Smaller electric SUV revealed ahead of late 2020 premiere, with the promise of 480km range and an eventual US starting price of $39,000 ($55k AUD)

Tesla has given the world its first look at its fifth model line, the Model Y mid-size SUV, which founder Elon Musk believes will be as popular as the Model X and Model 3 combined when it hits the market in September/October 2020.

The Model Y gives the EV pioneer another rival to the Audi e-tron, Mercedes EQC and Jaguar I-Pace (and even Hyundai Kona Electric) and something to sell to people who want a vehicle halfway between the Model 3 liftback sedan (production of which "almost killed the company in 2018", Musk conceded) and a Model X large SUV.

The sleek crossover will have a panoramic roof, a Model 3-style 15-inch horizontal touchscreen dominating a minimalist cabin, and the option of seven seats. Musk also expects it to be “the safest mid-sized SUV in the world”, with all the familiar AutoPilot active safety tech.

Musk promises a launch in the US around October (or Fall 2020), so around 18 months from now. The delay is a symptom of the difficulty in transitioning from prototype to series production, something that the mass-market Model 3 showed up as being extremely hard.

“The factories are as much a part of Tesla as the product,” Musk said. “If not more. I really think the insane difficulty of mass manufacturing a vehicle reliably and at scale is under appreciated. It’s 100 times harder to manufacture than design.”

Tesla is promising the initial Model Y range will comprise the Long Range (480km range, 5.5sec 0-100km/h, $47,000 US target price, or $66k AUD at conversion), the Dual Motor AWD (448km range, 0-100km/h in 4.8sec and $51,000 US/$72,000 AUD) and the Performance (448km range, 0-100km/h in 3.5sec and $60,000 US/$85,000 AUD).

The Standard Range model to arrive in early 2021, according to the company's claim, will cost $39,000 US ($55,000 AUD) and offer around 370km of range.

Apparently the car will have “the battery low in the floor, a low centre of gravity, the functionality of a SUV but the dynamics of a sports car”.

It’s also probably not a coincidence that the company’s range now looks like this: Tesla Model S, 3, X and Y. That’s… S.3.X.Y. “We’re bringing sexy back,” Musk added.

At the reveal of the Model Y, Musk showed his typical cheek, saying:

“It occurred to me a lot of people only heard about Tesla a year or two ago, and EVs are taken for granted. There was a time when EVs seemed ‘very stupid’ and it wasn't that long ago, the idea of creating a car company was ‘stupid’, and an EV company was like stupidity squared," he said.

“11 years ago today Tesla had made one car, and it didn't really work very well, it broke down a lot, it took us another 3 months just to make the second car. Now we’ve made about 550k cars,” he added.

Musk said the Gigafactory in Nevada with 50gWh of capacity is one-third ready, while the massive new manufacturing plant and battery factory in China will be well advanced by the end of 2019, primed for domestic market production.

He also updated watchers of the web stream on Tesla’s Supercharger network, which now comprises 12,000 chargers in 1400 sites across 36 countries. It’s presently rolling out 250kW-capable DC chargers that will apparently charge at 1600km per hour (charging a Model Y is 20 minutes or so, to 80 per cent, we’d guess). There are only two functional ones at the minute.

Musk added that after getting the Model 3 up to production in 2018, the company could also get back to focusing on its Powerwall and solar roof divisions this year, and add software updates to the AutoPilot safety suite. Time will tell there.

Finishing on a quote with a dramatic flourish, Musk said:

“The goal of Tesla was that our fundamental or historical good should be the degree to which we accelerate the rollout of sustainable transport. Our goal all along has been to get the industry to transition to EV. It’s extremely rewarding to see the rest of the industry is going electric. It’s great.

“Where will Tesla be in 10 years? Tesla will be on Mars in 10 years!” he joked.

Let’s focus on getting Model Y deliveries out at the planned production time, hey Elon!

Australia:

Australia probably won’t get Model Ys until 2021. It’s being close-lipped for now.