The 2020 Tesla Model Y borrows some of the same underpinnings of the Model 3 sedan, and marries it to what so many American families today want: a crossover utility vehicle shape.
As such, the Model Y has the potential to amount to an even greater sales success than the Model 3. The California carmaker may have been prescient in seeing a sweet spot for electric vehicles, but the Model Y corrects what many see as a mistake made by Tesla (along with some full-line automakers) years ago in choosing to prioritize sedans.
A meandering development trail
The Model Y, which has been teased in various ways since 2012, hasn’t been entirely the same project all along. Although the Model 3 (or Model E) was originally to be have a complementary crossover in the Model Y, the Model 3 was given the push to production.
Then in 2015, CEO Elon Musk hinted that the Model Y project was gaining complexity—partly, by confirming that it would have the same double-jointed “falcon wing” doors as the Model X. Musk deleted that tweet and later confirmed that the problematic door arrangement won’t be used in the Model Y.
Over a couple of quarterly calls in 2017, Musk revealed that the executive team had brought him “back from the cliffs of insanity,” and that a new philosophy was being followed. It would have “maximum carryover,” from Model 3, he said, but the Model Y will migrate to a next-generation electrical architecture that will reduce the amount (and weight) of wiring and at last purge 12-volt systems, which Musk said were “wrong for everything.”
We're still not sure if the Model Y gets all or any of those electrical upgrades versus Model 3; it might be part of the Model Y story it's saving for sometime closer to the delivery date.
After some level of apparent compromise, the Model 3 and Model Y end up sharing a lot—about 75 percent of their parts, by early estimates, as opposed to around 30 percent for Model S and Model X.
Even though the Model Y has been revealed in production prototype form, and reservations are being taken, Tesla hasn't yet revealed most final production specifications or dimensions.
Musk had tweeted prior to the introduction that the Model Y would be ten percent bigger. While we're still not clear on how that figures out, expect the Model Y to have about the same footprint as the Model 3, which is about 185 inches long and 76 inches wide, on a 113-inch wheelbase. But as a crossover SUV, the Model Y will add several inches of overall height, with a higher roof and a slight increase in ground clearance likely.
Tesla Model Y
The Model Y will offer, at a price of $3,000, optional front-facing third-row seats that up the capacity to seven. That configuration won't arrive until 2021, however, and the third-row accommodations (from our in-person impression) are very, very small.
It will have the same very low/steep front hoodline, so with the higher seating position it should promise great outward visibility for a wide range of drivers. Its interface will be very much like that of the Model 3, with most vehicle controls within a 15-inch touchscreen system, supplemented by steering-wheel thumbwheels and voice controls.
The crossover is to be built on Tesla’s third vehicle architecture, which isn’t as aluminum-intensive as the Model S and Model X underpinnings. It’s expected to use the same motors as the Model 3 (permanent-magnet in back, induction in front), and the same Panasonic 2170-format cells, produced at the Nevada Gigafactory.
Tesla does already include performance numbers, however. Acceleration times are already noted to be as brief as 3.5 seconds to 60 mph, with a top speed of up to 150 mph. Standard Range versions take 5.9 seconds and get to 120 mph.
Battery and range
Like the Model 3, the Model Y will be available in Standard Range and Long Range models, corresponding to two battery packs of roughly 50 kwh and 75 kwh—although it should be noted that Tesla does not release official battery capacity numbers. Tesla is expecting to hit an EPA-estimated 300 miles in Long Range rear-wheel-drive form, 280 miles in Dual Motor Long Range form, and 280 miles for the Performance model. A Model Y Standard Range model is due later for an estimated 230 miles of range.
Tesla will achieve Model Y "volume production by the end of 2020, most likely at Gigafactory 1," it said in a Q4 2018 financial update letter. Even at the launch event for the Model Y, Tesla remained mum on any official decision.
The company has also been a little bit clever about keeping some possibilities open, in saying that production of higher-cost versions of Model 3 and Model Y will remain in the U.S. The only place Tesla has firmly ruled out for Model Y volume production (as recently as last year) is the carmaker's overstretched Fremont, California, plant where all the company's other models are made.
The Model Y to start at $48,200 (including today’s $1,200 destination and documents fee) at the time of its introduction, with top Performance models today starting at $64,200, up to $75,200 on today's order site, if you opt for $3,000 Autopilot and the $5,000 Full Self-Driving package. A Model Y Standard Range model, starting at $40,200, will arrive in early 2021.
Due date, and a changing market
Even before its reveal, Tesla CEO Elon Musk had hinted that the Model Y remained on a trajectory for first deliveries in mid-2020. Based on the timelines provided during Tesla's official reveal of the Model Y on March 14, 2019, it appears to be keeping close to that schedule while accepting orders.
Under current timelines, Tesla expects the Model Y Performance, Long Range rear-wheel drive, and Long Range Dual Motor versions to arrive starting in fall 2020, with an early-2021 arrival for the $40k Model Y Standard Range.
If Tesla can’t keep to that timeline—in its initial launch, or its production ramp—it could have a harder time measuring up to Model 3 due to increased competition via anticipated vehicles from Ford, Volvo, and Nissan, among others, that will fit into this same size and price category.
It's unclear how the Model Y will fit into Tesla's announced online-only sales strategy, which could be taking affect by then, after the automaker backtracked on the plan somewhat (raising prices instead) and said that it will keep "significantly more stores open than previously announced." Since the stores have been hubs for showing how its Supercharger network, home energy, and Tesla's whole “ecosystem” fits together, expect marketing—and the way in which you reserve and buy—to change extensively between now and then.
This piece was originally published on March 4, 2019. We'll keep it regularly updated as more is announced about Model Y. Here's a list of significant updates.
UPDATE 3/18/2019-- Added information about vehicle size, pricing, and due date. Clarified Tesla's recent moves regarding sales strategy. Added ride-along video.