Tesla unveils its Model X SUV with 'falcon wings'

@PeterDrives February 10, 2012: 8:41 AM ET

LOS ANGELES (CNNMoney) -- Tesla Motors on Thursday unveiled a new SUV that the automaker plans to put into production by 2014.

The plug-in electric crossover is based on the same engineering as the Model S sedan, a car that's expected to go into full production this summer, but the Model X rides higher and has front-facing third row seats.

The most eye-catching feature, however is the "falcon wing" back door design. The doors open upwards and bend in the middle so they'll be able to function when parked in a tight space.

The doors also allow an adult to easily access the rear seats while standing up, making it easier to strap small children into booster seats, the company said. Tesla claims it is the largest door opening of any passenger vehicle.

The Model X is expected to be priced at around $60,000 to $100,000, about the same as the Model S.

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Tesla (TSLA) chief executive Elon Musk said he didn't want the automaker to be seen as a "one trick pony," so even though neither model is yet in production, he thought it was important to show off the Model X now.

The demonstration vehicle Tesla showed reporters at the carmaker's Torrance, Calif., headquarters had a few features that might not make it into production, including cameras that act as side view mirrors. Doing away with side view mirrors would improve the SUV's aerodynamics and significantly increase driving range, said Musk. Safety regulations might stand in the way, though.

The Model X will be available in both rear- and four-wheel-drive versions. The four-wheel-drive version, which will use two independent electric motors, will have a zero-to-sixty acceleration time in the 4.4 seconds, Musk said.

"It actually has more performance than a Porsche 911 Carrera," Musk boasted.

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During a brief test ride around Tesla's facilities, the Model X felt quick and took corners with little body roll, thanks to the placement of the heavy battery pack in the car's floor.

With no engine under the hood, the Model X has large storage areas in the front and the rear of the vehicle.

The only model Tesla has sold so far has been the two seat Roadster, a plug-in electric sports car priced at about $109,000. Tesla sold only a few thousand of those cars worldwide.

The first sales of the Model S sedan are expected to begin around the middle of 2012. With a starting price of about $58,000, the base model will have a driving range of 160 miles, Tesla said, but buyers will be able to pay more for versions with larger battery packs and longer driving ranges.

The Model X SUV will follow a similar pricing structure.

Besides these two vehicles, Tesla also has an agreement with Toyota (TM) to produce the powertrain -- essentially the battery packs and electric motors -- for the plug-in Rav4 EV. To top of page

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