In Beijing, the land of conspicuous consumerism, I was introduced to the Tesla-X. The prominent tri-star of the M-B, Benzes if you need prompting, is understood as symbol of having made it, the thunderbird logo “T” of Tesla is rare. The cachet of owning and displaying this auto will achieve the silent envy of those munchkins measuring. In a nation where the gold interlocking CC’s of fake Chanel are a very weak signal of success, and the tri star of the Benz has become more common the “T” is still a rarity and not yet copied. As a potential measure of my host’s attempt to disprove their class conscious symbol, the car was in a non-descript, KGB, black. Suitable to prove they were not attempting a conspicuous display of wealth. I am not convinced, but then, I tend to be a skeptic about good intentions. Still, consider that the “X” of the name refers to excess.
As a concept, an electric car in our age of climate change concerns has great merit. Elon Musk deserves much credit for the bravado and energy to challenge the automobile establishment with a new vision. I can even excuse the Tesla-X as an effective marketing tool and business model. The “X” makes a statement. The challenge of making a statement is that not everyone agrees. For me, the “X” misses the point of a car, but then, fortunately for Musk, I am not the target audience of the “X”.
I did not enter the car as an auto critic, but I am a bit of a car guy and realized after a few minutes that the drive needed some commentary. At home, I have an SUV, a two year old Honda Pilot, the latest of decades of owning SUV’s. The choice of SUV has always been practical; “Schlepping.” Kids, household goods, sporting gear, etc. It was my daily driver too.
The car I entered was wonderfully appointed. It was clearly luxury. Soft leather seats, as soft as a baby’s behind, as my Mom would say. Two color upholstery, beige and black. I didn’t notice the stiffness, some reviews do complain, but I was comfortable in the back row. Oh yes, I didn’t get a chance to drive the car, because, as was befitting my host, they have a full time driver who had control of the keys and would not relinquish them. Honestly, even if I were allowed, driving in Beijing is not a challenge I would accept. Summed up succinctly, the only rule is that no one follows rules. It is mass chaos. Autos follow some rules, but motor scooters, bicycles and other motorized vehicles ride in all directions, even on the sidewalk.
The “X” has a large amount of glass to help the driver see all around as scooters come at him from the front, rear and sides. The front window rises nearly 1/3 up the roof. Structures are designed with glass to take advantage of the sun’s heating. Alas, in Beijing in April, not the hottest month, the car heated up from the sun, like a greenhouse. Cooling down with a little A/C would be great, but that does limit the range, which I read is nearly 300 miles. So we fiddled with the windows to cool the car down. I am not sure when during the heat of the summer, the driver would put on the A/C?
The designers of the “X” did themselves well with the interior. Some reviews complained about poor fit, which I didn’t notice. I was overwhelmed by the gentle relaxed curves, the chrome trim and recessed handles in the interior. In the daylight, it did take a minute to locate the door handles to exit the car.
Smack in the middle of the dash is a display larger than my laptop. The specs say 17 inches, but it seems bigger. A bit contradictory to have this overwhelming display far below sightlines to distract be the driver from the road. Yet, it is large and has bragging rights. With all that display space, road maps are quite readable, street are separated, and if given time the driver can trace the route with his finger. Save, attention should be on the road. If only the passenger could tilt the screen away from the driver and play games.
Finally, and most luxurious are the rear passenger “gull wing doors.” These are such an iconic element from an earlier 50’s MB, they deserve attention. Save for their total impracticality. As the attendant approached the car to open the door, our driver warned him away, since as the doors open from the bottom up, he would have been knocked off his feet. Then when they close, sensors alert if people are near and they do not close.
For me Tesla “X” for excessive design is not extraordinary. For those interested in a statement rather than a practical car, the “X” may be for them. The car specs, 0-60 in 3 seconds or so, is impressive. For my city bound, Beijing host, there is no time during any 24 hours where they could find enough lonely road to accelerate.
So, the next day we were off to the adjacent province, a long highway ride and a few days away from Beijing. As they pulled up, I noticed a familiar tri-star, a MB 500 SUV. A conventional gas powered car, with a range and capacity for long distance schlepping
The “X” designers have created the status symbol for the future. Completing with the newly created SUV’s of the ultra, high end brands, the “X” stands as the electric, non-polluting futuristic vehicle. With great flair for design, it is one step ahead for the conspicuous consumer who can flaunt it’s excess without care of cost.
Unfortunately, there is the well documented virtually inextinguishable fires caused by Tesla’s lithium batteries. Accelerated by accidents, or even igniting in a parking lot, the batteries burn so hot that the best option is to allow them to just burn themselves out. Up in unextinguishable flames, a fitting ending to a car designed for excess.