Tesla – Part 1

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Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript and a task for you to do in the comments section.


Today, I’m taking the advice of a listener called Antonio who has asked for a podcast about Tesla or SpaceX. There is so much language related to both these companies that I think is really important that I’d like to make a whole series of podcasts.

However, I don’t have enough time to create a whole series. I have done a little bit of reading and have written a short article about Tesla that I am going to read in four parts. This would make a very long podcast with too much vocabulary for you to remember so I’m breaking this up and will release this in two parts. I’ll read the first two parts in this podcast.

After each part, I’ll pause and focus on the important vocabulary.

So … What do I know about Tesla?

Tesla was founded in 2003 as Tesla Motors by Marc Terpennung and Martin Eberhard. The company is named after Nikola Tesla, the famous inventor and engineer. In 2004, Elon Musk invested $6.5m and became the company’s largest shareholder and chairman. A few years later, he took over as the CEO and helped the company produce their first electric car, the Roadster. I think that this was a stroke of genius. The Roadster was built on the chassis of a Lotus Elise which was a really cool little sports car that looked a bit like a tiny bat-mobile. The Tesla Roadster looks a little more mature than the Lotus, with smoother lines and without the air intakes, but it still looked really cool and was really nippy. The Roadster was the first production line all-electric car and Tesla Motors sold just under 2,500 Roadsters across the world.

Let’s take a pause to look at some vocabulary.

I said Tesla was founded.

To found something means to bring it into existence. Normally, it means to start a company or an organisation. It is almost always used in the passive voice, because it describes a company, but the company is the object, not the subject of the verb. I said Tesla was founded in 2003. Remember that auxiliary verbs are almost always contracted or weak so they can be difficulty to hear. The auxiliary in this case is was, but in natural speech, I would say was – listen again: Tesla was founded in 2003.

Elon Musk became the company’s largest shareholder in 2004. When a company is founded, the company directors have to say how many shares there are in the company and who owns them. Shares are like official parts of a company. If you own shares in a company, you also have the right to vote on what the company does. Each share you own is like a vote so the more shares you own, the more votes you get.

I said that I thought the production of the Roadster was a stroke of genius. This means I thought it was a very clever thing to do. You can say something was a stroke of luck, which means it was very lucky or a stroke of genius if it’s very very clever.

The chassis of a car is like the car’s skeleton. In the past, a car’s chassis was just a metal frame that the wheels and engine and body were bolted onto, but modern car chassis are more like a skeleton.

The Lotus Elise was an exciting little sports car. It was probably a bit too exciting for most people. It has big air vents and very sharp styling. The Tesla Roadster was more conservative. The body was more sensible looking. I described the look as more mature. Mature normally means fully grown, and like an adult. In general English, it has come to mean sensible and a bit conservative. We associate wild designs with young people or with people who have a wild nature. These people are not often described as mature. Mature means grown up and sensible.

The Tesla Roadster was very nippy. Nippy means quick. For a car, it means quick acceleration. We only really use the adjective nippy to describe small cars. We also use the verb to nip which means to travel somewhere quickly, usually a short distance and only for a short time. You might hear someone say: I’m just going to nip to the bank.

The last bit of vocabulary from this first section is all-electric. This is the most important vocabulary from this podcast so I’m going to explain it carefully. An all-electric car is a car that only uses an electric motor. There are lots of different electric motor types and I will go through them very quickly now, but Tesla cars are all-electric plug-in motors. Or BEVs battery electric vehicles. The only way these cars move is if the battery is charged. You can also get hybrid cars that run on a combination of electric power and petrol power. My step-mum has a Toyota hybrid that runs on battery power at low speeds and the petrol engine powers the car at higher speeds. Some hybrid cars have a battery that’s charged by the petrol motor in the car and some you can plug in. I’ve seen cars that say PHEV on them and that stands for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. And there are some more that are called range extenders which have a small petrol engine that can be used to generate electricity to power the car if the battery is low. There is even a hydrogen fuel cell car which uses hydrogen mixed with oxygen to produce electricity. This is still a new technology so it’s not common yet, but if the hydrogen generation technology improves, they might become more common.

OK – let’s get back to Tesla.

I’ve never seen a Tesla Roadster in real life. However, there’s a car in the Grand Theft Auto V video game called a Coil that is a copy of a Tesla Roadster that is really fast and really fun. That game has been sold over 160 million times so millions more will have driven a video game version of the car than have seen one in real life.

The next car that Tesla produced was the Model S which was an expensive sedan that was very fast and had a good range. This addressed one of the biggest fears people had about electric cars, running out of battery. These were released in around 2012 and it was exciting to see them. I remember seeing one for the first time in London and it looked very American and kind of futuristic. The Model X came next which was a larger SUV type vehicle with falcon wing doors at the back. In 2017, they released the Model 3 which is a lot cheaper than their other models and became the all-time best-selling plug-in electric car.

In the UK, I see Teslas quite a lot these days. They still aren’t common, but I’ve almost stopped pointing them out when I see them on the roads.

In this section, I said that the Model S was a sedan and the Model X was an SUV. These words describe the body types of cars. A sedan is a normal car with 4 doors and a separate boot at the back for luggage. In American English, the boot is the trunk. We use the word trunk to talk about large, old fashioned pieces of luggage and elephants’ noses, but the back of a car is normally a boot. I think most cars in the UK are hatchbacks which means the boot is attached to the rest of the car and you could get into the car through the boot, if you wanted to. Smaller cars are almost always hatchbacks. SUV stands for sports utility vehicle. This normally means a larger car that has 4 wheel drive, where the motor powers all four wheels. SUVs are usually taller as well as bigger and look like a cross between a jeep or land rover and a sedan.

The Model S was supposed to have a range of something like 300 miles. The range is the distance you can drive before you have run out of batteries, before you have to stop and plug the car in to charge up. 300 miles in the UK is at least a 4 hour journey. My dad lives about 320 miles away from me and the journey takes me about 6 hours to drive. 300 miles range would be plenty for almost every journey I make in my car. If I was going to my dad’s I’d have to stop and charge up on the way, but there are lots of places you can do that on the motorway these days.

The last piece of vocabulary I wanted to talk about from this section was falcon wing doors. When I was a kid, one of my favourite films was Back to the Future which is about a teenager who drives a Delorean sports car that has been converted into a time machine. This was one of the coolest things when I was a kid. The Delorean had gull-wing doors. These are doors that open up. The hinge is in the roof so when the doors are open they look a bit like wings. The first sports car with gull-wing doors was the Mercedes 300SL. The Model X has similar doors at the back, only they have a hinge in the middle as well and they are called falcon-wing doors. They were presented as a practical alternative, giving more access to the rear seats for parents with children in car seats, but I think they were really added because they look cool.

That’s as much vocabulary as I think you can remember today. I will publish part two of this podcast on Tesla tomorrow.

If you have enjoyed this podcast, please leave me a comment or a rating or a review. I love to hear from you and any comments or suggestions you have. If there are any topics or songs or scenes from a film that you would like me to talk about or anything else you would like to hear, I would be delighted to make a podcast for you. So please visit LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk and say hello.

Thanks for listening.

Answer the questions in the comments section.

  1. What do you think about Tesla cars?
  2. Would you be happy to drive an electric car?
  3. How far do you normally drive in a week?
  4. What do you think is the coolest car?
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