Texas Supersized: Update on Tesla's SUV-Minivan

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

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

In a short period Tesla has shown that it moves quicker, moreintelligently and with less manpower than all the other carmakers, for which the stock market has awarded it the industry'shighest multiple.

I am about to tell you one more reason for thistrend 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 extraelectric motor in the front for four-wheel drive, a third adult-sized rowof seats and innovative "falcon wing" rear side doors for superioraccess.

The Model X was supposed to enter production in December 2013 but wasdelayed to December 2014. It's probably realistic that it will enterproduction 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 thecurrent Model S.

For example, it draws an insane amount of power when it sitsidle -- like overnight. This power draw is multiple decimalpoints more than any other electric car in the market, such as theChevy Volt. This deficiency was known when the Model S enteredsmall-scale production a year ago, but Tesla thought it could be fixed it in a couple of months, before volume production kicked in aroundlate 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 doeverything at once. It has done what appears to be the prudent thingand focused on perfecting the Model S before it commences finaldevelopment 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 Showin January 2013. It was the same car from February 2012, with someminor cosmetic changes. Since then, however, Tesla has realized thatit 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 largerminivans and SUVs like the Chevrolet Suburban, Honda ( HMC) Odyssey, DodgeCaravan, Toyota ( TM) Sienna and so forth, it needs to fit at least seventall and heavy Americans. In addition, it needs to fit even more oftheir luggage.

Rifle racks -- both mounted inside the car, and on the roof -- will beoptional. This will make the Tesla Model X suitable for borderguards, Texas state troopers, hunters, fishermen and other assortedrifle enthusiasts alike.

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

Given that the Model X can approach the enemy in silence, italso holds the potential for Tesla becoming a U.S. Defense Departmentcontractor. The roof of the Model X SUV could see a hole supporting amachine-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 heightnot being total height -- but by reducing the tapering in the back, so as tomake 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 ChevySuburban, you can't go wobbly on size.

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

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

In the Tesla Model X, this will not bedesirable because of aerodynamics. Tesla had to goback and engineer a different solution that does not add weight orsubtract from the aerodynamics. It will move the Model X's seats an inch orso 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, butit'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.

Youwill 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 isoutstanding and the Tesla Model X will be, too. But it requiressignificant re-engineering from the original Model X prototype.

Thisis 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 cancommence with beta prototypes in early 2014.

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

Tesla's decision to upsize the Model X to something closer to aChevrolet Suburban -- or for that matter Honda Odyssey minivan interms of interior size -- shows how intelligent Tesla is in readingthe market for electrified cars. Success in the market is often aboutgoing to where the competition isn't.

Many people who would otherwise contemplating buying a Chevy Volt or aTesla Model S don't buy because they need a large SUV or minivan.Likewise, many people who have already purchased an electric carwant to swap out the second car in their household but are waitingfor 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 smallercars such as the Nissan ( NSANY) Leaf, Fiat 500 or Chevy Spark, but there are justas many people who want the biggest car on the market -- a large SUV orminivan.

Curiously, there is almost no competition yet in this SUV or minivansegment for electrified cars. There are some half-hearted attempts,and some arguably equally half-hearted attempts hitting the U.S. marketin the next 12 months, but nothing quite like the size of the modified2015 Tesla Model X.

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

Given that automotive development cycles now last about fouryears, the ball is immediately in GM's court: When will there bea Chevrolet Suburban with a beefed-up version of the Chevrolet Voltpowertrain? 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 2015attack 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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