Falcon-Wing Doors and Auto Pilot: What's Next for Tesla?

Oct 22, 2014 06:40 PM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

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Tesla Motors was the electric car startup that could--and the company co-founded by CEO Elon Musk just keeps growing as the Model S continues to be a strong player in a faltering segment. Even Tesla's unusual direct-sales model hasn't seemed to hold it back; rather, state after state has yielded to Musk's stipulation that Tesla sell its vehicles directly to customers.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based automaker recently unveiled the mysterious "D" that Musk had earlier referred to in a tweet that sent shares sky-high. Standing for "dual motor," the "D" signified an all-wheel-drive version of Tesla's Model S that also features autonomous options such as parking assist and collision avoidance.

So what's next in the Tesla journey? Besides the much-touted battery plant that finally seems to have found a home in Nevada, Musk has been plotting two new models to fill out Tesla's lineup in the near future.

The Model X

Shareholders and car enthusiasts alike may herald the Model X as "long looked for, come at last" when it finally arrives. Pushed back more than once already, the Model X crossover was slated for a summer 2015 delivery as of this past May, but word on the street is that Tesla's second vehicle on the Model S platform will come even later than that.

Analyst Adam Jonas of Morgan Stanley predicted last week that the car will likely emerge in the third quarter of 2015 at the earliest, the Los Angeles Times reported. Because the Model X will be a major launch for Tesla, preparing facilities for production will take time. Automakers have also been more stringent when it comes to safety standards, something that could also push back production.

In a report to investors, Jonas additionally pointed out that very few examples of the Model X and its already famous "falcon-wing"-style doors have been spotted on roads.

"We just find it unusual that these prototypes have not been spotted more frequently given the intense public interest in the product," he wrote.

Whenever the Model X does arrive, it should be worth the wait.

"Tesla has the benefit of substantially superior financial, technical resources and supplier partnerships to do things with the Model X it was not capable of doing with the Model S," Jonas wrote. "For example, we believe the active safety/autonomous driving capability suite of the Model X can be significantly better than even the most advanced, updated Model S recently unveiled."

As of this writing, the official Tesla Model X microsite puts the estimated delivery date for the model in fall 2015.

The Model 3

Tesla fans who haven't had the upwards of $75,000 needed to buy a Model S could be in luck in 2017, which is when the automaker plans to launch a more affordable Model 3 vehicle.

The smaller, less expensive Model 3 is expected to cost around half the price of a Model S at $35,000 and gain battery range thanks to its size, Forbes reported. The new offering could be groundbreaking for green car technology, offering an eco-friendly power train at an affordable price.

Besides being 20 percent shorter and costing 50 percent less than the Model S, the new Tesla Model 3 will also be a step forward in the world of self-driving cars.

When it arrives in showrooms in another three years or so, the electric car will have autonomous abilities akin to forthcoming technology announced by Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Infiniti and Cadillac, Jalopnik reported last month.

Musk doesn't cotton to the phrase "self-driving," preferring "auto-pilot," but he still has plenty of faith in upcoming autonomous technology.

"Full auto-pilot capability is going to happen, probably, in the five- or six-year time frame," Musk told The Nikkei in September. "The overall system and software will be programmed by Tesla, but we will certainly use sensors and subcomponents from many companies.

"I think in the long term, all Tesla cars will have auto-pilot capability." 

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