Telsa’s upcoming compact electric saloon will be “realistically” priced against rivals such as the Audi A4 and BMW 3-series, according to Chris Porritt, the company’s vice-president of engineering. 

Porritt, a Brit who left Aston Martin last year to join Tesla, told Autocar that the price of batteries was the key calculation when engineering the model, which is expected in late 2016-early 2017. “Building the Gigafactory will help make battery manufacturing more cost-effective,” he said. 

Porritt also said that the small car would be constructed from “appropriate materials” and would not be based on the same all-aluminium platform as the Model S. Tesla boss Elon Musk has already revealed that the new ‘Model E’ will be about 20 per cent smaller than today’s Model S.

Porritt said:  “I expect there will be very little carry-over. We’ve got to be cost-effective. We can’t use aluminium for all the [small car’s] components.” This suggests that the Model E will use mostly steel in its make-up, although it will probably use bonding and rivets in its construction.

When Autocar spoke to Porritt, he was at Tesla’s southern California studio working on the upcoming Model X SUV. He said the seven–seater was based on the same platform and wheelbase as the Model S saloon, but some of the suspension had been changed. 

He said the unusual ‘swan wing’ rear doors had been designed to make it easier to load children, as well as making the third row of seats more accessible. They will appear on the showroom version, which is due to go on sale late next year.

Porritt said he has been working on the Model S, refining the manufacturing process and modifying components so that they can be made more efficiently. He also executed the conversion to right-hand drive, opening up markets in the UK, Japan, Australia and Hong Kong. 

Porritt was bullish about the further potential for the expanding Tesla brand. “If you get the car right, it doesn’t matter that it’s electric,” he said. He was scathing about the studied “differentness” of electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf. “People don’t want to look eccentric. They want to have pride in their car’s looks. Our biggest advocates are our [existing] customers,” he said.

Tesla is currently building 600 examples of the Model S each week at its factory in Freemont and expects Model X sales to add significantly to that total. The factory has a theoretical capacity of 500,000 vehicles per year. 

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