Tesla finally unveils its Model Y

Elon Musk's long-awaited SUV will start at R680,000

15 March 2019 - 12:14 By Reuters
The Tesla Model Y electric SUV was unveiled on Thursday.
The Tesla Model Y electric SUV was unveiled on Thursday.
Image: Tesla

Tesla Inc unveiled its Model Y electric sports utility vehicle on Thursday evening in California, promising a much-awaited crossover that will face competition from European car makers rolling out their own electric rivals.

Chief executive Elon Musk said the compact SUV, built on the same platform as the Model 3, would first debut in a long-range version, with a range of 482km, priced at $47,000 (about R680,000). A standard version, to be available sometime in 2021, would cost $39,000 (R565,000), with a 370km range.

The vehicles can be configured to include seven seats for an additional $3,000 (about R43,000). After the event, Tesla's website included a page to "design and order" the more expensive, long-range version of the vehicle with rear-wheel drive, available next year. Ordering the car requires a $2,500 (R36,000) refundable deposit. Musk unveiled the vehicle at a short 40-minute event at Tesla's design studio in Hawthorne, outside Los Angeles, that was streamed live online.

Each of Tesla's vehicles, from the Roadster to the latest Semi, were driven onstage before the blue Model Y appeared. Small SUVs are the fastest-growing segment in the US and China, the world's largest car market, where Tesla is building a factory, making the Model Y well positioned to tap demand.

Tesla has enjoyed little competition thus far for its sedans, but competition for electric SUVs is heating up as Tesla tries to master a new set of economics from the luxury line that made its reputation. On Thursday, ratings company Fitch warned that, despite Tesla's early lead, "incumbent car makers have the ability to catch up ... thanks to their capacity to invest and their robust record in product management".

Lower cost, lower risk

Tesla's targeted volume production date of late 2020 for the Model Y would put it behind electric SUV offerings from Volkswagen's Audi, Daimler's Mercedes-Benz and BMW. "Twelve months from now we will have made about a million vehicles," Musk said at the event, without specifying the breakdown of models.

Shares of Tesla are down 24% from an August high of $379.57 (R5,470), when Musk tweeted that he was taking Tesla private. That plan - later scrapped - ushered in a period of turmoil at the company, from Musk's public battles with regulators to a flurry of securities lawsuits, cost-cutting and layoffs.

Tesla, two weeks ago, said it would close most stores and use savings to cut the price of most cars by 6%. But last week, Tesla reversed course and said it would leave many stores open and raised prices back by about 3%. Musk has promised an easier production ramp of the Model Y as it shares about three-quarters of its parts with the Model 3 and would need only half the capital expenditures of the sedan.

The risk is "quite low", Musk told analysts in January. Tesla would "most likely" build the Model Y at Tesla's battery factory in Nevada, he said at the time. At Thursday's event, Musk gave no new details about where the Model Y would be produced. Still, the Model Y, like all Tesla models, has already seen pre-production delays.

Suppliers were originally told production would start in November 2019, sources told Reuters last year. In October, Musk said "significant progress" had been made on the Model Y and that he had approved the prototype for production in 2020. In January, he said Tesla had ordered the tooling needed to build the car.