Why The Tesla Roadster Remains In The Lotus Elise’s Shadow Even Today - SUV VEHICLE

Why The Tesla Roadster Remains In The Lotus Elise’s Shadow Even Today

The Tesla Roadster is often looked back on as the first car that made EVs look cool to the public. With its sub-four-second acceleration time and flashy styling, it was bound to turn heads when it first barged onto the scene. And yet, to the untrained eye, the car looked like an electrified Lotus Elise, a stigma that still prevails to this day. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, the Roadster was indeed inspired by the Elise, and partly built on it (to speed up the manufacturing process).

However, the final version of the Roadster only ended up borrowing seven-percent of its parts from the Elise, while the rest was completely modified. In 2008, the company wasted no time in distinguishing its crown jewel from the Elise, insisting that the Roadster had a completely different drivetrain, body panels, aluminum tub, rear sub-frame, brakes, ABS, HVAC, and rear suspension. Alas, the stigma never really went away.

Darryl Siry, who worked as Tesla’s Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Service back then, further insisted that “If you were to try to convert an Elise to a Tesla and started throwing away parts that aren’t carried over, what you would basically be left with is a windshield, dashboard (complete with airbags!), front wishbones and a removable soft top”

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In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from \ manufacturer websites and authoritative sources, including Tesla, Motor Trend, and The Gruber Motor Company.

The Tesla Roadster Is More Than Just An Electrified Elise

The powertrain difference between the Elise and the Roadster puts them worlds apart. While the idea of electrifying a Lotus Elise might have seemed simple to the public, it presented quite a few challenges behind the scenes. Tesla’s engineers had to completely rethink the exterior design of the first-gen Roadster, elongating parts and changing dimensions as needed, while also bringing radical changes to the underlying structure and the interior tech.

The Design Was Completely Altered

The 1,000-pound battery in the midsection of the car required drastic modifications, as the structure of the ICE-powered Elise simply couldn’t accommodate it. To remedy that, the engineering team had to redesign the aluminum tub chassis and increase its strength. The crash structure at the front was also made bigger to accommodate the extra weight. The battery pack was further revisited to increase rigidity. The side-rails were also lowered to improve ingress and egress, so that taller passengers could get in and out more comfortably.

Tesla also worked on a new rear sub-frame, effectively adapting it to the battery pack, motor, and transmission. Since the Roadster was packing some heft due to the heavier electric powertrain, it also added new wishbones. With these alterations, it now had a wheelbase that was about two inches longer than the Elise.

Exterior Dimensions: First-Gen Roadster vs. Lotus Elise

First-Gen Tesla Roadster

Lotus Elise


155.4 inches

146.7 inches


73.7 inches

67.7 inches


44.1 inches

47.3 inches


92.6 inches

90.6 inches

Curb Weight

2,690 pounds

1,664 pounds

(Figures sourced from the manufacturers)

The Overall Tech Was Revisited From A To Z

First-Gen Tesla Roadster

Another area that Tesla had to account for was the 12-volt accessories, such as the fans, headlights, air conditioning, heaters, etc. In a more conventional, gas-powered car like the Lotus Elise, these systems would normally feed off the internal combustion engine.

The first-gen Roadster, on the other hand, ran on a 400-volt battery, in lieu of an ICE, so Tesla had to design and integrate all the aforementioned tech specifically. Since the power brakes on the Roadster couldn’t generate boost from an internal combustion engine, they required an electrically driven vacuum pump and also had to be re-adapted.

