Tesla’s Model X crossover, unveiled Thursday night, will be a slam-dunk for the company when it debuts in late 2013. I want one, and you probably want one, too. This is the car to get Tesla off government life support and into marketplace profitability, for a couple of very simple reasons:
- It will be built on the Model S sedan platform, with 60 percent shared content, which saves Tesla a bundle in development money.
- It’s a seven-passenger SUV that doesn’t look like one and has genuine eco-cred. Despite all their fealty to green cars in polls, Americans still love trucks and off-road styling. They don’t love gas guzzling per se, so if you can get rid of that nasty impediment and still offer crossover utility, you’re home free.
The Model X feature everyone’s talking about is the “falcon-wing doors,” which make access to the third row of seats (often a contortion in SUVs) a cinch. But I’m more interested in the range and charging possibilities. The Model X, which offers a second front-mounted motor to complement the rear-mounted 300-horsepower unit that comes standard, is also offered with two battery packs, 60 and 85 kilowatt-hours (also options in the S, where there’s a third 40-kWh choice). But the new car is heavier and less aerodynamic than the Model S, so it loses perhaps 10 percent on range—214 to 267 miles is the promise.
Tesla, which has its own unique charging system, also promises that you can plug in an X and come back to it topped up in just four hours—even with the big battery pack. That’s only possible with Tesla’s twin on-board chargers, which together offer a massive 20 kilowatts. They are a $1,500 option on the intro iterations of the Model S, where they offer up to 62 miles of range per hour of charge. As they say, check with your local electrician if you can handle that amount of power—the Nissan Leaf charger is only 3.3 kilowatts.
The Model X equipped this way is a cake-and-eat-it-too vehicle, taking nearly all the sting out of owning an electric car, or an SUV for that matter. Zero to 60 is 4.4 seconds (and that’s without the second electric motor). There are two trunks, front and rear. Range anxiety? With 267 miles on tap, fughedaboutit. Long charge times? Four hours and you’re done.
For all its attributes, this isn’t the Tesla for the masses. It’s priced like the Model S between $60,000 and $100,000, spokeswoman Khobi Brooklyn tells me. But the company’s fourth, “mass market” car (one of two new vehicles in the works) is coming in 18 months to two years. It’s expected to be a compact electric, the Prius C to the big Prius, and maybe slot in around $30 to $40,000.
Tesla Motors knows how to throw a party. It did a great job of building up excitement for the Model X, with tantalizing profile shots and invitations to its launch gala in California (sprinkled with “minor celebrities”). Founder/CEO Elon Musk (left) was there in his shades, telling the New York Times, “This is kind of the killer app for families. [The Model X] has more utility than a minivan, and better performance, much better performance than an SUV.”
Overnight, its new car gained the reputation of being the sexiest SUV ever. Companies like Ford could take a page out of Tesla’s hoopla playbook. Ford’s C-Max Energi, a plug-in hybrid with equally wide green-themed utility and a much lower purchase price, needs to ramp up the volume in getting potential buyers excited.
One analyst asked me today, “Where are all the green car commercials?” That’s certainly one way to get the hype meter into the red, but Tesla, operating on a shoestring budget, does it with smoke and mirrors. How many commercials is the cover of Road & Track worth?
John Gartner, a research director at Pike Research, tells me, “As the first electrified models in the SUV/crossover category, the Tesla Model X along with the C-Max Energi have a chance to win over customers who, while generally not being as attuned to the environmental benefits of EVs, are also less price sensitive. The potential savings on fuel will be much greater for this larger class of vehicles than for compacts and is likely to provide a faster payback on its premium price. The successful launch of the Model X will validate the EVs as a technology and could accelerate the overall demand.”
Put another way, the Model X is the electric car that will put EVs over the hump. Game over, internal combustion. Here's a video look at the car in the metal from TechnoBuffalo: