Tesla Model S arrives with big hopes riding on it

It’s been nearly four years in the making but it’s finally arrived.

And now Tesla Motors, which has staked its future on its Model S sedan, must  be hoping that the car buying public believes, like them, that good things are worth waiting for.

The lucky few who had signed up well in advance to be one of the first owners of the Model S certainly thought so as they took delivery this week of the all-electric, high performance sedan, which comes at a cost of $50,000 (that’s the price after the federal tax credit for electric vehicles of $7,500 has been taken off, and for the model with the smallest battery capacity).

But the California-based automaker is going to have to shift a whole lot more of its new car if it wants to recoup its losses, which according to some reports have been estimated to be in the neighborhood of $1 billion and include a $465 million government loan.

Those losses have been blamed in part on the Model S’s predecessor and the company’s only other car, the $109,000 two-seat Tesla Roadster.

A fast and furious all-electric sports car, the Roadster was snapped up by eco-conscious Hollywood stars like George Clooney, who helped propel the Telsa brand into orbit but not profitability.

Now the company is staking everything on the Model S, hoping the lower price tag helps it reach a much wider market.

There’s no doubt the long wait has produced something altogether beautiful. Aside from the car’s immense aesthetic appeal, there’s also some impressive engineering to rhapsodize over. 
The vehicle’s powertrain sits under the floorboard, creating a lower center of gravity. The body of the car is aluminum and it’s designed to be a family vehicle, sitting five adults and two children in optional rear facing seats.

The car comes with three options of battery capacity which translate into its performance figures. The 40 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery will get you 160 miles of range, zero to 60 in 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 110 mph. With the 60 kWh and 85 kWh options you get 230/300 mile ranges, zero to 60 in 5.9/5.6 seconds and a top speed of 120/125 mph, respectively. There’s also an 85 kWh “performance” level option, with specs of a 300 mile range, zero to 60 mph of 4.4 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph.

Inside the car a 17-inch in-dash touchscreen is Internet-enabled, allowing for streaming radio, web browsing and navigation. It has leather interior, an all-glass panoramic roof and a 200 watt, seven-speaker audio system.

If the preliminary reports are anything to go by the Model S, which is being built at Telsa’s factory in Fremont, Calif., already seems to be outliving its predecessor.

Tesla — created by PayPal billionaire and SpaceX founder Elon Musk – said more than 10,000 people have already put down a refundable deposit for the sedan, and the company said it expects to sell 5,000 this year. By comparison, the Roadster has sold just 2,150 since 2008.

However, the Model S will have to compete in an entirely different market to its predecessor and compared to some of the other cars in its class, it could still struggle.

The Nissan Leaf, for example, is another family sedan EV. Since its launch in 2010 30,000 Leaf have been sold and while the Model S could certainly cash in on its homegrown appeal, the Leaf nearly cuts the Model S in half on price.

* Paul Willis, EarthTechling