RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Tesla Motors here in California made a name for itself with its sleek and very expensive all-electric sports car. But the company always said it planned to build a more affordable family style sedan someday. That day has come. NPR's Carrie Kahn was there when Tesla debuted the Model S.
CARRIE KAHN: It's pretty impressive when you can show off your company's first all-electric sedan at your own rocket factory. That's what Tesla Motors' CEO Elon Musk did yesterday in Los Angeles. Musk builds low-cost space vehicles at the factory and designed the new Model S sedan there too. It can go 300 miles on a charge and 0 to 60 in under four seconds.
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KAHN: Musk whisked past a line of quick shooting photographers. The 37-year-old who made his millions co-founding PayPal likes to compare his newest prototype to the Model T Ford.
MONTAGNE: And I challenge people to say, when was the last time there was a car this significant? It's been a long time.
KAHN: Tesla's first car, a sports car priced at more than $100,000, was aimed at well-heeled car enthusiasts. But designer Franz von Holzhausen says the Model S sedan will cost half as much after a federal tax credit.
MONTAGNE: This is the first mass produced vehicle for Tesla and one of the things I want to make sure that we did was invite the customer in, not scare them away.
KAHN: It looks like a regular sedan inside except for the 17-inch touch screen computer in the dash. Oh, and the car's carpets are made from recycled bottles and the interior leather is vegetable tanned. But it's not just eco- friendliness that sold Dave Denhart and Todd Laney on the Model S. The early adopters, who designed Microsoft's flight simulator, liked the car's cutting edge technology.
MONTAGNE: So we're pilot geeks and computer geeks.
KAHN: Both own Tesla's sports car, the Roadster, and flew to L.A. to get a sneak peak of the Model S. To get on the waiting list for one of the first thousand sedans, they'll have to pay $40,000.
MONTAGNE: Yes, you've got to put it down right now and yeah, I think a Model S is in my future too.
KAHN: Did you bring your checkbook?
MONTAGNE: No, I didn't, but I have their phone number.
KAHN: Even if they did pay up today, Tesla won't start production until it receives a $350 million federal loan. Delivery of the first Tesla Model S isn't expected until late 2011. Automotive news editor Mark Vaughn says, that's a shame.
MONTAGNE: It's really cool that these guys have put this car together and that it works and you know, and they're sort of entrepreneurial and on the fringe, they're building rockets, they're doing all these crazy things. But you know, they might turn out to have been a little bit late to the party because the party's really going to be gone by late 2011.
KAHN: By then, Nissan will have its electric vehicle on the market and so will Chevy with its plug-in Volt. But Tesla's CEO Elon Musk isn't worried.
MONTAGNE: The whole reason I put so much time and effort and money into helping create Tesla was to accelerate the electric car revolution.
KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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MONTAGNE: It's NPR News.
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