Model X: Under the Hood of Tesla’s SUV Strategy

A crowd rushed the entrance of the exhibition hall before Tesla unveiled its long-delayed Model X sport utility, its third vehicle in the quest to make electric cars mainstream.

In the crush were Barry and Lori Smith, a retired couple from Dallas who had plunked down a $40,000 deposit two years ago to secure the high-end Signature version of the electric crossover -- to be, as she put it, "part of the future."

The second the doors cracked open, Barry raced ahead of his wife.

"I've never seen him with so much adrenaline," Lori Smith said. "He's like a kid in a candy store."

Tesla needs that excitement from its faithful to translate into big sales for another luxury model -- another step, promises Chief Executive Elon Musk, toward the development of affordable electric cars for the masses.

Taking the stage Tuesday night, Musk eschewed his usual soaring rhetoric in favor of a microscopically detailed recitation of the vehicle's features.

The driver, for instance, has no need to touch the signature "falcon doors," which open overhead.

"It will triangulate my position," Musk said. "It will open the front door without touching. When you sit down, it will close the door."

The electric powertrain will propel the X from zero to 60 mph in just 3.2 seconds on the fastest model, astonishingly quick for a large crossover weighing 5,441 pounds. Top speed is 155, the company said. Dual electric motors, one on each axle, provide all-wheel-drive grip.

The Model X will have a range of 250 miles between charging sessions, similar to the company's Model S sedan. Unlike the sedan, the X can tow 5,000 pounds.

The SUV will sell for a bit more than the current Model S sport sedan, which starts at about $70,000 and can run well past $100,000 with options.

The Model X, designed at Tesla's studio in...

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