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Alternating Currents: The anarchy of Tesla is in the third row

The 3rd-row in the Tesla Model Y. Photo credit: Tesla

Last week Tesla unveiled a $3,000 third row seat option for the Model Y. From the moment the first photograph of that rear seat showed up online, the internet was abuzz with laughter at the idea of anyone fitting in a third row. The Model X is available as a three-row layout, but that behemoth is nearly a full foot longer than the mid-sized Model Y and its third row has barely enough room for an adult. 

By adding a third row to a Model Y you lose a lot of the car’s ability to carry things without adding much in the way of ability to carry people. Consider for a moment that you’ve got seven people piled into the Y, now where do you put all of the stuff that seven people bring with them? The rear cargo area is all ate up, and the front trunk is hardly large enough for an overnight bag. A Tesla Model Y is certainly capable of going across the country, but where are you going to road trip without so much as a change of clothes? 

Let’s say you do buy a three-row Model Y. That probably means you have at least a few kids, right? Unless you had quintuplets, there’s a good chance some of them are in car seats. Do you want to have to take the car seat out to fold the middle row in order to get your older and self-mobile children into the way back every single time you depart or arrive somewhere? Children grow extremely quickly. How much longer will those older children be small enough to even fit in the Lilliputiann seats of the way back? Do you really want your kids to outgrow your car the way they outgrow T-shirts or tennis shoes? The use case for that third row is almost as limited as its leg room. 

While I am more than happy to pile praise onto Tesla for building truly decent cars, getting a deeper look inside is where you find out that the emperor hasn’t put on his pants this morning. A company like Honda would get lambasted for delivering half-baked concepts like this to consumers, so why does Tesla keep getting away with it? If it’s unacceptable for any other automaker, why do we keep ignoring the problems inherent in the ones produced by a company ostensibly worth seven hundred billion dollars? 

I think Tesla builds a truly compelling product, and I understand at least some of the enthusiasm around the company, but the veneer has worn away and the problematic aspects of the company show through in moments like this. Not only is this third row unusable, but it reads as a cynical cash grab to me. It’s a fugazi, just like “Full Self Driving”. Tesla, by dint of Elon Musk’s big mouth, has a habit of overpromising and under delivering. It’s honestly surprising that this habit hasn’t caught up to either of them at this point.

QUALITY CONTROL: This is absolutely unacceptable for a modern car

If it weren’t for the quality issues, the production issues, the parts supply issues, the repair issues, the public relations issues, the CEO’s issues, and the dying behind the wheel issues, Tesla might actually be worth twelve times as much as General Motors. This third-row seat only confirms to me that Tesla has a lot of growing up to do before it can be a serious contender on the world stage. 

The idea that Tesla gets interest-free loans from potential customers in the form of deposits on Roadsters and Cybertrucks that don’t exist and won’t for years, combined with the absurd idea that “Full Self Driving” is a $10,000 option for something that doesn’t work, and the plan to upcharge customers for a practically unusable third row tells me Tesla is still living in a startup mindset. If it doesn’t clean up its act, the company will always be seen as niche and won’t grow beyond that 499,550 units delivered milestone

As I said in my column last week, Tesla is still the go-to for electric vehicles. It’s still got the infrastructure and connectivity that nobody else seems to be able to manage. But as dozens of large scale electric projects ramp up from massive companies like Ford, GM, Honda, and others, how much longer will Tesla have that advantage? How much longer can this absurd company coast on being first to market with a minimum viable product? If Tesla doesn’t start taking itself a little more seriously, delivering the quality and functionality that you should be able to expect from a luxury car, then this stock market bubble is just that. 

In conclusion, $42,000 buys a pretty nice minivan. If you need to haul seven people and you’re worried about the environment, get a Pacifica PHEV and thank me later.

Written by Bradley Brownell
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