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Tesla rolls out Model S hatchback, plans late 2011 start

Fri, 27 Mar 2009

Amidst thumping techno and inside his own rocket factory, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk pulled the cover off his much-anticipated second car onThursday. The Model S five-door hatchback will go into production in late 2011 at a rate of 20,000 per year. Prices will start at $49,900 for the base model, a price that assumes the $7,500 current Federal tax credit available.

The car is all new from the ground up, sharing no parts or panels with the Roadster. A thin, flat battery pack rides underneath, freeing up the interior to seat as many as seven (as long as two of them are kids in the optional rear-facing seats). The lithium-ion battery packs will come in three sizes. The pack in the base model will offer a range of 160 miles, but you can order larger packs that will go 230 or 300 miles. With the charger built into the car, the S can accept 110-, 220- or as much as 440-volt recharges. At maximum voltage the car can recharge in 45 minutes. At 220 volts, which most typical suburban households have, recharge time is four hours. It's overnight at 110 volts.

Musk said Tesla is thinking about renting the battery packs, so if you need to go to Las Vegas for the weekend you could slap the bigger pack underneath, for instance. Musk said swap-out time is less than it would take to install a gas tank, whatever that means.

The car will also be available as a lease, Musk said.

Body panels and chassis are made from aluminum, there are no composites.

For performance, Model S designer Franz von Holzhausen said, "You'd need a spatula to flip this over." Top speed is listed at 130 mph and 0 to 60 mph will take 4.8 seconds for the Sport model, the quickest of the three offered. The standard model gets to 60 in 5.6 seconds and the base in 5.7 seconds "or so." With production so far off, these figures could conceivably change.

The car will be manufactured in Southern California, not far from Musk's Space X facility in Hawthorne, where he builds his rockets. The exact location of the factory was not announced.

By the car's late-2011 start of production, Tesla could see plenty of competition from OEMs offering electric cars. But that's a long way off.

By Mark Vaughn