Tesla Motors expects to begin shipping its Model X in China by June, opening what will likely be the second market for the electric SUV after the U.S.
The decision about the timing, announced by the company in a blog post on Tuesday and first reported by Electrek, illustrates the importance of the world's biggest car market. European countries like Germany and Norway have shipment dates in the second half of the year.
Tesla also announced pricing of the Model X in China. The company is selling a limited edition signature red version of the Model X P90D to Chinese customers for about $225,000. The standard version of the Model X 90D will cost $146,000 to $178,000.
The Model X, which was delivered to its first U.S. customers in September, is Tesla’s third electric car—and arguably its most important. The Model X not only helps Tesla reach a different audience—particularly women—it will generate much-needed revenue to produce and sell a cheaper, more mainstream electric vehicle, the Model 3.
The all-wheel drive Model X has a range between 220 and 257 miles, depending on the battery pack size and can reach a top speed of 155 miles per hour. The floor-mounted battery, similar to Tesla's Model S sedan, gives this SUV a low center of gravity. Four suspension settings let the driver raise the vehicle’s clearance, if necessary.
The SUV is loaded with other futuristic features, including falcon-wing doors, and a medical-grade filter system in the car that scrubs the outside air of pollen, bacteria, and other pollutants. CEO Elon Musk has said the filter provides "hospital operating room cleanliness in the car.” Some critics say Musk has exaggerated the filter's capabilities.
The HEPA filter could be one of the more appealing features to customers in China, a country plagued by chronic air pollution.
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Still, China is notoriously difficult for foreign automakers to penetrate—something Tesla discovered in 2014 when it first entered the market with the Model S. At the time, Tesla appeared well-positioned in China, where demand for luxury goods was growing and the government was encouraging the buying of electric vehicles to help curb pollution.
Tesla invested heavily by going on a hiring spree (it eventually had a staff of 600 people), and opened stores and service centers. It also began an aggressive rollout of its network of free fast-charging stations known as superchargers.
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But those efforts fell short. The company delivered an estimated 3,500 cars in 2014, below its goal and behind electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles produced by Chinese rivals BYD and BAIC.
Musk placed much of the blame on a misconception among Chinese consumers that charging electric cars was difficult. Others argued that infrastructure, in a country where most people don’t have private garages to charge cars, was the real problem. Meanwhile, Chinese-owned electric vehicle automakers have flourished, largely due to rules that favor homegrown companies.
Tesla's sales were also slowed because the Model S wasn't initially certified as a "new energy" vehicle, which would have let local governments exempt them from a license plate lottery system used to control the number of cars on the road and the pollution from them. The company neglected to certify itself with each individual city to be included on their selected vehicle list.
Tesla's prospects in China improved last year with 3,025 vehicles delivered in the first nine months of the year. Full-year results were not available. And sales should continue to improve now that Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tianjin have added Tesla to its selected new energy vehicle list.