Tesla Running Ahead of the Pack

MAY 23 2012 BY MARC LEE 4

With Tesla’s announcement yesterday that they will start deliveries June 22, slightly ahead of schedule, it appears they are running fast, and they should be.  High end EVs are being targeted by the likes of BMW, Cadillac, and Audi. Each of them gunning for the limited numbers who can afford to pay upwards of six figures for a car.

I’m rooting for Tesla because frankly without Tesla, I do not believe there would be tens of thousands of EVs driving the roads right now. EVs would have come eventually, but not as soon without the gadfly that is Tesla.

But their position is a precarious one. For an outsider to survive in the auto industry, you need to have one serious competitive advantage. Right now the only advantage Tesla has is that of first mover. Electric traction components of an EV do not offer serious opportunity for competitive advantage. There are not huge efficiency gains to be made in the electric motor, controller, charger, or inverters. They are already very efficient.

There may be some cost gains through mass production, but Tesla is unlikely to benefit from that since they do not yet target the masses. That is their stated goal, but they aren‘t there yet. The battery is the only area where one could hope to gain an advantage, but there Tesla uses an electronics industry standard, small form cylindrical cell. More than 6000 of them go into the Model S.   Tesla would rightly point out, the cells are standard, the battery management system is not.

GM, Nissan, and Ford can perhaps afford a mistake, and every OEM makes them.  Despite the research, the engineering, the testing,  cars do flop.  Tesla does not have that luxury of affording a mistake. Even if Tesla’s execution is perfect their long term viability is questionable. A question confirmed by the considerable short float against its stock.

Tesla being smaller is perhaps more nimble than the big dogs, but changes come slow in the auto industry. The decade that it took to get the hybrid technology of the Prius to gain widespread acceptance demonstrates how slow the car buying public is to move to new technology. Dealing with the slow acceptance and expecting to continually out engineer and out maneuver auto industry giants is a tall order indeed.

 But try they will. Consider these features.


Regen(erative) braking

– Not only will the car have it, but due to customer feedback on the subject, it will be adjustable, so “…you can adjust Regen to suit your driving style”

“Due to customer feedback” indeed. The debate rages on the various EV forums about what level of regen if any is desirable before the brake pedal is pressed. I am in the no regen until I press the brake camp, but there is very clearly a group that is loving the ability to drive basically with only the accelerator and letting heavy regen slow the car for them when they let off the accel pedal. By responding quickly on this Telsa is showing perhaps that they can move more quickly than the majors.


Personalized Suspension

– programmable preference for suspension and ride height. “A car set a little lower to the ground will reduce aero drag. You may choose to raise the suspension a few inches when faced with pesky speed bumps or very high when loading up the Frunk with groceries and supplies for a summer BBQ.”

The low clearance of the Volt front air dam has been the cause of bitter debate. Some have paid to have a new air dam with more clearance installed. Others are not willing to give up the aero efficiency afforded by the lower air dam. Tesla has listened and built in adjustability. Brilliant.

Tesla’s goal is to produce an affordable mass produced EV, and they are proceeding along the steps Elon Musk has laid out for them to accomplish this. Whether they succede or not, there is no doubt they will have left the EV industry better than when they arrived.

Categories: Tesla


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4 Comments on "Tesla Running Ahead of the Pack"

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Marc, the comparison above is incorrect. You are showing the Model S 85kWh to have a range of 320 miles which was actually achieved on the EPA 2-cycle test but then comparing it to the EPA 5-cycle test figures for the other vehicles. The 5-cycle test is much more challenging and the Model S only scored a range of 265 miles on it. The EPA range on the window sticker will state 265 miles, not 320 miles.

If you then use the Model S’s 5-cycle test you get 3.12 mi/kWh which is actually better than the LEAF, but not as good as the Focus. I do expect the 60kWh and 40kWh Model S’s to ave slightly better efficiency numbers as they will be hauling around significantly less weight.