Texas Supersized: Update on Tesla's SUV-Minivan

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Move over, Chevrolet Suburban -- in 2015 there will be a Tesla ( TSLA) Model X SUV-Minivan in your rearview mirror.

Could it be that Tesla will soon replace the 80-year-old General Motors ( GM) evergreen Suburban as the favorite big passenger truck in Texas and beyond?

In a short period Tesla has shown that it moves quicker, more intelligently and with less manpower than all the other car makers, for which the stock market has awarded it the industry's highest multiple.

I am about to tell you one more reason for this trend in Tesla's favor: The Model X minivan concept car, unveiled in February 2012.

It's based on the current Model S chassis but adds an optional extra electric motor in the front for four-wheel drive, a third adult-sized row of seats and innovative "falcon wing" rear side doors for superior access.

The Model X was supposed to enter production in December 2013 but was delayed to December 2014. It's probably realistic that it will enter production some time in 2015.

Why these delays? There are two basic reasons:

1. It has taken more effort to iron out the 1.0 glitches in the current Model S.

For example, it draws an insane amount of power when it sits idle -- like overnight. This power draw is multiple decimal points more than any other electric car in the market, such as the Chevy Volt. This deficiency was known when the Model S entered small-scale production a year ago, but Tesla thought it could be fixed it in a couple of months, before volume production kicked in around late November 2012.

Well, it turns out that this problem was a lot more difficult to fix. Tesla now believes it will be fixed in the second half of this year.

Tesla remains a small company and can't afford to do everything at once. It has done what appears to be the prudent thing and focused on perfecting the Model S before it commences final development of the next model, the X.

2. The Model X will see significant changes beyond the February 2012 prototype.

Tesla showed a Model X at the Detroit Auto Show in January 2013. It was the same car from February 2012, with some minor cosmetic changes. Since then, however, Tesla has realized that it can improve the car even further, in more material ways.

Here are some examples of how Tesla will now improve the Model X beyond the prototype it showed in February 2012 and January 2013:

The wheelbase will be longer. In order to compete with larger minivans and SUVs like the Chevrolet Suburban, Honda ( HMC) Odyssey, Dodge Caravan, Toyota ( TM) Sienna and so forth, it needs to fit at least seven tall and heavy Americans. In addition, it needs to fit even more of their luggage.

Rifle racks -- both mounted inside the car, and on the roof -- will be optional. This will make the Tesla Model X suitable for border guards, Texas state troopers, hunters, fishermen and other assorted rifle enthusiasts alike.

An all-electric 4x4 SUV, the Tesla Model X will hold an advantage in that it can approach animals, common criminals and border trespassers alike completely silently, thanks to the silent electric motors powering all four wheels.

Given that the Model X can approach the enemy in silence, it also holds the potential for Tesla becoming a U.S. Defense Department contractor. The roof of the Model X SUV could see a hole supporting a machine-gun turret. It could be a more lightweight -- and silent -- replacement for the iconic Hummer.

As a result, the Model X will grow in length and height -- the height not being total height -- but by reducing the tapering in the back, so as to make more headroom for the third row. Even a couple of inches will make a huge difference.

If Tesla is going to persuade Texas farmers to switch out the Chevy Suburban, you can't go wobbly on size.

One more issue in need of adjustment: For those of you who got to take a test ride in the Model X prototype back in February 2012, you will remember that the combination of step-in height and how far inside the car the driver's seat is located makes for a little bit of discomfort in getting in and out of the car.

Specifically, your leg hits the side of the car trying to step down onto the pavement. In other large SUVs, this is often solved by mounting an external step.

In the Tesla Model X, this will not be desirable because of aerodynamics. Tesla had to go back and engineer a different solution that does not add weight or subtract from the aerodynamics. It will move the Model X's seats an inch or so closer to the sides of the car, as Chevrolet did with the Volt, to fit its battery next to a wide central tunnel.

The Tesla Model X doesn't have a center tunnel at all, of course, but it's taller, so it needs to be a little easier to get in and out. As with the Volt, this has implications for how the sides of the car (windows and up) have to be more upright, and for crash testing.

You will now be sitting with your head closer to the B-pillar. Again, this will remind you more of the full-size military-grade Hummer, where the people in the front sit very close to the edges of the car.

These issues are eminently solvable. Volt's crash rating is outstanding and the Tesla Model X will be, too. But it requires significant re-engineering from the original Model X prototype.

This is what has been keeping Tesla busy here in the first half of 2013, and will finish in the second half of 2013 before full testing can commence with beta prototypes in early 2014.

The Model X will retain the radical double-hinged falcon doors and otherwise share most of what would be a 2.0 version of the Model S, entering production probably around the same time in 2015. This includes the optional front-drive electric motor, making both cars four-wheel drive. The same goes for the dashboard, center stack and other electronics upgrades.

Tesla's decision to upsize the Model X to something closer to a Chevrolet Suburban -- or for that matter Honda Odyssey minivan in terms of interior size -- shows how intelligent Tesla is in reading the market for electrified cars. Success in the market is often about going to where the competition isn't.

Many people who would otherwise contemplating buying a Chevy Volt or a Tesla Model S don't buy because they need a large SUV or minivan. Likewise, many people who have already purchased an electric car want to swap out the second car in their household but are waiting for a proper large SUV or minivan.

How do I know this? Because I ask people in the market for plug-in vehicles. Yes, there are some people interested in smaller cars such as the Nissan ( NSANY) Leaf, Fiat 500 or Chevy Spark, but there are just as many people who want the biggest car on the market -- a large SUV or minivan.

Curiously, there is almost no competition yet in this SUV or minivan segment for electrified cars. There are some half-hearted attempts, and some arguably equally half-hearted attempts hitting the U.S. market in the next 12 months, but nothing quite like the size of the modified 2015 Tesla Model X.

I will make a prediction right now: Before 2015 is over, there will be a movement in Texas to make the Tesla Model X a popular alternative to the Chevy Suburban and Dodge Caravan -- NRA bumper stickers and gun racks included.

Given that automotive development cycles now last about four years, the ball is immediately in GM's court: When will there be a Chevrolet Suburban with a beefed-up version of the Chevrolet Volt powertrain? And for Chrysler-Fiat, when will be there be an electric Dodge Caravan? Will Ford ( F) make an electric F-150?

GM, Ford, Chrysler and all the others are appropriately secretive. What do they have up their sleeves that can counter Tesla's 2015 attack on the large SUV and minivan markets?

Stay tuned for another important update.

At the time of publication, the author was long F.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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