Elon’s Undoing

The death of the perpetually tardy Model 3 may ultimately have less to do with it being an overpriced electric car than with something even more lethal to its chances . . .

It’s a too-small sedan.

Electric or not, they aren’t selling. Even the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord — both of them just redesigned — are experiencing sales dips. If these formerly perennial hot-sellers are in trouble, it’s a clue that something is seriously awry with this kind of car rather than any particular car.

Others are spiraling toward the ground at freefall speed, like a plane with both wings shot off. Ford, as most everyone has heard, is going to stop making sedans — period. Death warrants have been signed for the Taurus and Fusion. Cadillac just cancelled the unloved ATS. The Chevy Impala will soon sleep with the fishes.

The why is easy enough to understand. Most new sedans are too small — for people and for cargo.

Especially mid-size sedans in the family car price range like the Camry, Accord and its various rivals. Consider the specifications of the Camry in relation to the crossover SUV it’s related to, the RAV4.

The Camry is 192.7 inches long overall vs. 183.5 inches for the RAV4 — but the Camry is less roomy inside, particularly for cargo. It has a comparatively measly 15.6 cubic foot trunk with limited access vs. 38.4 cubic feet of space behind the RAV4’s second row, which can be folded flat to expand that space to 73.4 cubic feet. Whip out your calculator and do some quick division. The RAV4 has almost five times the cargo space than the much longer (and so less easy to park) Camry’s got.

This is a big deal for families who need space — and appreciate the versatility.

The RAV and other crossovers have something else the Camry hasn’t got: The option to buy all-wheel-drive. This feature is available with almost every crossover on the market — even the low-cost models. But very few sedans in the family car class/price range even offer it.

Now consider the Model 3.

It is a smaller sedan, with even less room for passengers and cargo than sedans like the Camry and Accord — most notably for the backseat passengers. It has only 35.2 inches of legroom, almost three full inches less than the Camry offers (38 inches) and with the same relative deficit of cargo capacity vs. a comparably sized (or even smaller-sized) crossover like the RAV4.

No all-wheel-drive, either.

Worse, from the standpoint of a mass-market car — which is how Elon is marketing the Model 3 — it is a rear-drive car.

Performance car fans prefer rear-drive for the high-speed handling advantage of divorcing the wheels which steer from the wheels which propel, but this comes at the cost of wet and snow-day traction. Everyone who knows even a little bit about cars knows that rear-drive cars are not-great in the wet and helpless when it snows.

In inclement weather, it is better to be pulled than pushed.

The Model 3 will have the compensating factor of having its electric motors rear-mounted, like an old VW Beetle’s engine. This weights the rear-drive car’s usually light rear end and so enhances traction. But unlike the rear-engined/rear-drive Beetle — which was good in the snow — the Model 3 will not have tall and thin pizza-pan wheels that cut through the snow to the road below.

That was the real key to the old rear-drive Beetle’s winter-weather tenacity.

No one — including Tesla — mounts such sensible wheels (and tires) on cars anymore. Especially Tesla. The Model 3 comes standard with 18×8.5-inch wheels (wider than the Camry’s standard 17 inch wheels) fitted with short sidewall performance tires that will steamroller and slide all over the road when it snows. The Model 3’s standard wheel/tire package is almost as functionally absurd as its electric powertrain, which takes 12 hours to recharge completely on standard household current.

And it sits low to the ground, compounding the poor-weather problem.

Crossovers — even the front-wheel-drive ones — sit higher up, and that clearance is a big help in poor weather. People also seem to prefer sitting up high, because they are able to see better. Crossovers fit the bill. Low-riding rear-drive luxury-sport sedans don’t.

And that italicized thing may be the final thing, nail-in-the-coffin wise. Not just for the Model 3 but for today’s sedans generally. They have all become luxury-sport sedans — BMW emulators in looks as well as how they ride and how tight they are inside. Their “sporty” center consoles and low rooflines combine to produce a claustrophobic effect, even when there is generous legroom — as in the new Camry (but not in the Model 3).

Meanwhile, Americans have grown larger. They do not fit comfortably in luxury-sport sedans, especially the mid-sized and smaller ones, like the Tesla 3.

Particularly in the back seat.

The Tesla 3 would probably fail for all of these reasons even if it weren’t an electric car.

Now add to the mix that it is an electric car. An expensive electric car.

Let’s see: Cramped, terrible in poor weather and costs a small fortune…

Toyota and Honda are having trouble selling the less-cramped, decent in poor weather and far more affordable Camry and Accord sedans. Which don’t take 12 hours to recover their wind before you can get back on the road.

People holding Tesla stock might want to give it some thought.

Comments?

www.ericpetersautos.com

*** Photo courtesy of Caricos

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One Response to “Elon’s Undoing”

  1. Peter Rives says:

    Agree with most of everything but my Mercedes E-class with all season tires and rear wheel drive did OK in a snowstorm with its traction control etc. To get better traction would require 4 dedicated snow tires in my experience. All wheel drive is probably over-rated as many tow services will tell you – these are the cars that are driven off the road by overconfident drivers. Even my old Miata with limited slip differential, rear wheel drive, and 4 snow tires did great in heavy snow.