Liftoff! Tesla Debuts its $132,000 Model X (With Bio-Hazard Protection)

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Oct 04, 2015

Elon Musk is a great showman. He took a little flack introducing the Model X SUV (an unreasonable hour late)—“he was fumbling and mumbling,” proclaimed SoCalSam on the forum; and Carlgo noted it wasn’t exactly a “Steve Jobs/Apple presentation”—but so what?

The Model X: Those falcon-wing doors remain controversial. (Tesla Motors photo)In fact, having seen hundreds of CEOs introduce cars with wooden presentations via teleprompter, I give Musk a couple of thumbs up, and everyone knows he bled real blood on the shop floor getting this car to market. And that’s why he no doubt felt fully justified asking $132,000 for the car. Admittedly, early adopters are getting launch models, and cheaper variants are coming. But it’s a lot of money. Still, at least six people (including Musk himself) coughed it up. Here's investor Steve Jurvetson getting his car.

Investor Steve Jurvetson, a Tesla board member, takes delivery of his Model X on stage. (Steve Juvetson/Flickr)“Now we’re going to show you what can be done with an SUV,” Musk said, before launching into a—long—presentation on the car’s five-stars-all-around safety rating. Your chance of coming to grievous injury in a crashing Model X is just 6.5 percent, he said, trashing the competition. His charts showed the car trouncing near-rivals Audi Q5 and Honda Pilot.

And, of course, it’s nice to know that Tesla is a world leader in apocalyptic defense scenarios. Musk held up the car’s monstrous HEPA air filter, which is supposed to filter out bacteria, viruses and allergens. In bio-weapon defense mode, with positive pressure to keep outside air out, heavy chemicals are supposedly kept at bay. Good air filtration is super important, but even with the button some mean viruses could still get in, we hear.

Hit this button during zombie apocalypse attacks. As Musk said, "It's a real button!" (Tesla Motors photo)The Model X can open its own front doors when it senses you’re approaching, it has a “blind holster” (with adapters) so you can charge your cell phone without looking (no wireless charging?), and then it has those amazing falcon wing rear doors. Musk demonstrated they can be opened with the X tightly parked between two cars, and he claimed that it could sense obstacles, such as your garage door opener, and adjust accordingly.

The falcon doors make it easier to access the third row of seats, and easier to install car seats in the second row. “We created an aperture that is more functional than a minivan door,” Musk said. “I think our team has succeeded.” And, of course, he added, “It also looks cool.”

Three rows of seats--that you can really access. They look like they were borrowed from a Space X rocket, so I hope they're comfortable.(Tesla Motors photo)Come to think of it, Musk didn’t say a whole lot about the Model X on the road. We know it can tow 5,000 pounds, plus a whole Tesla family (seven people and luggage). We know a kid can attach an accessory hitch in 10 seconds without tools. And...the standard 90D Model X goes 257 miles on a charge, and does zero to 60 in 4.8 seconds. Opt for the P90D, and you get a car that’s “so fast, it’s wrong,” in Musk’s words. Zero to 60 in 3.2 seconds when Ludicrous Mode is engaged. “And that’s in an SUV!” he added.

OK, great, praise duly earned. Time for some reactions. I started with Ashlee Vance, author of Elon Musk, the bestselling biography. He told me:

Well, I was impressed that Elon managed to still have a few surprises in there—the massive windshield, the safety bobs and the sensors on the falcon wing doors that would appear good enough to alleviate most peoples’ fears about them.

It’s disheartening, however, to see that Tesla could only pump out a handful of cars and remains so cagey about its schedule and the pricing. The company does not really seem to be heading in the right direction when it comes to honing its supply chain and getting costs down ahead of the Model 3. We’ve always been promised that Tesla’s master plan is to make this stuff affordable for the masses, but we’re not getting a lot of evidence that it’s on the right path. 

That said, I think the Model X is beautiful and will have mass appeal for wealthy families. It remains a technological marvel. 

I also went to a customer, John Hennessey, and a guy who might become one down the road, Leonard Johnson.

John Hennessey with his Model S. A few questions about the X. (courtesy of John Hennessey)Hennessey is a VP at a company that makes pro music equipment, and drives a top-of-the-line Signature Performance Model S. He loves the car. “Tesla has created so much equity with me that I’m willing to give the company the benefit of the doubt about the Model X--but I do have my doubts,” Hennessey said.

“Based on the launch event presentation it seems to me that Tesla addresses some of the obvious downsides of the doors,” Hennessey said. He likes the sensors that control how high the doors rise, and that they can be opened in a crowded parking lot. “What I would say isn’t addressed is that it would seem that snow from the roof would more than likely enter the car upon opening the doors.”

Hennessey might have worried about the full-length windshield in the Model X if he hadn’t already experienced—and loved—the panoramic roof in the Model S. Minor issues, I would say.

Leonard Johnson, a human resources manager for a software company with two kids and a professionally employed wife, would seem to be an ideal Telsa customer, and he’s definitely been thinking of buying one, though it won’t be a Model X.

The Model X is a game changer for SUV buyers, especially if the price comes down. (Tesla Motors photo)Leonard’s concerns are: “The doors have few practical advantages over traditional doors and have many obvious downsides. And the big windshield makes the thing seem open and airy, but the unwanted solar gains, awkward sunvisors and enormous (and inevitable) repair costs aren’t acceptable tradeoffs for that open feeling. Those two features and the flash-over-substance design mentality they represent turn me off completely.”

That said, though, he admits that those novelty items will attract customers “who otherwise don’t appreciate the meaningful engineering advances. More Apple parallels can be drawn here, and I’m probably going to be stuck in the Blackberry Loser Camp with the other cranks who hate typing on glass and looking at pictures through fingerprints.”

But, Leonard adds, “I love the range, I love the space, I love the sharp handling, I love the sales model and I love the five-star crash protection. I love that this is an American innovation that pushes the rest of the auto industry toward a better future.”

Here's the full Tesla press conference, if you missed it:


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