The Tesla Model S may be a silent car, but other automakers will no doubt hear it coming.
In its first crack at a premium sedan, the Silicon Valley electric-car maker has matched or beaten the likes of the Audi A7 or Mercedes-Benz CLS -- products of a century of German engineering. Similarly packaged as a sleek four-door coupe, the Model S delivers the performance and polish implied by its $89,770 price.
All that's missing is the roar of internal combustion.
Ask the folks at Tesla Motors Inc. how they pulled this off and they'll say Tesla isn't a car company. It's a tech company, headquartered in a hive of innovation that helped lure the sharp minds who conceptualized the car from an outsider's perspective.
Founded in 2003, Tesla produced its first car in 2008, the two-seat Roadster. It sold about 2,400 of them before halting production last year.
The Model S represents Phase 2 of the Palo Alto, Calif., company's outsized ambitions. Unlike the Roadster, which was built on the chassis of a Lotus sports car, Tesla built the Model S from scratch. It's a showpiece of the startup's design prowess, targeting a demanding and well-heeled niche of customers.
The third and crucial phase -- if the Model S can secure the company's survival a while longer -- will be to create an affordable mass-market car. That's no small feat, given that the electric-car market, littered with past failures, accounts for just one-tenth of 1 percent of U.S. auto sales. (For all the accolades showered on Nissan's Leaf, the company has sold just 20,000 of the cars since 2010.)
The company on Wednesday reported another good-not-great quarter, renewing concerns about its ability to quickly churn out enough electric vehicles to sustain the company for the long term.
Tesla said it has more than 15,000 fully refundable deposits on hand. But the company's performance has raised concerns that it will need a new influx of cash this year. The cash that produced the Model S was gathered during the Roadster era. Tesla secured $465 million in U.S. Department of Energy loans and went public on the Nasdaq Stock Market. It also started collecting Model S deposits and sold minority stakes in the company to Toyota and Daimler, the parent of Mercedes-Benz.
Now it's up to the Model S to bring in more cash.