Tesla And The Big Three: It’s Not Fair To Compare


JUN 25 2017 BY EVANNEX 48

Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3


Elon Musk has said many times that his ultimate goal is to increase the adoption of electric vehicles, a goal that’s advanced with every EV that rolls off a dealer’s lot, even if it’s not a Tesla.

“The biggest impact that Tesla will have is not the cars that we make ourselves, but the fact that we show that you can make compelling electric cars that people want to buy,” he said in Revenge of the Electric Car.

When it comes to making compelling electric cars, the company has succeeded spectacularly. But when it comes to inspiring the industry leaders to sell their own EVs in substantial numbers, that isn’t happening.

Spokesmen for the major automakers (especially when speaking to the EV media) say things like, “the future is electric,” and “we intend to stay at the forefront of technology,” but when it comes to action, the playbook is: sell just enough EVs to satisfy government regulators, while keeping the focus on profitable trucks and SUVs.

*This article comes to us courtesy of Evannex (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Charles Morris.

A recent article in CleanTechnica takes a look at the lineup of plug-in models offered by the Big Three (Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler). The current roster consists of 3 pure electric vehicles (EVs) and 5 plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). Of the 3 EVs, only one, the Chevy Bolt, is truly an attractive option. The Fiat 500e is a compliance car that’s only available in two states, and Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has asked the public not to buy it. The Ford Focus EV was introduced in 2011, and not updated until 2015 – it sold a grand total of 901 units in 2016.

However, the handwriting is on the garage wall. Plug-in vehicle sales have increased every month for the last 20 months, Tesla’s Model 3 has accumulated somewhere around 400,000 advance orders sight unseen, and battery prices are falling rapidly – several industry observers have predicted that EVs will reach cost parity with legacy vehicles in about 5 years. So, is Detroit raising its game, and preparing to expand its portfolio of electric models?


The all-electric Fiat 500e

Well, sort of. In January, Ford announced that it plans to introduce 13 new electrified vehicles over the next five years. However, it offered specifics for only 7, and only one of these is an electric vehicle for the US market: “an all-new fully electric small SUV, coming by 2020, engineered to deliver an estimated range of at least 300 miles.” The other 6 include hybrids and an electric commercial van to be sold in Europe.

Editor’s Note:  Recently we did spot the Ford Escape Energi  plug-in hybrid out testing on US roads, and that model is expect in just over a year.

Ford representatives have made it clear that the company will be taking a gradual, go-slow approach to electrification. CleanTechnica’s Loren McDonald spoke with Brett Hinds, Ford’s Chief Engineer of Electrified Powertrain Systems, in early January, and was left with the impression that the automaker feels little urgency about upgrading its electric vehicles. When McDonald mentioned that industry experts expect EV ranges to increase to 300 miles in 5-7 years, and that battery charging rates are also expected to improve, he was told that “Ford just doesn’t see it that way.” (Yes, this directly contradicts Ford’s official announcement quoted above – the major automakers often make contradictory statements about their electrification plans.)

More recently, Ford replaced CEO Mark Fields with Jim Hackett, the head of its Smart Mobility division, a move that is believed to signal more emphasis on electric and autonomous vehicles.

Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford confirmed this, telling Bloomberg in an interview that the CEO switch “is about EVs, and it’s about AVs [autonomous vehicles].” 

However, he seemed to acknowledge that the focus would remain on short-term profits (read: trucks). “Wherever we go, we have to make sure that the returns are great for our shareholders,” said Ford.

When asked if he could foresee a future in which EVs would generate the kind of margins the company makes on the F-150 pickup, he thought silently for a moment, then changed the subject.

Ford CEO Mark Fields was recently ousted. Some believe his lack of support for “future mobility” played a role.

The voltage level is much higher over at GM, where the new Chevy Bolt has been earning rave reviews, and making respectable sales – it moved 1,566 units in May, #5 in the US plug-in ranking. However, the rollout has been slow – the Bolt went on sale in December 2016, but it still isn’t available in all 50 states.

