Sick of paying for gasoline? You might be in luck.

For years, car manufacturers have thrown around ideas for gas-free cars, but most have gone nowhere quickly. General Motors (NYSE:GM) introduced a fully electric car in 1996 that was scrapped a few years later, Honda (NYSE:HMC) recently unveiled a hydrogen-powered vehicle that cost a mere, oh, $1 million apiece to build, and Toyota's (NYSE:TM) next-generation Prius has a fully electric mode with enough juice to carry you all of seven miles (no zeroes omitted). For big auto companies, the thought of a gas-free vehicle that actually resembles a car seems worlds away.

Henry Ford, meet Elon Musk
But for one high-profile start-up, fully electric cars are hardly a dream. Elon Musk -- the same guy who co-founded PayPal and later sold it to eBay -- has built a car that is likely making Detroit sweat bullets by the gallon.

Tesla Motors, based in Silicon Valley, recently began selling its first production car, the Roadster. Beyond its stylish looks, Tesla's top selling points are downright revolutionary:

  • There's absolutely no gasoline. The car is 100% electric. This isn't a hybrid, folks.
  • It can go roughly 221 miles on a single 3.5-hour charge.
  • Zero to 60 MPH in 3.9 seconds, enough to put many Ferraris to shame.
  • Top speed is 125 MPH.
  • The base price -- $109,000 -- isn't for the squeamish, but cheaper models are on the way (more on that below).

I recently made a trip to Tesla's first store in Los Angeles to catch a peek, and picked a representative's brain about the future of the company. My first inquiry might come as a blow to big auto makers: I wanted to know how tiny Tesla been able to create a car that has eluded gigantic car companies for years.

The representative was frank: "Same reason why it's easier to turn around a speedboat than a freighter. When you're as large and bureaucratic as the major auto companies like Ford (NYSE:F), it's almost impossible to reinvent the car as it's known."

Sure enough, Tesla was able to create the Roadster for just $140 million; compared to the billions of dollars it costs some car companies to design a standard gasoline model. And if there's ever been a team that knows how to turn out innovation in a spectacular way, it might be Tesla; Besides PayPal co-founder Musk, Tesla's investors include Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) co-founders.

Great, but I can't afford gas, let alone a $100,000 car
Next question on my list: When will a cheaper, sedan-style car make its way to the streets? After all, $109,000 is a bit steep for most ordinary Joes.

No need to worry. Tesla's Model S is due to start production in 2010. The car, which will sport a similar fully electric, 200-plus-mile-range battery, is expected to cost around $60,000. While we're still short on pictures and further details about the Model S, a Tesla representative suggested it'll be roughly the size of a BMW 5 Series -- a roomy, 4-door sedan. Further down the road, Tesla plans on rolling out cars for less than $30,000.

Besides, even if the prices still seem a bit steep, the amount you'll save on gas is staggering. A Tesla brochure I picked up claims the car uses roughly 36 kilowatt-hours of electricity for every 100 miles driven. Energy prices vary throughout the nation, but using an average $0.102 per kilowatt hour, Tesla's efficiency compared to a car getting 20 MPG is equivalent to paying about $0.73 for a gallon of gas -- not to mention it's completely emissions-free.

This might be the start of something big
Why is Tesla such a groundbreaking company? It was not only able to create an extraordinarily efficient car, but also did so without compromising any of the good ol' car elements we've become so attached to. If the next generation of vehicles were slower than a Flintstone car, had to be constantly recharged, and looked like something straight out of Star Trek, people would be hesitant to make the plunge. Tesla's car might rival almost any other in looks and performance, even before you see what's under the hood. That will allow people to hold on to their drive-happy lives, while sticking a knife in the gas crisis and looking out for the environment at the same time.

Are you as amped about Tesla as I am? Stay tuned. Rumor has it we may see a Tesla IPO sometime in 2009.

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