Henry Payne The Detroit News
Published 6:15 PM EDT Mar 14, 2019
Here comes the Tesla Model Y crossover.
The electric brand’s fifth vehicle and second SUV will be unveiled at 11 p.m. Thursday from Tesla’s California design studio.
Expect a lifted, five-door hatchback version of Tesla’s popular Model 3 sedan, the best-selling luxury vehicle in the U.S. last year. 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. With its huge battery located under the passenger floor, the car has been hailed for its sporty performance and futuristic, tablet-centered interior.
Tesla has teased the Model Y with a front silhouette of the compact ute that doesn’t give away much.
Tesla’s first SUV, the $82,000 Model X, debuted 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 long development delays and have been a reliability headache for service centers.
Tesla watchers don’t expect such extravagance from the Model Y given its importance as a mass-production car that — along with the Model 3 — is key to the company’s profitability. CEO Elon Musk has said the Model Y will sell for about 10 percent more than the $35,000 Model 3.
Master of ceremonies will surely be mercurial founder Musk, whose unique 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.
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. Tesla’s Fremont assembly plant outside San Francisco is over capacity with Tesla erecting a tent in the parking lot to meet demand for the Models 3, S and X.
Media reports sourcing Tesla employees say the company is wavering between making assembly space for the Y in Tesla’s battery Gigafactory in Nevada, or combining the Model S and X lines in Fremont to free up more room.
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 impacted. 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.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at [email protected] or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.
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