One of the most notable takeaways from Tesla’s Q1 2019 vehicle production and deliveries report was the steep decline in Model S and Model X sales. Over the course of the quarter, Tesla produced 14,150 Model S and X, a drastic drop from the 25,000 units that were manufactured last quarter. Deliveries of the flagship sedan and SUV also fell to 12,100 units. Under these circumstances, it appears that the time is now right for Tesla to start preparing for the release of an updated Model S and Model X.
A steep decline
Tesla did not provide a commentary behind the decline in Model S and X sales. This does not mean that the lower production and delivery figures of the vehicles were a complete surprise, as Tesla did shift a lot of its efforts in producing the Model S in favor of the Model 3 in Q1. The vehicles’ entry-level trim, the 75D variant, was also discontinued. Thus, the signs of a decline were already there. What was really surprising was the scope and gravity of the decline.
A possible explanation behind the Model S and Model X’s numbers in the first quarter may lie in the simple fact that the vehicles, particularly the full-size premium sedan, are getting long in the tooth. Tesla started producing the Model S in 2012, and the vehicle has pretty much stayed the same since then, save for a facelift when the Model X was released. Granted, improvements were rolled out to the Model S as soon as they were available, as noted by Elon Musk in a tweet, but design-wise, Tesla’s flagship sedan is still practically competing in the market with a nearly 7-year-old interior and exterior.
The Model 3’s immense success did not help the Model S’ case either. It should be noted that Tesla anti-sold the Model 3 after it was unveiled, with the company and Elon Musk asserting that the Model S was a superior vehicle. Now that the Model 3 is making a mark in several markets across the globe, it is becoming evident that the electric sedan is simply Tesla’s best bang-for-your-buck car. With Tesla’s latest hardware and batteries, the Model 3 is a solid choice. Other Model 3-specific features, such as Track Mode for the Performance variant, add to the vehicle’s attractiveness to car buyers.
The Model 3 is such a solid vehicle that it is starting to make the Model S a harder sell, at least in its present iteration. Granted, the Model S is larger, and it has more bells and whistles such as Smart Air Suspension and a second display, but these are luxuries that a significant number of car buyers will likely be willing to forego in exchange for savings associated with a Model 3 purchase. The Tesla Model Y appears set to do the same to the Model X as well, as the vehicle presents much of the premium SUV’s advantages in a smaller package, at a far more affordable price.
A better Model S and X in the Model 3 era
If Tesla wishes to rekindle the interest and justify the higher prices of its flagship sedan and SUV, it would be a good idea to introduce updated versions of the vehicles as soon as the company is able. These improvements can come in various forms, such as better range, significantly better performance, and a far more exquisite exterior and interior design. With these improvements in place, the Model S and X will not only have the advantage of larger cabin space and a handful of unique features over their more affordable stablemates. They will be vehicles that are truly, without a doubt, a class above the Model 3 (and the Model Y for that matter).
It’s not like Tesla does not seem to be preparing for a potential Model S and Model X update either. Last year, a patent application emerged depicting a Model S/X dashboard equipped with the Model 3’s clever and acclaimed HVAC system. Panasonic, Tesla’s battery partner, also announced last November that it is doubling down on its partnership with the electric car maker by bringing some of its Japan-based battery cell production activities to the United States.
In a statement to the Nikkei Asian Review, Panasonic stated that it will be bringing its operations that build the Model S and Model X’s 18650 cells over to a “US-based unit starting (next) April (2019).” Elon Musk noted during the Q4 earnings call that there are no plans to change the Model S and Model X’s batteries to 2170 cells. Perhaps improved 18650 cells are in order with Panasonic’s move to the US? One can hope.
At this point in Tesla’s history, it would probably be wise to temper expectations with regards to the Model S and Model X’s quarterly sales. Tesla is now at a point where it is pursuing the mass market, and the company is accomplishing this with the Model 3 (and later, the Model Y). The Model S and Model X will definitely still be the company’s flagships, but they will likely just see a sustained demand of perhaps 25,000 per quarter, and that’s completely fine. Both vehicles were brought to market to prove that electric cars can be better than their gasoline-powered counterparts. Both vehicles already accomplished their mission. The Model 3 and Model Y is proof of that.