The next electric car from Tesla could be a pint-sized city car, going by an image posted by the company on Chinese social media on Wednesday.
Not content with producing the “Made in China” (MIC) Model 3, Tesla China has commenced the process of setting up a centre to create a “designed in China” electric vehicle (EV) for the global market, an initiative that was foreshadowed by CEO and co-founder Elon Musk in December at the first MIC Model 3 delivery event.
“I think something that would be super cool would be to – and so we’re going to do it, we’re going to try to do it – would be to create a China design and engineering center to actually design an original car in China for worldwide consumption,” said Musk.
In the Weibo post (also shared on Wechat), the electric carmaker has now invited designers to submit creative portfolios via email, with the following message (translated from Chinese):
In early January, we ushered in the long-awaited “Made in China” Tesla. And now, in order to achieve the “Made in China” to change “Chinese design”, Tesla decided to do a very cool thing – set up design center in China, an invitation to the National excellent designers, creative talent.
The post was accompanied by a long form image which as well as the MIC Model 3 included a sketch of a short wheelbase vehicle concept which could indicate an electric city car is on the cards – “Model 2” has been bandied about in the media before as a possible name for such a car.
The job posting is another indication of the considerable momentum that Tesla has gathered since the opening of its Shanghai Gigafactory 3 in late 2019.
With MIC Model 3 deliveries now underway, the launch of the Model Y imminent and after another record quarter for deliveries globally in Q4 2019, Tesla has had a strong start to 2020 with stock rallying to more than $US520 ($A753).
It will be interesting however, to see Tesla China’s approach to designing an electric vehicle for Tesla.
The Californian carmaker overcame numerous challenges in 2018 as it ramped up production of its first mass-volume production vehicle, the Model 3, and it is known that to avoid similar challenges and streamline production for the Model Y, it has 75% of its components in common with the Model 3.
This time around, and in typical out-of-the-box Tesla fashion, it is not just automotive designers that are being invited to apply for positions in the new design centre.
According to Chinese media the recruitment page also states that, “Even if you are not a car designer, you are welcome to come to war, because you design more than just a car.”
A short wheelbase electric vehicle from Tesla would certainly be a sensible and welcomed addition to the Tesla fleet, and it would also mean an even more affordable option for those wanting to make the shift to an electric car.
According to Tesla’s Q3 2019 financial report, the production cost of the Model 3 assembly line at the Shanghai Gigafactory 3 is 65% less than that of the US plant.
By the end of 2020, the Chinese-made Tesla Model 3 is expected to me made out of 100% locally manufactured parts. At present, about 30% of parts used for the MIC Model 3 are locally made according to Chinese media, a figure which is expected to increase 70% -80% by July 2020, and 100% by year’s end.
This would bring down the manufacturing costs of the Model 3 – and the Model Y, a Chinese program for which has also now been announced – as well as, one would expect, any further models built in China.
While the Model 3 is available for as little as $US35,000 in the US (if ordering the “off-menu” Standard Range variant), an even more affordable model to achieve price parity with fossil-fuelled equivalents would give Tesla the potential to reach sales levels to place it in the arena of auto giants.
In Australia, where the Model 3 currently costs around $70,000-75,000 including on-road costs depending on which state the buyer lives in, achieving this price parity would be more difficult without serious government incentives, but a smaller cheaper model would go some way to helping to accelerate a local transition to EVs that is sorely lacking.
It is not known if the Shanghai Gigafactory will produce the Model 3, Model Y or the new model for right-hand drive markets such as Australia in the future.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.