by Kirk Douglas
Rarely do we see an announcement in the tech industry as of late that excites and fuels consumer interest in the way the Apple events of old have wowed audiences. With ever-increasing visibility of tech among the average consumer, interest in technology innovation has largely remained centered on consumer phones and tablets.
Outside of that, the sparse “gadget gem” (as I call them), those occasional products like the Amazon Echo, surprise and delight with little initial fanfare, only to become proven successes later on by glowing reviews and word of mouth.
The fact remains that it is uncommon to see much excitement outside the realm of mobile and these small unsung tech hero products. But a different kind of mobile has sent the internet ablaze over the last week. The Tesla Model 3, a car unveiled by Elon Musk of Tesla Motors, inc. has arguably been among the biggest announcements in some time tearing through headlines and garnering much attention.
On March 31, 2016 Elon Musk took the stage to unveil the much anticipated Model 3 all-electric compact sedan. Before his announcement, people had already lined up across the globe at Tesla stores to put down a $1,000 reservation that would put them in line for the company’s first major pass at a general consumer car with a starting price around $35,000. Some of America’s biggest cities including Brooklyn, Seattle, Santa Monica and Denver drew big crowds of people eager to get their place in line for a car they were reserving sight unseen. Before the event, Tesla outed some key details about price and availability, but never showed the car until the announcement.
Musk took the stage on Thursday and started with some history around the purpose of the Tesla company and the mission of the Model 3. He framed his company as one which acknowledges that current combustion engine emissions have caused an alarming rise in C02 levels. And to address this, Tesla has aimed to make a great electric car a reality, going on to state that they successfully accomplished that with their initial release of the Tesla Roadster.
Beautiful and a feat of electric engineering, the Tesla roadster was proof that this goal could be achieved, albeit with a price tag far outside the reach of the average consumer. It was a car designed for a high price and mid-volume of production with an initial US cost starting around $109,000 and with a range of just over 200 Miles per charge.
Musk further explained that the subsequent releases of the Model S (starting $76,000 USD/265 Mi Range) and the Model X (starting $132,000 USD/250+ Mi Range), achieved greatness in their own ways. With the Model S, the company brought the price tag down and with the Model X, a variation of the series, offering a world-class SUV experience with an impressive ability to go from 0 to 37 MPH in just 3.2 seconds.
With all prior models mentioned still outside of an obtainable price range for the general car consumer, Elon went on to explain that these models needed to exist to both prove they could be done and most imporatantly to generate revenue for the company’s development of the Model 3.
The new model is actually the fourth in Tesla’s series of cars, named the Model 3 because of its position after the Model S and X which Elon describes as “2.0 and 2.5,” respectively, as they are considered to be in the same series. As the Model 3 was showed off on stage, details emerged on the vehicle’s 5-Star safety rating, ability to comfortably fit 5 passengers and supercharging feature, among others. But most notably were the promised starting price of $35,000 and the EPA rating of a 215Mi range, which Elon vehemently expressed desire to expand upon. He noted that all numbers for the new model were minimums and are subject to increase by the time production begins late 2017. He also took a moment to ensure his most eager of drivers that additional feature and speed options would be available for those who want them.
Hearing all of this was strangely exciting to me. I don’t even own a car at the moment but the story Elon crafted on stage was unlike what we have seen in the car industry to date. Watching the recap and reading the headlines leading up to and just after the announcement left me wanting to know more. For me to have this intrigue — a guy who could generally care less about the automotive industry, meant something. And to see people rally around and show so much excitement and eagerness to reserve a product they hadn’t even seen until the unveiling really made me wonder just what Tesla Motors was tapping into among consumers. To understand the potential impact of the announcement, I thought a closer look at Elon Musk was in order.
