My introduction to Tesla Motors came by way of driving a new Model S P90D on a one-day, 1,200-kilometre road trip. With many thanks to our friends at Tundra Technical, who had just taken delivery of the car as part of a green initiative at the company, we were able to experience all that is the top-spec Tesla Model S. It’s everything you’ve heard, with impressive straight line performance, an uncommonly quiet driving experience, and a UI that’s nearly the best in the business (with much thanks to supplier NVIDIA, of course). The experience was an outstanding approach to learning about the cars Tesla makes, but to my surprise, I also learned much more about their customers and supporters.
The P90D is remarkably fun to drive, given its massive torque and decent chassis. Even the tech is cool, but it’s not a perfect car by any stretch of the imagination. Beyond the noted reliability issues, the seats are its biggest shortcoming and are better suited to a cheap compact than anything costing six figures. Despite the Model S’s obvious imperfections, I enjoyed driving it, and until the electrics from Aston Martin and Porsche arrive, it’ll remain at the top of the premium electric heap.
However, I wasn’t prepared for the reaction we received after publishing our piece on the P90D. Prior to that, I knew nothing of the fervour with which Tesla’s disciples will attempt to protect the brand.
Among Tesla devotees, the most common belief they seem to share is that by selling electric cars, the company is going to change the world. Here, fan is clearly short for the word fanatic, which is perhaps the best choice of word one could use to describe these folks. That’s only the beginning.
Tesla fans and owners are surprisingly intolerant of opposing points of view. Internal combustion engines – and their manufacturers, users, proponents, and never mind enthusiasts – are the enemy. You see, Tesla is going to change the world. That is certain, they say. How the company will change the world doesn’t matter.
It matters not that Tesla loses hundreds of millions of dollars quarterly. That’s irrelevant, they say. Even with the recent windfall of Model 3 deposits, that’s only another few months of cash at the current burn rate. Tesla will have to go cup in hand to the markets or to outside partners to raise the cash necessary to begin Model 3 production, let alone sustain it. No matter, though. What’s certain is that Tesla will change the world.
That’s not the only bit of irrational self-deception among fans of this world-changing company. According to some of the faithful, Teslas don’t subscribe to conventional laws of physics. If you enjoy a good laugh, this Tesla sub-forum is a great read.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk is as intelligent and determined as any industrialist who’s preceded him, and perhaps his greatest success is his ability to convert the masses into rabid believers, and even if they happen to possess only a cursory understanding of business and physics, so be it.
What about the hundreds of thousands of people who have placed Model 3 deposits? In the media, they’ve been called early adopters and I’m sure they’d like to think of themselves that way. After all, early adopters are supposed to be trailblazers, smart and discriminating according to the conventional definition, however, this lot has completely missed the fact that buying an electrified car today is extraordinarily straightforward.
Unlike those who lined up for the original iPhone, which was a real product that in itself was responsible for wholesale change in the smartphone market, Model 3 depositors waited in line not to buy an actual product, you see, but rather for the promise of a car that may or may not be delivered in a couple of years.
Any smart and discriminating car buyer looking to change the world (read: drive electric) could purchase any number of electrified vehicles available today. Why wait years to change the world when you can do it today? Tesla actually isn’t the only electric carmaker and the number of electrified vehicles is growing with real diversity in the segment.
There are countless hybrids and numerous plug-ins in all sorts of configurations – sedans, crossovers, econoboxes, including my favourite, the Chevrolet Volt – and there are pure electrics like the Nissan LEAF, which is a wonderful city runabout that has been on the market for several years. Furthermore, before the end of 2016 Chevrolet will be delivering the all-electric Bolt to customers, similar in specification to the proposed Model 3. The key difference being that the Bolt is a real car.
If Model 3 depositors aren’t changing the world, then what are all of those wonderfully hopeful people doing? For one thing, they’ve got their thousand dollar badge of honour. You know, the one that tells everyone who will listen that they’re changing the world. Kinda like being a vegan. For another, that thousand dollar deposit has permitted them perceived entry into the Tesla club without actually having to stroke a cheque for a real electric car. The only real ticket into the Tesla owner’s club today begins with the Model S 70D, which starts at a hundred grand here in Canada.
In truth, Model 3 depositors are not early adopters at all, no matter how much they’d like to believe it. If they were, they’d spring for any one of the countless electrics that can be purchased today, so, you know, they can change the world. Today.
Generating this startling consumer demand is exactly where Musk is succeeding. The carefully constructed brand image of Tesla’s automobiles fills the void in the consumer psyche where Steve Jobs + Apple used to reside. While Musk is a smart bloke, whether he’ll have as lasting an impact as Jobs remains to be seen. Whether Model 3 depositors will ever see their cars is similarly uncertain. One thing remains certain, however: there’s a sucker born every minute.
Images courtesy of Tesla Motors and the Internet.