HAWTHORNE, Calif. — Tesla unveiled a new all-electric SUV on Thursday night that the automaker hopes will win over consumers looking for an all-electric alternative in the most popular segment of the auto market.
Cheers from a hangar-packed crowd of Tesla customers, employees and members of the media welcomed a blue Model Y as it rolled out onto a stage next to the automaker’s other models.
“It has the functionality of an SUV, but it will ride like a sports car,” CEO Elon Musk told the crowd. “This thing will be really tight on corners and we expect it will be the safest midsize SUV in the world by far.”
The Model Y seats seven and has a panoramic glass roof and a 15-inch touchscreen interface for accessing all the car’s controls.
The all-electric, mid-size SUV will start at $39,000 for the standard range version, which the company said can go 230 miles (370 kilometers) on a single charge. The long-range model, which starts at $47,000, has a range of up to 300 miles (483 kilometers) on a single charge - less range than the Model 3.
A dual-motor, all-wheel drive version of the Model Y starts at $51,000 while the performance version of the car, which boasts acceleration of 0-60 mph in as little as 3.5 seconds and a top speed of up to 150 mph starts at $60,000.
The Model Y may be Tesla’s most important product yet as it attempts to expand into the mainstream and generate enough cash to repay massive debts that threaten to topple the Palo Alto, California, company.
Tesla got a huge boost toward ensuring its survival with the 2017 debut of its Model 3 sedan, but an SUV could have even more mass appeal, given how popular SUVs have become in the U.S., Europe and Canada.
The U.S. market share for SUVs, crossovers, vans and pickup trucks stood at 69% in January, up from just 48.5% a decade ago, according to the research firm IHS Markit.
But most SUVs still run on gasoline, leaving Tesla to cater to consumers looking for an all-electric alternative. The Model Y’s main competition in this still-nascent market is likely to be the Mercedes-Benz EQC, and to a lesser extent, the Jaguar I-Pace, according to the research firm LMC Automotive.
“This could be Tesla’s most profitable vehicle, with the giant asterisk that the company doesn’t do some of the dumb things it has in the past,” said Gartner analyst Mike Ramsey.
Many of Tesla’s past follies have been tied to Musk’s penchants for making grandiose promises that the company hasn’t been able to keep in terms of production, delivery and execution.
Production of the Model 3 quickly fell behind schedule as Tesla struggled to come up with adequate manufacturing capacity and it took much longer than anticipated to lower the sedan’s starting price to the $35,000 level that Musk had been promoting. Instead, the lowest priced version of the Model 3 had been selling for $43,000 until a couple weeks ago when Tesla reached the promised price point by laying off thousands of workers and imposing other cost-cutting measures.
Tesla expects to deliver the performance, long range, rear-wheel drive and dual-motor, all-wheel drive versions of the Model Y in the fall of 2020. The standard version of the Model Y is expected to roll out in the spring of 2021.