No one can agree on what the Tesla Model Y is. At the grand unveiling of the fourth car in the automaker's electric lineup, Tesla boss Elon Musk called the Y model a "mid-size SUV" last night. Meanwhile, others have argued that it is indeed a compact SUV.
Then there is the name "crossover", which became really popular in 1996 with the introduction of the Toyota RAV4. Being crossover is not so much a matter of size just to tarnish the definition a bit. Instead, it's about having the styling features of an SUV, but basing it on a car platform underneath.
The model Y can certainly be described with certainty. Finally, it has a clear reference to the model 3, the compact premium passenger car from Tesla. The remaining question, however, is whether the model Y is sufficient enough .
Expectations of Reality
What Tesla calls an SUV is not necessarily what everyone else calls this way. The model X – already in prototype form in 2012 and in production from 2015 – is referred to by the company as an SUV. However, there has long been arguments that it is a misnomer.
The Model X, some would say, is more like a smooth minivan. The curvaceous body – as well as an expansion of the Model S sedan, as the Model Y is an enlargement of the Model 3 – has borrowed the SUV nomenclature, critics say, because SUVs sell better than minivans. A minivan is the old-fashioned car you remember when your parents took you to school. However, an SUV is the dynamic promise of an active lifestyle (even if you are furthest from the terrain on the Costco car park)).
Expectations for the Model Y were therefore relatively low with respect to the SUV-inspired design. Of course, the Model 3 we see today looks much closer than you might have hoped. It's bigger and has more cargo space and even the ability to have seven instead of the usual five seats, but is it an "SUV"?
When Aero Is Your King
Elon Musk has highlighted Tesla's priorities in the Model Y unveiling: aerodynamics is important. If you build an electric car, you do not want to compete with air resistance. This requires a slippery body, especially if it is a larger vehicle such as the model X or the model Y.
The metric there is "Cd" or resistance coefficient. In short, it is the resistance of an object in a liquid environment such as air. Vehicles with a low Cd value let the air flow more calmly: they use less energy to drive forward than a blocking car or truck.
One of the headlines of the Model Y is the Cd of 0.23. This is actually less than the model S '0.24 and corresponds to the model 3 on which the new crossover is based. It is important, according to Tesla, for the Model Y to reach its range values that can reach up to 300 miles for a Long Range model charge, or 230 miles (still impressive) from the Standard Range 2021 version.
The problem is that cars that are slippery in the air do not have the same aesthetic accents as traditional SUVs: the former are curvy, the latter are square and bulky. Tesla had to make a decision and opted for the engineering.
Subtly but subtle enough
Real electric off-roaders are a niche in themselves. For example, Rivian works on a fully electric pickup while Bollinger continues with his Defender-inspired EV. You will undoubtedly find buyers, but they are also likely to be too limited in their target audience to achieve the kind of sales Tesla needs for the Model Y. Even when the Tesla pickup arrives, it can focus on consumer-friendly features rather than a vision of off-road robustness inspired by decades of combustion vehicles.
MORE Tesla Model Y first ride
There is much evidence that Tesla is tackling a large potential market with Model Y. Crossovers and small SUVs are big business right now, and Elon Musk & Co. is aware of the demand for a more affordable car than the Model X – but with similar SUV-style styling – is remarkable. The question then is whether the model Y is sufficiently crossed in its design to convince these buyers.
I guess the answer is yes. Although purists may claim that the new electric vehicle is not exactly in line with the official definition that prevails on that day, the reality is that consumers have different priorities. The model Y is a crossover, because Tesla says so, and because it – in addition to the model 3 – is larger. The differences are relatively small compared to what some automakers do, but not so much that they scare off too many sales.