“I wouldn’t necessarily call it a slow rollout; it was a phased rollout,” Chevrolet spokesman Jim Cain told Bloomberg. “In terms of sales, I think we’re right on plan.”

And that’s kind of the point. As Elon Musk and others have pointed out, GM doesn’t seem to have any desire to sell the Bolt in mass-market quantities – it’s likely to limit production to 25,000 or so per year.

Ironically, the considerable media buzz around the Bolt seemed to disappear as soon as it actually went on the market. “The little car hasn’t captured any of Tesla’s Silicon Valley street cred, and it hasn’t whipped up any of the cultish following that still benefits the Toyota Prius,” writes Bloomberg’s Kyle Stock.

Compared with GM’s internal combustion engine darlings, the Chevy Bolt hasn’t had much impact on company sales (Image: Bloomberg)

GM’s future electrification plans are vague. In February, GM CEO Mary Barra told CNET’s RoadShow that the Bolt platform will be the basis for a range of future EVs, but no details have been forthcoming.

And then there is Fiat Chrysler, the only automaker that has always been honest about its lack of interest in EVs. CEO Sergio Marchionne once said that the company loses about $14,000 on each unit of its Fiat 500e, and famously asked consumers not to buy it. The little electric runabout has garnered excellent reviews, can be leased for as little as $100 a month, and has been selling a surprising 600 or 700 per month, despite being available only in California and Oregon. Chrysler recently launched a plug-in hybrid version of its extremely popular Pacifica minivan, but it’s too early to tell how it will do.

One glaring problem is that the Big Three continue to put out lackluster designs for their electric cars. Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s vice president of business development had said, “In essence, they’ve delivered little more than appliances. Now, appliances are useful. But… they tend to be unemotional.” Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, goes one step further, pointing out that an electric car shouldn’t “feel like a weird-mobile.”

Chevy goes boxy while Tesla goes sexy

On the other hand, the issue with the majors’ plug-in models has never been quality – almost all who’ve driven them, including this writer, agree that they are excellent automobiles. What remains puzzling is the companies’ willingness to market them. The automakers do almost no advertising for them, and most (not all) of their dealers do their utmost to steer customers away from them. Meanwhile, the companies continue to lobby to have fuel economy and emissions standards watered down.

A recent article in Plug-in Future, “How the Major Global Automobile Manufacturers Fell Asleep at the Wheel” notes a cling-to-the-past cultural dynamic.

“Part of it comes down to mentality and culture. Senior executives in automobile companies tend to be [oftentimes] male mechanical engineers who… [enjoy] tinkering around with old cars and tractors. It’s what they do; it’s what they love and their careers have been about perfecting the highly complex internal combustion engine. And now you are telling them to get rid of that engine and replace it with a simple electric drive and a battery to power it. No wonder they are resistant… Changing such a culture is very difficult.”

So what gives? Is it short-sightedness? Fear of the future? Plain old stupidity? Not likely. Sure, they might be stuck in their ways but we’re talking about highly informed veterans of the auto business, who have access to all the same articles, statistics and reports that you and I do (much more, actually).

Tesla Model S refresh

Tesla takes a vastly different approach in contrast to the Big Three when it comes to vehicle electrification

What’s really happening here is a phenomenon called The Innovator’s Dilemma (the title of a 1997 book by Clayton Christensen, and yes, I believe most auto industry execs have read it). Incumbent corporations can’t keep up with disruptive technological changes, because their shareholders demand quarterly profits. They can experiment with new technologies, but they can’t pursue them whole-heartedly, because that would mean cannibalizing their proven profit centers (to sell an electric car, you have to explain why it’s better than a gas car). Once a new technology improves to the point that it can offer similar capabilities (range, charging time) to the old at a similar price, the incumbents’ market can disappear surprisingly quickly – remember Kodak, Blockbuster, and Blackberry.

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX, Check out the site here.

