When you go to custom order a Tesla, let’s say the best-selling Model 3, you get a number of choices when building your car. One choice that’s presented is the choice of interior upholstery. The standard offering is all-black. For many, that’s a natural choice for a number of reasons:
- Black is the new black
- Black always looks sleek and stylish
- Other colors are harder to keep clean
- It’s included in the price
That last option seems to be particularly important in this case. The “Black and White” interior which features all white seats with black central armrest, mixed black/white door trim, etc., costs an extra $1,000 – or £1,100 in the UK.
This factoid, to some, offers a rather obvious answer to the question in our title. Why does Tesla recommend the white interior? Because they get an extra $1,000 (or £1,100) on the price:
Actually, it seems that there’s a lot more to this than just the money. When you consider that the white upholstery is soft and sumptuous vegan-friendly leather, the added cost starts to become a little more apparent and you start to think that perhaps Tesla isn’t making anything more meaningful on that.
OK, so why the recommendation then? What else about the white interior is better than the all-black interior? In today’s blog, we’re trying to find out.
Background: Musk’s Red Wine Challenge
Back in December 2018, Elon Musk tweeted a reply asking about Tesla upholstery in which he quite emphatically recommends getting the white seats. His tweet is dated December 16, 2018 at 5:44am (early bird?):
“The white seats are actually extremely stain resistant. You can spill red wine on the seats & just wipe it off.”Elon Musk, Twitter, December 16th 2018
Well, at least we know the tweet must be from Musk, since it’s full of his usual subtle provocation and challenge. Did he just subtly invite all Tesla owners with white interiors to go ahead and spill red wine on their seats and see for themselves that they can just wipe it off? It’s a pretty bold claim, of course, since white upholstery and red wine have been natural enemies for centuries.
It didn’t take long for people to start taking Musk up on his challenge. Eric Loveday, writing for insideevs.com at the time, wrote an article that included a video demonstration from Vincent Yu (who was on the Twitter thread with Musk at the time he made his claim in December) pouring red wine directly onto the white front passenger seat of his 1-month-old Tesla Model 3.
He begins with a confident “Let’s try it…” but even then seems to hesitate as the bottle lingers at a safe angle before finally being tipped far enough to pour the wine.
Out the wine came and all over the seat it went. Fans of Tesla cars and good upholstery undoubtedly pulled their hair out as the rich red wine splashed all over the passenger seat, running down and pooling in the space between the seat and backrest.
As the pour finished, it looked like a murder scene. “There you go!” Vincent says before bringing in some help to clean it up. Who does he bring? It’s his young son, armed only with paper towels — he’s clearly going to drive the point home here…pun definitely intended.
Using only paper towels, the youngster continues wiping and sure enough, all the wine comes out. He then wipes it down one more time with a clean, dry rag, making sure to get into all the cracks, and voila! The job is done, and not a trace of the wine is left.
So, What’s So Great About the White Interior?
Musk’s 2018 tweet and Vincent Yu’s subsequent video demonstration give us the first advantage of the white Tesla interior, and that’s its stain resistance. Red wine against a soft, white surface is impressive. Of course, the fact that it’s vegan-friendly leather does help because it doesn’t absorb the wine as insanely fast as a cloth upholstery would. If Tesla’s white interior were made of SofTex or some similar cloth-based fabric, it might be a different story.
Zachary Shahan, writing for cleantechnical.com in September 2021 brings up the stain-resistant fabric as another reason to favor the white over the black when choosing the interior. He writes that “…there are various smudges or marks that show up much more on black. They seem to get a dirty look more easily than the white seats.”
Style and Comfort
There seems to be a consensus that the white vegan-friendly leather looks much, much better than the all-black style. Shahan has a Model 3 with the white interior, and was given a black-interior Model 3 as a loaner when his own went into the service center. What was the family reaction? In his words, “No one was thrilled about the black seats.” That’s a pretty stark statement.
Here’s the thing, the white doesn’t just look better because white is inherently better, but because of something else, the clue for which is in the name of this interior package. We mentioned it above. It’s not called the “White Interior” but rather the “Black and White” interior. The black and white colors working together make for a much more stylish combination.
Frankly, it pops! The black and white play against each other, black highlighting white and white highlighting black. It’s a symphony, a harmony.
There is also some strong opinion out there that the white leather feels softer and is therefore more comfortable for seating. This is no doubt very helpful for the driver and passengers when they are facing a longer journey. When car seats are super comfortable and soft, long journeys feel so much less of a chore, and actually being in the car can become a fun bit of the trip!
Another more practical reason that Tesla and others are recommending the white upholstery is that the black is more heat absorbent. Tesla allows you to precondition your car of course so it never has to feel too hot when you get in, but what about the times when you’re in a hurry, or you forget, or perhaps the app just isn’t working at that time and you can’t pre-condition.
It seems that the white seats don’t get as “FREAKIN’ HOT” (as Shahan describes the problem in his own article) as the black seats.
It’s Eco-Friendly and Animal Friendly
It’s worth mentioning that you’re spending more money not for the kind of luxurious leather that results from the torture and death of cows, but rather is ethically sourced and produced vegan-friendly leather. That means it’s animal-free. It’s a nice bonus for those who want every inch of their car to be green and ethical.
The White Upholstery Condition Has Been Proven to Last
Shahan also includes a video in his piece showing his own Tesla Model 3 with the white seats. The car is 2 years old and has 17,000 miles on the clock, and this is a car that is frequented by a mom, dad and 2 young kids. The seats are utterly pristine and in great condition.
This is strong evidence that Tesla is investing in a durable product not only that doesn’t rip or tear even when the kiddos come along — perhaps the ultimate test is 3 kids and a labrador — but also doesn’t lose the luster of its white shine after all that time. That’s impressive.
Conclusion: Is Black and White Worth $1,000?
So, is Tesla’s recommendation fair? Have they earned the right to their extra $1,000 so that we can get the Black and White interior with those seemingly invincible white leather seats? Well, it would seem that it’s not purely aesthetic, and that Tesla has done a lot to reduce the risk of the seats being prematurely ruined. In that case, we think it’s a great-value addition to your car.
Remember that you’re going to be spending $12,000 extra dollars if you want the Full Self-Driving Mode package in there. The Black and White interior package gives you comfortable upholstery in your seating that you’ll be using 100 percent of the time that you’re in your Tesla. The FSD system you’ll likely only use on occasion. We say it’s $1,000 well spent.