The Tesla Model Y is set to get a tweaked design, as the entry-level compact SUV demonstrates a number of new manufacturing changes.
The electric vehicle started shipping to consumers in March 202, the second part of a three-phase plan to bring electric cars to a mass market. It's a plan that started with the Model 3 in July 2017, and looks set to continue with the Cybertruck in late 2021.
During the company's first-quarter 2020 earnings call last week, CEO Elon Musk declared the firm was "confident this product will be our best-selling product ever." Musk also explained that the car's current design will improve over time:
"For Model Y, we introduced a revolutionary two-piece rear underbody casting. We are going to be making a single-piece casting later this year, meaning that essentially the rear third of the body is cast as a single piece, which is...no casting of the size or complexity has ever been done before."
Musk even suggested the change could help reduce the vehicle's noise, vibration, and harshness:
"In fact, there isn't even anything that is on par with the two-piece casting for the Model Y. So, we're really pushing the envelope on vehicle structural engineering and manufacturing. I'm very excited about this approach as it allows us to reduce the weight of the cast and improve NVH [noise, vibration and harshness]. It's better in every way essentially."
Tesla has high hopes for the Model Y, and it's easy to see why. Data from Statista shows the crossover was the number one category of vehicle sold in the United States with 40 percent of the market. Unlike the Model 3 where Tesla had to quickly shift to produce 5,000 cars per week, Tesla is now more experienced at mass producing vehicles. During the earnings call, Musk also revealed that for the first time in the company's history, the first quarter of production for a vehicle was profitable with the Model Y.
While the Model Y's launch was comparatively muted compared to the landmark handover of the Model 3 three years prior, the vehicle has quietly improved on the sedan's design with a number of small additions. Beyond the rear underbody casting, Tesla has added a heat pump that moves warmth around the car and reduces the strain on the battery. This can reduce the use of heaters and improve range in winter months.
Unfortunately, expected changes to the car's internal wiring appear to have missed the first batch of Model Ys. While the Model 3 managed to halve the amount of wiring inside versus the Model S, reducing it to just 1.5 kilometers, Musk claimed in a July 2019 conference call that the team was aiming to reduce it further to 100 meters. A teardown last month by Sandy Munro showed a large amount of wires remain, suggesting these changes were maybe shelved or pushed back.
With high expectations for sales, Musk suggested during the earnings call that the firm was aiming to start production as soon as possible at facilities in California, Berlin, and Shanghai.
The Inverse analysis – The Model Y's design may be changing, but it's par for the course when it comes to Teslas. Musk even stated himself in October 2018 that there's no such thing as a "model year," as the firm is always making changes to vehicles rolling off the production lines. Much like tweaks to paint options or boosts to the in-car entertainment systems, the Model Y's changes are likely to quietly roll out as vehicles roll off the production line.