The electric SUV is only a few years away.

Tesla Motors formally opened its factory today during a ceremony presided over by CEO Elon Musk and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. The factory will begin manufacturing the Model S sedan in mid-2012. Tesla will ship approximately 7,000 in the first year but ideally will ramp up to an annual production of 20,000 cars. (That's a Model S prototype in the photo.)

What comes after that? Tesla hopes to show off a prototype of the Model X, a SUV/crossover electric car, by the end of next year, said Musk in an interview. Production, ideally, will begin in 2014.

“I’m hopeful we will unveil a prototype toward the end of next year. When it will go into production is harder to predict because we want to make sure the Model S production line is operating smoothly before we introduce another variant,” Musk said in an interview. “But certainly within two… in less than two years when we start Model S production, we will have the Model X.”

Technically, Musk did not say 2014, but 2012 plus 2 comes to 2014. The Model X will be built on the same basic platform, or frame, as the Model S. Ford takes a similar modular approach. (Tesla execs will be on hand to discuss their strategies at The Networked Grid in San Francisco on November 9.). Economy cars are also on the way -- the Model S costs almost $50,000 after tax breaks. See the video for more information.

“When you consider the gas savings with an electric SUV, it is pretty substantial,” he added. “You are probably spending three times as much, four times as much, as you are with an efficient hybrid like the Prius.”

The Model S, Musk added, will also come with a more specialized battery pack than the one used in the current Tesla Roadster. The Roadster’s battery pack consists of somewhat conventional cylindrical lithium ion battery cells wrapped around a battery management system that was designed by the company.

The cells in the Model S battery pack “will be somewhat different,” he said. Tesla is working with Panasonic on the internal electronics for the battery.

What else? He implied the Chevy Volt is a newt. Plug-in hybrids, Musk said, are like amphibians, a transitional evolutionary stage between reptiles and more advanced animal orders ( “Hair: Who Needs It?” asks Cambrian Week).

Not many amphibian species remain. Somewhere, GM CEO Ed Whitacre’s vestigial tail nub is twitching. See video.

And here's one final video of the new sign.


Interested in eleictric cars and smart grids? Attend The Networked EV on Nov. 9, 2010 in San Francisco, CA to learn about the intersection of the two industries.