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48 Comments on "Tesla And The Big Three: It’s Not Fair To Compare"

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“When it comes to making compelling electric cars, the company has succeeded spectacularly. But when it comes to inspiring the industry leaders to sell their own EVs in substantial numbers, that isn’t happening.” – I believe that is just about to change, based on more and more automakers announcing electric vehicles for 2018/2019 and model 3 making affordable electric cars with enough range mainstream. The industry is tying to catch up, Mercedes also went into a partnership with vivint solar to address the home battery market that tesla is poised to dominate. So they realize it is not just about cars but about energy.


I agree, Nissan has always been on board and now we see BMW and Mercedes working hard to be prominent players in the EV field. I too am a little disappointed in GMs pace but I do believe they are working seriously on BEV versions of their primary products SUVs and trucks. They and other manufacturers must realize that it is ok to give their customers a choice of ICE, PHEV and BEV. In providing choice they will keep their loyal customers, but thinking that by refusing to sell EVs will help ICE sales is false reasoning, they will only loose those interested in EVs to move to a different company.

GM and Ford problems are twofold:
1) It’s OLD Shareholders. You can guarantee they’ve never tried and most don’t know anything about an EV. Mostly only interested in GM’s Dividend payment.
But, what is required is massive New Investment in New Technologies. They don’t have the stomach for that.
2) They fear disruption of their existing product, because of 1, shareholders and dividend payments.

It really looks like in America, you can ONLY INNOVATE if you’re Tesla, a new company.

Moreless … finally somehow who gets it.

I think they calculated that it would too expensive to switch over, thus the rather paltry efforts in the ev field.

They want to sell big margin vehicles like trucks and suvs, as the article above point out, since ev versions of those won’t be coming anytime soon, they just put their ev efforts on the back burner. Probably thinking that they still had many more years before the true ev revolution had come into full flower.

Mostly a bean-counter decision, and not a forward thinking one. Still I point to the Bolt as a commendable effort, the car, not the support for it.

To further expound on the subject it has been my contention that Tesla has won. The battle is over, and all that’s left is the mopping up operation. Though just a matter of technique, there will still be difficulties.

So lack of a consistent or coherent response from the Big 3, has ironically helped Tesla’s stock shoot up to epic proportions, due to the fact that, despite numerous articles to the contrary for years claiming that competition for Tesla was coming, that was a forlorn and false narrative.

Now investors, big institutional ones, are finally starting to see that Tesla’s vision is likely to be realized.

Let’s hold off on the celebration until Tesla actually makes money. There are a lot of economic reasons the car manufacturers don’t want to go all out for EVs. What they’re doing is holding back until the economics makes sense. That point will come within the next decade. At that point they’ll very quickly transition to EVs. Until the tipping point is reached, there’s no reason for them to strongly push EVs. They just need to keep up on R&D so they aren’t way behind when the time comes. And by and large they are not far behind. The other thing is about Tesla. None of the car manufacturers care whether Tesla succeeds or not. There’s no way every car that’s bought can end up coming from Tesla. Even if the demand exists there’s no way they could ramp up production to those levels. So, even if Tesla gains a foothold, that’s just one more (of many) companies for them to compete with. It’s not worth going to extreme lengths to try to strangle them in the cradle. I think the way the car manufacturers are acting right now makes perfect sense. What didn’t make sense is when they crushed… Read more »

+ 1
I don’t get how no one understands this.

I think it’s more that the Big Three are hedging on autonomous vehicles/TaaS being the primary outlet for their EVs while still continuing to sell their existing lineup to people who want to own their own car.

In another article today at InsideEVs, Carlos Ghosn was quoted saying Ford & GM have a comboned profit of $9 billion this last year. Yet no Gigafactories and no Supercharger network.

Unbelievable. And frustrating. Making money selling ICE vehicles today is more imporant than leading where we need to be tomorrow. And tomorrow really is tomorrow.

It’s just unbelievable.

Now you can understand how the Japanese, in the 80’s, took over the electronics industry, like TV’s, etc.

