Tesla Shows Gull-Wing Electric SUV Ahead of Model S Sales

Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA), the electric-car maker run by entrepreneur Elon Musk, unveiled a battery-powered sport-utility vehicle with “gull-wing” doors that will go on sale next year after the Model S sedan’s debut.

The Model X, touted by Tesla as faster than Porsche AG (PAH3)’s 911 sports car and roomier than Audi AG’s Q7 SUV, will be built in 2013 at the company’s Fremont, California, plant that starts making the Model S this year. Deliveries will begin late next year and increase throughout 2014, Musk said in an interview.

“The sensible thing to do is to extend the platform of the Model S into other applications, and the next application logically is the SUV/minivan arena,” he said yesterday. “For relatively little capital investment, maybe between a third and half of what we spent on Model S, we can bring the Model X to market.”

Tesla, which seeks to become a dominant seller of premium electric vehicles, has said it expects Model S sales to help it become profitable for the first time by as early as next year. The Model X may sell as well as the Model S, Musk said. The company began taking reservations for the seven-passenger crossover, which shares a platform and battery system with Model S, late yesterday, when it showed a prototype at Tesla’s design studio in Hawthorne, California.

The debut was attended by California Governor Jerry Brown and celebrities such as director Jon Favreau, who gave Musk a cameo role playing himself in the movie “Iron Man 2.” Favreau said yesterday he’s on the waiting list for a Model S.

Tesla, whose investors include Daimler AG (DAI), Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) and Panasonic Corp. (6752), fell 4.5 percent to $31.10 at the close in New York, as the broader markets declined. The stock has risen 8.9 percent this year.

‘Falcon’ Doors

The Model X has two electric motors and will be available with all-wheel drive, said Alan Clarke, manager of studio engineering at the Hawthorne facility.

The vehicle has doors that swing open upward because they’re hinged at the roof, reminiscent of auto designer John DeLorean’s namesake DeLorean DMC-12 sports car from the early 1980s, featured in the “Back to the Future” movies.

The second-row doors “are like gull-wing doors, but we call them ‘falcon-wing’ doors,” Musk said at the unveiling. They offer the easiest access to the rear seats of any luxury vehicle, he said.

Like the Model S, the SUV has a 17-inch touch screen for navigation, audio and other vehicle controls, the largest of its type in the industry.

Federal Loan

The company has reservations for more than 8,000 Model S sedans, Musk said. That figure may be updated on Feb. 15, when Tesla announces results for the quarter ended Dec. 31.

“Demand for the car is phenomenal,” Musk said. “We’re sold out until March of next year.”

The company didn’t give pricing or range details for the Model X. The most expensive version of the Model S sedan, capable of going 300 miles a charge on lithium-ion battery power, costs at least $92,400, Tesla said late last year. The base model of the sedan starts at $57,400 and will run 160 miles on a charge.

The vehicles qualify for a $7,500 U.S. federal tax credit aimed at encouraging sales of electric vehicles.

Tesla received a $465 million federal loan to develop and build electric vehicles at the California plant, which was shared by Toyota and the former General Motors Corp., before GM’s 2009 bankruptcy.

Tesla has “substantially” met all the requirements of the loan program and has drawn down most of the funds, Musk said.

Triple IPO

Fisker Automotive Inc., a California startup that also sells premium rechargeable cars, said this week it halted work on a Delaware auto factory that was preparing to make plug-in sedans after the U.S. Energy Department blocked access to its federal loan, citing unmet milestones.

Separately, Musk, who is also chief executive of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., said he wants the private rocket-launch business to have an initial public offering in 2013, the third such sale for the entrepreneur in as many years.

“There’s a good chance that SpaceX goes public next year,” Musk said yesterday, without elaborating.

Tesla sold shares for the first time in 2010. SolarCity Corp., a developer of rooftop solar-power systems of which Musk is chairman, is also preparing to file for an IPO this year, three people with knowledge of the matter have said.

Shares of Tesla, named for inventor Nikola Tesla, plunged 19 percent on Jan. 13 after Bloomberg reported the departure of two top engineers for the Model S.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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