Tesla Model Y First Impressions

I was lucky enough to attend the Model Y event, which was a little bit press event, a little bit rock show, and a little dash of crazy. There were enough leaks, some from Elon on Twitter leading up to the unveiling, so we basically knew what the Model Y was going to be, roughly look like and cost. While there weren’t any big surprises, the Model Y looks really promising and has me very excited for the car and Tesla’s future. Not to mention, it’s one good looking car. Or as Elon put it, “we’re bringing sexy back.” The one question that rolled around my head the entire night: why the Model Y and why now?

Since this was my first time to LA, and it was going to be a crazy fast trip, I got myself one baller ride ... that’s right ... check out those rims ... and headed to a couple of super trendy hot spots in the LA. Check out those nozzles. Seriously though, I was pretty excited to see the Endeavor. I was lucky enough to see it getting decommissioned in the vehicle assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center in 2011 before it was shipped off to LA. Highly recommend checking it out if you’re in the area.

The Tesla event was jam packed and filled with some familiar faces. Tesla really knows how to put on a show and get the crowd going. The one thing that never comes across well in the video streams is the energy in the room. When Elon made his grand entrance, there was a genuine wave of excitement. And for some reason Elon sometimes comes across as stilted and nervous on the video streams, but in person he felt very natural and seemed to have fun with the back and forth with the audience.

Elon started off with a recap of Tesla’s history, which is well known to those of us who follow them, but felt geared towards press and people new to the company. From a PR perspective if felt like they new they had the world’s attention, so put it to good use and tell the story leading up to the Model Y.

Why the Y?

Why the Model Y? The SUV market is the largest segment in the world ... and growing. Global SUV sales in 2018 hit 32.1 million, which is 6% higher than 2017.1 It’s the fastest growing segment in all regions and between 2014-2018 saw 69% growth. The reigning champion for SUVs is Toyota with over 2.3 million sold, but Nissan is right behind and 2.2 million. In the U.S. SUVs sell almost 2 to 1 compared to cars and it’s 50% larger than the next segment.2

With the huge success of the Model 3 in the market, which is dominating the luxury mid-sized sedans3, there’s a pent up demand for EVs and for Teslas. It’s a no brainer for Tesla to jump in, but why now? And with the SUV market being so big, why not start with the Model Y instead of the Model 3? I think Tesla held off until they were able to start producing cars at scale, and Elon’s Tesla history lesson that kicked off the event illustrates that.

Starting with the super expensive Roadster and then moving into the luxury full sized sedan market gave them time, allowed them to prove out the technology and build a foundation for the company. But they had never been able to produce a car at mass market scale, so it makes more sense to start in one of the smaller mass market categories like the mid-sized sedan. We all saw how frustrated people became at the long windup to full-scale Model 3 production. So take that Model 3 demand and scale and double it. It was a smart move to work out the production challenges with the 3 before jumping into the Y.

Thoughts on the car

It’s basically what we all thought it would be. It’s a slightly larger Model 3 on the outside and in the inside. Similar lines and design on the outside, and same steering wheel, screen, and basic feel. If you’re a fan of the Model 3 design, you’ll love it. If you hate the Model 3, you’re going to hate this one too. But that’s not to say there aren’t a few cool surprises.

There’s an option for a third row in the rear that would be good for kids or small adults. After sitting in the car I really don’t see how someone like myself at 6’ 1” could fit back there. Tesla had some fun with this during the unveiling with people continuing to get out of the Model Y like a clown car. And unlike the Model 3, the trunk is motorized.

Getting into the car the thing that jumped out at me immediately was the full panoramic roof and headroom. There’s no cross support bar above the head of the driver and front passenger seat. The glass extends from the windshield all the back to above the heads of the backseat passengers. I couldn’t get any good footage of it because it was too dark, but the effect was remarkable. I wish my Model 3 had a roof like that. And it’s clear the car is also a winner with cargo space. The Model 3 is around 15 cubic feet and the Model Y maxes out at 66 cubic feet, or 1.9 cubic meters.

We got to ride in the Long Range Dual Motor version, which is essentially my Model 3, and the ride felt just like it. Similar pickup, handling, and ride as the Model 3, which shouldn’t be surprising since the two cars share so many parts and a frame.

It’s really a beautiful car. From the very early silhouette that Tesla teased, it wasn't looking like it would be as interesting a car as the Model 3. Thankfully, the early internet renderings were wrong. The car has really nice lines and proportions ... I really like it. And it was also interesting to see the satin black trim instead of the chrome look. It’s a really great look.

Final Thoughts

With prices starting at $39,000 for the standard range and going up to $60,000 for the performance, it puts it above the average SUV sales price and in the luxury category. And just like the Model 3, the ranges are pretty similar with about 230 miles up to 300 miles. Along with the expected top tier safety rating, this car should earn that price tag.

If history repeats itself here, there will be big demand with preorders on the car, and an even bigger upswing as the car hits full steam ahead worldwide. While they’re expecting the first versions to ship in Fall of 2020 here in the U.S., and 2021 for the other versions, I think it’s more realistic to expect early 2021 for deliveries of the first version.

The combination of what Tesla learned form manufacturing the Model 3, and the 70+% of shared parts between the two, should mean a faster ramp up period. This should help them reach an even larger scale than the Model 3 and take advantage of the massive SUV market. Elon himself said, “We expect the Model Y to sell more than the S, X, and 3 combined.” I believe it.

As always, time will tell, and given the bumpiness of the Model 3 production, we’ll probably have some bumps along the way here too. But Tesla has proven themselves capable of succeeding against the odds, and I think they’ll do it again with the Y.


1: https://focus2move.com/world-best-selling-suv/

2: https://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2019/03/06/sizing-up-the-revenue-potential-of-teslas-upcoming-model-y/#75dff11c1a8e

http://www.wsj.com/mdc/public/page/2_3022-autosales.html#autosalesA

3: https://cleantechnica.com/2018/12/08/tesla-model-3-completely-crushing-us-luxury-car-competition-10-cleantechnica-charts/

https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1120775_leading-the-way-tesla-trounces-luxury-competitors-in-year-end-sales-tally

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeanbaptiste/2019/01/02/tesla-is-on-track-to-become-americas-1-premium-automotive-company-ahead-of-bmw-mercedes-benz/#5a1980ff3870