What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, Tesla Motors—at that time an unknown Silicon Valley automotive start-up—was among a group of idealistic companies attempting to make and sell an all-electric car. It was feverishly working to deliver its first product: essentially a Lotus Elise converted to run on electrons. The fun but impractical little Roadster was offered for about $100,000.
Fast forward to 2017. Last week Tesla handed over the keys to the first 30 production units of its Model 3. The small sedan seats five passengers and provides either 310 or 220 miles of driving range on a single charge, depending on a respective price of $44,000 or $35,000. It represents a major milestone for Tesla—the culmination of a 10-year strategy to start with expensive low-production luxury models until it could manage to build an affordable model for the masses. That day has apparently come.
Looking Less Like a Pipe Dream
A decade ago, the Tesla Roadster and other EVs were a mild curiosity for “real” car guys and gals. Today, the mainstream automotive press are Tesla believers. In an exclusive first drive of the Model 3, Kim Reynolds—the testing director for Motor Trend—wrote, “Have I ever driven a more startling small sedan? I haven’t. At speed, it gains a laser-alertness I haven’t encountered before.” Reviewers also marveled at the Model 3’s minimalistic dashboard, which uses a single 15-inch touchscreen instead of any buttons, knobs, dials, or gauges. Every aspect of the car’s operation, from the AC to the glove box, is controlled from that iPad-like screen. The result is an ultra-clean interior design.
It remains to be seen if Tesla can produce the Model 3 at mass volume and achieve its grandiose goal of kicking gas-powered cars to the curb. A decade ago, it would have been easy to laugh off Tesla’s plans. But with the delivery of the first Model 3 cars, it’s harder to dismiss the possibility of a predominant electric car future—not only provided by Tesla, but also by BMW, General Motors, Nissan, Volvo, and others.
Besides, there’s this: Britain announced last week that sales of new diesel and gas cars would end by 2040. France and Norway recently made similar pledges—and the State of California (and the 13 states following its emissions standards) have equally aggressive goals. Two decades into the future might seem far away, but when measured by the changes we’ve seen in automotive technology (and society) between the first Tesla Roadster and last week’s delivery of the Model 3, the times are changing faster than anybody expected.