Tesla is planning a revamp of its best-selling product line, the Model Y, according to a variety of sources, hoping to keep the all-electric SUV fresh in the face of increasing competition.
There is the possibility Tesla might provide details of the program — codenamed Project Juniper, according to the Reuters — during its “Investor Day” event Wednesday afternoon. As TheDetroitBureau.com reported earlier this week, Tesla may also reveal plans for a smaller, more affordable Model 2 program during that program as part of what CEO Elon Musk has called “Master Plan Part 3.”
Exactly how much of a revamp the Model Y might get is uncertain, though it appears to involve updates to both the exterior and interior, as well as tweaks to the battery-electric drivetrain.
Not just one vehicle
Tesla also appears to be working up a makeover of the Model 3 sedan. Along with the Model Y revamp, it would mark the first time the automaker has given more than modest updates to its products. Visually, the big Model S sedan and Model X SUV are virtually identical to how they appeared when they debuted roughly a decade ago, aside from a change to the nose of the Model S.
“We haven’t seen a real revamp of any Tesla yet,” Sam Fiorani, principal analyst at AutoForecast Solutions, said during an interview ahead of the Investors Day livestream. But he cautioned the company may wait to announce that and other projects, including a smaller EV.
Fiorani said, “It doesn’t surprise me” that Tesla would move to update its two most important products. Any changes to the drivetrain would be aimed at retaining the perception that Tesla remains the most advanced producer of battery-electric vehicles on the market. Nonetheless, while some observers are expecting a fairly significant update to the Model Y, Fiorani anticipates it will be “evolutionary,” and “not all-new.”
“It will take a bit more maturity of the market before there’s a reason to have regular product cycles for Tesla,” he said. “When you dominate the market like they do, they really don’t have competition yet.”
Small tweaks until now
Until now, Tesla’s updates have been all but invisible. The automaker early on revised the faces of the Models S and X, eliminating traditional grilles to improve aerodynamics. It’s tweaked its drivetrains, notably adding longer range and higher performance. But it can be difficult to tell when an individual vehicle was produced from its design, exterior or interior.
The automaker has also made changes hidden from owners’ eyes, putting an emphasis on reducing production costs. And that is likely to happen with the facelifts coming for both of primary product lines, the Models 3 and Y.
The update of the sedan is known internally as Project Highland and it’s expected to go into production at Tesla’s Gigafactory Shanghai as early as September, Reuters reported. Project Juniper aims to put an updated Model Y into production sometime in 2024, several of those familiar with the program said.
Tesla now operates four factories, including ones in Shanghai, Berlin and Austin, Texas, as well as its original plant in Fremont, California. It’s unclear whether all the factories will roll out the updates simultaneously.
While Tesla retains an overwhelming share of the emerging EV market, the company is facing a growing wave of competition, especially in China where startups like BYD are quickly gaining traction with electric vehicles of their own.
The same is the case, albeit at a slightly slower pace, in the U.S. and Europe. And competitors are not only looking to target Tesla’s existing products but also beat it to the punch in other segments. Tesla doesn’t expect to start production of its Cybertruck until late this year. By then it will face up against alternatives like the GMC Hummer, the Rivian R1T, the Ford F-150 Lightning and the Chevrolet Silverado EV, with additional electric pickups, including the Ram 1500 EV to follow in 2024.
Chevy, meanwhile, expects to beat Tesla to the punch in the affordable EV segment with the new Equinox EV starting at just over $30,000. It debuts later this year.
But it could be some time before Tesla has to worry, as it retains a unique “aura” setting it apart, said Fiorani. “Tesla is in a class of its own. You buy a Tesla because it’s a Tesla. We need to have enough competition out there to soften the image” before it has to compete the way traditional automakers do.