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Tesla Asked Women What They Wanted and Came Up With Model X SUV

by Bharath ChowdarySeptember 18, 2015

When Dallas-area Realtor Katherine Schwartz went shopping for a new SUV, she test-drove several models, including a Chevy Tahoe, Land Rover LR3 and Mercedes GL550. In the end, Schwartz, 40, decided to plunk down a $5,000 deposit for a vehicle no consumer has been able to sit in, much less take for a spin: Tesla Motors Inc.’s all-electric Model X, which starts deliveries later this month.Tesla designed its first sport utility vehicle in part to appeal to female drivers and is betting a lot of women will feel the same way as Schwartz. If the company is to hit an ambitious annual sales target of 500,000 vehicles by 2020, it needs to attract a whole new contingent of drivers — and women buy more than half the crossover SUVs in the U.S.Tesla’s initial customers — many of them tech-savvy early adopters — were overwhelmingly male. In 2012, the year the Model S hit the market, women accounted for just 13.3 percent of the electric sedan’s U.S. registrations, according to data from IHS Automotive.


Early in the design process, Tesla invited a dozen women to its Palo Alto, California, headquarters for a three-hour focus group led by chief designer Franz von Holzhausen. The participants, most of whom drove minivans and SUVs, were asked what they like and don’t like about their vehicles. Among the big issues: safety, a third row and getting kids in and out of car seats.Americans will buy more than 17 million new vehicles this year, and their love affair with trucks and SUVs is accelerating. In August, more than 889,000 light trucks were sold in the U.S., compared to 688,000 cars. Smaller SUVs, including the BMW X5, the Audi Q5 and the Porsche Cayenne, are among the models popular among female drivers.

Women dominate the crossover SUV segment,” said Jessica Caldwell of “Ride height gives a feeling of safety, and having a command view of the road is really important to women. Women are also pragmatic buyers, and SUVs bring flexibility. SUVs are growing in popularity, and Tesla brings an electric solution.Anticipation for the Model X is so high that it could eat into sales of the S. Tesla aims to deliver 50,000 to 55,000 vehicles this year, compared with a previous target of 55,000 — partly owing to production snags with the Model X’s middle-row seats. Now Tesla is trying to stoke sales of the Model S with a customer referral program

Shapiro drives a 2005 Lincoln Aviator that he inherited from his father. His wife drives a hybrid, the 2007 Lexus RX400h. Who will drive the Model X most days? It’s an “ongoing conversation.

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