For many years now, I have been waiting with great anticipation to see what Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, Inc., would innovate to improve humankind as we know it. With many successful previous and ongoing ventures, Tesla, Inc. must surely be one of his most intriguing. Named after the famous physicist, Nikola Tesla, the company made its mark on the world in 2008 with ‘The Roadster’, the first fully electric sports car, retailing at nearly $110,000, of which the company only sold 2,400 units up until now. It wasn’t the car that Musk believed would change the current automotive market, but it created a good indication as to where the company was going – to create a more affordable electric car. Then in 2012 along came the luxury hatchback, ‘Tesla Model S’ which cost almost $58,000 – still not within reach of the general mainstream consumer. When the ‘Model X’ was released soon afterwards, for $75,000, owning a slice of the future still seemed out of reach. Now we have the Model 3. You have to admire how much the company has succeeded in such a small amount of time. It has quietly zoomed (much like an electric car) passed its competitors, including both Ford Motor and General Motors. Tesla, Inc. is currently worth around $51 billion, despite having only 1 percent of the sales of the other two automotive giants.
Traditionally, cars can be priced at eye watering figures for many different reasons, whether it’s down to brand, quality, material or even exclusivity. Tesla is doing things differently and your money is being spent on systems, safety and hardware – whilst still looking pretty flashy. With the introduction of the ‘Model 3’ at a more affordable $35,000, is this the car that will truly disrupt the current market?
Simplicity is key for great design at Tesla, Inc. The interfaces are simpler and they’ve done away with the key fob, instead opting for an app or keycard (in case your phone dies). The interior has a very minimalistic approach, with a long straight dashboard and a 15-inch touchscreen display in the centre. There is no speedometer, no mileage readouts, and just a few extra buttons. Instead, convenience and style go hand in hand, with voice activated controls, climate control via the app, and everything else accessed via the display. Tesla, Inc. would never dream of producing an ugly stereotype of an electric car and ‘Model 3’ is no exception – the glass roof is a thing of beauty. Most importantly though, it’s designed to have the highest ratings of safety in every single category. As Musk puts it, “Safety may not be sexy, but it is truly what matters most. If there was anything more we could do to keep you safe, we would do it in a heartbeat.”
Model 3 as seen in the wild. Credit: billsmitherson
Now for the really exciting part – the revolutionary stuff. A move towards sustainable transport has given us ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’. Owners of the ‘Model 3’ will be able to automate many of their daily routes with ‘Enhanced Autopilot’. The enhancements include ‘Autosteer+’, in which the new ‘Tesla Vision’ cameras and sensors will be able to navigate more complex roads. The ‘Smart Summon’ feature will have your car come and find you, even through difficult environments. Building on top of the ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ feature is the ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ where you can literally just sit while the car does all the driving to get you to your destination – something that seemed so distant and futuristic has been made a reality! Your Tesla will figure out the route, navigating even the most complicated junctions, roundabouts and densely packed areas. It truly is the closest thing we will have to flying cars and imagine the extra sleep you can get in the morning! However, to be able to enjoy the extra sleep, it’s an additional cost of $5,000 for the autopilot and $3,000 for self-driving (full self-driving will be a future option, once legislation has been passed).
So alongside all the positives, there’s the blindingly obvious downside. Tesla, Inc.’s ‘Model 3’ base cost is $35,000 – no bells, no whistles – so once you add all the fun bits like autopilot, glass roof etc. you’re probably looking at nearer $50,000. What’s worse is that articles circulating online have hinted that the $7,500 USA government rebate incentive may no longer be available for reservation holders after 2017, as there’s a cap at 200,000 units sold. Tesla, Inc. responded that the ‘Model 3’ has been designed to be affordably priced but this means competitors could pose a serious threat if they roll out a cheaper electric car. For example, the new Nissan Leaf will be $5,000 cheaper at $29,990 and will also receive the same government rebate incentives, driving the price down to $22,250. Many critics are saying that even at $35,000 (which does sound good for PR), the electric car is still too expensive for the mainstream market. To get that slice of the future, you’d really have to shell out for it.
With around 400,000 pre-orders of the ‘Model 3’ already, Musk really has his work set out for him and told his workers, “Welcome to production hell!”. But with the Big Auto squirming at Musk’s approach, or rather a new reality defined by Tesla, and the recent furor around “Dieselgate” it does make for some interesting rivalry. The arrival of Model 3 changes everything from the price to technology and performance whilst disrupting the stranglehold that gas engine motor companies have had for the past hundred years. Tesla, Inc. has many critics, but so did Henry Ford when he started producing motor vehicles!
The likes of BMW and Nissan are scrambling at the feet of customers on the ‘Model 3’ waiting list, trying to persuade them to buy their new electric cars but can they compete with the level of investment and innovation demonstrated by Tesla?. With key aspects in simplicity and design, safety and technology, I believe ‘Model 3’ is arguably the most important vehicle of the century, and if that isn’t disruptive to the vehicle market, what is?