Electric revolution is just around the corner and Tesla is in driving seat
Model S is pure supercar powered by batteries
Published 24/04/2016 | 02:30
You have to love Elon Musk, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and CEO of Tesla - the brash upstart Californian company that is shaking the car business to its very core. From an initial investment of $6.3m (€5.58m) in 2004, Musk has managed not only to produce the fastest and most desirable electric car in the world but is on the way to transforming the electric car to something both cool and commercially viable.
The driving force behind Musk is the belief that the fossil-fuel era is over; the combustion engine represents 19th-century technology that has outlived its usefulness. However, the motor industry, he argues, has too much invested in survival at this stage to admit its limits and imminent demise so the role of Tesla is not only as a pioneer but also to enlighten and to pave the way for other carmakers to embrace electric cars, a commitment he clearly demonstrated in 2014 by making Tesla's technology open source, so other car companies can use it to build their own electric vehicles.
By 2020, Tesla plans to deliver 500,000 cars - it's an ambitious one, given only seven years ago the company launched its first production car, the Tesla Roadster. The 2-door sports car didn't change the world - at the time the company could only produce a mere 500 units a year and less than 2,500 units were sold worldwide but it captured the very essence of what Tesla was about; making electric cars that were fast, desirable and with game-changing range capacities. Production of the roadster though wasn't without its problems - costs escalated as the Roadster proved more expensive and took longer to produce than originally planned; in addition, the early shipments often had quality issues.
But Musk was on the way to mass production, or what he dubbed his 'four-part trilogy', the blue print for how Tesla could hope to compete in a billion dollar industry.
The Roadster was followed in 2012 by the Model S, a full-sized, five-door saloon that would be Tesla's first flagship product. Musk has always maintained the Model S is a car you will buy for its driving dynamics, the green credentials are just a bonus. I recently had the opportunity to find out if this was actually true, and yes, the Model S is an incredibly impressive car. It is comfortable, practical and insanely fast. The top of the range Model S P90D goes from zero to 100km/h in 2.8 seconds, so it will keep pace with a Lamborghini Huracan and a Koenigsegg Agera R, and only a handful of cars including the Ferrari LaFerrari and the Bugatti Veyron are faster.
Behind the wheel it feels even quicker than the figures suggest as it is pure, straight-line acceleration.
Next up was the hotly anticipated SUV, the Tesla Model X and it did not disappoint. With "falcon-wing" doors that open up and a windshield that stretches from the front of the car almost to the very back it was simply stunning.
With a range of 400km, a top speed of 250km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 3.8 seconds, it could also carry seven people. But from the beginning the Model X made headlines for all the wrong reasons. It was billed as the safest, fastest and most capable SUV in history but a faulty hinge - that could cause the third row of seats to collapse in the event of a crash forced Tesla to issue a voluntary recall of 2,700 cars. On March 31 this year, Elon Musk unveiled the Model 3 to the world as the most affordable Tesla. With a promise of a 350 km range and a $35,000 price tag there was an astonishing response to the launch of the new car.
Close to 400,000 customers have ordered the Model 3. Technical details are yet to be confirmed but the car will seat five people and, like the Model S, will have a boot in the front and at the back.
Buyers will also get free access to Tesla's supercharger network of charging stations. There are even plans to make it available here, as Ireland has been added to the order page for those who want to buy it.
So the reality of an affordable electric car with real range capacity is almost here. Well not quite, the Model 3 doesn't exist yet.
Musk is confident that deliveries could start by the end of 2017 but meeting deadlines isn't Tesla's forte, particularly when there is currently no final production version of the Model 3. There are other challenges in the meantime that Musk must deal with, the Model X is still suffering quality problems, and before an affordable mass-produced car can be rolled out Tesla must first complete its Gigafactory, a giant battery manufacturing centre in Nevada that is key to lowering the overall cost of the battery pack.
It is Elon Musk's moment of truth. The loyal, affluent, green-minded fans of Tesla are not the target market for the Model 3. Musk needs to convince the average American that buying an electric car is the future.
Musk is betting everything on the Model 3, if the schedule falls too far behind or the product fails to excite it could well spell the end for Tesla. It remains to be seen whether the Model 3 will deliver and usher in a new, EV-dominated car era or if the electric car dream is finally consigned to history.