Tesla and the Electric Car Scrum

There are more electric cars out there than just Tesla.

It seems that the pace of our society is accelerating. In a way, the danger, unpredictability, and surge into the unknown have been fun; we have always regarded those as challenges.

The fact that two rocket boosters were brought back to earth after sending their payload into orbit was acknowledged by the president fully three weeks after a reader of this column would have read about the importance of that event.

Are we prescient here? No: anyone who had an understanding of the goals of spaceflight would have come to the same conclusion as soon as the news was known.

Similarly, the electric car has the car media all agog at the possibilities, and they are spending their time hyperventilating about Tesla.  Which is important - but the fate of Tesla will not determine the fate of the electric automobile.

Tesla is a start-up company pushing new technology financed by a wunderkind of the new genre of businessmen. Elon Musk has been one of our favorite topics as he brings forth miracles from his various enterprises - from SpaceX making history to his gargantuan Australian battery.

During the 2017 and thus far into 2018, Tesla’s new automobile, the ‘affordable’ Model 3 has – almost – made it into the marketplace. The car has been tested by several of the usual magazines, it has very recently achieved the status of deliverability, and the market is eager to embrace it:

Touted as the affordable electric sports sedan, the Model 3 is Tesla’s eco-friendly gift to the motoring masses. Base rear-wheel-drive cars should travel about 220 miles on a single charge according to the EPA; all-wheel drive is offered, and the optional long-range battery increases range to about 310 miles. The Model 3 is quick, too: Tesla says it can hit 60 mph in as little as 5.1 seconds. Options include a self-driving feature, which is expected to eventually be capable of full autonomy.

- Car and Driver, August 2017

A four-star (out of five) review from that magazine proclaims the Model 3 roadworthy and consumer ready, although one individual report from a friend who is not a professional car reviewer indicated that fit and finish of the bodywork is poor.

In another review, the complaint was about performance. The writer could not help but compare with other more expensive Teslas, which accelerate like the proverbial bat out of hell. This model’s acceleration was more “like a Corvette,” he complained.

Some complaint! This car starts at $30,000 for which a customer can usually expect 0-60 times in the ‘maybe today’ category for a gasoline engine model. Acceleration like a Corvette is blazingly fast. Keeping the tires on a car that can accelerate that quickly may be one of the greatest challenges to a new owner.

The available reviews were all done during the 2017 year, and were done on pre-production vehicles, none of which were 100% identical to the vehicles that Tesla will deliver: the article quoted was published in the August 2017 issue of Car and Driver. Musk and company have been tuning the production methods which will change the final product up until they decide to stabilize it as the production model.

And Tesla has their work cut out for them. Even optimistic projections from people whose backgrounds are not in automobile manufacturing list the potential financial woes as a major concern: the Wall Street Journal informs us that Tesla’s bond ratings have recently been downgraded.

Producing the car will be a new challenge for Musk, and the goals that he must meet are very high indeed. Production numbers for the car are not being released by the company, but Electrek website reports that production is near 2000 units per week. They are predicting a leveling off of production at approximately that number, although Tesla had been targeting 2500 units coming off the assembly line.

Tesla’s problem is straightforward and as old-fashioned as its image is cutting edge: it has been borrowing money and spending it like the proverbial drunken sailor, and its creditors are going to call a halt. The WSJ offered a graph showing the price of Tesla stock in early March above 350, with a precipitous drop over the past few days to slightly above 250. Worrisome!

And, more worries were introduced Easter Sunday when a rumor flew around the Internet saying that more than half of the Model S sedans are in need of a recall because of corroding bolts in the power steering assembly. This may be an April fool or a spurious event, but Tesla seems not to be taking it not too seriously.

If the production of the Model 3 can be rolled out to fulfill the orders – some people have been waiting in line for two years – things will begin to smooth out financially for the company.

Meanwhile, competitors are not waiting on Tesla. Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, and others are producing all-electric cars, many of which are available now. Leaving aside the hybrids, which some prefer over all-electrics, the pure-electric sedan market is rife with competitors for the Model 3.  An impressive list, at least in length:

Chevrolet – Bolt EV ($37, 495)

Ford – Focus Electric ($29, 995)

Nissan – Leaf ($30, 875)

Volkswagen –e-Golf ($31, 345)

Hyundai – Tucson Fuel Cell ($50, 875)

Fiat – 500e ($33, 990)

BMW –i3 ($45, 445)

Tesla – Model 3 ($36, 000 est)

and the awful Smart Car  –  Fortwo Electric Drive ($24, 550)

And that’s just the low end ‘family-type’ sedans. High-end cars by Jaguar, Audi, Porsche and others are price prohibitive for most Americans. Other models by Hyundai and BMW, while not in the stratospheric range of the luxury all-electrics are still in the pricey part of this group.

