There’s a lot of ideas floating around out there for what Tesla’s next model should be. During the announcement of the Giga Shanghai design studio, an image of a Tesla compact car, or potentially a Tesla commuter car, really got people talking. We are sure that this does not serve as any sort of confirmation, but it does fan the flames of rumors regarding a compact Tesla making its way on to the streets one day.
So you might start to ask yourself a question. Why hasn’t Tesla, a brand so well-known for their electric cars, made a small electric car? Something that’s a little smaller than the Model 3, sacrifices on storage a little, but serves as a perfect Tesla commuter car. Ready to get you from home to the grocery store or home to work and back, rather the road trip capable cars made today.
There have been a lot of prevailing theories since the release of that concept image of what would likely be the smallest Tesla model. It’s a rather simple reason, but one that might take some time to overcome, and that’s range. Small electric cars are not a new concept and there are already a few that are available already, but none of the ones that are available are range leaders. With less available car space, there is less space for batteries and thus, a lower range.
How Much Range is Enough?
Tesla’s goal is to ultimately get more people in gas cars to switch over to electric cars. Because these cars don’t have much range, much storage, or really any ‘wow factor’ at all, it’s hard to get consumers excited. A lot of these vehicles already existed when Tesla began. They were probably aware that you can’t convince people to switch to an electric car by telling them they don’t need as much range as a gas car. A Tesla commuter car just wasn’t going to cut it.
While an even smaller Tesla would help them achieve an even lower price, which goes back to their ultimate goal of mass adoption, Tesla also prides itself on its high ranges. Tesla has been improving the range offered by their electric cars like crazy over the past years and have pushed their Model S to over a 400 range before any other non-Tesla automaker was able to get a car out with over 300 miles of range. To further hammer the point of how important range is to Tesla, recently it was announced that the Standard Range Model Y would be canceled with the stated reason that they could not provide a range of over 250 miles and anything lower was unacceptable. In its place would be a rear-wheel-drive version that will use the same long-range battery pack. Even though this was supposed to be the cheapest Model Y offering, and regardless that 250 miles of range is already more than all but a few available electric cars, Tesla was not satisfied and decided to scrap the whole variant due to a lack of range.
While we like to hammer home the fact that the average American only drives about 37 miles a day and that range doesn’t matter too much, range anxiety is and will continue to be the largest hurdle for any potential electric car customer, and might be the downfall of a prospective Tesla compact.
This problem however seems to be more American focused in nature due to how spread out the country is. While I am sure range anxiety is a thing in places like Europe and China, it doesn’t seem to be as strong as there are plenty of small electric cars with what we would consider sub-par ranges driving around the cities, so theoretically a Tesla commuter car would probably already do well in those locations. However, it was stated that the model designed by the Chinese design team would see a worldwide release, meaning it would have to have a range and price that would be palatable to the American market.
With Tesla’s Battery Day coming soon, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to assume that Tesla made a significant refinement in their battery technology and will get a large boost in their batteries’ energy densities. Tesla has seemed to be far and away leading every other automaker in regards to battery technology, so it’s probably a given that they will have a big boost in battery performance by the time the compact Tesla would hypothetically start production (2023-2024?). The hurdle then will become keeping the price down, people will simply not pay a large sum for a small car and as such the compact Tesla will have to be significantly cheaper than the Model 3 to justify its existence. Battery prices have been getting cheaper as well, but we don’t know the cost of any of Tesla’s future battery upgrades.
But this is all assuming that Tesla will continue its unofficial rule of “it has to at least have 250 miles of range”. If they could sell the Tesla compact car in Europe and China for ~$25,000 with a sub-200 mile range, would they? Tesla no doubt has a lot of hype surrounding it, and features like their Autopilot might be enough to sway customers even if the range isn’t over 200 miles, especially at a low enough price. If the price is low enough, then I might even see some US customers forgoing the extra range to get their hands on a cheap Tesla.
As charging infrastructure continues to grow and customers become more informed about electric cars as a whole, range anxiety will start to go down and the need for large ranges will settle down as well, allowing for even cheaper electric cars with smaller batteries (and faster charging times) to hit the streets, but that could be decades away at this point.
If Tesla’s ultimate goal is to propel as many people as possible to drive electric cars, then a cheap compact Tesla should be in lineup somewhere. Both a smaller Tesla Cybertruck and larger SUV have also been mentioned by Musk as potential next steps.