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Tesla looking to make electric vehicles mainstream

While other federally backed “green technology” companies like Waltham’s A123 Systems have flopped, electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc. posted a profit in the first quarter of 2013. The California company has repaid its federal loans and earned rave reviews for its latest car. But Tesla is fighting for the right to sell its cars directly to consumers, instead of through dealers. Globe reporter Hiawatha Bray recently chatted with Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s vice president of business development.

Other electric cars are rather plain. Your Model S is dazzling.

It competes in the category of Mercedes, BMW-class vehicles, has performance, acceleration that is as good or better than all those models. But most important for an electric vehicle, it achieves 265 miles of range on a single charge.

How long does it take to charge?

It really depends. If you’re using your household circuit it takes several hours. If you use one of our superchargers, which we’re installing on major interstates and arteries — we’ll be doing one here on I-90 in Sturbridge — you can recover 150 miles in 30 minutes or less.

Other than being electric, what’s so great about this car?

This car was not to be a great electric car. It was designed to be a great car. The car won the Motor Trend Car of the Year award late last year. It was just rated by Consumer Reports as the best vehicle they’ve ever tested.

But this Model S with all the options costs about $100,000. Few people could afford it.

The base price of our first car was $109,000. The base price of this car, $64,000. The whole purpose is to get to a mass-market $30,000 EV [electric vehicle], and we think we can get there within three or four years. Like so many technology companies, you start with a high-price, low-volume offering. Think about the $3,000 cellphone of 1984.

So, you someday want to make the Ford Model T of electric cars — an EV so cheap that the ordinary person can afford one.

Actually, the mission of this company is to catalyze a mass market for electric vehicles, either with our own cars or by inspiring competition by other manufacturers. We believe that this is the technology of the future and we need to bring it forward now, for reasons having to do with reduction of oil dependency, climate issues, and simple balance-of-trade issues.

But how “green” can a vehicle be? You still have to burn fuel for the electrical grid, to recharge the car.

The grid is getting cleaner every day. In California, where we operate, there’s very little coal on the grid. The emissions profile of this vehicle is vastly better than an internal combustion vehicle.
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