FREMONT, Calif. -- Tesla Motors has done what some cynics doubted it could ever do: launch production of its battery-powered cars at its own factory.
Elon Musk's frisky electric vehicle startup is now building one Model S electric sedan a day in a corner of the former New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant here. It is limiting the numbers in an effort to control quality, but Tesla anticipates ramping up to 80 cars a day by year end.
And Tesla is not turning out a Nissan Leaf or a Honda Fit electric econobox, but a pure-electric sedan that accelerates quicker than a Porsche Panamera, handles corners with the tenacity of a terrier and, Tesla claims, has a range of 300 miles.
The higher production run rate would represent an annual pace of 8,000 units on a single shift, said Gilbert Passin, Tesla's head of manufacturing. So far Tesla has built "at least 20" cars for sale, which includes customer orders and dealership demonstrator models.
Each finished vehicle gets a 100-mile shakedown test by Tesla engineers after it leaves the assembly line, Passin said.
But what happens after all 9,800 early adopters who plunked down $5,000 deposits have their cars? Can Tesla fight the day-to-day retail wars with BMW, Mercedes and Lexus and convince the mass market that the economics of the Model S make sense?
It's pricey. The sticker can hit six figures. But slightly slower models of the new Tesla, with less range, can be had for less than $50,000 when federal tax credits are factored in.
Musk, Tesla's CEO, thinks he's on on the right track. He predicts electric vehicles will account for 50 percent of new-vehicle sales within 20 years.
"The momentum of electric vehicles is rolling," he told reporters at the June 22 line-off ceremony at the Fremont factory. "It will probably happen sooner, in the 12- to 15-year time frame."