Elon Musk Delivers Tesla’s First Model X SUVs in California

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Elon Musk handed over the first six Model X SUVs to owners in California Tuesday night, as Tesla Motors Inc. reached a milestone of having two all-electric vehicles in production at the same time.

“The X really sets a new bar for automotive engineering,” Musk, the company’s chief executive officer, told reporters before the event. “It’s like a car from the future.”

Musk was candid about the challenges of equipping Model X with complex features, including “falcon-wing” doors that open vertically, independently operable second-row seats and an enormous front windshield. All were difficult to engineer and dependent, in part, on several components and suppliers.

“In retrospect, we would not have had so many features and functionality,” Musk said. “But this accrues to the benefit of the buyer. It didn’t need to do quite so many things, but now that it’s done, I think anyone who buys it is going to love it.”

The coming-out party for the long-awaited sport utility vehicle, originally slated to debut in 2013, drew roughly a thousand people to a Tesla building in Fremont, California, a city between Oakland and San Jose that’s home to the company’s lone assembly plant.

The Model X, which joins the Model S sedan in Tesla’s lineup, features the double-hinged doors that open vertically, automatic emergency braking, an expansive front windshield that stretches up onto the roof and 17 audio speakers. A HEPA filter system fills the cabin with medical-grade air.

“If there was a bioweapon attack, all you need to do is get in your car,” Musk said.

The Model X is crucial to the company’s efforts to expand its manufacturing and broaden its customer base. Tesla designed its first SUV in part to appeal to families with children and female drivers, as women buy more than half of small SUVs in the U.S., according to J.D. Power& Associates.

The vehicle is designed with safety at the forefront and internal crash tests indicate that it should receive 5-star safety ratings, according to the company. It will also help fund Tesla’s work on the Model 3, a more affordable vehicle due in late 2017.

“The X doubles our addressable market and gives us cash flow to develop the Model 3,” said Musk.

The Model X was first revealed as a concept in February 2012 at a Los Angeles event featuring California Governor Jerry Brown. It had previously been targeted to go on sale the following year, and then by the end of 2014.

The question now is if Tesla can increase production of the Model X fast enough to meet its lowered sales target of at least 50,000 units for 2015. Much of Tesla’s sales projections are back-weighted to the fourth quarter, raising the stakes for a smooth — and steep — rise in production.

The first Model Xs are limited-edition founders series that typically go to board members and close friends of the company. Those are followed by the signature series models, which are fully-loaded, require a $40,000 deposit and start at $132,000. A lower priced base Model X will be released at a later date.

The all-wheel-drive SUV can be ordered in either six- or seven-seat versions. While the two-passenger third row seat folds down flat, the second row seats tilt forward and move up but don’t fold flat. Customers who are eager to carry surfboards, skis and pieces of plywood inside the cabin are likely to order the version with 6 seats.

The Signature Model X has a 90 kilowatt-hour battery that’s projected to have a range of roughly 250 miles (402 kilometers) per charge, a top speed of 155 miles per hour and a 0-to-60 miles per hour time of 3.8 seconds — or 3.2 seconds with “Ludicrous” mode. The cost of Signature Model X is $132,000; Ludicrous mode is $10,000 extra. Tesla has not yet released details on what the price of the base version will be. The Model X is capable of towing 5,000 pounds.

Standard features include a forward-looking camera, radar and 360 degree sonar sensors to enable advanced autopilot features that Tesla will roll out to customers over time via over-the-air software updates.

Tesla aims to deliver 50,000 to 55,000 vehicles this year, compared with a previous target of 55,000, partly owing to production snags with the Model X’s complex middle-row seats. The Palo Alto, California-based company delivered 21,577 vehicles in the year’s first half, meaning it must sell 28,423 vehicles in the second half to meet the lower end of its forecast.

 

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