If Elon Musk has done anything right—and trust me, I get emails almost every day in which there are links to all manner of things that Tesla, in particular, seems to be doing wrong, with every little problem that crops up in one of the vehicles being treated as though it is worse than anything ever done by any automaker at any time in all of history, and probably in the future, too—it is that he has jarred the world’s OEMs out of their complacency.
“Wait!” you might be thinking. “The world’s OEMs have just gotten back on solid footing following the Great Recession, and the only way that they did that was by making some seriously hard choices regarding their businesses. Take GM, for example. It went into bankruptcy, dropped U.S. brands, reoriented its overall business, and more recently made what would have been unthinkable moves not all that long ago like selling Opel/Vauxhall. What do you mean complacency?”
In 2010 GM brought out the Chevrolet Volt—which they described as an “extended-range electric vehicle” and which would be more generally described as a “plug-in hybrid”—and in 2016 it launched the Bolt EV, a battery electric vehicle with a 238-mile range, a car that GM CEO Mary Barra, a leader who is going to go down in the annals of automotive history as a transformative leader, described, when launching it at the 2016 CES (not the hometown 2016 North American International Auto Show that occurred the following week), as “truly the first EV that cracks the code of long range at an affordable price,” making a clear dig at Tesla, which offered long range but at a price point that was well beyond the average transaction price that most people pay for a light vehicle.
So far, it seems as though I am crushing my own point from the first paragraph with the example of just GM.
But since Tesla has become the phenomenon that it is, car makers around the world have quite clearly amped up their activities not just in terms of electrification of their vehicles, but also the automation of their vehicles. Although it is easy to forget—unless there is something that has gone awry—Tesla Autopilot is arguably pioneering (and some would suggest that it is going too far) autonomous driving, and then there is the whole over-the-air updating capability that Tesla has made something that others are working hard to achieve and exceed.
What’s more, when the 2015 Ford F-150 came out there was a tremendous amount of attention paid to the fact that it was an aluminum-intensive vehicle. Yes, that’s because (1) we’re talking about a pickup truck and (2) because Ford sells more of those vehicles in a month than Tesla sells all of its products over the course of a year (i.e., in 2017, according to Autodata, Tesla sold 43,860 vehicles; in December 2017 alone, Ford sold 89,385 F-Series). But even though Tesla is, at present, working through what Musk has described as “production hell” in efforts to ramp up the Model 3, it should be noted that the Model S, the car that really established Tesla as something other than one of those companies that makes a handful of a model and calls it good, is an aluminum-intensive vehicle. Everyone talks about everything else than that.
But where I see Musk and Tesla really shaking things up is in the way that he has drawn attention to the fact that a mass-production automobile can be more than something that is functional and appealing, capable and competent, but something that people actually desire.
The common analogy is the way there are people who are partisans of Apple iPhones in a way that exceeds all evident common sense. You’ve certainly seen the local news showing people lining up outside of Apple stores when a new phone is being launched. What you haven’t seen is a line forming for Android phones. It isn’t that people don’t like their Android phones, but they simply don’t get geeked about them the way that the Apple fan-folk commonly do.
And the whole Tesla-preorder phenomenon is similar. Here are thousands of people literally and figuratively lining up to buy something that they’ve never even seen in person. One of the arguments put forth for the reason why traditional auto dealerships need to continue to exist is because people want to take test drives. Yet here is evidence of people who want to get one of the Tesla products as soon as they can, drive or no drive.
Global automakers are now working hard to tap into some of this excitement being generated by Tesla. With things like the Porsche Mission E on the horizon, as Hyundai readies it NEXO hydrogen-powered vehicle for global markets (it launched in Korea in March), things are going to get far more challenging for Musk.
He may lose. But consumers will win, thanks to his efforts.
Mazda, the Little Car Company That Can, has been working on a number of important fronts of late.
The Buick LaCrosse has been Buick’s top-line car since it was introduced in 2004 as a 2005 model sedan.
Although all OEMs and suppliers do their utmost best to assure nothing but top-notch quality is achieved for their vehicles and systems, sometimes things simply go wrong because, well, that’s just how the Universe is.