The 2020 Tesla Model Y Represents a Turning Point for The Future of Tesla
The Model Y’s debut shows that Tesla has graduated to mainstream brand statusby Kirby Garlitos, on LISTEN 08:10
Tesla finally unveiled the Model Y. It was a long time in the making, but now that it’s here, we can start saving up our hard-earned money and wait for the Model Y to arrive so we can pluck down some cash to buy one. But before that time comes — it might take a while because it’s Tesla — there’s something about the Model Y that struck us beyond all the bells and whistles that Tesla is famous for. Like the Model 3, the Model Y didn’t generate the same type of buzz as the Model S and Model X did when they made their respective debuts. This isn’t an indictment on the Model 3 and Model Y. It’s a realization that Tesla has become more than just a boutique brand with ambitious promises of game-changing technologies. It’s become a mainstream brand.
The 2020 Tesla Model Y Represents the Evolution of Tesla as a Brand
I’ll be the first to admit that I expected more from the Tesla Model Y’s debut. A lot more. I even wrote an entire article thinking about the kind of Elon Musk-esque surprises that Tesla could pull off at the unveiling of what is arguably the company’s most important product to date. None of it happened. The Model Y presentation was bereft of all the razzle-dazzle that has become synonymous with its product unveilings. There were no new features or tech breakthroughs to spread to its other cars. There were no new promises of space travel. The Tesla Semi showed up, but it didn’t do anything other than stand in its spot the entire duration of the presentation. It didn’t even transform into an Autobot as my seven-year-old nephew predicted while watching the unveiling with me.
The Model Y presentation felt normal and direct to the point, two words that I never thought I’d use to describe a Tesla event.
But just as I realized that is when it occurred to me. The straightforward nature of the Model Y’s debut reflects that of the vehicle itself. I’ve heard a lot of reactions on how the Model Y’s design, but the general consensus seems to be how normal it looks. It still carries a lot of Tesla’s design language, but for the most part, it looks more like a raised Model 3 in hatchback form than anything else. Then again, most raised hatchbacks are called crossovers these days, so the Model Y isn’t exactly creating an entirely new segment here. It also doesn’t have falcon doors or anything of the gimmicks that Tesla is known to showcase from time to time. It didn’t even have a Bioweapon Defense Mode or a rainbow charging port. Pity. I don’t want to say it’s boring because it’s not. But compared to Tesla’s other models and the visceral reactions they generated, the Model Y looks, well, boring. Even the Model Y’s interior looks like it’s something we’ve seen before. That’s because we have seen it before. Similar style. Similar layout. Similar a lot of things. For a company that pioneered the electric car segment with zany ideas and offerings, the Model Y is a far departure from what we’ve become accustomed to with Tesla.
This, perhaps, is the biggest takeaway from the Model Y’s debut.
Beyond the crossover itself, the debut served to remind us that Tesla, as a company, is no longer a boutique, niche brand. It’s a mainstream car company that now places one thing above all else: the bottom line.
It’s not hard to find reasons for this transformation. In many ways, it was bound to happen for Tesla. I was just a matter of when it will happen. Back when it introduced the Model S in 2012, electrification was still considered a way-into-the-future technology. Well, Tesla cut that trajectory by offering an all-electric sedan that rewrote the rules of the game. It also did it at a time when there weren’t a lot of electric cars on the road if there were any at all. Even the Model X, which debuted in 2015, was ahead of its time. Tesla could leverage the status of both of these EV models and change the narrative surrounding electric cars and the electric car segment as a whole. To its credit, that’s what Tesla did, and it was successful. Now, every automaker that’s worth its salt has followed suit. That, in turn, gave Tesla competition. A lot of it, too. Indirectly, it also changed Tesla’s own outlook for its own future. With the segment’s exploding population, it’s Tesla who now has to adjust or it risks getting trampled by the stampede of electric models that are making their way to the industry.
The arrival of the Model 3 signaled the start of that character turn. The arrival of the Model Y fully entrenched it.
Sure, Tesla will have surprises along the way, specifically for the newest member of its family. It’ll have cool options to offer, easter eggs to hide, and, perhaps, even throw in a Destruction Mode or two. But those things aren’t as important to the Model Y as its most important purpose for Tesla: make money. Lots of it. Money pays the bills. Money underwrites the costs of research and development. Money keeps the lights on. Money helps make more vehicles. We can spin this narrative any which way we want to, but the bottom line is that Tesla needs to make money, now more than ever with four models in the fold and two — or three — more on the way.
The Model Y — and the Model 3 — exists because of that inescapable truth. Of course, if it were that simple, Tesla would’ve launched the crossover a long time ago. But like most things that involve Elon Musk, there are layers to all of this, one of which is Tesla’s ongoing difficulty in creating a streamlined production process and timetable for its models, specifically that of the Model 3. I’m not going to rehash all the delays that plagued the Model 3’s production, but it says a lot about Tesla’s production woes that the company is still fleshing out its own scale of production. The Model Y’s arrival isn’t going to smooth out those issues — it might even complicate it even further — but, at this point, time has become Tesla’s worst enemy. Delay the Model Y’s launch and Tesla risks getting beaten to the punch by, say, an automaker like BMW, which already has the iX3 crossover in the pipeline. I do think that Tesla has a plan in place that can meet its goal of building 2,000 Model Y units per week by September 2020. Achieving those plans is the challenge, though it could be easier this time since the Model Y shares plenty of similarities with the Model 3.
That’s the biggest hurdle that Tesla needs to address this point because, by all accounts, the Model Y is ready to be the moneymaker Tesla wants it to be.
Even with all of its missteps and shortcomings, Tesla is still a hot commodity in the auto industry. The popularity of the Model S and Model X prove that. The demand for the Model 3 proves that, too. Now, Tesla’s offering an electric crossover with a starting price of $39,000 in a booming segment where customers can’t get rid of their money fast enough. That’s an important price point because it immediately undercuts any SUV that breaches the $40,000 threshold. It’s also just $5,000 more expensive than a Kia Niro EV, a crossover that offers less than half the range — 230 miles to 110 miles — of the standard range Model Y. With respect to Kia, it’s not a difficult discussion to have.
The timing of the Model Y’s launch also puts Tesla in an ideal position to take advantage of the current segment landscape before rival automakers start offering their own electric crossovers. Once that happens, competition takes over, and Tesla is going to be in for a fight.
In the end, the Tesla Model Y is both Tesla’s most boring and most important model. It seems like it was ages ago when Tesla had us in strings with the respective debuts of the Model S and Model X. Now, Tesla’s main goal isn’t so much about changing the landscape of the auto industry as it is having enough money to stay in it. The Model Y should serve its purpose well provided that Tesla can build as much of it as it can in the specific timetable it sets.
2020 Tesla Model Y Specifications and Delivery
|Standard Range||Long Range||Dual Motor AWD||Performance|
|Range||230 Miles||300 Miles||280 Miles||280 Miles|
|Top Speed||120 MPH||130 MPH||140 MPH||150 MPH|
|0-60 MPH||5.9 Sec||5.5 Sec||4.8 Sec||3.5 Sec|
|Initial Customer Deliver||Spring 2021||Fall 2020||Fall 2020||Fall 2020|
2020 Tesla Model Y Unveiling
Tesla was running late as always, so skip to 19:35 to see the event
Read our full review on the 2020 Tesla Model Y.
Read our full review on the 2017 Tesla Model X.
Read our full review on the 2018 Tesla Model 3.
Read our full review on the 2018 Tesla Model S.