The Porsche Problem: Tesla’s Model X

From September 29th you can buy one of these, a Tesla model X. Would you?

Take the Model T formula and wrap it over a new package. Does that work for you? Image: Automotive News.com
Take the Model S formula and wrap it over a new package. Does that work for you? Image: Automotive News.com

Porsche spent a long time relying on essentially one shape. They tried a few alternatives in the form of the 924, 944 and 928 but none of them gelled or won approval except from design purists and die-hard Porschophiles. When it came time to create the first generation Cayenne they simply stretched the 911 theme over the carcass of an SUV. It still sold because people who like bombastic, gaz-guzzling roadwhales don’t care about how their car looks.

Will that work for Tesla who, absent any kind of design history, have decided to smear the styling of the Model S (already derivative) over a cross-over package? Yes, crossovers are popular and electric cars have their takers (I want to rent one soon but can’t because Sixt are sold out); does that mean an electric crossover that looks like the X will be a success?

The USP is in what designers call the closures: falcon wing doors.

2015 Tesla Model X front view: Tesla Motors website.
2015 Tesla Model X front view: Tesla Motors website.

That looks very special. And I can only guess at the engineering effort required to make it all work. I wonder how many on the design team were thinking of Renault’s Avanttime when they were CADding this into reality.
As I have said before, the propulsion system of the Tesla is quite a sales draw. Perhaps to expect it to look as futuristic as a Citroen might have been is expecting too much. That said, I wish Tesla could have pushed the design envelope a bit further with this. In comparison the aforementioned Renault still looks like a space ship and the Tesla looks like a less-splendid Korean car from 2009. Or a hamster.

I still see this car as experiencing the Porsche problem, though without the five decades of baggage to justify it. Tesla will have properly matured when they can impose their own form language on their cars and do justice to the quite remarkable engineering intent underneath.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

9 thoughts on “The Porsche Problem: Tesla’s Model X”

  1. Another way of looking at this is when your entire range consists of one model, a popular one at that, by mimicking the shape it will maintain brand identity.

  2. Good counterpoint – did they need to be so literal? And didn’t they know they’d need a style for more than one car? I wish it looked more spacey. Renault’s Zoe and the Nissan Leaf look right to me. They aren’t selling to the same clientele. Rich people are really going for this car (T) in Denmark.

  3. Not only in Denmark. Here in Switzerland, there is hardly a day without Tesla sighting.
    I too find the Model X much too close to the S, literal as you state it Richard. But it’s the trend of the time. All the German Premiums do it: create one template, stretch or crush it to fit all sizes, and evolve it slowly. Design by Procrustes…

  4. I guess Tesla are trying to strike a balance between, ‘I am the future!’ and, ‘I’m not weird or anything…’ with their styling. I think they could be bolder but I dare say Mr Musk and his investors would like to win a sustainable number of paying customers instead.

    Tesla could have it both ways by using concept cars and one-off… whatever the 21st century version of a coachbuilt special is… to hint at the possibilities while selling a viable volume of cars for people who wouldn’t feel right driving a vehicle without a grille, even if it doesn’t need one.

  5. Two afterthoughts:
    Tesla explicitly wanted to bring the electric car out of the “alternative” or “renunciation” corner. Maybe, as Mark points out, this also includes not being “strange”.
    And regarding the X’s design: doesn’t its grille recall the dreadful Mini Countryman? And the grille isn’t even the only parallel, but also a design theme being put over a car of inappropriate proportions.

  6. One of the little-remarked upon features of the Tesla S is its format – a 5 metre long hatchback (with jump seats in the trunk, no less). The Panamera and A7 have made this something of a trend, but it’s still unusual in a market dominated by 4 door saloons and prestige SUVs. The model X is therefore more conventional (trick doors aside) and less interesting. I’m sure it will sell well, but the model S is more interesting and attractive.

  7. On reconsideration, the doors are impressive. Various makers have shown such doors but have never followed through; respect to Tesla for daring.
    On the looks front, the Tesla S has a lot going for it apart from looks which are derivative or too cautious for me. Customers like it and that matters more than my opinion.

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