New Tesla sedan jolts to life

Well, they did it. Tesla Motors, the upstart carmaker from just down the way in Palo Alto, delivered their first sleek new Model S sedans in grand fashion with a ceremony at their Fremont factory.

Nearly four years to the day after announcing the Model S, Tesla CEO Elon Musk personally handed over the first production versions of the company’s swoopy new sedan to swoony VIP customers.

The very first to drive off in a new Model S was eBay president and big-time Tesla investor Jeff Skoll:

“We were talking about which is harder to build, a rocket or a car.¬†We decided it was a car.”

With his SpaceX rocket venture, and now with Tesla’s boldest play ever at the automotive mainstream, Musk has shown he knows how to handle a launch.¬†Hundreds of employees, luminaries and press were on hand to raucously welcome the Model S into the world.

Four years ago, it was then-governator Arnold Schwarzenegger standing alongside Musk and touting California’s contribution to clean vehicle technology.

Friday, current Gov. Jerry Brown was on hand to seize the opportunity to earn some goodwill in exchange for the $28 million in tax incentives California dangled to entice Tesla to build the Model S within the state.

Early reviews are lauding the balance and performance of the Model S, but some time will be needed to tell if Tesla has managed to shake all the bugs out of an insanely complex assemblage of technology. Their track record isn’t perfect.

Even more time will be needed to gauge the American consumer’s palate for all-electric vehicles like the Model S. Tesla is banking that by the time drivers warm up to the nascent technology, a more affordable model will be ready to meet that demand.

Until then, Tesla hopes to build 5,000 Model S sedans this year, and 20,000 in 2013. Once joined by a Model X SUV in 2014, an entire lineup of cars can be seen taking shape under the Tesla banner.

Prior to releasing the Model S, Tesla had perhaps been best known to auto enthusiasts for their Roadster,a darty, blisteringly-quick electrified version of Lotus’ legendary Elise. But with the Model S, Tesla designed the car themselves from the rubber up, instead of relying upon existing engineering as with the Roadster.

We’d love to tell you what a Model S is like to drive and what it smells like, but we’re still waiting for word on SFBay’s request for a review copy.

If you see a stylish, silent new Tesla with an SFBay country sticker parading around The City, you’ll know our request was granted.