The finally sort-of-but-not-really-launched Tesla Model X is many things: it’s absurdly fast, incredibly spacious, unbelievably high-tech, virtually un-crashable, and, in the event it does manage to get into a mess, is matched with only the Model S in terms of its crash worthiness. Plain and simple then, this is the fastest, roomiest, safest vehicle on the market today, full stop. And oh, by the way, it’s of course electric. (Yes, it’s incredibly expensive, but not when compared to similar class cars like the BMW 7er, Mercedes S Class, and Audi A8, or those marques’ respective SUV models.)

Thing is though, it’s also the weirdest car that’s (sort of) on the market today: no, not because of it’s gull- falcon-wing doors — those are awesome, not weird — but because, you see, it has a climate control system that includes not just the usual “AUTO” and “Recirculate” buttons, but also a legitimate, no-joke button emblazoned with the internationally recognized biohazard symbol.

Question is, though, why? And no, “because they can” or “because brilliant marketing,” while valid, are not sufficient. Surely there must be more to it than this.

And there is.

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But first, a bit of background on what exactly this Bioweapon Defense Mode (can we just call this BDM?) really is: a medical-grade HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arrestance) air filter that can remove virtually all foreign particulate matter including pollen, bacteria, pollution, even viruses. While this is all very impressive, this is merely its passive defense mechanism.

The Model X can pressurize itself like an airplane to increase the cabin pressure to exceed the outside atmospheric pressure.

Even more impressive is the active mechanism employed by the BDM: surely an industry first for a passenger vehicle, the Model X can pressurize itself — yes, like an airplane — to increase the cabin pressure to exceed the outside atmospheric pressure. Effectively what this means is that no outside air can flow inside the vehicle; and what little should still happen to enter will be effectively filtered out by the aforementioned hospital-calibre air filter.

Incredible stuff, this, especially considering that just three years ago — August 2012 — Tesla’s factory in Fremont was cranking out just 15 to 20 cars per week, and today it’s doing around 1,000 cars per week.

Question still remains tough: why the Bioweapon Defense Mode? Surely it’s not really just a publicity stunt?

No. It isn’t. There’s actually a very practical — and therefore brilliant — motivation behind this seemingly absurd bit of over-engineering:


It’s little secret that Elon Musk is hell-bent on making Tesla succeed in China; not just because China is the largest car market in the world with 20 million cars sold last year, but because it will soon be the world’s largest electric car market, too. But Musk doesn’t just want to sell cars in China; he wants to build cars in China.

The air in some of China’s most crowded cities is now fifty times the maximum safe limit of particulate matter up to 2.5 micrometers in size … and is linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths.

Thing is though, China has a unique problem in the world: the air in its most crowded cities is now fifty times the maximum safe limit of particulate matter up to 2.5 micrometers in size, defined as “PM2.5.” While the World Health Organization considers 2.5 micrograms of PM2.5 to be the safe limit, cities in China have seen a staggering 1,157 micrograms, and have been linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths (and people are concerned with nuclear power?).


The point is, pollution is a very real problem in China. To wit, it’s become common practice in Chines cities to walk about with medical-grade surgical face masks; hence the Model X’s Bioweapon Defense Mode.

Suddenly, it all makes sense: not only has Musk conjured up what is arguably the greatest, most versatile, safest, and most efficient automobile ever produced on Earth; not only does he intend for Tesla to dominate — and be built in — China; but he also intends for Tesla on the one hand to become a very real stepping stone towards helping to alleviate China’s pollution problems, while simultaneously helping to protect its occupants from the smoggy stuff in the meantime.

The Model X is simply the most awesome vehicle you can buy; that it can block out the stench of the slaughterhouse along the 5 freeway in California is just a neat party trick.

Put another way, for those of us here in the States the Model X is simply the most awesome vehicle you can buy; that it happens to have a cool-sounding climate control mode that can block out the stench of the slaughterhouse in Kettleman along the 5 freeway in central California is just a neat party trick.

For Tesla, however, it represents a brilliantly strategic vector from which to target China; for the Chinese people, it is a veritable solution to their pollution woes and a legitimate health benefit that is sorely needed.

Follow me on Twitter @MarcHoag
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