Story and photos By Mark Zimmer
Tesla Motors’ Model X SUV/Minivan was unveiled at a lavish “X Premiere” event held into the evening last Thursday at the company’s Los Angeles Design Studio in Hawthorne, Calif.
Tesla’s multipurpose events are reminiscent of a major car show, stage presentation, cocktail party, and rock concert all combined into one.
Outside the hangar where the reception was held were enclosed tents displaying technical details allowing guests to ask questions of designers, engineers and showroom personnel. All of this was wrapped in an atmosphere of pure luxury and style.
Invitations to Roadster owners, Tesla reservation holders, and the press brought to over one thousand the number of people who enjoyed viewing and riding Model S and Model X. It was an over-the-top experience that will be remembered for a lifetime.
Upon driving to the Space X building, there had been no clue of any event, nor would anyone have noticed if driving past. It was only apparent when you turned into the small entrance and suddenly a projected “X” was visible on a building in the distance while closely spaced spotlights aimed their beams across the road in a moving striped pattern. The effect drew you closer to the action and once there, valet parking added to Hollywood-level excitement as guests lined up for registration next to the news cameras and the red carpet area.
At 7 p.m. the doors to the huge round roof hangar were opened where a reception area, coat check and a Signature Red Model S gave the appearance of entering a lobby area. A large wide canvas allowed visitors to add their own “signature” and express their thoughts about Model X.
The hangar’s curved ceiling was nicely lit along with a large stage on the east side. Two 20-foot-wide round circular cloth curtains were suspended in the room’s center, ready to be dropped for the Model X reveal. The hangar also featured multi-screen video, theater lighting, loud music, plus open bars for wine, cocktails, and beverages. Small buffet tables were filled with unusual foods that looked exotic. Salmon and oysters or sliced beef were the two main courses served with unusually colored pasta. Well dressed servers with small platters of hors d’oeuvres approached the guests enticing them to enjoy the decorative cuisine. Half the fun was figuring out what the strange-shaped item could be! With more difficult items, a second attendant stood by the server with a clean white bowl to elegantly assist disposing of the shrimp holder and tail. In one corner, chefs dressed in lab outfits stirred up frozen desserts served with light cookie pastries. A private VIP balcony upstairs was open to Roadster owners and the press. That area featured a separate bar with leather seating and a perfect view of the stage area. Outside, an additional bar and comfortable white leather couches encouraged guests to relax. The ice sculpture shimmered in the light of the moving Model S and Model X ride vehicles until after midnight.
As mentioned, the enclosed technical areas located outside allowed everyone to explore, learn and ask questions of Tesla personnel. All the fabrics and paint colors for Model S and concepts for Model X were on display. Seeing these options now gives the customer more time to select the custom exterior and interior colors. Pictures cannot do justice to the quality of the leather and interior materials. There is no rush to decide, as buyers must choose about three months before production.
Tesla also introduced a new showroom display at this event. Large touch screens with interactive graphics instruct the customer what to expect from Model S by changing the input and seeing the result on the screen. For example, screen one shows how far you can travel depending on driving style, speed, temperature, air conditioning and performance option.
Screen two indicates how long it takes to charge depending on the number of miles driven and the type of outlet used. Tesla offers a dual charger option that cuts the speed in half, but only if you are using the 80 amp charge station shown.
The third screen displays the gas savings compared with internal-combustion vehicles. There are two other screens not shown – 1) how to take a road trip and, 2) how electricity is generated. I asked if this interactivity will be available on the Web. The answer: just the showroom for now.
After 8 p.m. the presentation was ready to begin. Photos were allowed at all times, however my camera didn’t capture the stage with the desired sharpness. Tesla’s 27-minute video (below) is the next best thing to being there. During the first half they kept the camera on Elon instead of showing the graphics on the screen.
George Blankenship, VP of sales and ownership experience, provided a pleasant introduction for Gov. Jerry Brown. Before George introduced Elon Musk, he shared Elon’s philosophy: “One, everything we do is going to make a difference and two, everything we do we do for you.”
I have included the running time to help you jump to scenes. Some quotes and text are included next to the description if you don’t have time to watch the entire presentation.
2:22 Governor Jerry Brown mentions his love of rocket ships and electric cars. “… It’s about the design …”
4:40 Elon Musk arrives in a Signature Red Model S on stage and chats with the Governor.
5:40 “Why did we create Tesla?” “Sustainable transport…” Electric cars must be better than gas cars.
8:40 Roadster comments. “Some said it was impossible…” “It’s one hell of a golf cart!”
9:35 Elon quotes Bob Lutz. “Look, if a little company in California can do this, then so can General Motors.”
10:00 Other EV vehicles and companies mentioned. “The electric RAV4 that will come out later this year.”
10:50 Model S description. “…We tried to create the best…and most advanced car in the world.”
13:10 Platform of Model S and X. “We created a platform…on which we could build many cars…”
13:40 Problems “Minivans have lots of room but not much style.” SUVs are big outside but small inside.
15:20 Model X appears on stage. Curtains drop in the hangar. “Functionality – Style – Performance.”
