From the iPhone to Tesla: The history of “They said it couldn’t be done”
The same type of storylines come out over and over again as new technologies arrive, as they start to get popular, and then as they sweep across the mass market. I’m going to briefly cover a few of these storylines below and how they relate to the transition to electric cars.
One of the first things that happens when bright new technology comes along is that “very serious people” say the technology is more or less impossible, that it’s made of unicorn tears, that it could never be a practical option for two-legged humans roaming the forests and sleeping in caves. Eventually, though, the innovators lead us into the future.
But then comes the “Come on! Get real!” phase, in which anyone dreaming that this technology will become more than a niche choice is painted as being out of their minds, a looney tune. “Sure, washing machines are neat, but they will never be put into wide use.” But progress marches on, costs come down, larger and larger segments of the upper class receive the new technology.
As the technology approaches the mass market, there are a couple of claims regarding cost that get thrown around. First of all, there’s the assumption (stated or implied) that costs will never come down. “Large, flat-screen TVs are way too expensive — those are just for really rich people. They’re just too expensive to make.” Secondly, there’s the assumption that people in the mass market won’t pay more for a better product — because they just can’t. “Yeah, cell phones are convenient, but who’s going to pay so much money for a phone when a landline telephone is so cheap?” … “Yeah, iPhones are cool, but who’s going to pay so much money for a phone?”
Electric cars — and especially Tesla electric cars — are at this final stage. Bouncing off of comments from other CleanTechnica readers, I recently wrote: It’s, as someone else said, the option of going for an iPhone instead of a Nokia. You can get a Porsche-like car at an average car price … and all while cutting any guilt about pollution, global warming, and oil dependence.
The comparison to Porsche keeps coming up. It was the name that I heard most thrown around on Tesla Model 3’s unveiling night. On the outside, the Model 3 looks like a next-generation Porsche. The car apparently drives like a Porsche as well, or like no other $35,000–50,000 car on the planet. Yes, $35,000–50,000 is more than most people have ever spent on a car and more than they expected to ever spend on a car. The same was true for the Model S, which pulled buyers from Honda Civics, Toyota Prii, Ford Focuses, and many other mainstream models (as well as top-of-the-line options from BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, etc.). The clean electricity, the high tech, the extreme safety, and the insane performance pulled people up to another level in the market.
With the Model 3, there are these same draws for people who decided $70,000 was out of their comfort level but could see themselves stretching to the $35,000–50,000 price segment. Furthermore, there’s potentially an ace card around the corner. The Model 3 (and, for that matter, other electric cars in this range) won’t just offer zero emissions, insane acceleration, a top-of-the-market navigation system, and Easter eggs. The car could also turn into a robotaxi during the times you aren’t using it and it isn’t charging. It could turn into a supplemental source of income while outcompeting Uber on the app-based taxi market.
Several other people have commented that the top driver and passenger benefit of an electric car isn’t the convenience of home charging, the instant torque, or the cool tech. They’ve highlighted that the most enjoyable feature of an electric car is the smooth and quiet ride. No rumbling engine under the hood means more tranquility in your life, and quickly makes gas cars feel and sound like tractors. When people start to get a taste for this, sour milk (gasoline and diesel cars) soon becomes inedible. Whether you’re driving a LEAF, a Bolt, an i3, a Ford Focus Electric, a Model S, or a Model 3, this is a consumer benefit that nearly everyone quickly notices.
Tesla’s designs are keenly linked to that benefit. They are minimalist, clean, smooth. They are less about stimulating the senses than providing a relaxing and clear resting place for your body and mind between destinations.
CleanTechnica commenter Don Rexer captures this beautifully in the following work of art:
Anyone who owns a Tesla knows that it changes the whole character of driving. It’s fun to drive in a very good way. Clean, quiet and powerful.
Recently I have been walking a lot through quiet trails, but then I come out on busy by-ways. I am shocked at the way fossil fuel cars are driven. Never noticed it before. The ICE cars are driven surprisingly aggressively. Not everyone, but many drivers drive their cars like an extension of their emotions. They needlessly rev engines, lurch and accelerate, brake out of sync with the conditions. Many of their engines give out far more noise than is reasonable.
When the Model 3 becomes a common experience among drivers, cars will be driven in a different way. The character of the car will influence the character of the driver, just like ICE cars do now. Humans are not inherently wired with the explosive energy of fossil fuels. Humans have a quieter energy, much more in the character of electric motors.
It’s so odd that a very significant complaint by ICE car owners that EVs are so quiet. They are addicted to the loud expression of their oil cars, and the manufacturers encourage it. I hear some even route the noise through speaker systems.
When people become familiar with the experience of the Model 3, I think a majority will never return to the ICE. After all, most EV owners today strongly feel that way.
As I understand it, the Model 3 is a minimalist, beautifully quiet, well performing EV, just like the S and the X. People will economize on not buying gas. And as recently was done with the Model X, Tesla will be making enough margin to lower the price of the Model 3. I think it will eventually go down to around $25,000, just as new Gigafactories will produce them in the millions. This car could easily be #1.