The US corporate gutlessness of not responding to Japan investing 50% of Profits back into the Business.
You can’t compete with that kind of investment, if you’ve got to feed shareholders dividends.

So, GM and Ford should be investing AT LEAST 4.5 Billion a year or their out of business.

That’s the classic Innovator’s Dilemma

Invest in the coming disruptive tech and your investors show you the door because it hurts current profits.

Fail to invest in the coming disruptive tech and you go out of business.

Short term the answer for execs is to always go for profits today. And the result is almost always the same, they go out of business later.

GM is trying to hedge their bets with the Bolt but it might be too little, too late. I bought a Bolt, it’s a nice EV. But I’m really waiting for the Model 3. Unless Tesla really screws things up it is going to drive a stake in the heart of GM and everyone selling compliance cars.

Yeah that’s their business: selling cars that make money. They’re not motivated to sell cars where they’re just losing money. That would be an incredibly dumb strategy. Unbelievably dumb even.

Honestly, people need to stop feigning confusion about why the car manufacturers are acting the way they are. It’s pretty obvious and makes perfect sense from a business sense. They’ll spend on R&D into electrification, but they won’t push the product until the point where they can make money on it.

The car manufacturers aren’t our friends, nor are they our enemies. They simply are what they are.

Even if Tesla gains a foothold, there is no danger that they’ll put all the other car companies out of business. It’s just not going to happen.

Get an Associates in Business already.
Repeating the ramblings of idiots doesn’t make you sound smart.
Tesla isn’t losing money, it’s taking market share.

They can and are doing both of those things, they’re not exclusive.

I should have included Kia in my previous post. Ford is definitely in follow along mode and will wait for other companies to bring cheap batteries etc. before marketing more EVs. I think that probably describes most other companies all investing enough in EVs to keep up to date and will be serious about EVs after others prove they can be price competitive with ICE equivalents. Most think that will be 2025 to 2030 but I think Tesla will prove that by 2020, once some capital costs are paid down and Model 3 reaches its high speed manufacturing mode I believe the Model 3 will be reduced in price.

I doubt the Model 3 price will ever come down in price significantly.
Tesla has plenty on it’s plate and it will let the low end evs, which eventually will replace ices, be taken care of by others.

I believe you are right about Tesla not pursuing low-end EVs, but I think they are serious about reducing the Model 3 and Y into the under $30k base price without incentives. This is what they need to do to be price competitive. Elon believes the way to do this is with high-speed manufacturing, making more cars with the same equipment and staff. He said the clip that was shown of manufacturing 2170 cells was “significantly” slowed down, otherwise it would just be a blur.

Tesla can sell all the Model 3’s they can make, and likely will be in that position, even after the Model Y comes out in 2019 or so. No need to drop the price, just continue rapid expansion of the Supercharging Network, and their Destination Chargers, to give their cars more usefulness!

As Tesla begins solving the charging challenges for Condo and Apartment dwellers, more of them will be onboard for EV’s, and Tesla’s in particular!

Then also, Tesla Semi entrance will be another wakeup call for that market! Just like the Model S was for MB, Audi, Lexus, as those buyers move to Tesla!

My guess is that Tesla will keep price increases below industry averages, effectively continuing to make EV’s more competitive with ICE equivalents.

The Model S has been increasing the battery size and bringing down the price.

The Model 3 may too enjoy this.

This behavior makes sense. Most automakers believe they cannot (yet) make a compelling EV at a profit. Tesla has not disproven this. Until they believe it, they will proceed with caution, and not throw $4 billion away as Tesla has done. The pioneers get the arrows.

In this respect, the Bolt has more potential to influence automaker behavior than anything Tesla has done yet. And, likewise, if it fails it will have a chilling effect. All would not lost in that case: the Model 3 might eventually make money at a reasonable level of quality.

Read the Tesla Balance Sheet.
Their “profit” is there under “Plant and Equipment”, with exponential growth from 1 Billion to 16 Billion in 5 years.

