7 Seats? In A Sedan? Tesla’s “Flat-Pack Battery” Model S (TCTV)

Rear-facing car seats used to come at the expense of the trunk. That’s because a giant combustion engine had to go somewhere. But that was before Tesla invented the “Flat-Pack battery”. Laid along the bottom of the car, the Flat-Pack lets Tesla’s new Model S sedan keep the trunk while seating 7 and travelling up to 300 miles on a single charge. Oh, and it has a 3G 17-inch touchscreen computer for navigation, media, internet, and apps. The Model S won’t be on the market until July 2012, but at last week’s GigaOm RoadMap conference I got to play around in an Alpha version shown off in this TCTV video.

Most EVs are actually just combustion models with an electric battery crammed in. That means less cabin or trunk space. Even Tesla’s Roadster was built off of a 2-seater Lotus body. But for the Model S, Tesla built a brand new frame with the battery laid along the bottom, taking up 2/3s ofthe length and the entire width of the car. The rear-facing seats that fold out of the trunk were said to come at Tesla founder Elon Musk’s behest, as he has 5 sons under the age of 10. The Flat-Pack even doubles as a structural element that lends strength and rigidity to the car.

The exceptional roominess afforded by the Flat-Pack comes in handy when rocking out to the Model S’s home brewed sound system. I swore it was a Bose at first, but Tesla built it in-house, and it’s got some serious thud. The entertainment system, along with car controls, navigation, and a new application platform are all housed in the 17-inch touchscreen in the center of the dashboard.

The computer runs an intuitive custom OS built by Tesla, and will come with a 3G or 4G connection for speedy map downloads, media syncing, and web browsing. It’s even a wi-fi hotspot. The dash also includes support for Tesla’s new app platform that will let the company and potentially any developer create apps for locating grocery stores, predicting traffic, or offering tour guide tidbits. Cars could become the next big app platform, and Tesla has a big head start.

The technology inside the Flat-Pack gives the Model S exceptional range. The baseline $57,600 version can travel as respectable 160 miles per charge, and there;’s a mid-level 230 mile option. For closer to $100,000, though drivers can get a 300 mile version that can travel over 3x farther than cars from Tesla’s major competitors.

Tesla communications manager Camille Ricketts tells me “We think Flat-Pack is the future of our brand, we’re going to adapt it for our future models”. At this point, Tesla biggest problem is that the EV consumer base isn’t growing as fast as it or environmental advocates want. Just 10,000 Nissan Leafs have been sold to date. Tesla’s got a plan for that too. Ricketts tells me Tesla’s now planning a $30,000 electric vehicle to appeal to the mass market..