Model 3 with a hatch: Tesla reveals 'sexy' Model Y ute
Correction: A earlier version of this story said the Model Y would start delivery in fall 2019 instead of fall 2020.
Say hello to the Tesla Model Y crossover, the taller Model 3.
The compact SUV was introduced by CEO Elon Musk at the electric brand's California design studio late Thursday night, bringing Tesla's production lineup to four vehicles: the Model S sedan, Model 3 sedan, Model X SUV and Model Y.
The quartet has been dubbed "S3XY" by Tesla fans, and Musk reveled in the acronym all evening.
"We are bringing sexy back!" he told an audience of Tesla employees.
The unveiling followed months of speculation as to how the Model Y would differ from Tesla’s popular Model 3 sedan — the best-selling luxury vehicle in the U.S. in 2018 —upon which it is based. After Tesla teased a silhouette of the car, Internet artists speculated on a variety of designs. But in the flesh the Model Y looks very similar to the 3 with its smooth grille-less front end, high headlights, panoramic roof and bulbous rear end.
While sitting higher than the Model 3 (think a Subaru Crosstrek SUV compared to the near-identical Impreza hatchback) the Model Y will still benefit from a low center of gravity thanks to big-battery placement under the passenger compartment. From the event, the Y appears to have the same austere interior of the Model 3 with most controls in a 15-inch horizontal tablet touchscreen. For the Model Y's Performance trim, Musk promises a similar zero-60 time as the Performance Model 3's 3.5 seconds.
The major differences with the Model Y are interior cargo and storage. Essential for SUVs, the Model Y gains a hatchback opening over the Model 3's conventional sedan trunk lid. Fold the seats flat and Tesla promises 66 cubic feet of cargo room, significantly more than the 3.
Buyers will also be able to option a third row (add $3,000) for up to seven-passenger seating. That's unusual for a compact SUV, but made possible by the absence of a drivetrain running through the cabin as with conventional, gas-powered cars. You get "frunk" storage under the hood as well.
The Model will start at $39,000 with a 230-mile-range "standard" battery. That's $4,000 higher than the price of an entry-level 220-mile Model 3 sedan.
A long-range, $47,000 version of the Y will be optioned with 300 miles of range (10 less than a comparable Model 3), as well as an all-wheel drive model and the hyper-quick Performance model which starts at $60,000.
All trims except the standard car are available for order online at Tesla.com, with deliveries beginning in fall 2020.
The compact Model 3 broke the Internet when it was unveiled in March 2016 on the same stage. Some 200,000 customers ordered it online over the next 24 hours.
Tesla's first SUV, the three-row $82,000 Model X, debuted in 2012 on the same mid-size architecture as the $76,000 Model S sedan. The X added dazzling falcon-wing doors that were head-turning, but caused development delays and have been a reliability headache for service centers.
"We actually got carried away with the Model X," Musk said Thursday. "It was a Faberge egg meets a spaceship."
There are no such gizmos on the Model Y given its importance as a mass-production car that — along with the Model 3 — is key to the company's profitability.
"The Model Y is the first Tesla that really feels like something from a mainstream car brand: a vehicle designed to make a company money, not make a statement," said Edmunds auto analyst Jessica Caldwell. "Despite its derivative design, it’s not unrealistic to think that the Model Y could end up being Tesla’s best-selling vehicle."
Musk gave a typically disjointed press conference. His unique, even geeky, stage appearances have become as anticipated as the late Steve Jobs' introduction of Apple products. Hailed by pundits as a real-life Tony Stark, Musk's companies — including Tesla, the SpaceX re-usable rocket maker, and the tunnel-making Boring Co. — have captured the imagination of millions.
Tesla's CEO recounted the company's history, touching on its interaction with Detroit manufacturers like GM (whose California assembly plant he inherited) and Ford.
"We thought it would be great to have a Model E," he laughed referencing the Model 3 sedan's initial badge cribbed from Ford's legendary "Model" naming convention. "But Ford threatened to sue. Ford killed SEX!"
While the Model Y should be a volume-seller, it enters the market with plenty of question marks, foremost being where will it be manufactured. Musk did not offer any answers to that riddle, though he told investors in January that the car would likely be built in the company's sprawling, Nevada Gigafactory. Tesla's Fremont assembly plant outside San Francisco has experienced capacity issues; Tesla has erected a tent in the parking lot to meet demand for the Model 3.
The Model Y enters the U.S. market after Tesla hit its federal tax credit sales ceiling at the end of last year. After selling 200,000 cars, the $7,500 credit will gradually disappear this year. Sales of the Model 3 have apparently already been hurt. The sedan reportedly sold 6,500 and 5,750 cars in January and February, respectively, compared to 18,650 and 25,250 in the last two months of 2018 (figures come from InsideEVs.com; Tesla does not publish its sales figures).
The Model Y debuts as the Model 3 makes its first foray into Europe, with sales especially strong in Norway which gives away massive tax breaks to EV buyers.
Tesla is also expected to introduce a pickup later this year as the brand tries to maintain its gaping lead in EV sales as competitors like Rivian, Polestar and Audi bring electrics to market. Anticipating the flood of Tesla SUVs hitting the road, the Silicon Valley company is also ramping up its charging infrastructure by introducing its 250 kW Version 3 chargers which boast delivery of 75 miles of range in just five minutes.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.