There are many reasons we’ve fallen under Elon Musk’s spell, but one in particular resonates. He’s honest. He also does things his own way, including the manner in which a new Tesla product is unveiled. The Model Y is almost upon us, but instead of the industry standard teaser/drip-feed/preview hoopla, there’s a teaser image on the holding page on the company website and a tweet from the man himself, ahead of its reveal at the company’s LA design studio (on 14 March at 8pm PDT).
“Model Y, being an SUV, is about ten per cent bigger than Model 3, so will cost about ten per cent more and have slightly less range for [the] same battery.”
That was posted on 3 March, but let’s go further back – to 20 July 2016 – when Musk published his “Master Plan, Part Deux” on Tesla’s site. Again, traditional car bosses rarely go public with big strategy documents and they certainly don’t glory in such self-consciously jokey titles. Needless to say, he’s also extremely honest here about Tesla’s ambitions. “Create a smoothly integrated and beautiful solar-roof-with-battery product that just works, empowering the individual as their own utility, and then scale that throughout the world. One ordering experience, one installation, one service contract, one phone app.”
Some of that remains work in progress. But elsewhere he refers to “a future compact SUV” and “a new kind of pickup truck”. So there it is: the Y will be to the Model 3 what the bigger X is to the Model S saloon. Musk’s status as the greatest disruptor the 21st-century car industry has seen (so far anyway) is inviolable, but even he knows he has to build a smaller SUV and a pickup truck to be commercially viable in Tesla’s biggest market, North America. In other words, the sort of car that would be truly disruptive – a small, cheap Tesla hatch – ain’t happening. But a new sports car is coming, along with the autonomous Tesla Semi heavy-duty truck and “high passenger-density urban transport”. (The latter is another reason the cheap, mass market Tesla isn’t a goer.)
Although Musk apparently wanted to build a new platform for the Model Y, it shares 75 per cent of its components with the existing and excellent Model 3. The teaser sketches suggest a well-proportioned sibling to Tesla’s compact saloon, prettier than the slightly ungainly Model X, and it’s likely to use the 3’s dual-motor powertrain for an output equivalent to 346bhp, all-wheel drive and torque vectoring to sharpen handling. The Model 3’s “vehicle dynamics controller” (VDC), whose quick-thinking software optimises the relationship between the powertrain and the traction and stability controls, will also feature on the Model Y. In “long range” guise, it’ll have a range of around 300 miles.
Tesla has also recently introduced its V3 Supercharging, which reduces charging times to an average of just 15 minutes. This is a significant step on the road to mainstream EV acceptance: Tesla’s 1MW power cabinets apparently offer peak charging rates of 250kW per car, equivalent to 75 miles range in just five minutes. The company has also just launched On-Route Battery Warmup, so the car knows when you’re heading to a charging station and heats the battery to the optimum temperature; this cuts the average charge time, Tesla says, by 25 per cent. There are 12,000 Tesla superchargers across the US, Europe and Asia, and 99 per cent of the American population is now covered. (There are 290 in the UK.) The Model Y will benefit from all of this.
Back to the Master Plan, Part Deux. Musk also outlines his thinking on the two things set to radically alter the automotive landscape during the next two decades: autonomy and car sharing. The tech is already in place, of course, for Tesla and its principal rivals. The sticking point is regulatory approval, which Musk reckons needs six billion self-driving miles in testing as proof-of-concept. The industry is close to that figure in 2019. Car sharing and ride hailing follows that: you’ll be able to summon your car wherever you are via an app, it’ll come to you, take you where you want to go, then return to the Tesla pool for others to use. Rather than sitting around all day costing you money, it’ll earn you income. Which will enable you to buy the thing in the first place…