Could Tesla Motors revolutionize the auto industry, again?
Ten years ago all electric vehicles like the EV1, EV Plus, RAV4 EV, and others were relegated to the back burner when the automakers successfully fought the CARB ZEV mandate, and got CARB redirected to support hydrogen fuel cell research while the automakers went full bore into SUV sales. Some game changing events occurred a few years ago changing the direction of the automakers enough that there are now several electric vehicles on the market, in mass production by major automakers, on sale around the world. One significant event was the development of Plug-in Prius conversion kits by activists who launched a cottage industry of Prius conversions, keeping the "plug-in vehicle" on the table. The second, and more important, was the rise of Tesla Motors and the success of the Tesla Roadster. Because the success of Tesla made the major automakers EV programs look so bad, the company is credited with having given justification for major automakers to re-enter the electric vehicle market. Tesla Motors, with the Model S/X, appears poised to revolutionize the auto industry, again.
One may look at the total sales of Tesla Roadsters, 2500, and curiously ask how that can be called a success. That car competed in a narrow niche market of upscale high end sports cars, where 2500 sales is a significant number. Especially for an expensive electric car.
Those 2500 Tesla Roadsters were, according to Revenge of the Electric Car, what enabled Bob Lutz (then Vice-Chairman of General Motors) and Carlos Gohsn (CEO of Nissan/Renault) to re-awaken electric vehicle programs within their own companies. It's not just GM and Nissan, but Ford, Daimler, BMW and others, who re-awoke their sleeping EV programs when the Roadster came on the scene. To be fair it wasn't just the rise of Tesla Motors, because there's also rising concern over environmental pollution, greenhouse gases, and oil supply crunches, that are causing governments around the world to change the regulations to favor efficiency and a move away from fossil fuels.
Tesla's role in this is to design and manufacture no-compromise all electric vehicles, ones that demonstrate electric vehicles can be fun, beautiful, and powerful. Tesla's founders knew the Roadster would have to blow up and demolish the negative stereotypes around electric vehicles, that they can only be slow boring ugly golf carts. To do so the Roadster was designed with top end acceleration and top speed, built on a chassis provided by Lotus Engineering, and equipped with a huge battery pack allowing way more electric driving than is rationally needed.
The company is continuing, with the Model S/X, the same line of thinking, but taking it to the next level. Where the Roadster had a 240 mile electric driving range, the Model S/X has a 300 mile electric driving range. Where the Roadster had a 16.8 kilowatt charging system for relatively fast recharging, the Model S/X has a 90 kilowatt charging system providing 160 miles of driving range in a half hour. Where the Roadster has a 0-60 time under 4 seconds, the Roadster isn't quite that fast, but offers three rows of seating, and enormous cargo capacity between the rear and front trunks. Where the Roadster sold 2500 total cars, and was based on another manufacturers chassis, the Model S/X will sell twice that number this year alone, and is a ground-up design developed by Tesla engineers.
The Model S/X more effectively snubs the noses of the major automakers than the Roadster did. Where electric cars from the major automakers have a 100ish mile range, the Model S/X have a 300 mile range. Where the main electric cars (Leaf, Volt, i-Miev, Focus Electric) have 3.3 or 6.6 kilowatt charging, the Model S/X has 10 or 20 kilowatt charging, and it is high speed charging that governs the total daily driving range of an electric car.
To the extent that the Tesla Roadster pushed the auto industry back to electric vehicles, one wonders what the effect of the Model S/X will be in a few years. The capabilities of the Model S/X are way beyond what the major automakers are offering. If Elon Musk is to be believed, that Tesla has orders on hand for 10,000+ Model S's, and projects sales of 10-25,000 Model S's by the end of 2013, the company could be single handedly responsible for a large percentage of all electric vehicles on the road. That is, at a minimum Tesla has orders in hand, right now, for 10,000 Model S's, and the company's official projection is 25,000 Model S's sold by the end of 2013, along with several thousand Model X's. If this scenario pans out, it could keep Tesla Motors in the leading position in the electric automobile industry.
As if smashing the slow-boring-ugly-golf-cart stereotype is not enough, the company appears poised to take on another negative stereotype of electric vehicles, the long tail pipe idea behind the negative image of coal-powered electric vehicles. As we reported last week, Elon Musk spoke at last weeks Tesla Motors shareholders meeting about integrating solar power with the supercharger system the company plans to deploy for Model S/X owners. Musk said "We have to solve sustainable power generation as well, and solar is the best way to do that. If we have sustainable power generation, and sustainable power consumption, then we really have solved the problem." For him to say this is not just idle speculation, because he is the Chairman of not only Tesla Motors, but Solar City, one of the largest solar power system installers in the country, putting in his hands the corporate assets to make that dream become reality.
The typical conversation around electric cars is to complain that 100 miles driving range is not enough, or otherwise invoke "range anxiety", and to ask "when will they make an electric car with longer range?" The answer to that request is not coming from the major automakers, but from Tesla Motors. The Model S/X will prove, again, that electric cars with long driving range are quite possible, and that there's no magic, just the willingness to spend enough to buy a large battery pack.
In short, because Tesla Motors has always and will continue to build no-compromise electric cars, the company continually disproves conventional wisdom. Tesla's very existence poses a question to the automakers: "if Tesla can do this, why can't you"?