Tesla: From Sierra Club to nightclub
Mark Rechtin, based on the west coast, covers Toyota, Honda and Tesla for Automotive News
LOS ANGELES -- This is a car unveiling?
As someone who has been witness to hundreds of vehicle unveilings over the past two decades, I have seen my share of flashy debuts.
But Tesla Motors raised the bar Thursday evening with the introduction of the Model X crossover.
The soaring Quonset hut that serves as Tesla's Los Angeles design studio had been transformed into a rave. This wasn't just ill-clad car journalists chatting up automaker executives trying to act cool. This was more akin to a movie premiere attended by hundreds of the elite class.
Dozens of leggy models, clad in little more than clingy mini-dresses and attitude, strutted aimlessly while quaffing drinks from the open bar. Squads of Hollywood hipsters -- evidently, four days' stubble is requisite for membership -- flashed white-boy gang signs while photographed in front of the Model S sedan in the foyer.
Filling out the crowd were plenty of self-made entrepreneurs, clad in the latest, coolest clothing -- those $250 logo'd T-shirts covered by $1,500 distressed-denim designer blazers you see in GQ and Esquire but think no one actually buys.
As if there weren't enough dividing lines, there was a mezzanine "VIP lounge" where the truly wealthy and famous could gaze down on the merely rich. If that wasn't Vincent D'Onofrio, it sure looked like him.
There was even a red carpet, where C-list celebutards and reality-show contestants were interviewed by the likes of US Weekly, celebs.com and celebrity reporters from local TV land.
"Governor Moonbeam," California Gov. Jerry Brown, gave the event his blessing. Maybe the original electric vehicle geek, Brown gushed onstage like an old-time revivalist about how the creativity of companies like Tesla is going to save the state's economy.
And after Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the company's new crossover -- which borrows styling from the Acura ZDX and BMW 5-series Gran Turismo -- the stage was quickly cleared so that über-cool, alt-rock band Foster The People could play a 45-minute set.
Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen seemed almost disappointed that none of the red carpet fashion bloggers asked him "who" he was wearing. For the record, it was a Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons 2012 spring collection double-breasted, diagonal-zippered suit jacket with shoulder epaulets.
And here I thought the official uniform of car designers was a black mock turtleneck.
All this made for a weird contravention to the disheveled electric vehicle geeks who are a cornerstone of most green-car brands.
But this is where Tesla is moving. There are only so many hair-shirted Sierra Clubbing early adopters for electric cars. To make a real retail dent, Tesla has become a lifestyle brand for the Ferragamo-heeled. And with sticker prices starting well north of $50,000 -- because no one who buys one of these is likely to qualify for a tax break -- Tesla is finding its niche.
Musk doesn't compare the company's electric vehicles to the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf. Rather, the Model X is pitched as a direct competitor to the Audi Q7, much like the Model S is going against the BMW M5. Musk claims the Model X has a battery range between 220 and 270 miles while out-accelerating a Porsche 911.
Is this marketing tactic working? It appears to be.
Tesla owners from 30 states and 18 countries came to see the prototype. The line of cars for valet parking stretched four blocks and backed up the freeway off-ramp. For those who couldn't attend the unveiling in person, so many fans logged on to the webcast that it crashed Tesla's Web site.
Already, Tesla has taken 8,000 deposits for the Model S sedan, which begins delivery in a few months. Judging by the reception for the Model X -- despite a two-year wait before the car becomes available -- Tesla has a second hit on its hands.
You can reach Mark Rechtin at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow Mark on