A couple of days ago I spotted a Model X in traffic, and there was something about it that just didn’t seem right. I know it is marketed as an SUV by Tesla, but sat next to 4Runners, Jeeps and Explorers it just doesn’t look the part, then as we went round a corner and I had to pull down my sunshade the Model X pulled up next to previous generation Dodge Caravan. While I was unable to see all of the rooflines of both cars due to the sunshade there were certainly more similarities there than there was with the conventional SUVs.
So this got me thinking, maybe the Model X is a modern re-invention of the minivan. Lets start with the thing that most people use to classify a vehicle as a minivan, those sliding rear doors, well the Tesla doesn’t have them so I have failed at the first step, or have I?
The purpose of the sliding doors is to create a wide opening to get people in and out easily, especially if they need help (like small children being strapped in) without having huge doors that would be impossible to swing open when parked next to anything. Now the Model X doors open upwards instead of sliding, but they do exactly the same thing, provide wider than normal access while still being able to open in a confined space.
So what about seating, most minivans have 7 seats, so does the Tesla. But don’t most SUVs have 7 seats too? Well some do, but in most SUVs you have to add them as an extra and they eat up all of your trunk space, but not the Model X, it comes with 3 rows and 7 seats as standard.
OK, so that is two points, is that all?
Nope, look at the ground clearance, and the clearance between the tops of the wheels and the body. I know not every SUV is a hard core off-roader, but most have increased clearances just in case, even the high end SUVs like the Porsche Cayanne have a little more space under there than the Tesla appears to have.
But the Tesla comes with 4-wheel drive, that must make it an SUV! True, you can get a 4-wheel drive Model X and there are a whole bunch of SUVs that are only 2 wheel drive, but there are also a whole bunch of cars that have 4-wheel drive as an option and are certainly not SUVs such as BMW’s 3 series and Audi’s A1s and A3s so I don’t think that puts one back in the SUV column for the Tesla.
Now, I want to start this one with the fact that I haven’t actually been in a Model X, and I am having a hard time finding good pictures of the passenger compartment floor, but from the pictures I can find it looks like it has more of a minivan style flat floor than an SUV style floor with a transmission hump running front to back to house the 4-wheel drive system. Now I am sure there are SUVs with flat floors and minivans with humps, but I am trying to stick to the majority of each type of vehicle.
So, after thinking about it, the only thing I could come up with that makes the Model X an SUV is the fact that Tesla says it is, so why would they do that? Well, think about the target audience for the Model X, someone with a growing family that needs the space for more than just a couple of kids, and also the funds to spend well over $60,000 on a new car. They may remember when they were kids when minivans were a lot less stylish and comfortable than they are today, minivan was a stigma, but SUVs where made by Jeep and Land Rover, they were status symbols, and when you are trying to sell a luxury vehicle, a good image is almost requirement number 1.