By on January 17, 2020


While we’re on the subject of American (or somewhat American) automakers looking to beat the Chinese at their own EV game, Tesla has announced a new direction in that massive electric vehicle market.

With Model 3s now rolling into buyers’ hands from its just-opened Shanghai assembly plant, the automaker has turned its eye to the lower end of the market.

Chinese “new energy” vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, but small and affordable is where the big volume is, and it’s currently where Tesla’s product line isn’t. Despite price decreases in the works for the Model 3 (which topped $50,000 to start in China), it’s still a hefty chunk of yuan. And the upcoming Model Y crossover won’t satisfy anyone’s desire for a cheaper Tesla.

So, Tesla has its eye on a new research and design center in the EV-hungry nation. The automaker issued a call-out to prospective employees this week, releasing a sketch depicting — with typical design studio exaggeration — the kind of vehicle it’s looking for.

The recruiting effort for designers of “Chinese-style” vehicles was made on WeChat, China’s main social media platform.

While such a vehicle would target Chinese buyers first and foremost, that country isn’t the only one with a keen interest in small electric vehicles. CEO Elon Musk has talked up the idea of a small global vehicle in the past, using the company’s expanding Chinese presence as a home base. Such a model would surely make its way to Europe, at the very least.

The timeline for a new small Tesla? Not imminent, obviously.

[Image: Tesla]

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11 Comments on “Speaking of China – Tesla’s Thinking Small...”

  • avatar

    I personally think it’s a good idea. If it can also be made sporty and have at least 150 miles of range, I think it would sell well in nearly every market.

    • 0 avatar

      It all depends on the pricing and the incentives the government is willing to give to buyers. Remember that the smaller the car, the more critical every extra dollar of price becomes. If there is a 20% price differential between a $10,000 economy car and its electric equivalent, the EV costs $12,000, a pretty substantial jump in price in that end of the market. That same 20% on an $35,000 car raises the price to $42,000 but that difference is not as significant seeming to the prospective customers In that market.

      The other thing is that the smaller the car, the less significant the fuel savings are. If your ICE is already getting 40 mpg and you are driving 10,000 miles per year, with gas at $4 per gallon you are only saving about $20 a week.

      So it will take roughly two years to make back that extra $2,000 you spent up front, and that is without consideration of the costs of financing that additional $2,000 in your loan, etc.

  • avatar

    GM has already beat Tesla to the punch –

    New ARĪV eBikes From GM Are Available for Preorder

    • 0 avatar

      @redgolf: Bikes are not cars and there is already a surprising number of eBikes available at far lower prices than $2500 – $3500 (estimated from various Euro prices listed in linked article.)

      Cars like the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Cooper Mini and others are already pretty popular AND are coming with battery-electric versions. This could well be an opportunity for Tesla to come up with something more like the Cooper (Mini) as a fun and agile vehicle as compared to the others’ more staid and utilitarian vibe.

    • 0 avatar

      E bikes have been in China since 2009, nothing new here.

  • avatar

    So would this be called Model 1 or Model C? They might be able to cut some length from the trunk and reduce the power a bit, and therefore some of the safety standard (as it won’t be that fast if hitting a tree). Smaller batteries for the urban folks too?

  • avatar

    They could take a lead from the Cybertruck design and use flat panels as far as possible, which would save costs. Make it a very utilitarian looking thing, would be both cheaper and a significant point of difference in the market

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