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Francisco Marquez-Fernandez, a Postdoctoral Research Assistant at Oxford's Energy and Power Group, responds to the launch of the latest electric vehicle.

Tesla Model X Shutterstock
Tesla Model X

Article by Francisco Marquez-Fernandez, a Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the Energy and Power Group with Professor Malcolm McCulloch.

After a long delay of over two years, Tesla has finally launched its new electric vehicle (EV): the Model X. A fancy, cool, luxury Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) with a race-car like performance which brings EVs closer to the actual everyday needs of a family of five.

While it may not be as important as the hugely expected Model III - a 'mainstream' car tagged at $35,000-$40,000 - and most likely won’t have the same impact on the vehicle market, the Model X has its role in Tesla’s strategy:

  • Prove, maybe even for themselves, that the widely acclaimed Model S was not a lucky shot but they can provide more than one type of car, addressing different challenges such as increased loading capacity and towing in an innovative-creative way, rewriting the whole car concept from scratch for that particular segment. As Elon Musk put it during the launch event, “It is important to show that any car can go electric”.
  • Increase the target customer audience, in the hope to increase their sales numbers and bring the company closer to profit. Since the Model X shares most of the inner body with the Model S (battery, traction motors, and software) sales of the Model X will help pay back the initial development costs.
  • Bring the spotlight back directly on Tesla before the launch of Model III, presumably in 2018.

Increasing the target customer audience has also had a significant impact besides Tesla’s business profitability. Increasing people’s awareness and familiarity with EVs is a must for making electric traction a market success. Beyond the technical challenges, a change in mindset is needed. EVs are simply not the same as traditional combustion engine cars: they provide different performance and driving experience, the concept of re-fueling is changed and hence they shouldn’t be used in the same manner. You may believe these kinds of changes take time, but think of mobile phones: if industry is able to provide an attractive and desirable product with clear advantages over the traditional solution, people will be willing to pay that little extra at the beginning, and it won’t take long until the synergies of mass production bring the cost down. 

When it comes to attracting attention Tesla has achieved that by far, coming up with a car that will turn your head. Compared to top-end crossovers it is smarter, cleaner, and outperforming all of them in performance. And when we take a look at the price tag, even if only the Signature model price has been disclosed, the Model X comes up just level with its combustion engine counterparts (an entry level version is expected at just over $80k).

It’s no secret that the Model X isn’t cheap, and although we all look forward to an affordable EV with a decent range and the well-known advantages of electric propulsion, the truth is that ground-breaking technical innovations are usually first marketed in the high segment, where customers are prepared to pay extra money for the benefits. These initial high-end products will then frame the aspirations of the more affordable mainstream models to come.

 

Model

Capacity (passengers)

Horse Power

0 – 60 mph acceleration

Price

Tesla Model X 90D

7

259hp front + 259hp rear

4.8 s

$132k

Tesla Model X P90D

7

259hp front + 503hp rear

3.2 s

$142k

Porsche Cayenne Turbo

5

520

4.2 s

$115 k

Porsche Cayenne Turbo S

5

570

4.1 s

$158 k

BMW X6 M

5

567

4.0 s

$103 k

Land Rover Range Rover Sport Supercharged SVR

5

550

4.6 s

$112 k

Info from the following websites: www.caranddriver.com, www.teslamotors.com, www.autoexpress.co.uk

This time Tesla couldn’t shock us performance-wise, since the Model S already accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds when set in 'Insane' mode. Sharing most of the inner body, the Model X in the new 'Ludicrous' mode is just 0.1 second slower. However, the Model X is full of cunning solutions that completely change your user perception: falcon wing rear doors with proximity sensors that open with just 12 inch span, individually adjustable rear sits, panoramic windshield for improved visibility, and countless passenger safety features which may not be as sexy, but have deserved the Model X the highest safety rating (5 star) from the National Highway Traffic Administration, with a 6.5 per cent probability of injury in a high speed crash.

More traditional carmakers with successful EVs already in the market, mostly in the compact segment, are also announcing an upgraded version of their models. Nissan is planning a new Leaf with a range of up to 150-200 miles and an outer design less like an electric vehicle in order to make it more appealing to the general user

Chevrolet has unveiled the Bolt EV concept, which also targets the 200 miles range while keeping the price tag down to an 'affordable' $38,000. Both will be tough competitors for the Model III when it arrives.

Only the BMW i3 impacts as a blank-page design in the compact segment, even though it benefits from the combustion engine vehicle experience of the Bavarian manufacturer. BMW price tag vs battery range is not very promising though: $43.5k for 81 miles. Judging by the Model S and now Model X experiences, it won’t take me aback if Tesla comes up with a completely revolutionary concept that turns the EV compact segment upside down.

If Elon Musk is the kind of 'future guru' that we all believe he is, the Tesla Model S and Model X are necessary steps towards the Model III and an future all-electric vehicle utopia. And after VW’s dieselgate, who doesn’t want to drive around in a zero emission vehicle?