There are days I wake up and think to myself “Curse you Elon Musk for making the world’s coolest electric car that nobody can afford!” I have a love-hate relationship with Tesla Motors, you see. I love how their electric cars are oriented towards luxury and performance, which is a far cry from how most EV manufacturers marketed their cars (Save the trees with EVs!)But I’m not going to own one anytime soon.
I’m also probably not going to ever be able to afford a $50,000 Tesla Model S, or their just-revealed Model X crossover. As Mitt Romney would say, I’m just envious. But who doesn’t feel a pang of envy when we see a nicer car, or a bigger house, or a fatter wallet? That was why I waited a few days before waxing poetic on the Tesla Model X; do I hate it because I am just jealous, or is it because Tesla has built a car that it knows will sell well, but is aimed squarely at the soccer moms of America?The thing is, as much as I hate the fact that Tesla got government money to produce luxury cars for the nation’s wealthiest citizens, I also believe Tesla is probably the best hope electric vehicle’s have of gaining a following in America. And it all hinges on the falcon-wing doors of the Model X crossover, which I have decided is a brilliant car that it is OK to hate.
Elon Musk says that the Model X will be Tesla’s highest-volume vehicle, and if history is any indication of the future (and it usually is) Americans are just waiting for gas prices to go back down so they can buy trucks and SUV’s again. Except gas prices aren’t going down; they’re going up, again, 12-cents in the last three weeks. Despite how you may feel about global warming and climate change, it can be hard to justify a 20 mpg SUV that can cost upwards of $100 per fill-up.
But soccer mom’s still want the perception of safety in their steel cocoons on wheels. There are still people out there buying Cadillacs, Mercedes, Lexus, and BMW crossovers, and many of those vehicles can easily top $60,000 with a few option packages. But can they offer the performance of the Tesla Model X, which Elon Musk claims can hit 60 mph in 4.4 seconds? Maybe they can…but do they have the Tesla’s EV credibility? Nope, and if there is one thing hanging around rich folk has taught me, most of them put a lot of money and effort into appearances. Auto ownership is still an important cornerstone of the American Dream, and people perceive things about you based on what you drive. That’s just a fact, whether you like it or not.
The Tesla Model X, with a range about 10% less than the Model S due to a weight that is about 10% more, should top out between 290 and 300 miles with the 85 kWh battery pack. The only other battery pack option is a 60 kWh pack, which should allow for between 230 and 240 miles on a full charge, and all-wheel drive will also be an option for those who contend with awful weather. That kind if range will cover 95% of trips for most people, though the Model X will be limited in that long family trips will either require regular pit stops or a slow-and-steady pace. Tesla is installing a “supercharger highway” in California, which will probably benefit a lot of Tesla Model X buyers…but not all of them.
So it’s strange to me that Tesla would go for a large, seven-passenger crossover with trunks at both the front and rear, even though this really is not a long-range vehicle, even with the 85 kWh battery pack. Then again, somebody who can afford a Model X probably already has at least one other cars, and for most trips, an electric vehicle rarely exceeds 30 miles. That’s only about one-tenth of the 85 kWh battery pack’s capabilities, and most soccer moms can probably work within those limitations.
The cool factor surrounding electric vehicles is working its way through the youth and the wealthy alike. Maybe that is why the “falcon-wing” rear doors feel so much like pandering to the crowd. While Musk claims these days offer more utility than the traditional sliding-door of a minivan, I can see these doors posing a problem in places with low overhead. But again, most people who are likely to be able to afford a Model X also probably have a decent-sized garage.
I don’t like the bloated looks of the Model X either, but I doubt that will deter many buyers. Just look at the SUV’s from a mere five years ago; Escape, Explorer, Expedition, and Excursion were uninspired styling at its zenith, but Ford couldn’t sell enough of them. If gas prices went down, I guarantee that Americans would flock back to trucks and SUV’s without a second thought. The Model X offers the SUV experience, without the cost of gas or guilt.
Alas, Tesla will probably be forced to ditch the falcon-wing doors and rear-view cameras that replace the standard side-view mirrors, which bothers me because who knows how much time and money they spent on these two technologies? Even though this is a prototype, the Model X shares a platform with the Model S, so what you see here is probably very close to a production model.
All told, Tesla is playing to its strengths, which gives me hope that they may just manage to survive, and even thrive, in the years ahead. Alas, Musk says that the announcement of its next model, a lower-priced, higher-volume model, is still 18 to 24 months away from announcement. Not that I am likely to be able to afford that either…but maybe one day.
Until then, I hate Tesla for making a crossover that is obviously aimed at people that aren’t me, and for selling a sedan and roadster that I’d love to own but can’t afford. But I think the Model X will probably do better than even Musk suspects; it’s all the SUV that soccer moms want, without the $4-a-gallon fuel. That sounds like a sales winner to me.
For more details on the Tesla Model X, check out the Tesla Motor’s website.