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Tesla's Electric Sedan: Under The Hood

Tesla Motors' prototype all-electric Model S sedan
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The auto industry is in shambles from a crippled economy, but that hasn't stopped luxury automaker Tesla Motors from launching what it calls a "mainstream" $50,000-plus electric sedan.

Whether out of touch with economic reality or prescient, the San Carlos, Calif., startup unveiled Thursday a prototype of the Model S family sedan at the SpaceX rocket factory run by Tesla chief executive Elon Musk. The all-electric car seats five adults and two children and travels 300 miles on a fully charged battery.

The vehicle carries its own charger, so the car can be recharged on the road from a 120-volt household outlet, as well as 240-volt and 480-volt outlets. With the last, the car can be recharged in 45 minutes, according to Tesla.

Tesla's other vehicle, the Roadster, is a luxury two-seater with an eye-popping sticker price of $109,000. In comparison, the Model S is downright affordable at a starting price of $57,400. Tesla is quick to point out that the car is eligible for a $7,500 tax credit for being all electric powered.

"It's truly the only car you need," Musk said in a statement. "Tesla is relentlessly driving down the cost of electric vehicle technology, and this is just the first of many mainstream cars we’re developing."

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether Tesla can be successful at a time when the auto industry is reporting multibillion-dollar losses and needs government bailouts to remain solvent as consumers cut back spending in the economic recession. Tesla is banking on receiving $350 million in federal loans to build the Model S assembly plant in California. The automaker has applied for the loans through the Department of Energy, but they haven't been approved.

In the meantime, Tesla is taking orders for the Model S and plans to start production in late 2011. The company says it has sold 300 Roadsters and has orders for nearly a thousand more. The sports car, which gets 244 miles on a charge and goes from zero to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, is the only highway-legal all-electric car in the United States. It's built in England at the Lotus factory.

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