I can recall when the Tesla Roadster was launched. I remember thinking ‘cool, a Lotus with electric power. Wonder how long the NiCads will last’. Of course, as we found out, the Tesla Roadster didn’t use NiCad and was a whole lot more than that. At that time, I was also working on a small project as an instructor with early generation Smart cars that had been converted to all electric power. The NiCad battery packs gave a rather pitiful 50 mile range, but you could see that the promise was there. The project was to give city planners and local authorities a taste of electric powered cars. The bearded people with lots of pens in those corduroy jackets with elbow patches were scratching the area around their black turtle necks and shaking their heads at the ‘problems’ town planners will face. Glass half empty.
Meanwhile, the rest of the motoring media siezed upon range anxiety and banged on and on and on. And then on some more. Everyone recalls the rather cruel Top Gear Tesla Roadster test. Through all this Elon Musk’s voice perhaps struggled to cut through the carbon fuelled white noise as he tried to explain. “Tesla will eventually be a car for the people,” he said.
“But $100,000 is not an affordable car,” they said. As he tried to explain that the first Tesla Roadster buyers were the ‘early adopters’. The same people that back in 1985 paid $3000 for a mobile phone the size of Easyjet baggage allowance, because they wanted to be the first to own it. These evangelical owners will fund the future mainstream cars. I understood Musk’s analogy and I became fascinated by the fact that a man can have the far sightedness to bypass hybrid, TDi and lean burn combustion engine technology and launch Tesla, knowing that it was what we needed, even though we didn’t know ourselves yet.
He promised the next one would be four seats and 50,000. Then after that some more new models until eventually, we could all buy a $20,000 Tesla. I vividly recall the comments of ‘not in my lifetime’. This month, as promised the Tesla Model X SUV is coming and the electric car for everyman, the Model 3, is deep in the development phase.
For those who claimed we were just transferring our emissions issues from exhaust pipes to power stations, he’s now introducing Powerwall. And for those who claimed they would never leave behind their high performance cars, he introduced Ludicrous Mode.
It’s perhaps true that Tesla is still relying on those passionate early adopters and on the type of fiercely independent driver that won’t be easily pigeon holed. But I can recall, way back in 1990, working in a showroom with a new brand called Lexus facing up to Jaguar, BMW and Mercedes with a very similar challenge…..