Now that all of the buzz has died down and we can think rationally about things, I’m going to be right up front about Tesla’s unveiling of the Model X. I actually did doze off. Granted, I wasn’t physically there and was watching via live stream and granted I had already had a long day, but even now, almost a week later, I can still say that the Model X really isn’t all that spectacular.
If we step away from the glitz, hype, and Elon’s decidedly musky persona, what was really unveiled was a hyper-luxury sport utility vehicle with gimmick doors. Swap “Tesla” for “Volvo” and the whole event would have a completely different flavor to it. We’re talking about a vehicle that sports a powertrain that’s already being used in another vehicle, and has been for years, and with a design and function that basically amounts to a glorified minivan with all-wheel drive. Sure, the Model X isn’t as plain as a Sienna, but it’s not exactly show-stoppingly beautiful either.
Boiled down to those terms, if you remove the Tesla hype machine and Apple-ish gadget-of-the-month appeal that the brand carries, you have little else here that’s newsworthy. This in itself is indicative of the genius of Musk’s marketing machine and “non-advertising advertising” method. Outside of that point, though, I don’t recall the Volvo V60 getting this kind of attention when it unveiled and it was at least as technologically enticing as is the Model X.
So let’s look at the Model X’s wow points. The ones that are continually touted by the fawning Teslarati – many of which, I’ve noted in the past, are themselves unable to afford to buy a Tesla Motors vehicle. Even with all of the savings at the pump and other economic justifications they love to break down in their innumerable reportage.
The Model X has trick rear doors, an advanced air filtration system, and the ability to go really fast. Let’s analyze those.
Falcon Wing Doors
Probably the most striking and most talked-about thing on the Model X are those falcon wing doors. You have to hand it to Musk and his team for their ability to not just come up with catchy gimmicks, but give them names worthy of shopping mall hawkers’ booths. There’s no way around the fact that these doors are a serious engineering feat.
They have some down sides. Sure, they let you get in and out of the car in tight spaces (at least, in and out of the back seats), but they are very slow to open and by design are likely very prone to mechanical issues. There’s a reason only the highest-end vehicles have gullwing, butterfly wing, and now falcon wing doors. Their hinges are subject to a lot of stress and they are expensive to repair.
I predict that after the first couple of times watching them open with their slow, eye-grabbing, and beautifully sinuous movement, they’ll get really old really fast. Especially when the onlookers are standing in pouring rain or freezing through a winter storm as they wait. And wait.
There’s a reason minivans all have sliding rear doors. They’re fast, convenient, and less prone to problems. Sadly, they are not the subject of entire articles and photo collages on blogs and social media. Because let’s be honest: functional everyday things rarely are. They just aren’t sexy. Besides, what kind of cool name could you possibly give sliding doors? “Fish gill doors?” Just not as catchy.
That is Musk’s way of saying “really good cabin air filtration.” Admittedly, the Model X takes it a step further with positive cabin pressure, ala an airline, to keep microscopic bugs out of the car. That’s great. But it’s not new. Just new for most regular automotive types who’ve never seen this kind of thing before.
High-end air filtration systems, which are usually aftermarket and part of a security suite on a vehicle, have been around for decades. Presidential limousines have them, so do top-shelf executive limos from companies like Range Rover and Bentley. Which, interestingly enough, are vehicles that cost within a twenty percent margin of the Model X.
So in the end, Musk’s only innovation here was giving it a cool name and making it a factory-installed option. I suspect that the vast majority of those who could use this in their daily lives due to severe allergies or asthma, however, cannot afford the payments on a $126,000 sport utility.
This is the name Musk and Co have given to “a bit faster than otherwise” for their vehicles. In the arena of high-end sports cars and muscular sedans, this is not an over-the-top piece of nomenclature. Other than the fact that it’s not race-derived, as these terms usually are. And make no bones, 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds (assuming those numbers bear out in the real world) is pretty wicked fast for an SUV. Doing it in 3.2? That is ludicrous.
There’s two major problems here: few people buying an SUV really care about its 0-60 creds and even fewer will actually use that. So while we can expect that there will be the occasional drag strip run in the Model X, it will mostly be by those who hope to prove something. But read my reviews of cars. Only with sports cars, where the buyer would care about such things, do I bother listing a 0-60 or quarter mile time. That’s because in the real world, those numbers mean very little to the average driver. They tend to mean even less to the high-end luxury buyer (the market for this crossover) who isn’t looking at serious sports-focused machinery.
Add to that the fact that this is merely a huge battery suck waiting to happen and that the Model X, like the S, has little actual track capability beyond the drag strip and you kind of kill the buzz. Sure, they are exceedingly well-balanced vehicles – perhaps the most well-balanced on the road – but they cannot hold top performance for very long without either losing charge or having self-preservation kick in to save the batteries from overheating. Or both. That’s the greatest performance weakness of battery electrics and is the reason that the Formula E, for example, only races for about an hour.
Let’s Be Honest
The Tesla Model X is really cool in its own right, but it’s not a game-changer or market disruptor. It’s a crossover that, were the Tesla “T” not on its face, would look like any other luxury crossover passing by on the street. It has a couple of gimmicks, but is otherwise only really laudable for its powertrain which, at this point, is becoming old hack – so much so that even the EVangelist press no longer bothers mentioning it except in passing.
In the end, what we have is another very expensive luxury vehicle made by a company that finally unveiled and began deliveries after several delays and that it hopes will help double production levels to 50,000 units next year – total for the company. Fifty thousand vehicles is pretty great for a company that’s only a half dozen years old or so, but it’s barely a speck in the automotive market.
Now that the glitz and glamour of the Model X unveiling has passed, let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s not really that impressive.