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Electric car sports luxury credentials

Tesla hopes its Model S will have appeal beyond its carbon footprint.

If anything, Tesla’s executives seemed set on downplaying the car’s environmental credentials, talking up instead its power, size and comfort.

“It’s about not making people uncomfortable with a purchase that already is different enough from what they’re used to,” said Franz Von Holzhausen, Tesla’s senior design executive. “It’s a good looking vehicle, and oh, by the way, it’s electric.”

Tesla’s focus may have been dictated by its customer base. In the parking lot outside, a few Prius cars were parked, but they were far outnumbered by more expensive, less environmentally conscious options: Mercedes-Benz and BMW SUVs, even a black, bulky Hummer H2.

According to B.J. Gallagher, author of “It's Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been” and a former sales consultant to the car industry, California drivers like to broadcast their environmentalist credentials, but not at the expense of luxury and status. “I think it’s brilliant to marry muscle with green,” she said.

Indeed, potential customers gathered in a long line as Zak Edson, the company’s director of product planning, offered rides around the dealership, gunning the car’s silent motor through the parking lot.

“That’s incredible,” said Gabriel Bilek, an aerospace engineer who had come to see the unveiling. “Four people in the car and still a lot of pick up.”

“All my cars are American made,” Bilek said, later, as the Model S continued to make its rounds. “They’re all V8s.”

Bilek said he had driven Corvette convertibles until a year earlier when he bought Tesla’s first car, the $109,000 Roadster, a low-riding, two-seater, sports car capable of doing 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds. It was Bilek’s first electric car.

“It’s just as aggressive, just as fast,” he said. “It doesn’t have the growl, but it will leave the Corvette behind.”

Asked what image he thought the Roadster projected, Bilek answered: “It’s a statement that I can cleanly live an exciting life, without burning any oil.” He planned to buy a Model S. “It means I love the design and speed and luxury of a BMW and I’m not using any gasoline,” he said.

“Then, if you put solar panels on your house, then you’ve closed the circle,” he said.

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