FREMONT, California (AP) — Electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors has mastered the sporty two-seater and the elegant sedan. Now, it wants to conquer the family hauler.
Tesla's Model X — one of the only all-electric SUVs on the market — will be officially unveiled Tuesday night at the company's California factory.
The Model X is the third vehicle from 12-year-old Tesla, after the Roadster — which was discontinued in 2012 — and the Model S sedan. It should attract new customers to the brand, and goes on sale as the market for luxury SUVs is booming. U.S. luxury SUV sales were up 17 percent through August, five times faster than the industry as a whole.
"If Tesla's going to be a more significant player, they need more products, and SUVs are what the market is demanding," said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with the car buying site AutoTrader.com
But there are drawbacks. Only a fraction of the sippy cup set will be able to afford the Model X, even with an available $7,500 federal tax credit. Exact pricing hasn't been revealed, but CEO Elon Musk says the Model X will cost $5,000 more than the Model S, which starts at $70,000.
Long road trips will have to be planned carefully because the Model X will have a limited range before the battery needs to be recharged. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the front-wheel-drive 90D version of the Model X will go 257 miles on a charge, while an all-wheel-drive P90D version will go 250 miles. That is less range than the equivalent versions of the Model S.
Few details were released ahead of Tuesday's unveiling, but the Model X has three rows and seats seven. Its most eye-popping feature is its falcon-wing rear doors, which open upward.
Those doors were among the reasons that the Model X's launch was delayed several times. Musk announced plans for the Model X in 2012 and it was initially expected to go on sale in early 2014. But Musk has said its complicated design — and his own perfectionism — caused delays.
Musk has also downplayed expectations for initial sales of the SUV. Last month, he lowered Tesla's annual sales forecast from 55,000 vehicles to between 50,000 and 55,000 and said bringing the Model X up to full production would be "challenging."
"We only want to deliver great cars, so we don't want to drive to a number that's greater than our ability to deliver high-quality vehicles," Musk told analysts on a conference call.
But Musk says Tesla is still on track to sell 500,000 vehicles by 2020. It expects to reach that goal with the introduction of its next car, the lower-priced Model 3, expected in 2017.
The Model X is alone, for now, in the all-electric luxury SUV market. Its closest competitor is the plug-in hybrid Porsche Cayenne SUV, which starts at $77,200. But others, spurred by Tesla, are planning their own all-electric models. Audi said this month that it will have an all-electric SUV by 2018.
At the lower end of the market, there's the $32,000 Kia Soul EV, an electric crossover, but it only has a 93-mile range. Toyota briefly sold an electric version of the RAV4 SUV, but that was discontinued last year.