Tesla Model Y Unveiled: An Affordable (Sort of) Midsize EV Crossover

The Tesla Model Y introduced late Thursday is everything Tesla has promised, and less. This is the smaller SUV in the Tesla fleet, a sibling to the Model 3 sedan. But: The cheapest Model Y will cost $40,200 with zero options, and it won’t be available for two more years. It’s so far off, you can’t even put down a $2,500 deposit today, let alone configure it. The Model Ys you can order today will be delivered fall 2020, a year and a half away, and will cost $48,200 to $75,700. They also look like hatchbacks even if Tesla calls them SUVs.

But: This is a Tesla. There is major magic to how buyers and intenders respond to the brand, the Model 3 was the best-selling luxury car last year, and the Model 3 last year outsold the second-most-popular non-Tesla, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, by eight to one. No Tesla purchaser is degraded by the buying process. No matter how much smoke and mirrors when Elon Musk speaks, or how late the cars ship, or for more than you expect, Tesla is changing the car business.

Tesla Model Y in Deep Blue Metallic: Add $1,500. Red Multi-Coat (pictured, top) runs $2,500. Mazda, the champion of quality paint among mainstream brands, charges $595 for its mega-red, called Soul Red Crystal.

What We Learned From the Unveiling

This was another unveiling at Tesla’s design center in Hawthorne, CA, five miles away from LAX. CEO Elon Musk filled in some of the details, but not all, on the Tesla S-E-X-Y lineup (Models S, 3 (look in the mirror), X and now Y.) He confirmed everything on the Model Y is about 10 percent beyond what’s on the Model 3 sedan: size, luggage capacity, price. Some of the details are still vague; for instance, when Tesla says 10 percent bigger, does that mean 10 percent more inches than the 185-inch length of the Model 3 and not just 10 percent more cubic-feet capacity? (185 inches long puts the Model Y Tesla in company with the BMW X3 on the size and the X4 on the side profile.) Tesla says the cargo capacity is 66 cubic feet but doesn’t publicize how much room there is for the passengers.

There will be four variants. Range will be 280-300 miles, acceleration 0-60 mph will be 3.5 to 5.9 seconds, the center stack display will be 15 inches diagonal (landscape), and the third-row seating option will add $3,000. Only the black paint doesn’t cost extra. The full-self-driving feature (currently semi-full) runs $8,000. The interior appears to be suitably roomy at least for the first two rows.

This is the lineup, and pricing — meaning the real price you’d have to write the check for, including freight and documentation fees, and excluding the $4,000 or so you save using electricity and not gasoline. Except for the Model Y, buyers can place an immediate $2,500 refundable deposit to secure a place in line.

Tesla Model Y Standard Range, $40,200 including $1,200 freight/document fees. 0-60 mph is rated by Tesla at 5.9 seconds, top speed is 120 mph, and the range is 280 miles. It has a single electric motor driving the rear wheels. This is the quote $39,000 Model Y, or $35,000 if you believe the $4,000 (or so) in energy savings accrue on the first day of ownership. Still, we’re talking about a vehicle substantially larger and with 10-20 percent more range than the Bolt EV or Nissan Leaf Plus. Just that you can’t buy it for two more years, according to this week’s Tesla delivery timeline, which places the Standard Range deliveries starting spring 2021.

Tesla Model Y Long Range, $48,200 with freight. Specs are 300 miles (range), 5.5 seconds (0-60), and 130 mph (top speed). This is the quote $42,700 Model Y after an estimated six-year fuel savings of $4,300 and ignoring freight.

Tesla Model Y Dual Motor AWD, $52,200 (the “$46,700” Model Y). Specs are 280 miles, 4.8 seconds 0-60, and 135 mph top speed. It has a second motor up front, driving the front wheels. Tesla points out that if one motor fails, you can “safely continue to your destination with the second.” Whereas with a V6 gasoline engine, if the left bank of cylinders craps out, you’re left calling roadside assistance. Some of these features make the Model Y Dual Motor less suited for potholed streets in the snow belt states that go cheap on infrastructure: 20-inch wheels and lowered suspension.

Tesla Performance, $61,200 (the $55,700 Model Y). Specs are a range of 280 miles, 3.5 seconds 0-60 mph, and 150 mph top speed. It comes standard with 20-inch alloy wheels, performance brakes, a carbon fiber spoiler, lowered suspension, aluminum alloy pedal, and track mode. The last is for enthusiasts who like to do lapping days at private tracks. (It’s legal, but you’re on your own for collision insurance.) Early Teslas, for all their sexy specs, were only good for a lap or two before they started wheezing. Those Teslas were, essentially, poseurs. Just about any gas-engine car would be unphased by 10 laps around a track as long as the brakes and tires were good. All in, with every options box checked, it’s $75,500.

15-inch display comes standard on all trim lines. Black and white (premium) upholstery adds $1,000. Third-row seating is another $3,000.

