Tesla unveils Model Y electric SUV
Updated 16:50, 15-Mar-2019

Tesla on Thursday evening unveiled its much-anticipated Model Y electric sports utility vehicle (SUV) in California, the crossover counterpart to its entry-level Model 3 sedan.

“It has the functionality of an SUV, but it will ride like a sports car,” CEO Elon Musk introduced at the 40-minute event at Tesla's design studio, saying it “will be the safest midsize SUV in the world by far.”

What's it like?

As disclosed by Musk earlier this month, the Model Y design is remarkably similar to Model 3's, and is about 10 percent bigger. The bigger size enables a total of 66 cubic feet (1.9 cubic meters) of storage space.

It has seven seats and features a panoramic glass roof and a 15-inch (38-centimeter) touchscreen interface for accessing all the car's controls.

There will be various versions of the all-electric, mid-size SUV. It will start at 39,000 U.S. dollars 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 U.S. dollars, 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 U.S. dollars while the performance version of the car, which boasts acceleration of 0-60 mph (97 kph) in as little as 3.5 seconds and a top speed of up to 150 mph (241 kph), starts at 60,000 U.S. dollars.

After the event, Tesla's website included a page to "design and order" the more expensive, long-range version of the vehicle with rear-wheel drive, available next year. Ordering the car requires a 2,500 U.S. dollars refundable deposit.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveils new Tesla Model Y (R) in Hawthorne, California, March 14, 2019. /VCG Photo

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveils new Tesla Model Y (R) in Hawthorne, California, March 14, 2019. /VCG Photo

Tesla's most important car so far

The Model Y, which is the automaker's fifth vehicle since its founding in 2003, is considered as its most important car. 

Tesla expects it to become its best-selling vehicle, as small SUVs are the fastest-growing segment in the United States and China, the world's largest auto market, where Tesla is building a factory, making the Model Y well positioned to tap demand.

“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.

Tesla has enjoyed little competition thus far for its sedans, but competition for electric SUVs is heating up.

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.

On Thursday, ratings company Fitch warned that, despite Tesla's early lead, “incumbent carmakers have the ability to catch up... thanks to their capacity to invest and their robust record in product management.”

Tesla's targeted volume production date of late 2020 for the Model Y would put it behind electric SUV offerings from Volkswagen AG's Audi, Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

"Twelve months from now we will have made about one million vehicles," Musk said at the event, without specifying the breakdown of models.

(Cover photo: The new Tesla Model Y at its unveiling in Hawthorne, California, March 14, 2019. /VCG Photo.)

(With input from Reuters)