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Tesla teases Model Y small SUV

S3XY: Tesla’s Model Y will be built on a new cost-saving platform in a new factory at a site yet to be decided.

All-new Tesla Model Y electric SUV to be built at new factory by 2019

8 Jun 2017

TESLA is planning to build its all-new small electric SUV, the Model Y, on a new platform at a new manufacturing plant, employing new methods that company founder and CEO Elon Musk claims could reduce capital expenditure “by a factor of two” over existing methods.

Teasing the Model Y with a dimly lit image at a shareholder meeting in the United States, Mr Musk said the fourth model in the Tesla range would go into production by 2019.

He reconfirmed plans to reveal a rolling prototype of Tesla’s planned all-electric semi-trailer truck in September, saying that his company had consulted potential customers – major heavy haulage operators – for feedback on the design.

Mr Musk’s revelations came as rival electric vehicle disrupter Fisker announced details of its eMotion sedan with a claimed maximum driving range of more than 640km (see separate story).

Mr Musk told shareholders that Tesla’s sole vehicle factory, a former Toyota plant in Fremont, California, is “bursting at the seams” producing the original Model S sedan, Model X large SUV and – from next month – the Model 3 small sedan.

Tesla plans to increase production at Fremont from 85,000 cars a year to 500,000 by next year as the mass-market Model 3 ramps up.

“There is a no way we could do Model Y at Fremont, so it is going to have to be somewhere else,” he said.

Mr Musk confirmed that the company was in the process of selecting a site for the second car assembly factory.

In the US, this process usually results in a bidding war between states wanting the new plant for local jobs. Nevada won the battle for Tesla’s lithium-ion battery factory, the so-called Gigafactory, but there will be more where that came from, with Tesla promising up to 20 such plants more around the globe, including at least one in Europe.

Mr Musk said the new vehicle plant for Model Y would incorporate “many major manufacturing improvements that allow us to build the car in a way that a car has never been built before.” He said Tesla could leverage these to reduce capital expenditures by a factor of two over those needed for the Model 3, while accelerating the production timeline.

Tesla already has an 18-month waiting list of would-be buyers for Model 3, making it its most successful model even before it goes into production, but Mr Musk said he expected Model Y volume to exceed that of Model 3.

Mr Musk also confirmed that the Model Y would be built on an all new platform that would contribute to cost reductions in the production process.

He said Tesla had made a mistake trying to “shoehorn” its Model X SUV into the Model S sedan platform.

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom in the motor industry where car-makers increasingly build both passenger cars and SUVs on common modular platforms.

The murky teaser image of the Model Y shows little apart from a lack of exterior mirrors. Of course, the naming of the new model was expected, completing the company’s line-up acronym “S3XY”.

Because of the pressure on Tesla to get Model 3s to impatient customers, the company plans to limit customer choice to body colour and size of wheels initially.

Those who are prepared to wait will get additional feature freedoms, including a choice of powertrains – one more suited to stop-start urban driving and the other better for highway touring.

So far, Mr Musk has not given specific mechanical details of the new all-electric semi-trailer, but says more will be revealed when he shows off a running prototype in September ahead of its probable launch in 2019.

He said Tesla’s “biggest customers” had been working with its designers and engineers on the truck, so they already knew what was coming.

“We've shown it to a number of organisations that buy heavy-duty trucking and they all love it,” Musk said. “They just want to know how many can they buy and how soon.” But he teased shareholders by saying: “I'd really recommend showing up for the semi-truck unveiling. Maybe there's a little more than we are saying here.”

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