16:18 Falcon Wing Doors rise and designers are introduced. “Stand up inside the car.”
20:25 Comparisons with Audi Q7 and luggage removal. “Third seat plus tons of space for baggage.”
22:15 Graphic of dual motor all wheel drive. “It has an incredible turning radius.”
23:50 Comparison with Porsche 911 – “Faster than a Porsche.” “Seating for seven adults.”
25:55 “You are welcome to come up on stage, check the car out and have a great party!”
The audience rushed to the stage as you can see at the end of the video. It was amusing to watch crowd’s reaction attempting to sit in one of seven seats with no organization to the process. I was happy to get the photo of the now empty front luggage area. Technical difficulties kept the front hood – the “frunk” – from opening to remove luggage during the presentation. Elon also mentioned that the five rear seats fold flat.
The ability to place refundable deposits for Model X created a line at the technical area. With multiple iMac computers available, the reservation line moved quickly since the only option was to choose the fully featured Signature Model X for late 2013 delivery or the later normal production run in 2014.
When the Model X was driven on stage, the two curtains fell to the hangar floor. Behind one was a clay model with an operational CAD system. A static Model X was behind the other curtain. Both of these static displays were viewed for detail during the rock concert that followed the main presentation.
Before the band arrived, Model X was driven off the stage to give guests their first ride on a short road and slalom course outside. Because Model X’s roof is hinged in the center, passengers can step directly into the car and stand up while entering. The passenger falcon wing doors first move up, then swing up to allow easy access to the second and third rows. Extremely easy to enter and exit, I did not notice anyone hitting their head. Numbered tickets were distributed for both S and X rides so wait time was minimal. I was able to ride twice and sat behind the front seat. The center row of seats are electrically moved to allow easier entry/exit when the rear row is occupied. Glass in Model X’s roof gives a luxurious feeling of space. The Tesla video clearly shows how much luggage can be placed behind the rear seats.
Tesla says Model X is “designed from the ground up with the best of an SUV with the benefits of a minivan, as only an electric car can. It is an automobile above category, built around the driver—and six of her friends. It artfully provides unfettered performance and brilliant functionality.” Likely battery choices are 60 or 85-kwh packs. Since it weighs around 10-percent more than the Model S, range is expected to be slightly less.
This Model X featured optional all wheel drive. Acceleration and turns in the slalom were breathtaking. Cornering is smooth and steady with the weight of the battery providing a low center of gravity and the computer controlled motors providing slight changes to the rotation of the wheels for maximum stability.
Future thoughts: The two cameras at the outside rear view mirror locations may not make it to final production. Model X has less range due to weight and side mirrors add five percent to the wind resistance. You can bet that Tesla will fight for those cameras. The images of the side cameras are displayed on the driver display at each side of the speedometer. Hopefully there will be image processing for bright headlights at night to enhance the quality. If the rear camera image is displayed between the two side views, it might be possible for a panoramic view on the driver display. It’s an exciting innovation that hopefully will make nighttime driving safer and reduce backup accidents. A concern would be sunlight on the driver display and vision correction needed for some drivers to view the center display and road horizon clearly.
The 17-inch vertical touch display at the center dash is well designed, with colorful icons at the top that allow simple switching of screens for each feature. This allows for larger controls that can be easily reached while keeping eyes on the road. The volume control is shown in the lower right corner, and that seems far away if the driver must look at it. However, the driver can use small configurable controls on the steering wheel. Since third parties will be able to write approved applications for the center display, who knows what they may dream up. Is it possible to configure the screen to match a GM, Ford, Toyota or other center control design? No one has announced such an option, but given the limitless possibility of a full color screen, anything is possible. With the ability to post Web pages, hopefully Tesla is planning to have an on-screen tutorial on how to enjoy Model S and X. They might be able to restrict the pages to the exact model or revision and only allow training while parked. By knowing who is sitting at the wheel, Tesla support staff could have a history for each support call or training session. Just a thought of how the future of EV customer support might be reinvented with the Internet and Web page display.
The desire for optimal range in a battery electric vehicle is fulfilled with Tesla Motors vehicles. The care that Tesla puts into its showrooms and events enhances the image of the car. There are innovations in design and features that will make driving Model S or X a lot of fun. The most important issue is safety, and Elon Musk has stated that he wants a high safety rating. As a passenger, the feel of the car is excellent. One upcoming event for Model S reservation holders is a test drive before finalizing the order. I look forward to that day. Tesla Motors excellence in service will start before delivery day; the buyer chooses the delivery location! For those who want extreme detail about Model X, I suggest a visit to the Tesla Web site or visit one of their well-appointed showrooms. Expect refinements to this early design.
I want to thank Jeff Cobb for the opportunity to post this event report and the quality work he does to inform us of the EV and E-REV industry. After spending all day Saturday on this project, I don’t know how Jeff does it all. It takes time to write and the quality that is published each weekday here at GM-Volt is amazing. For the record, I don’t own Tesla stock.
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This entry was posted on Monday, February 13th, 2012 at 5:55 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.