Tesla unveils new electric car for bad weather

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Electric car giant Tesla has unveiled a new two-engine vehicle designed to perform in bad weather, featuring four-wheel drive and anti-collision technology.

Performance in inclement conditions was considered one of the weak spots of Tesla's existing models and with the new car, the company is trying to win over drivers in regions where the weather is not the nearly year-round sunshine that its California base enjoys.

Founder Elon Musk said the new version of the Model S will feature the additional letter D - D for dual motor, one in the front and one in the back.

Musk unveiled the new car at an event at Hawthorne airport in Los Angeles where Tesla has a design studio and engineering lab.

Musk said the new car will come in three versions: 60D, 85D and the top of the line P85D, with progressively higher engine power.

The car's anti-collision features include forward-looking radar. "It scans the car in front of you in the fog, snow and sand," Musk said.

The top of the line model will be able to reach 250km per hour, with acceleration that Musk described as "insane".

The P85D will be delivered in North America beginning in December, while the 60D and 85D will be delivered starting in February. Deliveries in Europe and Asia will come in the months to follow, Tesla said.

Electric cars represent only 3.5 per cent of sales in the US but that stake is growing.

Tesla last month announced plans to build the world's largest lithium-ion battery plant in Nevada, as part of an effort to bring down costs and boost popularity of electric vehicles.

Tesla will run operations while its Japanese partner Panasonic will make battery cells destined for the plant and invest in equipment and machinery.

Panasonic and Tesla said the plant should drive down the cost of batteries and eventually help popularize electric vehicles.

While Tesla produces relatively few vehicles, it has become a star in the sector due to keen demand and a reputation for high quality.

A surge in its share price over the past year has pushed its value over US$30 billion (S$38 billion).

Tesla's Model S, which came out in 2012, sells for around US$75,000.

It is working on a 4x4 crossover model that is supposed to come out next year. It is also working on a less expensive Model 3 that is expected to cost between US$35,000 and US$40,000.