Many of us here at CleanTechnica have friends and family members who want to buy an electric car, and this discussion has become more varied and interesting over the past year. An interesting tidbit came up in our “Tesla News” chat when Benni Schulz wrote, “Most people I know are buying EVs now, and none of them are buying Teslas.” With one exception (my friend Matt, who is waiting for a Tesla Model Y) I’m in the same boat as Benni. With massive sales, irrepressible hype, and the best high-speed charging network in the country, you might think Tesla would be at the very top of everyone’s EV shopping list. So what does it give?
Editor’s note: Despite the above anecdote and regardless of the arguments and ideas below, Tesla sells as many vehicles as it builds and actually has a long waiting list because there is far more demand than production capacity. Despite rapid production growth, it can never seem to keep up with growing consumer demand for the Model 3 and Model Y. And this mismatch between production and demand is mostly related to battery availability. However, to become a truly dominant car manufacturer in terms of market share, the ideas below are probably good. — Zach Shahan
Is Elon the problem?
Look, Elon Musk is a polarizing figure who many would like to see step down from his role at Tesla – no doubt about it. Is Tesla Technoking’s well-publicized antics and sketchy interpersonal behavior really leading people to overlook the brand?
That doesn’t seem to be the case with mainstream buyers (read: “non-car people”), who aren’t following Musk as eagerly as we might think. Most of those people don’t mind Elon. Instead, they’re “bothered by existing options,” as Benni put it. “(They find them) boring.”
Taking a step back and looking at the Tesla lineup as a collection of cars, and not a collection of EVs, I have to agree.
Same sausage, different lengths
For many years – several decades, in fact – BMW has been accused of selling “the same sausage in different lengths”. This was superficially true, as the early 90s E36 3 Series looked an awful lot like the 5 Series, which (in turn) looked an awful lot like the 7 Series (see above). Under the skin, too, many of these cars could have different versions of the same inline-six engine, with similar suspension tuning and RWD driving dynamics baked in to give them all that “Ultimate Driving Machine” feel.
BMW broke out of this mold in the early 2000s with the introduction (opinion comes in 3…2…1…) of the positively hideous, Chris Bangle-designed and “flame-emerged” E65 7 Series, which launched in 2001. Despite the unfortunate rear (and side and front) of this car, BMW has successfully made the transition from what it was to what it is, and it’s come into its own, aesthetically, in a way that can’t really be said for other brands. A BMW looks a BMW, no matter how angry space beavers make you feel.
Tesla, right? Tesla seems to be stuck in the same “same sausage” mire that trapped BMW once upon a time. I know I had trouble telling a Model Y from a Model X when there wasn’t some other object nearby to give me a sense of visual scale. I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way—and anyone who doesn’t think the Model 3 doesn’t look like the Model S’s baby is kidding themselves.
Is the style wrong? No, not really. Most people seem to feel that Tesla’s style ranges from “inoffensive” (me) to downright handsome (pretty much everyone else with CleanTechnica byline), but if you don’t like the look of the X, you probably don’t like the look of the Y, you know? And since there aren’t any other charcuterie available right now, that means you’re probably shopping elsewhere.
More choice is good for consumers, bad for TSLA’s $
At the opposite end of the “same sausage, different length” ideology is Hyundai, which has introduced concepts and production cars offering visually different styling cues that could appeal to a wider audience – if only because it doesn’t like the IONIQ 5 (above). ) doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t like the IONIQ 6.
Similarly, the proliferation of viable EVs from non-Tesla manufacturers has brought more than just stylistic differences, but also functional ones. Even if we pretend that the Tesla Cybertruck (a mold-breaking concept if there ever was one) was a real thing you could buy today, it’s just not as practical or functional a work vehicle as the Ford F-150 Lightning, which has the benefit of compatibility with nearly every F-150 accessory on the market – from ladder racks to bed boxes, campers, lighting and more. This is it upper the benefits of being a real thing you can buy.
Volkswagen also sells its ID. Electric minivans buzz, while at the other end of the practicality spectrum, boutique brands like Pininfarina deliver on the promise of an electric hypercar. Meanwhile, Tesla’s efforts to get its Roadster 2.0 into production continue some five years after it was first revealed.
I think – and you may agree – that what Tesla needs to continue its rapid growth is not more of the same sausage, but expansion into more niches for the automotive industry. And those are the ones I think need to go after them.
Amazon has Rivian. Walmart has Canoo. Everyone else? Hate to break it to the $TSLA faithful, but there are hundreds of fleets out there with POs ready for Ford E-Transit and Mercedes E-Vito vans.
Tesla? Tesla doesn’t (that I know of) have anything like that in its product portfolio—and even if it did, the fact remains that the company is probably years away from entering this $990 billion global market.
Sporty and affordable off-road
Even if you could buy a brand new Tesla Cybertruck today, that doesn’t guarantee it will have the same mass appeal enjoyed by the Jeep Wrangler (above), Mercedes G-Wagen, or Ford Bronco. We’ll see.
A redesigned Model Y with some lift and all-terrain tires, with slightly more angular styling and a $40,000 (ish) price tag could usher in Tesla’s comeback. on the shopping lists of people who don’t want something that fits exactly like the current Tesla Model Y.
Tesla for $25,000
It’s worth noting that Benni and I strongly disagree on this. I don’t think a low-cost Tesla is a good fit for a brand that has become known for commanding the highest margins in the business — and low-cost, almost by definition, means low margins.
That said, if a brand-conscious buyer found himself buying a $25,000 Chevy Bolt, Nissan LEAF, and Tesla Model C, I think he’d choose the Tesla every time—even if it didn’t offer the range or practicality (read: seats) of one of the other two offers. Think Honda CRX instead of Honda Civic and you’ll get where I’m going.
But that is not all…
Tesla is winning the future, despite what sometimes looks like a deliberate effort by its Technoking to derail the whole thing. Still, it will take more than new models to capture and beat the likes of Toyota, GM and Honda (which have historically turned late entry into a given market into a tactical advantage).
If you’re interested, come back to the second half of this particular rant where I’ll argue that what Tesla really needs to succeed… is a sales agency.
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