Tesla unveils four-door electric sedan

HAWTHORNE, Calif., March 26 Fri Mar 27, 2009 2:38am IST

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HAWTHORNE, Calif., March 26 (Reuters) - Electric car start-up Tesla Motors Inc unveiled its newest, cheapest vehicle on Thursday, a four-door sedan that can carry five adults and could travel up to 300 miles per charge.

The Model S will cost $49,900, after a U.S. government tax credit of $7,500, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said at the car's unveiling. It is slated to go into production in 2011 and will be manufactured in Southern California.

In his remarks, Musk billed the Model S as the first mass-market, highway-ready electric vehicle. And, he said, the price is comparable to that of a $35,000 gasoline-powered car such as a Ford Taurus, assuming gas prices of about $4 a gallon.

"Would you rather have this car, or would you rather have a Ford Taurus?" Musk asked the crowd of journalists.

Tesla plans to produce 20,000 Model S sedans a year. The company expects to receive funding from the Department of Energy this year to support the Model S program.

Tesla, which ran into a series of cost overruns and production delays with its Roadster sports car that forced it to cut 24 percent of its staff, said last month that it should be profitable by the middle of this year.

The more than $100,000 Roadster is well beyond the reach of most car buyers, with owners including Hollywood celebrities and corporate titans such as actor and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Google Inc (GOOG.O) founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

With the Model S, Tesla is aiming for a broader range of customers, Musk said, saying the company was making the car "as affordable as possible." He expects the car to appeal to buyers of mid-range to premium sedans.

The Model S base price will include a battery with a 160-mile range, Musk said. Customers will have the option to upgrade to a battery with a 300-mile range.

The Model S has a top speed of 130 mph and can get to 60 mph in 5.5 to 6 seconds. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Gary Hill)

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