What’s hiding in Model X? Clearly the falcon wing doors and the second row seats have a unique relationship in the Model X. You don’t hear Tesla mention one without the other. Both will earn a prominent place in the automotive hall of fame, but also the hall of pain, since those bedfellows are least partially responsible for the Model X delays.
Will the seats move in mysterious ways? Will they swivel 90 degrees to ease child seat ingress/egress? Or 180 degrees to interface with the third row? Backward-facing seats aren’t alien to Tesla, of course, since they’re optional in the Model S. Tesla’s platform offers copious “opportunity space” given the lack of powertrain hardware below. The lack of spare tire doesn’t hurt either. Will Model X beat Model S in creative use of space? SUVs are, of course, supposed to excel in hauling people and their cargo. What about exterior cargo? Surely the falcon wing doors make roof cargo impossible. But Elon is Flash Gordon, King of the Impossible. And stop calling him Shirley.
Thinking beyond seats, what about machine vision technology? Will the Model X offer a 360-degree “bird’s eye” view of the vehicle? Nissan, GM and others already employ such a feature. Toyota will follow suit in next year’s RAV4 Hybrid. Using imagery from cameras mounted fore, aft and on the side mirrors, a central processor spits out a full-surround view. This sounds like something Tesla would use, and the surround-view would look rather impressive on Tesla’s vast screen, yes?
How will Tesla survive without Musk as CEO?
By appointing JB Straubel, that’s how. Easy.
What’s coming after Model III? A pickup? Tempting! Tesla could build a made-in-America torque champion. But the truck market is scary as hell. Ask Toyota. The Tacoma owns almost two-thirds of the compact/midsize truck segment in the US, but the Tundra is still an impostor among its full-size peers, despite advantages in QDR. What if Tesla’s truck ends up like the Tundra? It could happen. Trucks are all about off-road fantasy and toughness, with Bob Seger thrown in somewhere. Where do “electric” or “battery” fit in to that fantasy? Nowhere. And there are no Superchargers in the middle of nowhere, where truck owners pretend to go. Tesla cannot afford even one product flop, so it should forfeit the first-electric-truck honors to a big company with more money to risk.
What else? How about a really affordable car? If you had to pick a price that most of America, and the developed world in general, considers “affordable,” what would you pick? Probably $20,000 USD. That’s the minimum price of admission to the Camry/Accord Lounge, and more than enough for a Corolla/Civic. However, a $20k-ish Tesla would require not only a couple more Gigafactories, but also a change in business model. Tesla would suddenly attract need-based buyers who cannot order a car and wait. These people need wheels TODAY. Their other car was totaled, or received a rejection sticker, or developed a terminal health problem in the dead of winter. If they cannot go to a Tesla store and drive one off the lot, they’ll end up in a Camry. So Tesla would have to stockpile the product at point of sale, and unhorse people from their trade-ins, and get them financed on the spot. Sounds like a dealership, right? Exactly.
Could Tesla’s brand cachet survive a plunge in the $20k realm? Risky business. Jaguar tiptoed into in “cheap” with the X-Type — and barely made it out alive. Ah, but Jaguar is painted into a corner by its own premium car persona. Tesla is already molting into something bigger. By 2025, when a $20k Tesla might emerge, the Tesla name will transcend not only premium cars, but cars, period. It will be a bona fide movement. It will have its tentacles all over clean energy storage, electric cars and even (indirectly) the solar boom. So you won’t merely buy a Tesla. You’ll “go Tesla,” just as you “go solar.” Such terms imply leaving the grimy old world behind for a shiny, clean one. Such movements transcend brand snobbery. They appeal to all income strata. Think Prius. Parking one in your driveway will never render you lowbrow, or ruin the awe of the Land Cruiser in your garage.
Will the competition ever arrive? It already has, if you believe what you read. But back to the Prius for a second. The Prius had competitors from day one — and has wiped the floor with them for 15 years, using lowly Ni-MH technology. Tesla is so far ahead of the pack, and maintains such a relentless pace, that nobody will catch up without resorting to patent-borrowing from Tesla. And that would mean forfeiting the race. So the short answer here is no.