Tesla

Tesla's Model X crossover SUV looks to rock the suburbs

DETROIT—Tesla’s booth at the North American International Auto Show may be tiny—there’s even no room for chairs for the company’s press conference—but the electric car marker’s influence clearly isn’t tiny. About 20 minutes before Tuesday’s press conference, the area around the Tesla booth was standing room only.

Tuesday’s press conference included a look back—the event started with a video lauding the Motor Trend 2013 Car of the Year Award garnered by the Tesla Model S, an all-electric luxury sedan—and a look ahead at some of Tesla’s long-term goals. (The car maker aims to open new stores, set up new Supercharger charging stations, and speed up the adoption of electric vehicles.) But everyone came to the booth to see one thing: The pre-production prototype of Tesla’s Model X crossover SUV.

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
Chief designer Franz Von Holzhausen shows off Tesla’s Model X at the North American International Auto Show on Tuesday.

The Model X isn’t some huge reveal. Tesla unveiled a concept just about a year ago, and this prototype has been sitting on the showfloor since the beginning of the week. But it’s still a pretty cool car, and it will be coming to market in 2014. (You can pre-order now, and if you want one, you probably should as demand tends to outstrip supply.)

The Model X is an all-electric crossover SUV based on the same underlying frame as the Model S. This sleek-looking vehicle has the same low profile as the Model S, as well as a front trunk (called a “frunk”) with extra storage space, and a large, 17-inch touchscreen as the head unit. Unlike the Model S, the X seats seven passengers, has all-wheel drive, and goes from 0 to 60 mph in a little less than five seconds.

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
A trunk in the front of the car—Tesla calls it a ‘frunk’—provides extra storage space.

Perhaps the most unique and awe-inspiring feature of the Model X is its “falcon-wing” back doors—think gull-wing doors (a la the DeLorean), but without the space issue. Instead of opening out, these doors rise up until they’re above the car and then spread their wings. This gives you plenty of headroom (a 6-foot tall person can easily stand under the falcon wings), and allows you to open the doors in tight parking spots. Tesla says that the doors can open in less space than a typical minivan.

The Model X is an important step for Tesla as the car maker tries to round out its “family” of vehicles. The Tesla Roadster is fun and sporty and the Model S is luxurious and roomy, but only the Model X can really be a family vehicle. There’s no word on what the Model X will cost. (The Model S starts at $52,400, with the $7,500 federal tax credit figured in.) The Model X will be offered with a 60kWh or an 85kWh battery, and will have three drivetrain configurations.

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
The falcon-wing doors on the Model X give this cross-over SUV a unique look.

Tesla Motors is Silicon Valley’s baby. The company was founded in 2003 in San Carlos, Calif., and with its headquarters now located down the road in Palo Alto. Though Tesla currently produces luxury electric vehicles, the company said at its press conference that it hopes to offer something in the $30,000 range within five years.

The company has a stated long-term vision of “accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles,” which is why it’s also building free Supercharger stations around the U.S. (there are currently eight Supercharger stations, located in California, Connecticut, and Delaware.) Supercharger stations can recharge over half of an 85kWh battery (150 miles or so) in just 30 minutes, and they’re free to use.

Unfortunately, with the high price of Tesla’s current vehicles, and the lack of Supercharger stations across the United States, the Tesla Model X still has a large barrier to entry. But if the company keeps its promises to lower prices and build more stations, soccer moms could be looking at a totally new minivan in just a few years.

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