"The X sets a new bar for automotive engineering," Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a press preview just before the Model X launch event on Tuesday night. "There's nothing like it in the world. There never has been."
Musk's words were backed with substance. The Model X truly is unlike any other car.
Tesla went all out
In February 2012, Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) announced its Model X SUV for the first time. Still just a prototype, Tesla's plan was to officially begin producing the vehicle by the end of 2013 and start deliveries in early 2014. This didn't happen. But after spending some time with Tesla's production version of the vehicle unveiled on Tuesday, it looks like it was well worth the wait.
Step into a Model X and it won't take long to realize Tesla didn't hold anything back. Beyond all the attributes from Model S that made it such a success, such as its mind-boggling acceleration, low center of gravity, unparalleled safety, a fully electric experience, a 17-inch touchscreen, advanced autopilot hardware, and industry-leading software updates, Model X also boasts some new key features.
The main attraction for Model X, of course, is its double-hinged falcon-wing doors. Key to these doors' functionality, they move up before they move out. This allows for easy access to the rear doors even when there is very little space between the Model X and another parked car. The doors require only 30 centimeters of space on the side of the vehicle to open.
And here is where the doors really get interesting. Thanks to capacitive, inductive, and ultrasonic sensors to monitor the doors' surroundings, occupants won't have to worry about the doors hitting another car, person, or ceiling. The falcon-wing doors automatically sense ceiling heights and side obstacles to compute the necessary opening arches.
The list of noteworthy features for Model X beyond its falcon-wing doors is quite exhaustive, including:
- An enormous windshield that extends to where the back doors begin
- Auto-presenting doors
- A row of three individually adjustable and maneuverable "monopost" second-row seats, which creates extra space under the seats
- 257 miles of EPA-rated all-electric range
- Zero-to-60 times between 4.8 seconds and 3.2 seconds, depending on the model
Wielding its pricing power with customers and taking advantage of pent-up demand for Model X, Tesla is initially only taking orders for 90 kilowatt-hour battery variants of the Model X, which is currently the largest battery offered for Model S. While Tesla hasn't announced specific pricing for the base model yet, it will start at least at $93,000. Over time, however, Musk says the company will introduce lower-cost versions of the SUV -- perhaps the same 85 kWh and 70 kWh battery variants that are available as Model S configurations.
Tesla's next big bet
It would be difficult to overstate how important Model X is to Tesla.
With Model X, Tesla is aiming to double its addressable market and eventually sell as many Model X as it is selling Model S. Based on Tesla's recent quarterly sales and the company's third-quarter and full-year guidance, a doubling of vehicle sales would put Model X shipments at about 50,000 annually once Tesla ramps up production.
Further, Musk reaffirmed during a question-and-answer session with press before the event that Tesla still views Model X as a critical stepping stone in helping the company generate the cash flow needed to fund its investments in development and production of Model 3, Tesla's planned lower-cost car. The Model 3, which Tesla plans to unveil by March next year, is supposed to begin production by 2017 and be launched in conjunction with the Gigafactory, or the world's largest battery factory.
On Tuesday, the company only delivered about five Model X units to customers. Tesla will need to ramp production quickly to begin to help it finance its ambitious growth plans.