Report: Tesla’s Affordable Model E on Track for 2015 Debut

Tesla Model S Charging

For Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA), all the world continues to be a stage. In mid-2013, the electric vehicle maker’s chief designer told Germany’s Auto Bild that the affordable Model E was headed for production in 2015. According to a report in the L.A. Times, the game-changing EV for the masses may make its debut as soon as the Detroit Auto Show in January 2015.

An electric car capable of covering over 200 miles on a single charge would cause a sensation in the auto industry if it cost less than $40,000. So far, only the Tesla Model S (priced at a base of $71,070) has been able to achieve the goal of extended range among lithium battery-powered cars. The test is whether the EV maker can pull off this ambitious goal without sacrificing much in quality.

According to Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla doesn’t plan to scale down the size of the Model S in any dramatic fashion. Following that concept, the same basic vehicle commanding a price tage above $70K would be widely coveted by consumers around the world. But its biggest impact may be in China and California, the world’s largest auto market and largest U.S. market respectively.

Tesla Model SBoth China and California have environmental regulations in place to encourage the production of electric vehicles that don’t produce tailpipe emissions. Cleaner burning natural gas could supply the electricity at power plants to propels these vehicles at significant savings in carbon emissions.

More importantly, the Tesla Model S is extremely popular among auto consumers for its styling, technology, safety rating, and raw road performance. It shattered the conception of electric vehicles as boring cars for non-drivers. A model that is affordable for mainstream consumers is nearly guaranteed to be a success if it upholds the Tesla standards.

In fact, the affordable Tesla bearing the Model E badge would bring the Fremont-based automaker into the industry’s big leagues. Few EV consumers would opt for a BMW (BMAXY.PK) electric i3 rather than a Tesla at the same price range. The i3′s specs of 170 horsepower and maximum of 100 miles on a single are laughable compared to the powertrain and battery range of the Model S. Tesla’s Franz von Holzhausen told Auto Bild the BMW i3 didn’t warrant “Ultimate Driving Machine” status.

BMW i3The i3 is more an IKEA piece of furniture than a design piece of furniture,” von Holzhausen told Auto Bild. I’m not sure if the i3 meets the basic standards of the brand.”

Judging by those words, the affordable Tesla Model E would take design and performance cues from the universally praised Model S. In the base model with a 60 kWh battery, the Model S can generate as much as 302 horsepower on 317 pounds-feet of torque while covering a range of at least 208 miles by EPA standards (Tesla puts it at 230 miles). The lower cost would necessitate a smaller battery pack — reducing the power in the motors — but upgrades in efficiency could make the leap palatable.

As it is currently configured, the BMW i3 is the nearest competitor to a Tesla Model E. General Motors (NYSE:GM) has mentioned it is hard at work on an electric vehicle capable of driving 200 miles on a single charge. However, the only company that says it’s capable of delivering a production vehicle by 2015 is Tesla. Now the electric vehicle maker must deliver on the promise.

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