2013
It’s amazing to see that it’s still around, but it’s a historic car as it was the first all-electric vehicle to win the award in the 64 years prior to this date. As we pointed out when it won, “The mere fact that the Tesla Model S even exists is a testament to innovation and entrepreneurship, the very qualities that made the American auto industry once the largest, richest, and most powerful in the world, according to 11 jurors.” unanimously voted the first vehicle designed from the ground up by a fledgling automaker, the 2013 MotorTrend Car of the Year, which should be cause for celebration. America can still make things. Great things.”
While there are many production-related machines on display at the Tesla show, the most important viewing for anyone is the structural battery pack now used in the Model Y. This, along with the Model Y’s ability to stamp large structures, shows a potential future development for electric vehicles as manufacturers look for ways to not only protect the batteries, but to do so without encroaching on the interior.
It’s also a showcase of Tesla’s latest battery development, the 4680 battery round cell. The current production version of the 4680 is still produced in a similar way to the 18650 round cells used in previous Teslas. The final version, which may well be in full swing by 2023, is not only larger, but a radically different “tableless” design with pantographs makes the transfer of electrons between the anode and cathode more efficient, as it relies on dry battery electrodes to make the anode, in order, than semi-solid battery chemistry to work with.
While the main story revolves around Tesla, looking at the exhibit, one can’t help but feel that this is also a look at what made Tesla great and what made other OEMs stand out. Without Tesla, EVs would still be a novelty, self-driving wouldn’t have made the advances it has, and the idea of software-defined vehicles would probably still be vaporware at this point. “I think for the average person who just wants to see great cars, there are great cars to see,” Autumn said, “but for people who are really knowledgeable about Tesla and electric mobility, there’s also something about exploring these innovations.” “
Looking at the exhibition, one very important aspect emerges throughout: Tesla is more than Elon Musk. While he provided the cash flow to build the business, at the end of the day you have to separate the man from such an innovative company. It is no different when we put aside the controversial issues with Henry Ford during World War II and see the Ford Motor Company behind him.
Regardless, if you’re a huge Tesla fan, you can’t claim that title without visiting the Petersen Automotive Museum when it opens. If you’re not, it’s still an interesting look behind the assembly and design in modern automotive engineering. The exhibit goes live to the public on November 20, in time for the 2022 LA Auto Show.