Tesla designers: Model X is made for women (but not Hello Kitty)

The forthcoming all-electric Tesla Model X, a minivan/SUV/sportscar with winglike doors, was designed to appeal to moms, Tesla Motors reveals. The strategy is already paying off.
Written by Reena Jana, Contributor

Although the much-awaited, all-electric Model X vehicle from Tesla Motors hasn't been hyped as a car designed for women, it is.

The forthcoming Model X, whose design was first revealed last month, has been described primarily as having the practical features of a minivan and the toughness an SUV--along with sportscar-like doors that open upward like "falcon wings," as they're called. But a new look at the design strategies behind the Model X, by McClatchy/Tribune News reporter Dana Hull, shows that many of the sexy, sturdy new auto's features were intended to attract female buyers in particular.

As Hull writes,

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 free-wheeling, three-hour-long focus group led by Franz von Holzhausen, 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.

Here are the insights Tesla's designers came up with to make the Model X mom-friendly:

  • Safety is a top issue, including safely helping children get in and out of car seats.
  • Having easy access to a third row of minivan (or SUV) seats is important--in terms of getting kids, groceries, and gear from these areas quickly
  • Both appearance and functionality are important
  • Many SUV drivers really don't like climbing up into a vehicle

Interestingly, in many ways, the "falcon wing" passenger doors of the Model X--which may bring to mind 1980s DeLorean sportscar images, including goofy Back to the Future movie flashbacks--actually address many of these design challenges beautifully.

"The focus group was great because it validated a lot of our own thinking," von Holzhausen told Hull. "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."

So far, about 500 reservations for the Model X have been placed. Those already committed to buying the car include von Holzhausen's own mother, who has four grandkids to cart around, as well as Bonnie Norman, a Tesla Roadster owner in northern California who changed her original reservation for the swankier Tesla Model S, a luxury sedan, for a Model X. "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 told Hull.

Reservations for the Model X start at $5,000 for the basic model, and $40,000 for the limited-edition, high-end Model X Signature. The final prices haven't been made public yet (although they're expected to begin in the high $50,000s), and the car is scheduled for a 2014 release.

Anticipation is high; according to Tesla Motors, the Model X is the fastest-selling Tesla to date. The day after the design was revealed to the public in February, and without any advertising, advance sales of the Model X were over $40 million--suggesting that Tesla's design strategies really did pay off.

Image: Joe Wolf/Flickr

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