In 2006, Martin Eberhard, Co-founder of Tesla Motors, took the time to clarify Tesla’s relationship with Lotus, ahead of the Roadster’s launch. Even back then, the internet community was curious about the bond between the British roadster and its American counterpart. All in all, the Roadster was supplied with these additional features that weren’t initially included in the Lotus Elise:

  • Redesigned seats, made wider by several inches
  • New padding material with carbon fiber, in lieu of Lotus’s fiberglass
  • An in-house developed, carbon-fiber console
  • A custom, color LCD
  • A new Blaupunkt radio with an iPod connector, and an optional satellite radio and satellite navigation system.
  • A carpeted floor, to minimize noise and heat transfer from the road
  • New in-house developed doors with electrically-activated latch
  • Leather-trimmed door panels
  • Electric trunk release

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The First-Gen Tesla Roadster Is Unique

Red 2008 Tesla Roadster
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The Roadster is not just unique, it is a one-and-done kind of vehicle. For starters, most of the engineers who worked on it back in the day left the company. With the loss of ancestral knowledge, the company was forced to retrain the new members of the staff who weren’t yet acquainted with the vehicle, by having them practice on old Roadsters that were being bought back from owners.

You’ve guessed it at this point, Tesla cannot simply call Lotus for help. Not only are the Elise and the Roadster only seven-percent similar, but a lot of the parts used on the famous electric convertible were sourced from other suppliers, of various nationalities, some of which are no longer in business.

A Once In A Lifetime Vehicle

When the Roadster first came in, it had a $98,950 price tag attached to it. Mind you, this was during a time when people did not have much faith in EVs. This meant that this new high-end electric vehicle had to justify that scolding-hot MSRP, partly by including cutting-edge interior features. As a result, the cockpit came packed with premium technology.

The VDS touchscreen, VMS Module, and ESS pack’s internal electronics were designed specifically for the Roadster. These elements were so unique that they are nearly irreplaceable at this point. Today, it is estimated that replicating the inside tech for the Roadster would cost nearly seven figures. This is quite problematic for first-gen Roadster owners who need to replace certain elements over time, which is bound to happen.

To deal with this predicament, Tesla is encouraging proactive maintenance, but also taking a more unconventional approach. In 2019, the Austin-based manufacturer began buying back first-gen Roadsters from previous owners at a higher rate than their market value. These units are meant to serve as parts donors, that are later dismantled and repurposed to re-equip the other Roadsters that are still being used.

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The Roadster Has Forged A Legacy Of Its Own

2011 Tesla Roadster 2.5 in red color.

In 2012, Tesla discontinued the Roadster after merely four years of production. Tesla’s contract with Lotus for 2,500 gliders had already expired in 2011, and the company subsequently stopped taking orders in the United States in August of the same year. In the end, only 2,450 copies were made, and only 1,500 of them were sent to American shores. Despite this succinct shelf-life, the Roadster was able to live on as a timeless icon. Nowadays, it is looked back on as the first Messiah of electric vehicles, and boy, the second coming promises to be even better, as we’ve previously discussed!

So, while some might still refer to it as nothing more than an American Elise, the connoisseurs who know its historical value are willing to spend handsome amounts of money to snatch a piece of their own.

First-generation Tesla Roadster Performance Specs


Roadster 2.5


53 kWh

53 kWh


248 horses

288 horses


273 pound-feet

295 pound-feet


200-250 miles

245 miles


Rear-wheel drive

Rear-wheel drive

0-60 mph

3.9 seconds

3.7 seconds

(Specs sourced from Tesla)

Some Roadsters Are Now Worth Seven Figures

Since the first-generation Roadster is a dying breed, it has become a sought-after commodity for rich aficionados, who recognize its increasing value. As the historic convertible gets more scarce, each unit becomes an even more prized relic of the past. The last Roadster ever built now costs a whopping $1.49 million, putting it ahead of some of the priciest electric vehicles on earth, such as the Lucid Air, the McMurtry Spéirling Pure, or the $1.3 million Drako GTE.

Similarly, the last Tesla Roadster to roll off the assembly line in the United States is also listed at $1,500,000. For what it’s worth, this one was autographed by Elon himself. Whether you think these prices are too steep or not, the fact remains that the first-generation Tesla Roadster is an irreplaceable artifact in every way possible. Be it the design, the underlying tech, the historical value, or the overall prestige, you will never find a vehicle quite like the very first Roadster, not even the Lotus Elise!

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