What makes Tesla Model Y, which sells over 300,000 units annually and is bumpy and noisy, so popular?

Author: CH_陈函

Extreme or moderate? Which type of product is better?

Due to various reasons related to work, I have driven the Tesla Model Y several times in the past two weeks. After enduring 200 kilometers while being squeezed in the middle back seat, I have gained new insights into the globally popular and bumpy SUV.

How popular is the Tesla Model Y? It was the second best-selling SUV globally last year, with over 750,000 sold worldwide, second only to the Toyota RAV 4. Meanwhile, it was also the second best-selling SUV domestically, with over 310,000 sold throughout the year, second only to the BYD Song family.

Traditional best-selling cars, such as the Toyota RAV 4 and the BYD Song, abide by the “barrel principle,” which means that there are no short boards. However, the Model Y is completely different. It is an intensely individualistic car with very short shortcomings and extremely long strong points.

The right level of difference

Returning to two years ago, it was difficult to imagine that a car that was so deficient in comfort and workmanship could sell 300,000 units in the Chinese market. But Tesla did it.

How uncomfortable is the Tesla Model Y? In summary, after sitting in a Tesla Model Y and then sitting in a BYD Song PLUS, it feels like stepping into a Mercedes S-Class. In terms of chassis comfort and sound insulation, even the Model Y’s starting price of 261,900 yuan cannot compare to many cars priced below 100,000 yuan.

After driving the Model Y for some time, I couldn’t resist complaining about its comfort: “How can this car be so bumpy and noisy?”

However, after enduring over two hours in the middle back seat of the Model Y, I somewhat let it go. You can never underestimate human adaptability. After experiencing the first half an hour of discomfort, my nerves miraculously began to ignore the vibration transmitted by the seat and floor, and my ears began to ignore the sound of the tires rolling on the road, much like automatic noise cancelling.

Aside from not being able to use my mobile phone because it’s too shaky, and the high tendency of getting motion sickness, the rear seat of the Model Y did not bring me prolonged pain. Instead, the large foot pit under the front seat and the spacious headrest in the middle seat that gave me a sense of safety and comfort made me feel very comfortable. After closing my eyes and falling asleep, the trip quickly ended.So, how uncomfortable is the Tesla Model Y? Actually, it’s just okay. Compared to other cars, it’s not unbearable.

In fact, we can find many “shortcomings” of the Tesla Model Y. Their common feature is “just bad enough” or “although very bad, it is not completely unacceptable.”

For example, its craftsmanship, even Wuling makes better cars, but how much impact does it have on daily use?

For example, its non-intelligent voice assistant and car-self navigation are not very useful. Many users solve the problems by buying a mobile phone mount.

For example, although it is not comfortable, it is very practical. Whether it is the rear space or the trunk space, the Model Y is much larger than its appearance suggests. The trunk can easily accommodate luggage for 5 people for 3-4 days. I even think that Tesla can be called the “Honda of electric vehicles” because it seems to have mastered space magic.

For example, the Model Y’s hand-off detection during assisted driving is very insensitive. It often fails to recognize slight movements of the steering wheel, and turning too much will result in exiting the assisted driving mode, which is a terrible experience. But users have found that they can use the steering wheel scroll wheel to replace the turning of the steering wheel, or they can buy a power-assist ring to hang on the steering wheel. Of course, I strongly advise against this!

The New Era of Ford/Toyota

When one or several boards of the bucket are extremely long, the “bucket law” is sometimes not applicable. For example, when the bucket is turned upside down, the amount of water it can hold may be determined by the longest board. Tesla is like an abnormal bucket.

Its longest board is not what many people think is autonomous driving/assisted driving, but manufacturing technology.

If you are seeing this viewpoint for the first time, you will surely be surprised – how can a company like Tesla, whose workmanship has always been criticized, have such good manufacturing technology?

In 2021, Elon Musk stated: “Tesla’s long-term advantage will be manufacturing technology.”

During the 2022 Q4 earnings call in January, Musk reiterated: “I think Tesla’s true competitive advantage, which has been most difficult for other companies to replicate so far, lies in the extremely outstanding production and manufacturing technology that Tesla possesses.”

Tesla’s manufacturing technology does not manifest itself in workmanship, but in production efficiency and cost control. Over the years, Tesla has been committed to reducing the number of body parts by integrating small parts into larger ones to reduce costs and increase production efficiency. By using an integrated casting body, the number of rear body parts for the Tesla Model Y has been reduced from 70 to 1.

At the same time, Tesla is also committed to increasing the commonality rate of parts to reduce hardware differences between vehicle configurations, even directly transplanting the Model 3’s seats into the Model Y, with only the bottom cushioned.

Through these disruptive “schemes,” Tesla’s capacity has rapidly expanded, with a global capacity of 1.9 million vehicles, producing over 1.3 million cars in 2022 with a whole-vehicle gross margin of 25.6%, which is difficult for traditional automakers to reach, and earning a net profit of $12.6 billion for the whole year.

Another set of data shows that from its launch in 2018 to 2022, the cost of the Tesla Model 3 has dropped by 30%. This cost reduction has not only brought more profits to Tesla but has also enabled consumers to enjoy lower car prices, achieving a win-win result. This is the ultimate manifestation of production technology.

Tesla’s next generation of vehicles will see an additional 50% reduction in assembly costs and continue to improve overall assembly efficiency, achieving a car production rate of 45 seconds per vehicle.What is the concept here? When Volkswagen was at its peak sales in China, it produced only one car in about 60 seconds, which means that Tesla’s production capacity will be 25% stronger than Volkswagen! Through cost control measures such as parts integration and improved production efficiency, a Tesla priced between 150,000-200,000 yuan is within reach.

Therefore, Tesla’s greatest strength is really not in intelligence or autonomous driving, but in its disruptive manufacturing capabilities! It is the Ford of the new era, more knowledgeable about “lean production” than Toyota.

Of course, on top of its powerful hidden production technology, Tesla also has many obvious strengths, such as its super-strong assisted driving ability, absolute leadership in visual perception abilities, driving experience comparable to sports cars, exceptional performance of its chassis, and excellent three electric systems.

While Tesla is committed to making a car that is as accessible as the Toyota Corolla, it never wants to make a car as mediocre as the Corolla from a product perspective. Its lack of urgency in addressing its shortcomings is actually to focus more on extreme strengths, even to the point of making the shortfalls shorter to make the strengths longer. For example, to reduce energy consumption, the standard tire pressure is set at 3.0, which further enhances comfort.

However, once you learn about Tesla because of its brand image, or its autonomous/assisted driving capabilities or affordable entry-level price, the charm brought about by its extreme strengths during the brief test drive experience can often make you feel the shock of the new era of electric and smart cars.

Extreme or mediocre?

Interestingly, last year’s top two sales of SUVs in China, the BYD Song and the Tesla Model Y, represented the two extremes of automotive products: mediocre and extreme.

Extreme or mediocre? Which product is better? This question is actually difficult to generalize. Making mediocre products is not necessarily easier than making extreme ones.However, throughout the long river of history, it has always been those ultimate products and people who pursue the ultimate that have changed the world.

This is why I don’t like Tesla’s way of doing things, but I still admire them.

This article is a translation by ChatGPT of a Chinese report from 42HOW. If you have any questions about it, please email bd@42how.com.