Tesla, the first successful car startup in the United States in 111 years, with the last one being Ford, has sent a shock wave through the automotive industry. The young company that was founded in 2003 has been so influential that Morgan Stanley auto analyst Adam Jonas has called them the “World’s most important car company.”
Above: The Tesla Model S. Source: Car and Driver
Before going into further analysis of Tesla’s effect on the rest of the automotive industry, we must first look at its’ founder, billionaire Elon Musk. Musk was one of the creators of Paypal, SpaceX as well as Tesla and continues to control a majority stake in both SpaceX and Tesla today. Musk’s goal with Tesla was to create a car company that would, “Accelerate the advent of sustainable transport.” His plan to do this was to create a mass market electric car that not only performed great, but that was nice to look at as well.
With Tesla’s goal in mind, what contributed to the need for this shift to sustainable transport and what have been the responses from the large established car manufacturers?
Reason Behind Tesla’s Creation:
“Accelerating the advent of sustainable transport.”
With well over one billion cars on the road today, CO2 is being emitted into the atmosphere at a rate not seen in recent history that has caused a sharp rise in average global air temperatures.
Despite this alarming rise, car companies have been reluctant to switch from fossil fuel burning vehicles, with the most progressive car before Tesla being the Toyota Prius. The Prius runs using both traditional gasoline and a battery and has remained largely unchanged since its creation in 1997, as can be seen in the photos below.
Top: 1997 Toyota Prius, Bottom: 2015 Toyota Prius
Since Tesla’s conception, the demand for electric cars has been growing year after year with major car companies jumping on the electric car bandwagon. I believe this growth is because Tesla was able to make an electric vehicle that was both sleek and powerful, while also having a range comparable to that of a gasoline powered car (range shown later).
Despite the recent influx of electric vehicles to the market, the top car based on lowest pollution per year continues to be the Tesla Roadster. The Roadster was Tesla’s very first car which retailed for about 110,000$ and had a range of approximately 250 miles.
The Roadster continues to be the least polluting car as it is the only major one (until the Model S) that was completely non gasoline dependent. The pollution the car does create is from the electricity that is needed to charge the battery, which unless done by methods like solar or wind energy, still creates pollution.
Tons of Pollution per Year, source.
Car Companies’ Response to Tesla:
Other car companies have tried their hand at making a practical electric car, with Chevrolet releasing the Volt, and BMW releasing the i8. The Volt retails for about 35,000$ and will give you a 56 mile battery only range, while the i8 retails for approximately 140,000$ and will give you a paltry 15 mile battery only range. A Tesla Model S on the other hand will give you a range of 200-260 mile all electric range for around 70,000$.
Unlike a Tesla, these two cars are both equipped with a traditional gasoline engine which they rely on as their main method of operation. With both Chevy and BMW’s attempts at an electric car still falling well short of Tesla’s, it can be said that major car companies are not doing enough to switch their cars to an electric based drive system, despite the overwhelming evidence from scientists that emissions from gasoline cars cause enormous harm to the environment due to the release of CO2. (note: the link above is to a long but informative podcast discussing climate change by Nobel Prize-winning Climatologist Dr. Cyntheia Rosenzweig.)
Despite this evidence, as we can see above car companies have not been taking this threat seriously. Why is this? Well, a major reason car companies are not taking climate change or Tesla more seriously is because of money, and what goes hand in hand with money? Politics. Tesla sells its cars in a direct to consumer fashion meaning they do not go through third party auto dealers to sell their cars for them. This gives Tesla more control over how their cars are sold and also means they can be sold cheaper as a cut of the profits do not have to go to a third party seller.
Well, as seen in the article above, politicians in many states have a direct relationship with the auto dealer method of selling cars. Due to this, Tesla is banned from selling cars in five states and is under attack in another six, how’s that for a free market economy?
Tesla’s Current Lineup:
-0-60: 2.8-5.4 seconds, depending on engine selected
-0-60: as fast as 3.2 seconds
-Price:$132,000 with a cheaper model in the works.
These two cars, along with the now defunct Roadster, showed consumers that electric cars can be sexy while still being functional. Tesla proved here that these vehicles do not have to be small, lightweight and under powered in order to be fully electric vehicles.
The Future of Tesla and Electric Automobiles:
Despite the major automaker’s movement to try and ban Tesla from selling in the states, its CEO Elon Musk is still Surging forward with his plan to revolutionize the auto industry, despite the lighthearted nature of Musk’s tweet.
One of Tesla’s plans for the future has already come to fruition, with the release of autopilot. This system allows for the car to continue to drive on its own without any input from the driver. As seen in the video a line above, this is a system that is still being developed and only works on highways for the time being. However, Elon Musk is adamant about improving this system immediately.
