Telsa Motors prepares factory for Model X SUV and better batteries for the mass market hopeful Model 3

Tesla Motors has a backlog of customers waiting for its Model S sedan. Tesla has ceased production at its assembly plant becauase they are retooling the car factory for the forthcoming launch of its new Model X sport-utility vehicle. SUVs (and crossover models) passed a milestone in May by outselling sedans in the American market for light vehicles (36.5% to 35.4%). Tesla’s hopes for a mass appeal breakthrough will be its third product line, which it will start selling in 2017.

At a starting price of around $35,000, a third of the cost of a top-range Model S, Tesla wants the car to compete against the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedans. With the Model 3 Tesla also hopes to settle once and for all concerns about the limited range and long charging times of electric cars. The Model 3 is expected to almost match the nearly 300-mile range of the bigger Model S. But it will probably not take so long to charge up. To do that and hold the selling price down won’t be easy. Industry analysts believe that the 85 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery now used in the Model S costs Tesla almost as much as the $35,000 at which it plans to sell its smaller sedan.

The Model 3 will use a next-generation smaller, lighter and cheaper lithium pack. Tesla’s new “gigafactory” that will open somewhere in the south-western United States will also drive down manufacturing costs.

Telsa is setting up a network of so-called “Superchargers,” 440-volt DC systems that can yield an 80% recharge in about 30 minutes. It is a big advance on current charging systems that can take eight hours or more. A Tesla team recently used the Supercharger network to make the coast-to-coast 3,300-mile drive from California to New York in 76 hours. Then, a challenge from a team sponsored by Edmunds, a car website, cut the time to 67 hours.

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