Tesla Motors plans to debut affordable electric car in early 2015

The automaker hopes to sell over 40,000 copies of the Model X

5/10/14 6:31 pm chumakdenis 2

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away Tesla Motors unveiled  prototype of Model X at Tesla's design studio in Hawthorne.

But we have heard really nothing about this car since February 2012 and now, all of a sudden, Tesla announces mass production of  model X crossover.What a great news, isn't it?

Prototype

Tesla Motors has introduced a prototype of the 2014 Model X crossover, its third all-electric model behind the Roadster and the Model S sedan. The seven-passenger Model X promises to be more versatile and family-friendly than the Model S, and will double the size of Tesla’s current U.S. lineup when it eventually goes on sale sometime in 2014. (Remember that the Roadster, being based on the Lotus Elise, lost its federal safety exemption and is no longer being sold in the U.S.)

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Tesla X and Tesla S have a lot of things in common but some aspects are different

The Model X looks a lot like a Model S that has been stretched vertically. Its grille, headlights, taillights, and general contours are similar to the sedan’s. Even the two cars’ dashboards are nearly identical, with the X inheriting the S’s giant, 17-inch central touch screen and reconfigurable gauge cluster. However, the Model X has two key differences: a set of rear “falcon-wing” doors and a forward-facing third row of seats. (The Model S’s optional way-back row consists of a pair of rear-facing jump seats accessed through the hatch.) Tesla claims this pair of upward-swinging doors eases ingress and egress to both the second and third rows.

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We think the setup is mostly a gimmick. The fancy doors don’t exactly jibe with the Model X’s advertised family appeal; they appear ready to interfere with the loading of children, possibly swooping down to snack on your pre-teens. Perhaps that’s why Tesla named its flightless doors after a bird of prey instead of using the “gullwing” term. But of course, that is so Mercedes Benz SLS AMG E-Cell. Whatever you call them, the doors aren’t without at least some clever engineering; hinges just above the window allow each door to fold as it swings up, keeping them close to the car in tight spaces.

Just an awesome electric crossover!

The X’s connection to Tesla’s sedan is more than skin deep. The two cars essentially share a platform, but while the Model S is rear-drive-only, the X can be outfitted with crossover-necessary all-wheel drive. Its standard drive configuration mirrors that of the S, with a single, rear-mounted electric motor driving the rear wheels. An additional, front-mounted motor powers the front axle on all-wheel-drive models. As with other on-demand all-wheel-drive systems, the Model X’s detects traction differences between the two axles and apportions power accordingly. Similar to the S sedan, there will be a sporty Performance model; it will be all-wheel-drive-only and is claimed to hit 60 mph in less than five seconds.

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Versions

Model X buyers will be able to choose between two battery capacities—a 60-kWh pack is standard, and an 85-kWh unit is available. Tesla hasn’t released other technical specifics yet, but it’s safe to assume the X heavier and less aerodynamic than the S. This, plus the additional electric motor on all-wheel-drive models, likely will conspire to give the X a shorter driving range than the S. Tesla says the Model S with the 60-kWh battery can travel up to 230 miles on a single charge, or up to 300 with the beefier 85-kWh unit. The X’s additional pork might also explain why Tesla isn’t offering it with the Model S’s available lower-capacity, 40-kWh battery, which offers the sedan just 160 miles of motoring.

Pricing for the Model X has yet to be announced, but Tesla has said the least-expensive version will start somewhere close to the Model S’s post-$7500 tax credit $49 000 sticker expect to dole out a lot more for the additional range afforded by the higher-capacity battery pack, and more still for the Performance version. Tesla plans to begin producing the crossover near the end of next year, and to deliver the first customer cars early in 2014. Given the Model S’s repeated delays—it has yet to go on sale—and that the Model X already missed its  expecred reveal at least year's Frankfurt auto show  we’d suggest taking Tesla’s schedule with a large, winged grain of salt.

Tesla's big plans

Tesla Motors plans to unveil an electric car in early 2015 that could sell in the $40,000 range, a mainstream offering that could be key to the automaker's future growth.

Tesla's only current offering is the Model S, a premium sport sedan that starts at $71,070 before any state or federal tax incentives, and can cost far more with options. In late 2014, the Palo Alto automaker plans to release a long-awaited Model X sport-utility, likely to sell in the same price range.

The third, lower-priced model could make its official debut at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Tesla confirmed Friday. It would begin selling in 2016 or 2017.

The automaker has long promised a more affordable electric car. Delivering one will be crucial to its future.

“This is hugely important for Tesla,” said Thilo Koslowski, an auto industry analyst at Gartner. “This is ultimately the car that will make Tesla a household brand rather than just something in the premium segments. No car company can live off 20,000 to 30,000 sales a year and be profitable in the long term.”

Tesla is on pace to build about 21,000 copies of its only current vehicle, the Model S sedan. The automaker hopes to double that figure in 2014 with the introduction of the Model X.

Building a third, more affordable vehicle will require Tesla to find the sweet spot in combining battery size, capacity and cost.

The automaker will need to squeeze a 200-mile driving range out of a battery that's smaller than currently available in the Model S, which has a maximum EPA-rated range of 265 miles.

“That's pretty ambitious to get there,” Koslowski said. “One hundred to 120 miles of range isn't enough for mainstream consumers to really feel comfortable.”

"A $40,000 car with a 200-mile range would give Tesla a significant competitive advantage, as mainstream automakers probably will not hit those cost and range targets for at least another year or two", Koslowski said.

Also important for Tesla's success will be its ability to ramp up production to a much higher level. The current Model S is built at Tesla's Fremont, Calif., plant and uses only about a quarter of the facility's 5 million square feet of space. This is where the Model X

will also be built.

The X will use essentially the same drivetrain as the current rear-wheel-drive Model S, save for another electric motor driving the front wheels, making the X all-wheel-drive. The vehicle will sit higher than the Modal S and will use a pair of gullwing-style doors for easier access to the second and third row of seats, Tesla said.

Tesla is already taking refundable $5,000 deposits for the X, though it won't say how many customers have plunked down their cash already.

The Model X and S are considered by the company as the second step in its evolution of electric cars. The first was the Tesla Roadster, the two-seat sports car of which Tesla sold about 2,300 copies worldwide, and which is no longer in production.

The newest model debuting in 2015 will be the third step, as its platform will differ significantly from anything else Tesla has built so far.

The plan for a mainstream model follows a strategy that Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk laid out in a 2006 blog post.

“The strategy of Tesla is to enter at the high end of the market, where customers are prepared to pay a premium,” Musk wrote in a post titled “The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan.” “Then drive down market as fast as possible to higher unit volume and lower prices with each successive model.”

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