Prototypes of the car were officially revealed to the public on July 19, 2006, in Santa Monica, California, at a 350-person invitation-only event held in Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport.
The San Francisco International Auto Show, held on November 18–26, 2006, was the Tesla Roadster's first auto show.
It was featured in Time in December 2006 as the recipient of the magazine's "Best Inventions 2006—Transportation Invention" award. The first "Signature One Hundred" set of fully equipped Roadsters sold out in less than three weeks, the second hundred sold out by October 2007 and general production began on March 17, 2008.
The first Tesla Roadster was delivered in February 2008 to Tesla co-founder, chairman and product architect Elon Musk. The company produced 500 similar vehicles through June 2009. In July 2009, Tesla began production of its 2010 model-year Roadster—the first major product upgrade. Simultaneously, Tesla began producing the Roadster Sport, the first derivative of Tesla's proprietary, patented powertrain. The car accelerates from 0 to 97 km/h (0 to 60 mph) in 3.7 seconds, compared to 3.9 seconds for the standard Roadster. Changes for the 2010 model-year cars included:
- An upgraded interior and push-button gear selector, including "executive interior" of exposed carbon fiber and premium leather, and clear-coat carbon fiber body accents.
- Locking, push-button glove box wrapped in leather.
- A centrally mounted video display screen to monitor real-time data, including estimated range, power regenerated, and the number of barrels of oil saved. This screen is visible to the driver and passenger.
- Adjustable, custom-tuned suspension. The shock absorbers' response and anti-sway bars are manually adjustable.
- More powerful and immediate heating, ventilation and air-conditioning.
- More efficient motor and hand-wound stator. The increase in efficiency allows the motor to deliver higher peak power.
- A suite of sound-deadening measures to dramatically reduce noise, vibration and harshness. For instance, engineers added pellets to a member of the chassis side rail. These pellets expand by 50 times original volume during the adhesive heating cycle to eliminate rattles.
All of these features, except for the motor were available either as standard or as add-on option for the non-sport model.
Beginning mid-March 2010, Tesla, in an effort to show off the practicality of its electric cars, sent one of its Roadsters around the world. Starting at the Geneva auto show, the Roadster completed its journey upon its arrival in Paris on September 28, 2010.
In July 2010, Tesla introduced the "Roadster 2.5", the latest update of the Roadster. New features in Roadster 2.5 include:
- A new look, which included a new front fascia with diffusing vents, and rear diffuser reflecting the future of Tesla design
- Directional forged wheels available in both silver and black
- New seats with improved comfort, larger more supportive bolsters and a new lumbar support system
- Power control hardware that enables spirited driving in exceptionally hot climates
- An optional 7" touchscreen display with back-up camera
- Improved interior sound reduction including new front fender liner material to make the cabin quieter
At the time, the US$112,000 Roadster was the most expensive single prize ever offered, though not won, on The Price Is Right, in a playing of Golden Road on April 22, 2010 for Earth Day.
A Roadster was used as a promotional tool for a wind power electricity company in 2012.
Tesla produced the Roadster until January 2012, when its supply of Lotus gliders ran out, as its contract with Lotus Cars for 2,500 gliders expired at the end of 2011. Tesla stopped taking orders for the Roadster in the U.S. market in August 2011. The next generation will not be based on the Lotus gliders but instead on a shortened version of the architecture developed for the Tesla Model S. Featuring new options and enhanced components, the 2012 Tesla Roadster was sold in limited numbers only in Europe, Asia, and Australia. Tesla's U.S. exemption for not having special two-stage passenger airbags expired for cars made after the end of 2011 so the last Roadsters could not be sold in the American market. Also a total of 15 Final Edition Roadsters were produced to close the manufacturing cycle of Tesla's first electric car. As of June 2012 the Roadster remained on sale in Europe and Asia and as of December 2012 , inventories were not yet depleted.
Tesla announced an optional upgrade to current Roadsters, the Roadster 3.0 in December 2014. It will have a new battery pack from LG Chem, with capacity increased by 50% to 70 kWh (250 MJ), a new aero kit designed to reduce drag, and new tires with lower rolling resistance.