Optional Equipment: Only a Handful of Choices

The Model Y, like its siblings, improves its included features set as you go up the price scale. Decent audio comes standard (and gets better with top trim lines). The big LCD is standard. So are navigation and telematics.

One paint color is free. Black. The rest: $1,000-$2,500.

As mentioned above, and to paraphrase Henry Ford, you can have any color you want free, so long as it’s black. Solid Black paint is no extra charge. Midnight Silver Metallic and Deep Blue Metallic add $1,500 in cost. Pearl White Multi-Coat, $2,000. Red Multi-Coat is $2,500.

To go from 18-inch Aero Wheels to 19-inch Sport Wheels adds $1,500 (Performance excluded).

The standard interior is Black. The Black-and-White interior adds $1,000 and, says Tesla, “[The] Black and White interior includes our most premium materials, maximizing comfort and aesthetics while maintaining our rigorous standards for durability and stain resistance.” Makers such as Volvo, with its new Polestar EV line, are going to push Tesla to offer non-leather, or vegan, interiors. The seven-seat interior is $3,000 and will be available in 2021.

Autonomy comes in two parts. Tesla Autopilot adds $3,000, as mentioned earlier, and, Tesla says, “enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically for other vehicles and pedestrians within its lane.” On top of that is the Tesla IOU for Full Self-Driving Capability, at $5,000 plus the cost of Autopilot. Tesla cites this feature set:

  • Navigate on Autopilot: automatic driving from highway on-ramp to off-ramp including interchanges and overtaking slower cars.
  • Autopark: both parallel and perpendicular spaces.
  • Summon: your parked car will come find you anywhere in a parking lot.
  • Recognize and respond to traffic lights and stop signs.
  • Automatic driving on city streets.

We call it an IOU because Tesla is building in the hardware you’ll need, including more than a dozen sensors: cameras, radars, sonar, lidar. Over time, and with government and insurer approval, Tesla can turn on more features. Given that full autonomy is five years (most optimistic WAG) to 20 years out (or “never happens,” say the grumpiest pundits whose parents didn’t buy a color TV until the 1980s), you’ve bought a lot of hardware that may or may not reach its full potential. If you really want self-driving, better you should lease than buy. Also, note Tesla’s caveat on the build page of its site:

The currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous. The activation and use of these features are dependent on achieving reliability far in excess of human drivers as demonstrated by billions of miles of experience, as well as regulatory approval, which may take longer in some jurisdictions. As these self-driving features evolve, your car will be continuously upgraded through over-the-air software updates.

This Is Progress

We’re a bit more critical of Tesla than most editors or analysts (but: Seeking Alpha). Tesla has done more than any other automaker to move the EV from a rich man’s toy (which, actually, kind of defined the Model S) to the EV for everyman. Except that only the cheapest Model Y or Model S comes close to being mainstream. The 2019 average transaction price for a new car is $36,000-$37,000 now.

At the same time, Tesla is reshaping what people think of EVs. The Tesla Model S especially exudes status. The Model Y continues the evolution toward lower-priced EVs and Tesla as of January 2020 will do it without any government tax credits. (GM has three months behind and is also losing credits, unless the Trump administration decides to increase the tax credits to more than 200,000 cars, rather than end them immediately for every automaker. Both extremes are unlikely in the least.)

So: Tesla is now S-3-X-Y. Tesla is on a financial roller coaster. Production quality brings to mind great cars of the past. (Read: British and Italian cars pre-2000.) But the Tesla board, if they’ve read history, knows that many revolutionaries don’t survive the revolution. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

Tesla uses several grades of steel and aluminum for strength and passable weight.

Tesla’s Roller Coaster Month

With Tesla, there’s more drama in the typical month than with Real Housewives trying to sneak their kids into USC and Yale. Just recently:

  • Tesla said it would close its sales centers/galleries and sell online, only.
  • Then, on second thought, once Tesla saw how many billions it would own for broken leases, it decided to stick with the factory-owned sales centers.
  • According to Elektrek, Tesla actually closed 29 stores in the US and Canada before deciding not to end sales through its Tesla-owned stores.
  • For employees let go and then brought back, many are looking at lower compensation packages.
  • Tesla sales as of 2019, when the Tesla EV tax credit was halved, have slowed dramatically. The Model 3 is selling at barely half the 2018 sales pace, about 6,000 units a month, according to Inside EVs.
  • Tesla and GM are petitioning the government to raise the tax credit cap. Odds: slim and none.
  • Tesla analyst calls have increased in level of drama.
  • Consumer Reports dropped its recommendation of the Model 3, citing reliability issues. Unperturbed, Tesla ignored the bad news and instead trumpeted that CR readers continue to love Teslas.

Now read:

  • Did Tesla Buy Maxwell for Its Ultracapacitors or Higher-Density Batteries?
  • Tesla Cuts Price of $35K Model 3, Somehow It Still Costs $42,900
  • NHTSA Claim That Tesla Autosteer Reduced Crashes Proven Bogus