If Model III information comes to us in crumbs, at this point we have enough crumbs to assemble a muffin. Our knowledge now extends well beyond the offensive name, target price and target driving range.
1. Twenty percent smaller than Model S.
2. But more than just a smaller Model S. Musk: “One easy thing to do would be to make a 20 percent smaller Model S. That would be easy to do, but I think we might be able to do a few more interesting things that just that.”
3. It won’t look like other cars.
4. A timely launch is crucial. Musk: “We don’t want the delays that affected the X to affect the Model III. We’re really being quite conscientious about this.”
5. At least two versions. One tame, the other not. Musk: “There are things we could do with the Model III platform that are really adventurous but would put the schedule at risk. So what we’re going to do is have something that’s going to be an amazing car, but it won’t be the most adventurous version the Model III to being with. But we will then have the more different version of the Model III, on the Model III platform, following the initial version.”
6. The smaller motor in the P85D, or a disciple of it, will power the III. Musk: “That smaller drive unit in many ways is a precursor for the Model III. Because it represents a significant improvement in cost, and in steady state power, and a number of other factors. It’s a second generation motor, essentially, and that’s a good pathfinder for Model III on the powertrain side. And obviously the Gigafactory is very much geared toward the Model III pack needs.”
7. A concept version might debut early next year.
8. It’s going to compete with Tesla Energy for Gigafactory 1 allocation.
So let’s ignore headlines suggesting the Model III is shrouded in mystery. It’s not. The only big unknown is styling. TeslaMondo will now walk the plank blindfolded, naked, with sharks thrashing below, and make some predictions. Ready?
First of all, both versions of Model III will be hatchbacks, the platform that best exploits the benefits of Tesla’s powertrain by creating copious “opportunity space.” Also, since the Model S and X are both hatchbacks of sorts, it’s safe territory. Can a smallish car company really afford to try an unfamiliar configuration that might cause delays and introduce gremlins? Too risky. Remember the margin for error here: ZERO. So TeslaMondo predicts a Model S-like sedan/hatch followed by a Model X-like crossover with AWD, but with two-row seating and non-falcon doors.
Second, it will indeed look like other cars eventually, no matter how crazy the design appears at first. To wit: the Mercedes CLS500 with is four-door coupe approach and “droopy butt,” and the new Jeep Cherokee. Both caused triple-takes at first. Now? Nary a double-take. We adapt quickly. Seems when we’re presented with a startling auto design, we simply develop a callous on the brain. So every car ends up looking like other cars soon enough.
How much will Tesla push the envelope? Not as much as Ralph Gilles did with the Cherokee. The Model III will probably look no crazier among its peers than the Model S does among its own. Here’s what Tesla designer Franz von Holzhausen said about the Model S: “If we created the Jetsons-mobile, we would have catered to the early-adopters and stopped right there. We would not have been able to appeal to more of a mass market and had a confident car that could carry itself next to BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Lexus and these types of products and have the owners feel confident in their daily life with this product.” A few years have passed, but the context hasn’t changed. All-electric vehicles still face a similar degree of cynicism. Tesla still cannot expect to draw customers from the ICE world by building a Jetsons-mobile.
However . . .
It will have at least one signature design element. Expect a James Bond “Q” factor that affects both style and function. Nothing as radical, expensive, or engineering-intensive as falcon-wing doors, but more radical than retracting door handles. Side cameras in lieu of mirrors? A year ago, the 12-member Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers asked the NHTSA to get off its ass and rule on them. Well, unless the agency has its buttocks surgically separated from its couch very soon, it’s too late for Model III side cameras. How about a 360-degree “Bird’s Eye View” option? Toyota will introduce it in its RAV4 Hybrid next year. Ah, but that’s hardly a styling element. We’re looking for something that will boost Model III form and function. How about a non-linear beltline, as seen in the renderings above? That’s form but not function. And heck, it’s not even new. It dates back to 2010 with Honda’s Odyssey concept and its “lightning bolt” beltline. Then BMW kinda borrowed it for the i3. And now Nissan’s new Murano is kinda tagging along.
So then, what “gotta-have-it” form-and-function element could Tesla introduce on time and on budget? That question goes out to TeslaMondo readers — all six of them.