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Tesla Model X: the new safest SUV?

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Stephen Lam/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A Tesla Motors Model X electric sports-utility vehicle opens its falcon wing doors on stage during a presentation in Fremont, California Sept. 29, 2015. Tesla Motors delivered the first of its long-awaited Model X electric sports-utility vehicles on Tuesday, a product investors are counting on to make the pioneering company profitable after years of losses.

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The Tesla Motors [NSDQ: TSLA] Model X SUV has been revealed in production form; and while the packaging and performance of this new electric SUV are mostly as expected, there were plenty of surprises.

One of the surprises was how well the trick double-hinged falcon doors are designed—with a very narrow spread as they open, plus sensors that adjust the arc of the doors to available height. Another was that the Model X can tow 5,000 pounds, while carrying seven people and luggage.

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But the one that CEO Elon Musk spent nearly the first half of the Model X presentation outlining was safety. The Model X, he said, is the first SUV that’s five-star in every category.

Musk summed that in the federal tests, those stars correlate directly to the probability ofinjury in a particular set of conditions.

For frontal crashes, the lack of an engine block allows engineers to have a longer distance for the crumple zone.

The Model X also achieves perfect five-star results, he said; and its side pole test also has about half the intrusion of the next closest SUV model.

Also because of the low-set battery pack and resulting extremely low center of mass, it has half the rollover propensity of any SUV or minivan.

The Model X certainly isn't alone in its top-tier ratings. The Tesla Model S sedan already earns a top five-star federal safety score—both overall, and in the frontal, side, and side pole tests, as well as in rollover, of course.

Environmental safety as well as occupant safety

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But safety does take other forms, and Musk then couldn’t resist a little jab to other current events.

“Recent events have illustrated the importance of air safety,” he said, clearly alluding to Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” emissions-cheating scandal, then introducing a true HEPA air filtration system for the Model X, including three layers of activated carbon.

In its maximum setting, viruses and spores are indetectible.

“If there’s ever an...apocalyptic scenario, of some kind, hypothetically, you just press the bioweapon defense mode button...this is a real button,” Musk said, as air-pollution-related reductions in life expectancy for some major world cities were shown on screen. 

It's an unexpected selling point for the Model X; but based on last night's presentation, there are plenty of others.


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