Other than the automatic charger and autopilot, Tesla is also building what it calls a gigafactory out in the Nevada desert that will significantly increase the number of lithium ion batteries the company is able to produce. By the year 2020, Tesla hopes that this factory will be able to produce enough batteries for 500,000 cars per year.
Tesla hopes that the first parts of its new Gigafactory will be operational by the year 2017 in order to coincide with the release of their mass market car, the Model III. The Model III is slated to cost roughly $35,000 before incentives, meaning the car will ultimately be cheaper than that thanks to a federal tax incentive for purchasing an electric vehicle. This price would put it right in line with the price of the Chevrolet Volt, a car with 53 mile battery only range, and about half the price of a new Tesla Model S. Elon Musk is hopeful that the Model III will be Tesla’s ticket to becoming a major player in the automotive industry in terms of sales. Tesla’s prior vehicles were all out of the price range of the average consumer, due to the cost of not mass producing parts such as batteries.
Other car manufacturers are also updating their electric car lineup, with BMW announcing the aforementioned i8, and Chevrolet announcing the Bolt.
Based on the current state of the electric car market, it is apparent that large automakers are doing what they can to thwart Tesla’s insurgence into the market place. The electric cars these large manufactures are currently producing do not come close in terms of range to the Tesla Model S, as it would seem these companies would rather try to stop Tesla’s from being sold altogether. However, based on the BMW i8 and the soon to be released Chevrolet Bolt, it would seem that automakers are beginning to take Tesla and the change to electric vehicles more seriously. Without Tesla coming onto the car market, the options for more environmentally conscious vehicles may still be limited to hybrids such as the Prius. Hopefully the trend of more advanced electric vehicles will continue to catch on so eventually gasoline powered cars will be a thing of the past.
Chevrolet Bolt, Source
Tesla: Doing More Than Creating Cars.
Without the advent of Tesla, hybrid cars like the Prius might still be the closest offering to a pollution free vehicle. However, thanks to Elon Musk and others back in 2003 this is not the case and the future of electric vehicles looks brighter by the day. Hopefully not too far in the future the roads will be filled with vehicles that no longer emit green house gases into the atmosphere and are able to safely drive themselves making the roads cleaner and safer than ever.
Word count: 2,439
The topic choice for this essay was an easy decision to make as I have been interested in this company for a long time. The only difficult part was coming up with a contestable claim that went along with the message I was trying to convey, that Tesla has done more than just create electric vehicles. As I was thinking of a subject for a contestable claim, I came across an article that a referenced above from The Verge about how Tesla was banned from selling cars in five states. This is due to their direct to buyer method that doesn’t use normal third party car dealerships to sell cars to the masses. After reading this article I found it difficult to believe that the way these large automakers were trying to stop the surge of electric vehicles was by simply buying out politicians to block the sale of Teslas. Instead of innovating their current lineup of cars, these manufactures would rather try to block a small startup than actually change their ways.
After reading this article, it was easy then to create my contestable claim: Major car manufactures have not done enough to switch their cars to a zero emission electric drive system.
To get my point across I wanted to make my essay in a linear format so it could be followed easily as well as broken into sections so as the main point would not be lost to the reader. In each section I tried to include photographs to give the reader visual information such as graphs or just an image to keep in mind as they read.
When it came to hyperlinks, I wanted them to not be essential to the main story. Meaning that while the links provide extra information, not clicking on them would not take away from a persons understanding of the essay. I made them this way because I find hyperlinks to sometimes make me lose my train of thought and detract from the main story.
The hyperlinks present in this essay contain a multitude of different media types, from articles to smaller personally written blog posts, videos to podcasts. The articles I selected in this essay are there to provide background information to some of the subjects discussed, while not being essential to the reader’s understanding of the essay. The smaller blog posts were created in much the same way, but shorter than the articles as I created them in the way I would want to read them, short and to the point. There are a couple videos throughout the essay. The first video is a background on Elon Musk which I put in as I thought it was more entertaining than simply reading an article on how he got to where he is now. The second video which shows and explains the autopilot feature on the Model S I put in because showing the autopilot system is much easier and quicker than trying to explain it. Finally, the one podcast talking about climate change I put in as the people discussing it are all very qualified to be discussing the issue. Bill Nye is every kid’s favorite science show host, but he actually has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell. But what really sold this podcast for me was their main guest, Nobel Prize-winning Climatologist Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig which made this really feel like an appropriate addition to the essay.
One additional form of media I decided to use was Tweets from Elon Musk. I did this to add information and to try and show a little but of his personality, especially in the tweet about the automatic charger.
Finally, the main reason for writing the essay in this format was because of the effects of reading online. Reading online can cause eye fatigue at a much faster rate than reading on a page. Hopefully by breaking up this essay it was a little easier to combat this issue as whenever I read long paragraphs without a break on a screen it becomes much more difficult to pay attention to what I was reading.
I hope this essay was both an entertaining and informative read.