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Tesla Motors Inc., the smallest publicly held U.S. automaker, is rolling out its Model X sport utility vehicles this week amid growing scrutiny of Volkswagen AG, one of the world’s biggest car companies, after the admission that it cheated on emissions tests.

Hybrid and electric cars have struggled to gain traction with mainstream consumers amid lower gasoline prices. But Tesla — which promotes its Model S with the line “Zero Emissions. Zero Compromises.” — may see a bounce from the growing “dieselgate” scandal that has engulfed VW and cast a shadow on the German auto industry.

The all-electric Model X, the second car in Tesla’s lineup after the Model S sedan, is crucial to the Palo Alto, California-based company’s efforts to both scale its manufacturing and broaden its appeal. After years of delays, the question now is if Tesla, run by Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, can ramp up production of the X fast enough to meet its lowered sales target for 2015. .

The Model X will compete for customers with premium luxury SUVs that are largely made by German automakers, including the Audi Q7, the BMW X5 and the Porsche Cayenne. While it is only certain diesel models made by Volkswagen that are under investigation in the emissions-cheating scandal, Peter Altmaier, chief of staff to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, challenged the nation’s carmakers to prove that their country remains a leader in the auto industry by beating Tesla in the nascent electric-car market.

“I know Elon Musk, I met him last year, he’s an impressive guy and his Tesla car is an impressive car,” Altmaier said. “I would be very pleased if the German carmakers would be able to produce an e-car that’s better and cheaper than Elon Musk’s car.”

Germany has been a tough market for Tesla to crack, in part because the big German automakers — BMW, Mercedes-Benz and VW — compete mightily with each other for market share.

Though VW is the focus of investigations, regulators in Europe and the U.S. are increasingly looking at the emissions of other automakers’ vehicles, with focus on discrepancies between lab tests and on-road results.

Musk unveiled the Model X in February 2012 at a splashy Los Angeles event featuring California Governor Jerry Brown, with production planned for 2013. Three and a half years later, the first Xs will be released.

Tesla has yet to release detailed specs on the car, but some information and images have been widely circulated online by customers who put down $40,000 deposits to reserve the Signature Series, the limited edition vehicle that comes after the Founders version.

The car has what it calls “falcon wing” doors that open vertically and a 90 kilowatt-hour battery that is projected to have a range of roughly 250 miles per charge. Musk tweeted that with the same options, the Model X will cost $5,000 more than the S due to its greater size. The S starts at $75,000. Tesla designed its first sport utility vehicle in part to appeal to female drivers, as women buy more than half of the small SUVs in the U.S., according to J.D. Power & Associates.

Tesla aims to deliver 50,000 to 55,000 vehicles this year, compared with a previous target of 55,000.

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