FREMONT, Calif. -- Amid great fanfare and expectations, Tesla Motors unveiled the Model X, its all-electric SUV, at an event Tuesday night at its Bay Area factory.
The Model X is the second car available for sale from the electric automaker, which introduced the Model S sedan three years ago. The high-speed Roadster, its first car, was discontinued in 2012.
Shoppers can put down $5,000 on Tesla's website to reserve an X when they start rolling out. The base price actually runs up to $132,000 for the Signature Series, which includes add-ons like an autopilot mode and heated steering wheel and seats.
A less expensive version, the $35,000 Model 3 sedan, is expected to come out in 2017.
Plus, it's stylish. A new feature, the "falcon wing doors," swoop out and up. (It's easy to picture "Silicon Valley" character Russ Hanneman approving of the design.) There are three rows of seats, but the second row holds just two passengers.
The X features a windshield that extends above the driver's head, offering panoramic views and the feel of a helicopter cockpit, Musk said.
Most importantly, though, Musk said that the Model X is safe.
"We've made the safest SUV ever," he said. Sensors can automatically apply the brakes or steer away from cars and dangerous objects, he said during the debut, which was webcast from Tesla's Fremont, California, factory. "There's really nothing that's more important" than safety.
Eyes might be fixed on those back seats, because CEO Elon Musk said in August that they had become a problem during production.
Tesla experienced success in the luxury market with the Model S, which was the second-highest selling luxury model last year. With the Model X, Tesla is introducing an electric SUV at least a few years before competitors like Mercedes, Porsche and General Motors crack into the field.
For now, Tesla is niche player. It is forecast to sell almost 29,000 cars this year, according to LMC Automotive. Ford, in contrast, is predicted to move almost 2.5 million vehicles. Analysts see the Model X as a step toward somewhat wider appeal.
“Tesla wants to be a mainstream automaker,” said Doug Gilman, an industry analyst for Frost & Sullivan. “To be a competitive automaker you have to have a whole host of vehicles. You can’t just have one super.”
An SUVs safety and size might attract female drivers with families, analysts said. If the X outsells the S, experts will probably deem the new line a success.
“The big potential for the Model X is that it’s going to open up a whole new market that they had to fight a little harder for with the Model S. That’s the female market,” said Karl Brauer, a senior director at Kelley Blue Book. “There’s a huge market out there.”
The Fremont factory looked more like a nightclub on Tuesday night as thousands of attendees who had paid at least $5,000 to reserve a Model X sipped wine while listening to remixed versions of hits from Dolly Parton and the Rolling Stones.
Though attendees had yet to see the Model X in person, some people said they had faith in Tesla based on the quality of the Model S.
"I love my Range Rover, but I can't stand going to the gas station," Dana Cappiello, 55, a realtor from San Francisco, told The Huffington Post."It was as simple as that."
She was peeved by the late start. CEO Elon Musk took the stage in a dark jacket and jeans just before 9 p.m. PST, nearly an hour behind schedule.
The audience erupted with laughter as he touted the environmental benefits of his all-electric vehicles while alluding to Volkswagen's ongoing scandal over software that helped its cars outrageously cheat on diesel emissions tests. Volkswagen is the biggest automaker in the world by sales.
"We designed this car well before recent events," Musk said.
Long lines formed for test rides in the factory parking lot after the presentation ended.
For the company to become profitable, Tesla needs to increase sales by hundreds of thousands of cars per year, according to John Humphrey, a senior vice president at J.D. Power and Associates.
“These customers are evangelical about the brand,” Humphrey said. “Going downmarket and not losing the allure of the brand is the challenge. Each rung you go down, you lose a little shine on it.”
Tesla stock was up nearly 2 percent in pre-market trading on Wednesday morning.
This story has been updated to include additional comments from analysts.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the Model X is Tesla's second car. It's actually the second model currently available, because the company had discontinued the Roadster in 2012.