This is a preview from our weekly newsletter. Each week I go ‘Beyond the News’ and handcraft a special edition that includes my thoughts on the biggest stories, why it matters, and how it could impact the future.
Tesla’s strong financial spreadsheet that has culminated in seven consecutive quarters of profitability has launched the electric car company into a more stable fiscal situation. For years, especially in my early days at Teslarati, I can remember the big narrative being Tesla’s Quarter-over-Quarter growth, but the fact that profitability wasn’t achieved very often made the company one of the more risky investments at the time.
Since then, Tesla has managed to work out a profitable quarter seven times in a row. Unbelievably, the company that has only been mass-producing vehicles since Summer 2017 is already a shoo-in for money-making quarters, at least that’s what it seems like. There never seems to be a glimmer of doubt when it comes to Tesla reporting strong financials. But, it became clear earlier this week that Tesla, despite having such strong financials quarter after quarter, isn’t willing to spend money on things that owners and customers don’t use. The company’s phase-out of the passenger lumbar support feature in the Model 3 and Model Y is a prime example of the way Tesla is simplifying its vehicles to improve profitability and margins, making their cars even more of a money-making machine than they were previously.
On May 31st, a tweet from @Ryanth3nerd showed his discontent for Tesla’s removal of the lumbar support option on the passenger’s seat. It was noticed by a Model Y owner on Reddit initially that the lumbar support option was removed from the side of the seat, only leaving the reclining option and seat adjustment levers for passenger adjustment.
“I really don’t like the direction @tesla is going raising prices of vehicles but removing features like lumbar for the Model Y. On top of rumors of FSD increase to $14k without any real added features to FSD unless you’re a beta tester,” the tweet said.
It is true that Model 3 and Model Y prices alike have increased in the past several months. This is likely due to the semiconductor or microcontroller shortage that has plagued much of the automotive industry for the past few quarters. Additionally, Musk said raw material costs are also affecting Tesla’s prices.
According to Musk, Tesla had a good reason for phasing out the lumbar support module, and it had to do with data usage logs that showed the lumbar support wasn’t utilized by passengers very often. In fact, it was used so infrequently that Tesla decided to scrap the module altogether in the 3 and Y.
“Moving lumbar was removed only in front passenger seat of 3/Y (obv not there in rear seats). Logs showed almost no usage. Not worth cost/mass for everyone when almost never used. Prices increasing due to major supply chain price pressure industry-wide. Raw materials especially.”
Now, while this is a good point for Tesla to use as justification for their seat modification decisions, there are a few things that sort of confused me about the decision. First off, once a seat is adjusted, I think very few people want to change it. I know that when I get into a friend’s car, I rarely adjust the seat because that is probably the way their significant other prefers the seat to be set. As a driver in my own car, I know that I have only adjusted my seat on two or three occasions since I got it. Very rarely does it move, because the adjustments I made when I bought it were how I felt it was most comfortable, so I didn’t move it.
I think there could have been some confusion about whether the lumbar support is actually used, or whether it is a “set and forget” type of reasoning. I think many people find the way they like their seat, and it rarely changes over the course of the ownership experience.
While I doubt too many people will not buy a Tesla because they can’t adjust lumbar support, I think that there are some people who will look at it as a real disadvantage because there are plenty of people who need to utilize it for comfortability, especially if they have back problems. Nevertheless, it could be a temporary removal if enough people raise concerns to Musk via Twitter.
The biggest lesson here seems to be that Tesla’s use of data and analytics gives the company an extreme advantage when it comes to saving money on even the most trivial of parts. While Tesla will save some money from its recent decision to not equip Model 3 and Model Y cars with radar, the lumbar support removal also summarizes the company’s mission to take out what is not needed. Teslas are already so minimalistic as it is, and many people enjoy the lack of knobs and buttons on the interior. However, this is one knob that many owners may not be happy not having, but it remains to be seen if it saves Tesla’s enough money to justify keeping the feature left out from its two mass-market vehicles. -JK-
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