Will The Tesla Model X Save The Company?

Elon Musk at Tesla Model X reveal

The Model X launch party was a certified happening. On the evening of September 29, the crowd whistled and stamped its feet. Some people swooned when they saw the falcon-wing doors function for the first time. All in all, the atmosphere was halfway between the Oscars and the Super Bowl.

The Tesla Model X (Tesla page here) may be the most technologically advanced car ever made. It is brimming with advanced features never before seen on any other vehicle. The front doors open and close themselves automatically. The middle-row seats are mounted on individual pedestals so they can move independently. The front windshield curves back over the front passenger compartment for a panoramic view of the outside world. The car even has a “Bioweapons Defense Mode” that will keep out dangerous bacteria and gasses in the event the Martians invade.

Tesla Model X Biowarfare Defense Mode

But the pièce de résistance has to be those incredible falcon-wing doors that raise up and then outward to permit access to the interior even if some fool at Walmart parks right next to your pride and joy. Watching them work their magic is like viewing Nureyev at his finest.

But is the Model X too clever by half? Elon Musk admitted to the Wall Street Journal that some of the features of the car were so technologically complex and difficult to manufacture that, if they had it to do over again, they could have left some of them out of the final product and still had a pretty good car. By the time they were done, the Model X was two years late getting here and had far fewer parts in common with the Model S it is based on than originally anticipated.

Is the Model X an SUV?

Tesla insists the Model X is an SUV, but is it? Yes, those incredible falcon-doors give outstanding access to the interior and the third row seats, but the whole idea of an SUV is that it has a squared off back so it can carry lots more stuff than a sedan is capable of. An SUV is the car you put the kids, sleeping bags, tents, strollers, bicycles, coolers, and luggage in when you head out for that family vacation in the mountains. Most of the ones you see on the road today have roof racks for kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, snowboards and such.

Tesla Model X falcon wing doors

The falcon wing doors, as cool as they are, make any sort of roof rack impossible. Yes, Tesla has designed a special rack that slips into the trailer hitch receiver and will hold 4 bicycles or 6 pairs of skis, but if you want to take your kayaks, paddle boards, snow boards or other large sporting equipment along, you will have to depend on your neighbor with the Chevy Suburban or tow them in a trailer.

The Model X has a towing capacity of 5,000 lbs, but what does towing a trailer do to range? Tesla hasn’t said anything about that yet. If you intend to tow your ski boat up to a lake high in the mountains, you may have a problem if its more than one state away.

Will the Model X Save Tesla? 

Tesla is very tight lipped when it comes to sales figures, but it seems obvious the pledge Elon Musk made to investors back in April that the company would deliver 55,000 vehicles in 2015 isn’t going to be kept. 6 cars were delivered to new owners last night, but those cars were all Founder Series cars intended for early company investors. (Elon’s is solid black with a pure white interior.) Musk promised in July that Model X production would begin before the end of the 3rd quarter. 6 hand-built specials may satisfy the letter of that pledge but certainly not the spirit.

The company has 30,000 reservations for the Model X, but no ordinary customer has actually driven one yet. How will those falcon-wing doors stand up as the years and miles go by? What will they be like in the rain, snow, and ice that afflicts many people who don’t live in sunny California? Will those self-opening and -closing front doors work better than the troublesome automatic door handles on the Model S?

There is an old expression in investing that says, “Buy the rumor; sell the news.” The Model X and Tesla have been borne forward for quite some time on the strength of glowing rumors. Some would suggest that the giddiness among the Tesla faithful is equivalent to the “irrational exuberance” Alan Greenspan once warned us about.

The rumor phase for the Tesla Model X is over. Now the real news will begin.

 

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.