On Tuesday, Tesla will deliver the company’s first Model X SUVs to customers. By doing so, CEO Elon Musk will make good on a promise to get the Model X to market in the third quarter.
There has been no lack of scepticism among Tesla watchers about Musk’s goal. Tesla has a history of missing deadlines and revising estimates.
But this time, it actually is different.
We shouldn’t be surprised. All the news coming out of Tesla about the Model X over the past year or so indicated that the vehicle was on schedule for its launch. Here’s why:
As far back as last year, Tesla was making moves to rejigger its manufacturing process to build the Model X alongside the Model S. This ultimately caused some issues with Model S deliveries in 2014, but it was a necessary step to take if the Model X was going to arrive on time in 2015.
Tesla added an all-wheel-drive version of the Model S sedan to its lineup. This was the famous “D” that Musk tweeted about prior to a big reveal in Los Angeles in October. An AWD Model S was a useful addition, but the arrival of a “dual motor” propulsion system, with an electric motor for each set of wheels, proved that Tesla was gearing up to properly produce an SUV, which, for most buyers, has to have AWD.
Rumours emerged that the Model X’s upswinging “falcon wing” doors were creating manufacturing problems. Rumours about manufacturing problems might sound bad, but they mean that a carmaker is, you know,
manufacturing early versions of a new car. No rumours about problems means that the car might not be anywhere near mass production.
More rumours emerged about problems with the Model X’s “sculptural” back seats. Again, problems with an interior component indicate that the supply chain feeding into the assembly plant has been activated. Another good sign that full production is near.
We started to see prototypes of the Model X, undergoing testing on actual roads. The prototypes began to appear at about the right time, too — roughly six to nine months before full production.
Musk said that the Model X was the “hardest car to build in the world.” A car can’t be hard to build if you aren’t actively building it!
Tesla released an online configuration tool for Model X customers. This happened in early September, right when it should have to enable the earliest buyers to nab a “Signature Series” Model X — and pay as much as $US132,000 for the privilege!
Far from areas of concern, all these developments indicated that Tesla had learned a lot of lessons from the Model S rollout and initial production and wasn’t going to miss expectations for the Model X delivery schedule.
Tesla is a new car company, for most of its existence building one rather innovative car in one factory, but it’s clearly improving its operational capabilities.
Tesla critics have been reminding everyone for months that Tesla misses deadlines, overpromises and underdelivers, and will use various hype cycles to distract investors from negative financial developments. The message has been, “The Model X is coming but don’t expect anything normal with the launch.”
But in fact the lead-up to the launch has been completely normal. Tesla has never looked more like a car company. The developments of the past 12 months or so, with Model X, are exactly like what Ford or GM or Audi or BMW deals with when launching a new vehicle.
Sure, we’re not going to see thousands of Model X’s rolling off the assembly line in Fremont, California. We might see more like five or 10, at first. Tesla is a real car company, but it’s also a really small real car company.
But with the first Model X deliveries going to customers on schedule, Tesla has proved that its biggest critics were wrong.
And not just wrong, but guilty of reading bad news into what was, in retrospect, very good news.
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