Freeing the Masses from Gasses and How Tesla Isn't There Yet
This week, Tesla served the first Model X hors d'oeuvre, pulling the industry just a tiny bit closer to electric religion. While the electric Model X may seem to be automotive salvation and yet more Tesla revolution to some, a few facts bear singling out in the truthful, airy light of day amidst the NOx and particulates of recent news. First, the Model X weighs 5,441 pounds. That's at least 600 pounds heavier than a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, about the same as a new Range Rover Sport Supercharged and within dumbbells of the giant Escalade, all three being – how shall I put it politely? – ample vehicles. Hardly world-beating. The Model X uses what are ornithologically termed "falcon wing" rear doors. These complex portals are motorized, hinged and monitored by multiple sensors to prevent any untoward passenger decapitations as they close. Much was made of their ability to open elegantly in confined spaces and not bash into other cars. But if that's such a great idea, why are the two doors ahead of them conventional? RELATED: See More Photos of the All-New Tesla Model X SUV
Base price for the Model X is $132,000 ($24.26 per pound, by the way) when it goes on sale. Tesla CEO Elon Musk was overheard at the car's debut uttering "I think we got a little carried away." To buy one requires a $5,000 deposit and 365 days and nights of patience. It will doubtlessly be "Ludicrous" quick, Tesla's cheeky little term for its hyper-performance mode. In P90D form, the stated 0-60 mph acceleration takes 4.8 seconds; 3.8 seconds when Ludicrously-engaged, thanks to the equivalent of 762 horsepower and 713 lb-ft of torque.
Isn't this all a bit Tammy Faye Bakker? Precisely who asked for a big, baubled, bangled, and beaded 5,441-pound, $130,000 electric SUV with gymnastic rear doors? It's clear that Musk & Trust fervently see themselves as automotive – no, transportational – nouveau saviors of the 21st Century while also being tech darlings. Well, the Model X ain't how to save the automotive world and have it beat a path to your company-owned dealers.
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The fundamental mass appeal of an electric car is obviously that it uses no fossil fuel. Lowest impact to the Earth's resources and environment. And yes, if you run a Model X all day at Willow Springs or Road Atlanta or flat out Smokey-and-the-Bandit-style to cart beer across state lines, you'll still have burned 0.0 gallons of fossil fuel and emitted 0.00 grams of nitrogen oxide. Assuming you can keep tires under it and brakes slowing it.
So what? It's still energy-inefficient saddled with that kind of weight and pomposity, despite a haunting overall design. Tesla positions itself on the dais that it will teach us children all about cars and the future. Yet it is making energy-swilling, exceedingly expensive electric cars for the wealthy. Tesla is not reinventing the automobile. Yes, they've built a remarkable propulsion system that no other car manufacturer has yet emulated. Full points for that.
But what happened to volume? Apple, Ford's Model T, Nike sneakers, the original VW Golf, the iceless refrigerator, the polio vaccine and the Fender Stratocaster all made everything better for everyone because everyone could afford them, not just the few. Henry Ford even lowered the Model T's price nearly every year after 1910.
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In recent years, as Toyota led the alternative propulsion brigade in the biggest way with the Prius and its hybrid cousins, many knee-jerk pundits and even some savvy observers predicted the demise of the gasoline internal combustion engine. Well, we still have a passenger-car market in the U.S. made up of roughly 92 percent gasoline engines joyously firing their spark plugs away without electric-propulsion assistance.
When chiefly German brands returned to selling diesels in the U.S. market, a small but vociferous klatch of the faithful public awaited diesel domination. Even before Volkswagen's super slo-mo brush with death, they were wrong.
There is not, and never will be one solitary drivetrain type to cure all mobility ills. Diesels work great in trucking, for some automotive – current noxious baggage aside – plus rail and sea freight applications, though those commercial industries need to come up with better emissions solutions, too. Electric propulsion fits the need of some city-bound light rail and short-distance automobile applications but then there's the range problem. Hydrogen fuel cells have been studied for nearly two decades now and are extremely promising, but still potentially extremely dangerous and there's no established network across countries to supply fuel. And gasoline (petrol) engines still curry favor due to high power, greatly improved fuel efficiency, a vast network of fuel, plus they still sound great at 6,000 rpm and full throttle. People vote with their wallet.
If Tesla wishes to be truly different, it must go after un-gilded car segments with its technology, its propulsion, its approach of thinking differently. It must offer cars that millions will need, can afford and that bring meaning and value for less than real estate prices. Catering to the wealthy gets you into the Glamour Profession and sure, that's grand in its own way. But the only way to the automotive hall of fame is to build a 21st Century Model T that you never have to fill with fuel.
In other words, free the masses from gasses.