Tesla debuts Model X electric crossover

Months before its sleek Model S sedan is even in showrooms, Tesla has rolled out its AWD Model X sort-of-non-SUV, the vehicle to come after that. Cheering throngs of supporters at Tesla’s Los Angeles Design and Engineering Building woot-woot-wooted.

And?

Have a look for yourself. The outside shape surely will be compared in proportion and profile with the BMW X6/Honda Crosstour/1974 Volkswagen Fastback, with a sloping rear roofline descending over a rear hatch. So fair, fairly conventional by today’s standards.

But then as soon as you hit a button, those “Falcon Wing” (not gullwing) rear side doors rise up and hang there like a cormorant getting some sun. Inside is room to fit seven real adults. We know–we sat in the very back and had headroom to spare. When the Falcon Wing doors are in the up position, you can stand up all the way while still in the Model X. This makes ingress and egress a piece of cake compared with a typical seven-seat, three-row SUV and makes it much easier to put a kid into a child seat.

In front is what normally would be called a trunk, but since Tesla is all about doing things differently, this one is called a “frunk.” Unfortunately, they couldn’t open the frunk when the car was onstage. The frunk was in a funk.

Since the Tesla Model X shares almost 100 percent of its powertrain and chassis with the Model S sedan, it promises to be a smooth and sporty performer. It might even be smoother. While the Model S is rear-wheel drive only, the Model X can be ordered with second electric motor to drive the front wheels, hence the all-wheel-drive-evocative X in the name.

Only the thinnest of technical specs were released, reminding us that the X’s launch is still almost two years off. But we were still able to glean a few details during our evening in the Hawthorne, Calif., design building. While the battery pack of the S comes in three sizes–40 kilowatt-hour, 60 kilowatt-hour or 85 kilowatt-hour–the Tesla Model X will get only the 60- or 85-kilowatt-hour batteries at first, all loaded into a tray slung beneath the chassis. The decision has not been made yet whether to offer the 40-kilowatt-hour battery on the Model X. Since the X weighs 10 percent to 12 percent more than the sedan, depending on whether it’s rear- or all-wheel drive, it will suffer a 10-percent-to-12-percent range penalty. That translates to 260 to 270 miles for the 85-kilowatt-hour battery and 200 to 210 miles for the 60-kilowatt-hour battery.

The X has the same 195.9-inch length as the Model S, though the wheelbase is four inches longer and the X should have much more interior volume.

Tesla says the X’s 0-to-60-mph time is 4.4 seconds, which is the same figure as the lighter and theoretically just as powerful sedan. So that still has to be sorted out.

Pricing should be right on top of the Model S, too, Tesla execs said. The Model S retails for $67,400 with the 60-kilowatt-hour battery and $77,400 for the 85-kilowatt-hour pack. Don’t forget to subtract the $7,500 federal tax credit from that, or about $10,000 if you live in a state such as California that offers an additional incentive.

We got a quick ride in a Tesla Model X and found that, even from the third-row seat, it felt fast. We also rode in the Model S a couple months ago, and that felt fast, too. Maybe faster.

Model S deliveries will start in July, while the Model X goes into production in 2013. Some Model Xs will be delivered in 2013, but most will go to owners in 2014.

And after that?

“The thing I’ve always wanted to do, the thing I’m going to do next, is a mass-market car,” said founder and CEO Elon Musk.

That mass-market car has been called the Gen III, and details on it are even thinner. Though many of the powertrain components from the Tesla Model S and X can easily be scaled down to fit a smaller car (look at the Toyota RAV4 EV and the Smart ED, both built with Tesla powertrain componentry), the platform would obviously need to be shortened or reworked entirely. Nonetheless, it could be done by 2014.

 

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