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Elon Musk says Tesla’s newest Model X is aimed at an underserved market: women

In a few months, billionaire Elon Musk's Tesla Motors will roll out its third all-electric vehicle in 12 years, a SUV-minivan mix that looks wildly different from its sportier Roadster and Model S.

But the biggest difference for Tesla's new Model X might not be how it looks, but who it was designed for: women. Musk has called the Model S "a little too guy-centric" and said the new Model X would be a product of “paying more attention to the needs of women."

It's an interesting pivot for America's smallest, youngest, publicly traded carmaker — and an important one. SUVs are one of America's best-selling vehicle types, and they are increasingly popular among women drivers, one of the country's fastest growing markets.

Tesla designers gathered a women's focus group at its headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., last year to survey which aspects of the Model X the group found most appealing. That attention to one of the auto world's most underserved markets seems to be paying off: Earlier this year, Musk said more than half of the Model X's pre-orders have come from women.

[A tension for America’s auto world: Winning women behind the wheel]

First unveiled in 2012, the crossover SUV is huge, with space for seven passengers, three rows of seats and an expansive trunk space. It offers all-wheel drive and is expected to go from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds, Musk has said.

Because it's heavier, it will not be able to go as far on a single charge as the Model S: Its range is expected to be between 170 and 230 miles, depending on the size of its battery pack.

Like other Teslas, the Model X will be able to charge via a power source in its driver's garage. The SUV will also be able to tap into Tesla's free Supercharger network, which offers about 450 stations nationwide that can fully recharge an 85 kilowatt-hour battery in just over an hour.

But perhaps the sleekest and most surprising feature of the Model X is its "falcon wing" doors, which fold upward and could prove easier to open in a tight parking space. With their vertical swing, they resemble the "scissor doors" popularized on Lamborghinis, a sleek perk the automaker hopes will help turn heads in the parking lot.

The Model X is expected to start selling as soon as September for about $70,000, and the company said this week it has about 20,000 reservations.

Tesla could use the help. Though revered in car and tech circles, the carmaker's sales have been middle-of-the-road. Tesla has delivered about 20,000 Model S sedans in the first six months of the year, less than half of the 55,000 deliveries forecasted by the end of the year.

The success of the Model X, whose production has been delayed several times for technical changes, could also prove critical to keeping the carmaker going. Tesla's next car, the Model 3, is expected to launch in 2017 for about $35,000.

[After driving a Tesla, it’s time to search the couch cushions for $100,000]

Attracting female buyers would be a coup for Tesla. Women bought about 40 percent of the more than 16 million cars and trucks sold nationwide last year, up from about 36 percent five years ago, J.D. Power data show.

Women also bought about half of the compact SUVs last year, and IHS Automotive data show that many of the country's top-selling SUVs and crossovers, such as the Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson and Buick Encore, are mostly registered to female buyers.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry group, has called women “the engine of the auto economy,” citing a study that said women spend $300 billion a year on vehicles and maintenance.

But Tesla has struggled to win them over: In 2013, IHS data show, men accounted for about 86 percent of Model S registrations.