Nikolai Tesla was a Serbian inventor who should be better known than he is. Widely considered the father of the Alternating Current (AC) electricity system, it is said that some of his more advanced projects – carried out when he had emigrated to America – are still classified. There is no doubt Tesla was a brilliant man, but does the new SUV concept from the company that bears his name live up to its illustrious namesake?
Tesla, the motor manufacturer, was founded in 2003 with the intention of developing electric vehicles and powerplants. The Tesla Roadster, an attractive sporting model, met with rave reviews and took the electric car concept to another level. The company then brought the Model S, a regular sedan, to the market and also entered into collaborations with Mercedes Benz and Toyota, but it is the Tesla Model X that is making waves in 2012.
Tesla Model X – The ‘X’ Factor
Before we go on, consider this: contrary to what many believe, electric cars are not a new idea. After all, the electric motor predated the internal combustion engine by several decades, so it was inevitable that electric powered vehicles would make an appearance at some point.
Electric cars first came to light in the mid 1890’s, and were as popular as the new internal combustion engine vehicles for many years. It is a much overlooked fact that one Camille Jenatzy was the first man to pass the 100km/h (60mph) barrier on land, in 1899. He did it in an electric car.
The problem with electric cars back then is the same as that of now: batteries, their cost, and their short life. Tesla has set out to overcome this problem, and the Model X SUV is the next step.
The SUV represents one of the most popular forms of road transport in the 21st century. Rugged, stylish and roomy, this type of vehicle has come a long way in the last twenty years. This is clearly indicated by the Tesla Model X, a design that takes the SUV theme and drags it screaming into 2012. If the electric car really is the future, then this could be the way it will go.
Typical of the company is the rather exotic design touches. Unlike any other SUV, the Model X has what are being called ‘Falcon’ wing rear doors, which open in an arc from the front edge, giving excellent access for passengers and luggage. But that’s not what makes the Tesla Model X special.
Tesla Model X – Smooth and Fast
One advantage that electric motors have over their petrol and diesel engine rivals is that they are very smooth, and very quiet. They can provide quite sensational performance, too. Bear in mind that Tesla claims the Model X will accelerate from a standstill to 100km/h (62mph) in just 4.5 seconds, and you get the impression that this is an SUV with a difference. Many differences, in fact, for it is as advanced as they come.
In its basic form the Model X will be offered with rear wheel drive. Nothing special there, but you can also have it with two motors – one driving the front wheels and one the rear – and in Sport specification. You can also choose between a 60 or 85kwh battery, and we expect there to be a wide range of interior trim levels. Tesla does not do things by halves – this is a serious car with very serious intentions.
Back to the question that every electric car elicits: not the schoolboy favourite ‘what’ll she do mister’, but the more practical ‘How far will it go on one charge?’ It’s an important question in an age when there is little in the way of real infrastructure for charging electric cars on the go, and is unlikely to be for some time.
The answer is quite refreshing for an SUV of this size – think BMW X6 and Audi Q7 – at 210miles (335km) for the smaller battery and 260miles (420km) for the more powerful option. These are manufacturers claims and, as usual, should be read cautiously. Many a driver has taken to his electric car on a cold day only to find the range seriously compromised by using the heater. Replace heater with lights, stereo, or anything powered by electricity and you get the picture. Tesla, it must be said, offers the most advanced electric powerplants in existence, so we expect them to be better than most.
Tesla Model X – Why Buy a Tesla Model X?
First, we must stress that while the Tesla Model X is destined for production it will not begin until 2013, and then the first examples are expected to be on sale in 2014. The expected price in the USA will be around $57,000 (£36,000 or €43,000 at current exchange rates) for the base model, with the fully loaded Sport version coming in at $90,000 (£57,000 or €68,000). This is not a car that you will be buying to do the shopping run.
The Tesla Model X is a high end SUV that will compete directly with the aforementioned BMW X6, Audi Q7 and Mercedes Benz M-class, in particular the higher performance versions of the latter. That Tesla claim performance figures on a par with, and possibly better than, the Mercedes ML63 AMG makes it a certain consideration.
The proposed prices are certainly in line with those mentioned, and thus we would expect the Tesla to be challenger in the market. But, and it is a big ‘but’, the one thing that will be off-putting to most potential buyers is the one thing that is supposed to make it revolutionary: it is electric. Despite advances in technology, electric cars still scare many people thanks to the expensive battery technology and short range. Battery prices are forecast to fall by considerable amounts by the end of the current decade – according to recent research – but still there are concerns over the ability to charge your Tesla at roadside points.
In truth, many drivers still see electric vehicles – and in some cases hybrid vehicles – as little more than a novelty. This is understandable as the technology is, to them, very new. The industry, on the other hand, sees the necessity of alternative fuel sources and while hydrogen cell technology is nearing production and is seen by many as the way forward, the electric motor is something of a mainstay with the major automobile makers.
The Tesla Model X is built by a small, specialist company, rather than a major manufacturer. This will also have its downside for many people. It will also have its advantages, for as we have seen in other Tesla products quality is of the highest order.
So would I buy the Tesla Model X? No, is the straight answer, but then I wouldn’t buy any of the other models mentioned above. Not because I don’t like them – I admire their style, function and ambition – but because I’m not the target audience for a luxury high-end SUV. If I was, I must admit I would be looking carefully at the Tesla, simply because it is not run of the mill. Sometimes, something different is enough to clinch the deal.