Having known a gentleman who owned a Smart Car several years ago, nothing short of the disappearance of every other car ever made would make this writer consider taking the wheel of a Fortwo. The Smart Car is for shoestring budgets and buyers with little discrimination.

This leaves us with the Bolt, Focus Electric, Leaf, and 500e.

The Chevy Bolt is a little thing that my wife might call cute. After a federal tax credit of somewhere around $7500 (which applies to all of them), the resulting price is a fairly attractive $29,995. Out the door of the dealership some reasonable range in the low 30s is probably to be expected.

We have never seen an all-electric Chevrolet, but the model upon which it is based, we think, is a disappointing vehicle in its gasoline form. It is cramped and pitifully small, lacking creature comforts of all descriptions. It may not be fair to assign characteristics of a gas vehicle to an electric one, but the gas vehicle was unacceptable.

Next on our list is the Ford, and from the standpoint of creature comforts and other subjective criteria, this author has ridden in much worse cars. Applying the tax credit and similar fudge factor to cover sales tax and other expenses, we arrive at an out the door price of $28,000, maybe even less. That is a very attractive price for a reasonable family car.

The Nissan and the Volkswagen will figure to be slightly more than the Ford, but in the same range. The Fiat will be a good bit more expensive, somewhere around $4000 more, and the Fiat that I drove a few years ago put an end to my interest in that Italian import.

In the interest of fairness, this writer is 6’3” tall, and weighs slightly over 200 pounds, which contributes to his dissatisfaction with this entire class of automobiles. But it is fair to make those criticisms, because his height is not hard to fit in most cars, and he had a 1980 MGB which he drove for nearly 10 years because of the sheer fun and in spite of the machinations required for entry and exit with the top up. The MG was especially fun on rainy-day dates (Ha!) as well as being a great training ground for understanding small cars.

Even as bare-bones as some of them are, all-electric cars have matured radically in the few years that they have been around – Nissan Leaf, the first of this generation of all-electric, was introduced in 2010.

This writer’s prejudices make him lean toward hybrids, which are proliferating within all major brands of automobiles. Hybrids can generate their own power for recharging their batteries, and thus are not dependent upon the vagaries of the battery charger as a utility. Having to put up with idle time while a car recharges is a huge negative in the operation of all-battery vehicles.

Not only must charging times be reduced drastically, the availability of charging stations must be increased equally dramatically. The whole idea of charging a nationwide fleet of millions of cars is incomprehensibly complex, and will not be solved soon.

Elon Musk has his work cut out for him: the competition is getting quite fierce. His car is at the upper end of this class of vehicles, but the newness of the name may lend a cachet to the idea of the car. Intangibles of that sort are impossible to predict – who knows how customers will react – and after a few years, the newness of the brand will have faded.

Musk knows this, and he will do everything he can to get his product positioned properly in the marketplace before he has to live on the reputation of the reality.

Thomas Anderson is a multi-state registered architect and an ex-Air Force electronic technician, who is a keen observer of the human condition.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Thomas Anderson or other articles on Business.
Reader Comments

Thomas- I realize your commentary is based on your admitted lack of direct exposure to the vehicles, but to make blanket assumptions on your preconceived notions is totally unhelpful. The new electric car designs requiring accommodation of the size and weight of the batteries coupled with the opportunities afforded by the electric drive do create entirely new cars. The many years of making & servicing cars will ultimately work to the advantage of the legacy manufacturers.

April 5, 2018 4:32 AM

But why?

The Mann-MadeGW Industrial Complex's massive Fifteen-Trillion-Dollar fascist fraud: AKA "global warming" and/or "climate change" -- and by one of, several of and/or any of its many other names -- is just that: a fascist fraud.

Electric" cars are way more than just a hundred years out of date.

And their battery production and the fact their energy must be produced somewhere, increases most battery-powered vehicles lifetime "emissions" and "carbon footprint" to something close to that of a competitive gas and/or gasoline or diesel-powered equivilent.

April 5, 2018 11:44 AM

I bought my first Tesla, the Model S, in 2012 and drove it for three years before selling it and buying their Model X, the SUV. I also have a deposit on the Model 3. I think you're wrong about preferring hybrids. And I think you're needlessly concerned about the time it takes to charge a car.

When I bought my first Tesla, yes, I had "range anxiety" but today I have none at all. It all goes away with time. And I will never ever buy a gasoline car again.

April 6, 2018 8:03 AM

Michael Greenberg said: .... (He) will never ever buy a gasoline car again ....

And I say: I'll bet New York City to a single mud-hut brick you will.

When, sometime within the next seven years, @POTUS will have effected the Absolute end to the Mann-MadeGW's Industrial Complex's fascist fraud and will have terminated Tesla's time at the Public Trough and your (then) Model 3 equivilent will be priced at USD$120,000.00.

Or so.

April 6, 2018 8:20 AM
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