Elon Musk Wants the Tesla Roadster to Hover Without Killing People

With no sign yet of the real production Tesla Roadster redux, Elon Musk is still adding new features to the long-promised electric sports car, like … flight?

Musk recently told podcast titan Joe Rogan that he wants the second-generation Roadster to hover—“without, you know, killing people.”

The planned hypercar iteration of Tesla’s original vehicle could have thrusters instead of backseats, Futurism reports. Musk has promised the new Roadster since 2017, with a missed original goal of 2020. We’ll see if 2021 is the year after all.

The idea of a hovercar raises a lot of questions. How would you safety test something that has features combining rocket science with traditional consumer vehicles? The specialized jet cars that break land speed records, like the one that killed Jessi Combs in 2019, aren’t regulated by any consumer group or safe to drive on regular roads. Let’s say we develop a new safety code for regulating hovercars. How would this car even work?

Plenty of vehicles manage something like hovering. The classic is obviously the helicopter, whose rotors have cross sections similar to airplane wings and drive the cabin upward by playing with airflow. Personal and commercial drones use what look more like traditional fan blades, but these are still basically rotors.

What Musk has talked about, though, is a rocket thruster form of hovering. This would make the new Roadster more like a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle instead of—or in addition to—a production car. And it brings design challenges shared by all flying vehicles as well as unique ones for electric vehicles.

First, heavy batteries have always kept Tesla vehicles, well, firmly on the ground—like any giant luxury car. A loded Tesla S and a loaded current-generation BMW 7 series, comparable full-size luxury cars, both top out at nearly 5,000 pounds. Hypercars infamously cut weight by removing everything from the second seat to all interior upholstery, but an electric car can’t cut much battery weight the same way a gasoline BMW 7 series can’t take out the gas tank.

For this reason, most VTOLs focus on other means of thrust or have extremely light weight. They might use lighter-than-air hydrogen as a propellant or have bodies made entirely of fiberglass, for example.

Musk has bragged about the upcoming Roadster’s engine specs for years, or even the idea that the car will come standard with all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive alone adds hundreds of pounds to a vehicle’s weight, enough to noticeably dent the gasoline mileage of a regular car that, you know, never hovers.

If we know anything about Musk, it’s certainly within his purview and abilities to come up with something wild that turns out to be a great success. At the same time, it’s pretty hard to imagine a hover car with Roadster’s planned performance. The physics don’t add up without a healthy dose of fizzy lifting drink.

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