Tesla released its Production and Delivery figures for the first quarter of 2021 earlier today, and it proved that CEO Elon Musk was right about the Model S and Model X not being crucial to the company’s ultimate long-term growth. During Tesla’s Q3 2019 Earnings Call, New Street Research analyst Pierre Ferragu asked what Musk thought about the S and X moving forward and how Tesla planned to deal with the cannibalizing effects of the Model 3, the car that overtook the popularity of the company’s flagship vehicles.
Referring to the Model S and Model X as “niche products,” Musk always seemed to know that Tesla’s flagship vehicles wouldn’t take the company into “mass-market” growth. “I mean, they’re very expensive, made in low volume. To be totally frank, we’re continuing to make them more for sentimental reasons than anything else. They’re really of minor importance to the future,” Musk said.
He was right. Looking at Tesla’s Q1 2021 delivery figures, there is a simple dash under the Model S and X category. Symbolic of the shutdown S and X production lines that are being retooled at the Fremont factory in preparation for the production of the refreshed vehicles, Tesla only delivered S and X vehicles in the company’s inventory. Despite the absence of 50% of the company’s all-electric models, Tesla reported nearly 100,000 more vehicles in Q1 2021 than it did in Q1 2020, moving from 88,400 to 184,800.
This is where Musk’s outlook becomes incredibly accurate, proving that his 2019 quotation regarding the Model S and Model X’s importance to the future is relatively minuscule. Tesla doesn’t need its two flagship vehicles to grow or sustain demand. The Model 3 and the Model Y do that.
It’s evident that Musk holds high regard for his two flagship vehicles. “They’re great cars. I mean, the Model S literally won MotorTrend’s best car ever in history, by the way. It’s incredible, especially the new one with variable damping suspension, hospital operating room, HEPA filter for air purification, the raven powertrain. It’s the fastest car in the world, and it’s just so easy to drive. It makes you feel like Superman driving that car. It’s incredibly safe. It’s just an amazing vehicle,” Musk said. However, he also realizes that the Model 3 and Model Y are just better vehicles, while the Model S and Model X are “art pieces, basically.”
Tesla has never been about making fancy, amazing, eye-catching vehicles, at least not in the long term. The Model S and Model X were both head-turners: the S, with its sporty look, was not the stereotypical electric car. Musk once said that driving an electric car didn’t have to be a boring, slow, or golf cart-like experience. It was supposed to be fun, fast, exhilarating, and it was (and still is). The X, with its falcon-wing doors and comparable performance to the Model S, only solidified this. But they were ultimately just the bait for the average car buyer. In the mid-2010s, if people saw a Tesla, you can bet their heads gravitated toward it. They were rare, and in some areas, it was probably pretty close to seeing a Lamborghini or a Ferrari for some people.
This was all a part of Musk’s Master Plan. While it describes the capital-raising efforts of the S and X to welcome in a line of affordable vehicles like the 3 and the Y, the Master Plan also involved catching consumers’ attention by offering unbelievable cars that were not powered by gas. The S and X simply opened the doors for the 3 and the Y, eventually opening the doors for another line of even more affordable models.
Musk was always right about the Model S and Model X. They were never going to take Tesla into the stratosphere. They were only going to be the first two steps in the plan that made Tesla the most valuable car company in the world. Without the Model S and Model X, Tesla would be just fine. The company’s Q1 2021 delivery and production figures only solidified the fact that the two flagship vehicles that brought Tesla to its initial popularity were never going to be the vehicles that expanded the movement of electrification, nor made Tesla the household name that it has become in a period of three short years.