I thought back to Steve Jobs talking about the original iPad. The moment the keynote presentation popped up with an empty slot between the iPhone and the Computer. I thought about the creation of a category by the iPad that had otherwise never really existed (or was attempted, but failed miserably) and how Steve was so adamant in his belief that there was room for something more. Ask anyone who’s watched it – There’s an element of storytelling at its simplest, yet finest. There’s an element of humility and sincerity to the passion delivered that feels less crafted by a PR team and more the vision of an individual. Steve Jobs has been and remains thought by many to be so iconic because of this sort of showmanship. And though the original iPhone unveiling may be an even better example of this storytelling, it cannot be denied that few companies have ever had the type of impact Apple has had at both changing, and creating markets, regardless of the form in which its products have done so.
Knowing that, and having drawn out similarities between he and Musk, it became clear to me watching excerpts from his Model 3 announcement that Elon has the same likability and nuanced persuasiveness that comes from only a true believer in the product he is putting forth. There is a quiet but obvious undertone that Elon himself wouldn’t dare to think about driving another car. Not from a design standpoint and certainly not knowing he would contribute to further damage of our environment.
The quirky excitement in his voice as he states that “even the base Model 3 will do zero to 60 …in less than 6 seconds” illustrates his childlike excitement for having achieved this in a package people might actually consider for purchase because they finally can.
Moving forward into the discussion about Lithium Ion batteries, Elon continued his excitement talking about the construction of a Tesla Gigafactory. A battery plant which will have the largest land footprint for any building to date, capable of mass producing enough batteries for large-scale production of the Model 3 battery units.
As an merely an observer of all of this, I acknowledge what it could mean for the future of affordable electric cars – and that is exciting. It seems clear to me why so many people have expressed interest by putting down their hard earned money to be among the first to own a Tesla Model 3. And why shouldn’t anyone with the available funds and the desire to drive a quality-crafted electric vehicle show interest?
Some would argue that its a bit of a big bet. After all, GM is readying the nearest Model 3 competitor, the Chevy Bolt, which is set for availability as early as September 2016 and is also fully electric. In the interim, Chevy is also selling an updated Chevy Volt, a hybrid popular among existing users that has never really caught on with the masses. The Volt is set to be discontinued as GM readies the aforementioned Bolt which will be taking its place moving forward. The cars will surely have their differences, one of them being that the Bolt is a smaller car, compact in comparison and seating only 4 as opposed to the 5 seats available in the Model 3.
Among the things working against Tesla, is the nearly 2 year wait list between now and the time that Tesla Model 3 owners may actually receive their cars. This will also mark the first time Tesla will be manufacturing a car at full-scale as it attempts to attract the average driver. Not to mention the cost of production which some argue will surely present difficulties.
Elon Musk himself recently stated in a tweet (April 3) that the company had taken “276k Model 3 Orders by end of Sat,” meaning by the end of day, Saturday April 2nd. As he stated in the unveiling of the Model 3 just days prior, the Tesla Fremont (CA) factory should be able to produce volume of 500,00 per year. That said, the company manufactured just over 50,000 vehicles for calendar year 2015 so they definitely have their work cut out for them.
Will the believers hang on? With the Chevy Bolt release looming and arguably a quicker go-to-market rollout with over 3,100 dealerships at their disposal, Chevy certainly appears poised to capitalize on Tesla’s delay. Tesla’s lack of visibility among current options over the next 15 or more months could certainly lose the company a few reservations, but will it matter? Going back to the story of Tesla, I am not so certain it will.
One thing Tesla has seemed to get a good handle on is getting attention and more importantly now, getting the average consumer on their side. In this case, the proof is in the pre-orders. The plan for the Model 3, according to Musk was the original plan all along, spanning 10 years of the company’s work, finally coming to fruition to address the largest sector of the automotive market.
Elon Musk, Tesla’s founder, CEO and most important spokesperson, commands attention and inspires as he speaks of innovation. He is likable and imperfect but with a mission people want to get behind. And I can certainly attest that no one I know of in my age range (mid 30’s) is looking at Chevy to be the savior of electric vehicles.
Today’s young people are hip to design, interested in pushing things forward and responsive to the sincerity of a universal mission to better our products, way of life and the environment. My argument in Tesla’s favor is simple: The combination of innovation, soul and purpose has crafted a new brand of car that resonates with the drivers of tomorrow and these attributes are not guaranteed to arise in, or currently apparent in competitors.