Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently went on the Ride The Lightning podcast with Tesla enthusiast and IGN Executive Editor Ryan McCaffrey for a one-hour long interview. Topics ranged from the Tesla pickup truck to the Model Y and even delved into the possibility for a Tesla app store in the future. In the middle of their conversation, Musk opened up about the design of the Model Y and shared some interesting new details about the next big thing at Tesla.
Maximizing Shared DNA
Foundational to the success of the Model Y is the high percentage of its DNA that it shares with the Model 3. The figure is up around 76% and translates to a more affordable vehicle. Tesla already paid for the core Model 3 platform with a journey through the seven levels of production and delivery hell, which likely caused flashbacks of the classic Diablo video game. If Tesla can hold true to this high percentage of reuse, it has a much better shot at avoiding the misery that was the Model X development and production ramp.
“With Model Y, we wanted to avoid the technology bandwagon that we had with the X,” Musk told McCaffrey. “It should have been easy going from S to X and instead it was hell because there were so many new technologies.”As with any great failure, or in this case, the great struggle to bring the X to market and to build it at Tesla quality, a few lesson were learned. More valuable than the manufacturing lessons learned were the importance of minimizing scope creep to actually deliver on the design objective of the new vehicle. “We didn’t want that to be the case and it would be too risky to the company to do that with Y,” Musk continued. “So we’ve tried to make the car as similar to the 3 as possible except to the degree that a change is necessary to achieve SUV functionality.”
That’s a great starting point, but more detail was needed to lock in the definition of “SUV functionality.” Musk continued, “So, you need to be able to seat 7 people, a higher ride height, more cargo capacity while still having a low drag coefficient and not increasing the frontal area too much so that the CDA — drag coefficient times frontal area — and mass are close enough to the 3 that the range is only affected by 8 to 10 percent.”Designing a vehicle is the relentless pursuit of function in spite of its inherent inefficiencies. One of the most core tenets of design at Tesla is clearly a fanaticism about maximizing efficiencies. This is true with Tesla when it comes to cost (dropping all physical stores overnight?), logistics (aspiration to build vehicles from raw materials at one location), people (automate everything!), aerodynamics, battery energy density at the cell/module/pack level, range per kilowatt-hour, and the list goes on.As an SUV, the Model Y is notably larger than the Model 3 and has a larger frontal surface area as a result. Combined with its 8–10% heavier build, that will result in a lower efficiency than the 3, but that’s the price you pay for an SUV compared to a sedan, according to Musk. “The CDA is worse with the Y because the frontal area is bigger,” Musk said. There is simply no way around the physics of the situation.The Model Y is larger than the 3, but both were engineered from the start to feel a lot bigger on the inside than they look on the outside. It’s an impressive feat that Musk is clearly proud of. “You always want the car to feel bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside,” Musk said. The feat was accomplished thanks to a handful of interior tricks. They pushed the firewall forward and dropped the dash down to make the interior feel larger, opening up the view to the front. The glass ceiling has a similar effect, by adding extra height to the cabin and a wide-open view.
When the first interior shots of the Model 3 were revealed to the public, everyone and their dog thought Tesla would build a heads-up display (HUD) into the car. The world just could not imagine a vehicle that did not have the quintessential gauge cluster behind the steering wheel. Musk told McCaffrey that using a HUD in the Model 3 was a consideration at first. “I have tried various heads-up displays and just find that they’re pretty annoying,” he said. On top of that, the whole concept of humans driving vehicles around was something they felt would not last very long. “We felt that the car would increasingly go towards self-driving and then you wouldn’t really care about stuff being displayed on the HUD screen.”
Musk related an interesting fact about the width of the 3. Its width of 185 centimeters, compared to the 195 centimeters of the Model S, was actually determined by the maximum width that can be accepted by the automated parking machines in Japan.Tesla has not finalized the location where it will build the Model Y, but Musk opened up to McCaffrey about some of the logic it is applying to the situation. The overarching goal is to bring it to market as quickly as possible, so the current focus is on the dies for the stamping press.”We could do it in either location,” he told McCaffrey. “The long lead items for Model Y are mostly the tools for stamping. The body side outer tools are the long lead items. Whether we put it in Fremont or in Nevada at Giga, we have more time to decide that than we do to define these big stamping tools. That’s the gating factor on timing.”There are benefits to building the Model Y at either the company’s Fremont, California, automotive factory or its Gigafactory 1 in Nevada, but “right now, our default plan is to produce the Y at Fremont. My team convinced me that this is actually the fastest way to get to volume production is to do the Y at Fremont.”Adding production capacity at the Fremont factory is not as straightforward as it sounds, as the notoriously over-capacity factory sits in the middle of an established industrial area with little room to expand. “There’s some space we’ve actually been using for warehousing parts in the main factory,” Musk said. “We can sort of append things to the western side of the factory, the highway side of the factory, and kind of just use that wall and add things on there. It’s kind of counter intuitive, but it does seem as though we have the room and can do so without interrupting S and X production.”
That’s not to say that the Gigafactory has been completely ruled out, as it comes with its own advantages. “There are some pros to doing it at Giga, as well, because we don’t have to transport the drive units and battery pack and the chargers,” Musk said. “We just make them right there.” Beyond just the logistical benefits, it is cheaper to pay employees a wage that will allow them to live at the same standard of living in Nevada compared to the hyper-expensive Bay Area. Lower wages translates to a lower fixed cost for manufacturing, which could prove to be the key advantage over Tesla’s Fremont, California factory. “It’s not a totally clear-cut decision, but we’re optimizing for speed of execution”
The race is on to bring the Model Y to market in not one but two factories in parallel by the end of next year. Musk is confident in his team and their plans, sharing with McCaffrey that, “It’s going great. Smooth sailing.” We’ll see if that hold true as Tesla continues to advance its plans to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and the clean energy that fuels them.
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