26 October 2016
New Autopilot features are demonstrated in a Tesla Model S during a company event in Palo Alto, California on October 14. Photo: Reuters
New Autopilot features are demonstrated in a Tesla Model S during a company event in Palo Alto, California on October 14. Photo: Reuters

Tesla’s new China gambit: Cars with ‘bioweapon defense’

If you have the gold standard to which all luxury cars are compared but your sales in China are still embarrassing, you don’t have much choice.

You either abandon the market with your tail between your legs, do a better job of adapting your product to the Chinese market, or create a new product uniquely suited to Chinese tastes and culture.

For Tesla Motors, whose Model S has piled on dozens of accolades including Motor Trend’s Car of the Year—it means building an all-new car that features what the company calls “bioweapon defense mode”.

It makes a lot of sense.

After all, air pollution is killing an average of 4,000 people a day in China, with the air in Beijing so bad that breathing it does as much damage to the lungs as smoking 40 cigarettes a day.

Simply press the bioweapon button to enjoy air scrubbed as clean as in a hospital operating room.

The new Model X’s medical grade air filter—which is about 10 times larger than a normal car’s air filter—is 300 times better at filtering bacteria, 500 times better at filtering allergens, 700 times better at filtering smog, and 800 times better at filtering viruses, according to Tesla.

Which also means owners of the new Model X can survive a biological weapon attack of anthrax, small pox or the plague, as long as they stay in their cars.

“The button should come in handy if there’s ever an apocalyptic scenario of some kind,” said Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

The electric automaker is expected to launch its Model X crossover in China next year, a way to tap China’s booming SUV market, Business Insider reported.

Aside from protecting occupants from pollution and Armageddon-type scenarios, the Model X has plenty to wow wealthy Chinese customers.

The US$132,000 electric crossover SUV sports falcon-wing doors (that lift upward instead of swinging outward), a number of state-of-the-art safety features, and a “ludicrous mode” that allows the vehicle to accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in three seconds, Quartz noted.

The X, and the Model S via an over-the-air software update, can also drive itself—which in China may or may not be a good thing.

In China, where roadways are famously clogged with cars, bicycles and pedestrians, at least 200,000 people die as a result of road accidents every year, International Business Times reported, citing the World Health Organization.

According to reports, “autosteer mode” uses real-time feedback features and a suite of sensors—a front-facing radar, a camera with image recognition capability, and 360-degree ultrasonic sonar—to read lane lines and detect other vehicles, said Wired.

Based on that info, the car steers itself and maintains a safe speed.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to drive in China—where cars weave from lane to lane more than they go in a straight line and massive sinkholes open up and swallow cars whole—I’d rather have my hands on the wheel.

On the other hand, the Model X will also parallel park for you.

Tesla just had its strongest quarter in China, Bloomberg reports, selling 1,345 units, the highest sales quarter in the country since entering the market last year, and nearly as many cars sold in the previous two quarters combined.

Still, China accounts for only about 10 percent of the more than 33,000 cars Tesla delivered this year, according to Business Insider.

China is the largest car market and, with unmatched pollution problems, should be the largest electric vehicle market, notes Fortune.

This, however, hasn’t been reflected in Tesla’s past sales.

The latest quarter results are a good start, but with the Model X and a bigger charging infrastructure, the company hopes to get sales up to speed.

A strong China market would take the pressure off the North American and European markets, which Tesla is heavily dependent on to meet its sales goals.

– Contact us at [email protected]


A strategist and marketing consultant on China business

EJI Weekly Newsletter