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Tesla's Big Surprise: New Roadster Super Car

After unveiling an electric 'Semi' truck, Elon Musk changes the game with a sports car that can travel from SF to L.A. – and back – on a single charge

Elon Musk surprised fans on Thursday with the Tesla Motors 2020 Roadster. "The new Tesla roadster will be the fastest production car ever made – period," he said. Credit: TESLA Motors/ZUMA

The Tesla unveiling at Jet Center Los Angeles appeared to be over on Thursday. Founder Elon Musk – dressed casually in jeans and a four-button jacket – had wrapped up his introduction of the company's all-electric 'Semi' truck, an impressive piece of heavy machinery that may just green the global trucking industry.

The Semi is a powerful long-haul truck; fully loaded as an 18-wheeler, it can travel 500 miles on a single charge. And Musk vowed that Semi drivers will be able to recharge in 30 minutes at a planned network of Tesla "megachargers" – all powered powered by solar energy. "The truck is running on sunlight," Musk said. With heavy trucks accounting for more than 5 percent global greenhouse emissions, the Tesla Semi is, potentially, a transformative clean technology.

The Semi also has revolutionary styling: With no engine under the hood, the cabin is pushed forward. The truck has just one real seat – behind a steering wheel that is centered at the front of the cabin. Musk argued that the truck is cheaper to operate than a traditional diesel truck. And he teased a "convoy" technology – with several automated trucks following a lead Semi with a human driver – that could make transport by Tesla Semi cheaper than moving cargo by rail: "That’s really quite profound," he said. Promising a 2019 ship date, Musk then waved goodbye to to the crowd. "That's it for Tesla Semi," he said. "Thanks!"

A Tesla Semi that had been parked behind Musk, in the open bay of the packed airplane hangar where the unveiling was staged, began pulling away. But suddenly the gray-black truck – its body made of unpainted carbon fiber – stopped, and began backing up. Like a scene out of Knight Rider, the truck's trailer tilted up and lowered to the ground. The trailer's doors opened. Smoke and light filled the air. And an unannounced surprise rolled onto the pavement: a candy-apple-red, second-generation Tesla roadster.

The sports car peeled out of the hangar, and raced out of sight down a runway at improbable speed – disappearing from view for several long seconds – before burning rubber back into the hangar, screeching to a halt.

The convertible four-seat roadster has jaw-dropping specs. It goes from 0-60 in 1.8 seconds, and can travel a quarter mile in just 8.9 seconds. "This is the first time that any production car has broken nine seconds in a quarter mile," Musk said. "The new Tesla roadster will be the fastest production car ever made – period."

The new Tesla roadster is breaking more than speed records, however. The car has a range of 620 miles – nearly double Tesla's current best for a passenger car. The roadster is a proof of concept that any notion of "range anxiety" – the fear of running out of juice mid-trip that has hindered the adoption of electric cars – can be a thing of the past. "These numbers sound nutty but they’re real," Musk insisted. "You'll be able to travel from L.A. to San Francisco – and back – without recharging."

The big idea isn't only to please wealthy speed demons – or entice investors who’ve recently soured on Tesla stock. "The point of doing this," Musk said, "is just to give a hard-core smackdown to gasoline cars."