Tesla Model Y event: 5 things Elon Musk needs to reveal
Spoiler alert: Only one of them is an electric SUV.
Tim StevensFormer editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
It's the morning of Tesla's Model Y unveiling event (here's how you can watch), and of course, we're expecting to see a new electric crossover SUV from the company. That vehicle will surely be the star of the show, but given all the turmoil of late surrounding Tesla and its plans, this would be a mighty good time for Elon Musk and Co. to give some updates on a few other things. Namely...
That new fast charger
Tesla has unveiled a new, 250-kilowatt fast-charger that, in optimal conditions, can deliver 75 miles of range in just five minutes. That is a major development for the EV community, as is Tesla's promised new battery preconditioning routine that ensures the batteries in the company's cars are at an ideal temperature to charge when they arrive.
However, this is all still rather theoretical for most Tesla owners. Only one such V3 Supercharger can deliver that much current, and it's in the company's factory town of Fremont, CA. When might those of us in the rest of the world get a taste of that new, liquid-cooled juice? I hope we find out tonight.
Confidence on retail strategy
Retail is, like, super dead. Right? If you asked Elon Musk that question two weeks ago, you'd have received hearty encouragement. However, as of this week, the news is rather different. Just what exactly is Tesla's master plan for selling cars? Some clarity here, and more importantly some confidence, would be awfully nice -- not just for buyers and company investors, but for Tesla's embattled employees, too.
Update on autonomy
Tesla has offered Autopilot in its cars since 2014, and the "Full Self-Driving Capability" upgrade since 2016. Aside from various teasers and a limited release of Tesla's next-gen Summon feature, enabling a car to find its own parking spot, we've not had any updates for awhile on just how the company's research is going.
Given the level of investment companies like Waymo and Cruise Automation have lobbed at their autonomy efforts, and given the sophistication of their sensor packages, I remain extremely skeptical that Tesla can deliver a comparably safe offering given the limited sensing power built into the company's current cars. I am, however, quite happy to be proven wrong.
Hey, remember that big, silver truck that Tesla unveiled at a showy event in 2017? The one with central seating and a 0-60 time quicker than my old Subaru WRX? The one that seemingly half the commercial fleet operators in the country signed on to buy a whole lot of? Yeah, we haven't heard a lot about that big guy since.
Last but not least, Tesla should probably show off the Model Y, too. This, of course, will be a crossover-ified version of the Model 3, and I'm hopeful that's all that it will be. When Tesla began creating an SUV out of the Model S, a process that seemingly should have been straightforward, the Model X project was hamstrung by the demand that it feature some rather distinctive doors. Those Falcon Doors proved to be an engineering and quality-control nightmare that cost a bundle. That bit of theatrical hubris set the Model X's timeline back significantly.
With any luck, the Model Y won't be cursed with any such attempts at "innovation." What Tesla really needs is a slightly taller, slightly roomier version of the Model 3, something that can tick the crossover SUV boxes without requiring a clean-sheet redesign. Years after its debut, the Model 3 is still radical enough in its approach and interface that pushing the envelope further is not only unnecessary, but risky.
My only other hope is that the Model Y has a conventional hatchback. That tiny trunk opening on the Model 3 just won't work in crossover land.