Tesla launches electric family car in US

Electric sports-car producer Tesla Motors has unveiled a lower-cost vehicle that it says will be the first highway-ready electric vehicle accessible to most car buyers.

The Model S four-door sedan will cost $49,900, after a US government tax credit for electric vehicles of $7,500. It is scheduled to go into production in the third quarter of 2011 and will be manufactured in Southern California.

Following the launch, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk told Reuters: "The $49,000 actually is accessible to most of America," adding that, "you do have to make an assumption about gasoline prices."

Tesla plans to produce just 20,000 of the cars annually, a figure Musk acknowledged was "still small for the global car market". The company expects to receive funding from the Department of Energy this year to support the Model S programme.

Tesla's announcement comes as car makers around the globe are rushing to roll out affordable all-electric vehicles in response to growing consumer concerns about volatile gasoline prices and vehicles' production of climate-warming greenhouse gases.

General Motors, for instance, has staked its reputation on bringing the plug-in electric Chevrolet Volt to market late next year, though it will initially produce just 10,000 Volts annually.

California-based Tesla already sells the Roadster electric sports car, but that vehicle's $109,000 base price has restricted its accessibility to the very wealthy.

With the Model S, Tesla is aiming for a broader range of customers than with the Roadster, 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 car can seat five adults, plus two children in a rear-facing seat. It has a top speed of 130mph (209km/h) and can get from zero to 60mph (96km/h) in 5.5 to 6 seconds.

The car's base price will include a battery with a 160-mile (257km) range, Musk said. Customers will have the option to upgrade to larger batteries.

So far, Tesla has delivered nearly 300 Roadsters and has about 1,000 people on the car's waiting list. Customers will be able to start placing orders for the Model S immediately.

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