Tesla, a stealthy Model Y ramp, and the art of underpromising

Tesla CEO Elon Musk presents the Model Y (Photo: Teslarati)

There was once a time when it was a legitimate criticism to state that Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, are prone to being a bit too optimistic in presenting a grand vision of the future. But since unveiling the Model Y all-electric crossover, it appears that Tesla has entered a new era — one where Elon Musk is developing the art of underpromising and overdelivering. This is a pretty frightening topic for the company’s critics, especially those with financial stakes against Tesla. 

Despite all the hype surrounding its release, many, including myself, were quite underwhelmed when the Model Y was unveiled. Being heavily based on the Model 3 sedan, the Y was so similar that TSLA shorts actually accused the electric carmaker of fraud (no surprise there) for allegedly passing off a raised Model 3 as a new vehicle. This is a ridiculous accusation, of course, but it does give an idea about how understated the Model Y and its unveiling really was. 

But the Y seems destined to disappoint the anti-Tesla crowd without remorse. 

Credit: Tesla

During its unveiling, Elon Musk stated that deliveries of the vehicle are expected to start in Fall 2020, a conservative date that was moved up to Summer 2020 in the company’s Q3 2019 Update Letter. During the fourth quarter earnings call, Tesla CFO Zachary Kirkhorn announced that first deliveries of the Model Y will actually be happening sometime later this quarter. That’s far earlier than what even most TSLA bulls have predicted.

This is also a very different strategy than what Tesla adopted for the Model 3. When the Model 3 kicked off its mass production with its first customer handovers, Elon Musk announced a hyper-aggressive delivery timeframe that ended up being delayed by six months. The company suffered as a result, from its share price in the markets to the fatigue of Tesla employees working to bring the Model 3 to its target production levels. With the Model Y, Tesla seems to have started with a conservative timeline that it knew it could easily beat, and it worked its way up from there.

Based on the updates to the Model Y’s delivery timeframes, it appears that Tesla may only be adjusting its targets once it knows it can actually meet them. This shows a degree of maturity on Tesla’s part that has not really been seen in the past, and it is something that should frighten those who actively bet against the company.  

Credit: Tesla

This shows that Tesla is learning from its mistakes, and it is taking the lessons from the past and adapting it for the future. During the early days of the original Roadster and the Model S, it was imperative for the company to promote the vehicle’s maximum range potential to make them competitive against their petrol-powered rivals. Today, Tesla can actually afford to lowball its range. CARB filings for the Model Y initially suggested a range of over 300 miles for the vehicle’s performance variant, and this was confirmed in recent updates to Tesla’s order page. When the Model Y was unveiled, its Performance trim was listed with a range of 280. Now, the vehicle has a range of 315 miles per charge.

What is rather interesting is that Tesla is doing this while its competitors are still at a point where they are overpromising on their vehicles. Just look at the range portion of the Ford Mustang Mach-E’s presentation: the words “target range” are abounding. That means that Ford thinks it could reach the range it announced for the vehicle, but it is still working on it. It’s a strategy that’s a lot more cautious than Porsche’s with its early announcements of a 300-mile Taycan, but perhaps the American automaker learned its lesson from the Turbo S’ 192-mile range EPA rating. 

It takes an ambitious company to aim for hyper-aggressive targets that have a good chance of not being met, but it takes a mature company to publicly announce goals that it knows it can beat. Tesla appears to be in the latter camp with the Model Y, and that’s really good. Apple’s legendary CEO, Steve Jobs, made his mark in the tech sector with an underpromise and overdeliver strategy, and it ultimately helped the tech giant build enough momentum to make it the juggernaut that it is today. There’s no reason why Tesla and Elon Musk cannot do the same.

Simon Alvarez: Simon is a reporter with a passion for electric cars and clean energy. Fascinated by the world envisioned by Elon Musk, he hopes to make it to Mars (at least as a tourist) someday.
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