2012 Tesla Model S Electric-Car Deliveries To Start Today

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2012 Tesla Model S Signature

2012 Tesla Model S Signature

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They said it couldn't be done, but it looks like Tesla Motors has indeed pulled it off.

If all goes to plan, at 3:30 pm Pacific today, CEO Elon Musk and other Tesla executives will hand over the keys of a new 2012 Tesla Model S to the first retail buyer to take delivery of the all-electric luxury sport sedan.

The ceremony, which Tesla will webcast live from its Fremont, California, assembly plant, will mark the beginning of a new phase for the venture-funded startup carmaker from Silicon Valley.

Now that Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has become a real carmaker, albeit a young one, it faces entirely new challenges:

  • Can it deliver a steady stream of Model S vehicles to the backlog of what it says are more than 10,000 buyers who've put down deposits?
  • Will the Model S be reliable, and if early cars have any quality issues, can the company rectify them quickly and painlessly?
  • Will the mix of orders skew sufficiently to high-end models that the Tesla Model S range overall provides a healthy profit margin?
  • And, can sales of the Model S--5,000 this year, 20,000 next year, says CEO Musk--generate enough revenue to cover not only its costs but future model development?

2012 Tesla Model S display screen [Photo: Flickr user jurvetson]

2012 Tesla Model S display screen [Photo: Flickr user jurvetson]

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The first Model S deliveries will all be of the high-end limited edition Signature Series, which has the largest 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack (rated by the EPA at 265 miles of range) and special trim and features to identify it as a special edition.

Technically, the first few Model S cars were delivered two weeks ago--the very first one went to Tesla board member Steve Jurvetson, who is already driving it around Silicon Valley and has blogged about its central display screens--but today's cars are the first retail deliveries.

They're still likely to go to insiders, Tesla Motors investors, and venture capitalists, including such early funders as Nancy Pfund of DBL Investors.

Early struggles

Tesla struggled to get its first car, the two-seat all-electric Roadster, on sale in the fall of 2008.

2011 Tesla Roadster Sport. Photo by Joe Nuxoll.

2011 Tesla Roadster Sport. Photo by Joe Nuxoll.

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The young company learned a lot during that process.

It missed several deadlines, it had to recall its first few hundred cars to replace a faulty two-speed transmission, it raised the Roadster's price to $109,000 before depositors had received their cars, and of course it was caught up in the auto-industry meltdown that accompanied the global recession of 2008.

In retrospect, Tesla may be glad it could cut its teeth on a low-volume specialty car before going into mass production of higher-volume sedans.

The other highly publicized venture-funded plug-in startup carmaker, Fisker Automotive, took a different and riskier path, launching directly into volume assembly of its very first car, the 2012 Fisker Karma.

That vehicle has encountered similar delays and quality issues to those Tesla had with its Roadster, but in a far more public fashion.

2,600 Roadsters

Adapted from the existing Lotus Elise sports car, the Tesla Roadster was larger, differently styled, and much heavier than its Lotus sibling, due to the 900-pound battery pack sitting behind the occupants where the Elise's engine would have been.

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