Tesla is working hard on the cost and quality for the Model 3 and Y. I do expect initial versions to be buggy and require numerous re-calls, but their approach is to fix each one properly so it doesn’t happen again. In 2 or 3 years the Model 3 & Y production lines will be entirely automated so defects caused by human tiredness will be eliminated, and with defects in design relentlessly eliminated, the quality will get better and better.

not throw $4 billion away as Tesla has done.

Gosh yes, Tesla has “thrown away” billions of dollars by expanding its production capacity by about 45% every year since 2012. Every auto maker would love to “waste” money like that! 🙄

C’mon, 4E. At least come up with some new FUD. This limp effort from you is just old and tired. Why not tell us another tale about pretend problems with your imaginary Model X?

If you’re going to take the time to write and post Tesla bashing comments, at least put in some effort to make them interesting!

Thrown away 4 billion dollars? Seriously? I really want to understand the reasoning behind that statement…

You don’t because there is none.

Even the Ford EV and PHEV Cars could be made better with doing Flat Pack Battery designs to remove the trunk bump, add DC Fast Charging choices, and even just adding some intercity fast charging infrastructure, starting with pairs of cities that sell the most of their EV’s.

Flat packs aren’t easy with PHEV vehicles because of the exhaust system and gas tank.

“Tesla And The Big Three: It’s Not Fair To Compare”

I agree: It’s totally unfair to Detroit’s Big Three!

It is absolutely and completely unfair to the lumbering brainless dinosaurs to compare them to the fast, agile, smart furry mammal. The poor dinosaurs aren’t even smart enough to realize they’re headed for extinction.

“Ford representatives have made it clear that the company will be taking a gradual, go-slow approach to electrification.”

Hmmm, why does this sound familiar? Let’s paraphrase that and see if it’s a good fit to a former market leader during a different recent disruptive tech revolution:

Kodak representatives have made it clear that the company will be taking a gradual, go-slow approach to developing digital cameras.

Yeah, that works. Also:

BlackBerry representatives have made it clear that the company will be taking a gradual, go-slow approach to matching the features of the iPhone.

As I said: Lumbering, brainless, and soon to be extinct.

Go Tesla!

I wouldn’t call them brainless – that’s harsh. They are not Kodak or Blackberry. EV’s represent an evolution not a revolution in vehicle technology. Are they quieter, potentially quicker and theoretically less maintenance. But they are not cheaper, available in all body styles or without compromise. The general public doesn’t care about 0-60 times, the 10 minutes a week to fill up their car or the 30 minute oil change twice a year.

An evolution is a gradual change; a revolution is a radical one. The difference between using a heat engine, which has to be provided with all sorts of space-wasting Rube Goldberg kludges to prevent the engine from melding down or tearing itself apart, powered by petroleum distillates, versus a much simpler electric motor, powered by electricity… that’s not a gradual change. It’s a radical change. The EV revolution is slower than the cellphone revolution or the digital camera revolution, because those proceeded at the pace of Moore’s Law, just like computer tech. The the EV revolution is advancing at the slower pace of improvements in chemistry, not microprocessors or solid-state electronics. It’s a slower revolution, but when it’s done, the effect on society will be much more transformative than either the cellphone or the digital camera revolutions. The change involves not only a switch from ICEVs to fully electric cars and trucks, but also a transition away from an oil-based economy to a renewable-based economy. “I wouldn’t call them brainless – that’s harsh.” What do you call a bunch of executives at all the existing gasmobile manufacturers who can clearly see the handwriting on the wall, who know the EV… Read more »

If we consider Magna International (a parts supplier) did most of the work to make the Focus EV and that LG Chem did all the battery and most of the technology work to bring the Bolt to market, I wouldn’t say there’s too much going on at the Detroit guys level.

I don’t think the boys from Detroit are trying to compete with Tesla, they are trying to put Tesla out of business so they can keep doing what they’ve always ben doing.

