Tesla may have made major inroads with its Model S, and it's poised to enter new territory when it finally starts selling its Model X, an iconoclastic gullwing crossover. Neither of those may be as important as the model thereafter, which is expected to be its make-or-break sedan. It won't be called the Model E (thanks a lot, Ford), but the BMW 3 Series-challenging EV will be the litmus test that will determine if Tesla's EV future is palatable to the masses.

Part of that means proving that Tesla can be an affordable alternative to conventional internal-combustion-powered vehicles. According to the company's VP of engineering, Chris Porritt, the new sedan will do just that, thanks in no small part to the company's forthcoming gigafactory battery operations. But beyond that project, there are other things about this new EV that will make it a more alluring option to the average consumer.

Porritt mentioned "appropriate materials," to the UK's Autocar, which is likely another way of saying it's ditching the aluminum-intensive architecture of its big brother.

"I expect there will be very little carryover [with the Model S]. We've got to be cost-effective. We can't use aluminum for all the [small car's] components," Porritt told Autocar. This, along with the fact that the Model E (or whatever it ends up begin called) is 20-percent smaller and will probably be lighter for it, should go a long way towards moving the starting price away from Model S territory and into 3 Series territory.

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