Tesla X Targets Women

Female drivers top of mind for coming 7-passenger, all-electric vehicle

Tesla Motors says its all-electric Model X, scheduled to hit the highways in 2014, combines “the functionality of a minivan with a design as cool as an SUV.”

And though the seven-passenger Model X is gender neutral—there’s nothing overtly feminine about the car—it was built with families and female drivers in mind: Think moms who regularly haul around young children, their friends, groceries and sports equipment.

The Model X is described on Tesla’s website as being an automobile “built around the driver —and six of her friends.” To make sure the design team was on the right track, Tesla last year invited a dozen Palo Alto, Calif.-area women to its headquarters for a freewheeling, three-hour-long focus group led by Franz vonHolzhausen, Tesla’s chief designer. Also, several of the designers who worked on the Model X are women, including Nancy Holman, Susanne Neuhauser and Kimberly Marte.

Since Tesla unveiled the Model X last month, more than 500 people have placed reservations for the car, including men who say they are buying the Model X for their wives as well as women who reserved the car for themselves.

Neither the car’s price nor its expected range between charges has been announced, but Tesla says it will be comparable in range and price to its coming all-electric Model S luxury sedan, which will have a base price of $57,400.

There’s been a lot of buzz about the Model X’s falcon-wing passenger doors, which have hinges on the top and open upward rather than sliding sideways like the doors of typical minivans. The large trunk is deep enough to fit bags of groceries, camping equipment or a stroller, and there’s additional storage in a front trunk that Tesla calls the “frunk.”The seats are leather, ideal for cleaning up crumbs and spills. The second-row seats slide all the way forward, even with a baby’s car seat installed, which makes it easy to access the third row of seats.

“My sister has kids, including two in baby seats, and she drives a minivan,” says vonHolzhausen, who oversees about 100 employees at Tesla’s design studio near Los Angeles. “I had to climb over the car seats to get into the back seat, and it seemed ridiculous to have to do gymnastics to get in and out of the car.”

At the women’s focus group, Tesla asked the participants, most of whom drive minivans and SUVs, to talk about their cars: how they use them and what they like and don’t like about them.

Safety was a big issue for all the women, as was ease of getting kids in and out of car seats and access to third-row seats. Some cared a lot about how the car looked, while others focused more on functionality. Many SUV drivers said they didn’t like having to climb up into their car.

Tesla surveyed the market niche, which includes the Cadillac Escalade and Honda’s Odyssey, with an eye toward creating a vehicle that combined functionality with style. At the same time, it wanted to create a car men would be excited to drive as well.

“The focus group was great because it validated a lot of our own thinking,” says vonHolzhausen.

“Women don’t want an overly feminine vehicle; they want to feel secure. But it has to be aggressive enough for a guy to feel confident as well. We didn’t want to make a Hello Kitty edition.” It costs $5,000 to reserve a Model X, or $40,000 for those who want the limited edition Model X Signature.

Bonnie Norman, 58, is a director at Care Innovations, a joint venture between Intel Corp. and General Electric Co. She owns a Tesla Roadster and lives in Loomis, Calif., northeast of Sacramento. Norman doesn’t have young children and already had made a reservation for the Model S. But after attending Tesla’s party for the Model X in Los Angeles, she changed her mind and put down $40,000 to reserve the Mode lX Signature. She is No. 3 in line.

“I dropped my Model S reservation because I need the extra space. The X is ideal for road trips, camping and when family visits,” Norman says.

 Laurence Rabe and her partner, Susan Sloan, also reserved a Model X. “It is closer to a BMWX6 than anything else in style,” says Rabe in an email.“We do not have any kids and made our reservation the day of the unveiling, simply because not only this is a very sexy and fast car, but it is a very good-looking car/SUV.”

The Model X is fast, accelerating from 0 to 60mph about five seconds. It’s also quiet because there’s no engine noise, allowing music to flood the interior of the cabin. And it’s spacious and lofty on the inside, thanks to a lot of natural light pouring in through large windows.

VonHolzhausen’s parents, who live on the East Coast, came to the Model X launch event last month. “My mom marched into the reservation tent and reserved a Model X for herself,” vonHolzhausen says. “She drives a Jeep; she has four grandchildren. She didn’t ask my dad. She just went ahead and did it.”

 

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