Here at the SpaceX Rocket Facility in Los Angeles, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and Design Chief Franz von Holzhausen just pulled the wraps off the Model S sedan. Musk held court with the media and spoke easily - and openly - about many details, while a shy von Holzhausen mostly stood by quietly. Notably, the CEO claims that the Model S' chassis and bodywork are unique and were developed in house (unlike the Lotus Elise-based Tesla Roadster).
Without blinking, Musk billed the Model S as a 7-passenger vehicle as well as the "first mass-produced electric vehicle." He suggests that it will replace SUVs and crossovers at a fraction of their operating costs. Other mentions of kayak storage, the ability to carry a mountain bike with the front wheel intact, and swallowing huge TVs make us believe that the rear seats will fold down completely. But they are believable claims, as this is a sizeable sedan with hatchback convenience.
Upon powering open the rear, our thought was that the rearmost two of the Model S' seven passengers could be no more than toddlers (a question about just how far the side-curtain airbags stretch back in order to protect those kids' heads was met with a flash of annoyance from the mostly cool, collected Musk).
Von Holzhausen termed the design "classic modernity." The long front end with wheels pushed to the corners lend it some of the poise and athleticism of a BMW or Infiniti G37 sedan. The roofline's unbroken arc concludes with a muscular rear Kammback reminiscent of the Jaguar XF. The roof appears to be two large sunroofs back to back, comprised almost entirely of smoke-tinted glass.
From what we could see of the interior, it's an elegant, airy affair with high quality leather and soft-touch surfaces. The IP is an electronic facsimile of traditional analog gauges, and a large 17-inch touch-screen infotainment display resides in the middle of the dash and, says Musk, eliminates excess buttons and clutter.
Price: $49,900 after a $7,500 Federal tax credit. But Musk stressed that operating costs - especially for those who lease a Model S - make the actual cost of this vehicle no more than that of a $35,000 2010 Ford Taurus. That comparison was based, incidentally, on $4/gallon gas, which Musk believes will return to the U.S. before long. And musk stated emphatically that we've got to stop relying on oil for automobiles ASAP, and believes his sedan marks an important first step on that journey.
Production intentions: 20,000 units after 12 months of production, which is set to begin third quarter of 2011. Musk promised a 3-4 year total vehicle warranty, bumper to bumper. Battery pack longevity should be 7-10 years, but no cost was given for them.
Tesla Motors' best-case financial scenario will involve $350 million in Federal funding to help defray startup and facility costs through the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) program. A second possibility, through a DOE program known as Title 17, would give approximately $250 million to the fledgling automaker who needs to succeed at mass production in order to become truly viable. Says John Voelcker of Green Car Reports, the Model S "won't be real unless Elon Musk has a few hundred million to spare." Nonetheless - even if Federal funding does not pan out - Musk emphasizes that the Model S "WILL come to market."