BTW, love that picture of Mark Fields. The smug look of confidence right before his head is lopped off.

A measured and reasonable defense.

Camera industry is a pretty good example. Early digital cameras had some advantages over analog film but also had some negatives. They basically killed off film cameras even while the disadvantages lingered (photo quality for all but high end, rapid imaging). Digital won out because they were good enough and didn’t have trillion dollar industries fighting against them. They were more convenient and offered added functionality with the digital images. BEV’s also have their advantages and disadvantages as compared to the entrenched incumbent technology. The only disadvantages left are first cost and recharge time. First cost is coming into parity as the article states and will become and advantage for EV’s shortly after. “Refill” is a matter of perspective. While there is no question empty to full takes significantly longer, even with Supercharging, the real world convenience is a very individual to the driver and largely misunderstand. I find it much more convenient to plug at home versus going to gas stations. The only time gas cars are more convenient is on drives longer than 250 miles if you own an S, X, and soon to be 3 with the large battery option. How often do people actually drive more… Read more »

The difference is digital cameras could do things film cameras couldn’t. EV’s are just cars with different powertrains.

Things EVs can do that ICE cars can’t:

1. Charge at home. (You probably won’t appreciate how huge this is until you have an EV.)

1b. Charge from a wide variety of sources.

2. Avoid the maintenance shop (mostly).

3. Run quiet, clean, and smooth (minimal vibration).

Don’t you just love driving behind a old gas car which creates clouds of exaust gases right in front of you?

Yeah but let’s look at reality: the same camera companies still make cameras today, they’re just digital. What was killed off was the film makers. By that token the car companies are fine. The ones who need to worry are the oil companies, and I think that’s actually an accurate projection too.

The car industry is not our enemy and not who stands to lose from EVs, it’s the oil industry and OPEC.

Your camera industry analogy is a good one. Much like there is a lot more to a camera than a sensor there is a *whole lot* more to a car than a power train. Everything from suspension design to making a car that won’t rattle (which is actually far more complex than most people realize carries over for EVs. Over the last 30+ years of owning cars I would say than than 25% of my repairs have been power train related to I think repair shops will still do a fine business repairing everything from suspensions to power windows to power seats. The losers will be oil companies (as stated) and local gas stations. But, given how much cars cost and the fact they last 15+ years I don’t think the transformation will be as rapid as some of the starry eyed folks seem to. It won’t be anything like the transformation from tube TVs to flat TVs or dumb phones to smart phones.

It’s actually a very bad example for many reasons ….

Most people are not greenies. It’s hard to argue with the development of ICE vehicles. Every year they get faster, more efficient AND less expensive

ICE cars haven’t gotten substantially more efficient in decades, except via electrification. The only way to make your statement true is to count hybrids among the ICEs.

I’m not seeing them getting cheaper, either, even after adjusting for inflation.

Faster? Well, the speed limits aren’t going up.

There are theoretical limits to how efficient gas engines can be which is around 25%, though they only approach that to about 22%, while the electric motor can achieve over 90% efficiency.

As Pushmi-Pullyu, says, its an mature technology, so despite commercials to the contrary there are no improvements in the ice.

I think he means, the ICEs are having more heating efficiency with technology improvement.

“Every year they get faster, more efficient AND less expensive”


With the exception of the switch to electronic fuel injection, gasmobiles get more efficient only by becoming more expensive. That’s been true for decades. The ICEngine is a mature tech, with little if any room for improvement. Recent advances in fuel efficiency have been achieved by making them more complex and thus more expensive, and much of the added complexity is additions of EV tech such as start/stop systems.

didn’t Elon say something about like 600,000 reservations now?? thought he said this recently…

can’t wait to see Model 3’s everywhere instead of Lexus IS, BMW 3 series, Mercedes C-class…and all for the same price as the chevy bolt.

(⌐■_■) Trollnonymous

When I get my “Model à trois”, I’m going to install a 1200W killer audio system in it with 4 10″ subwoofers.