It’s not easy to successfully launch a new brand – especially in the fiercely competitive automotive sector – yet Tesla made it look relatively effortless, garnering an unrivalled level of cool in an incredibly short space of time.
Founded by engineer/inventor/Paypal co-founder Elon Musk, Tesla made the electric vehicle an appealing prospect to an audience of savvy early adopters. And then there were the PR coups – boldly releasing its technology patents to the industry, to name just one.
But is life as sweet as it should be for Tesla, six years later? Well, firstly, there’s the business model, which is widely reported to be flawed; heavily subsidised by the Californian government and buoyed by Musk’s other entrepreneurial ventures. That said, the anticipation of the Model 3 launch has lifted shares in recent weeks, and the deposits are expected to raise $300 million or more to help the cause.
Secondly, there are unreliability and quality issues. Reports of brake noise, poor interior fit and finish, sunroof leaks and door handle malfunctions are common in the Model S. The Model X isn’t without problems either; one buyer has talked of misaligned body panels and loose chrome fitments.
What should worry Tesla most of all, though, is that the rest of the industry is fast catching up. Electric models with 200-mile ranges from desirable, established and trustworthy car makers are imminent, and Tesla will no longer be the de facto choice.
Large-scale manufacturers may have taken their time coming to market but you'd wager that much of the delay was due to quality and reliability testing to ensure this new technology is up to the standard customers would expect. Tesla, on the other hand, released its semi-autonomous Autopilot software to the world with little testing, only to see it dangerously abused by customers. It's not something I can see BMW doing.
Where once Tesla was considered the pioneer of tech, with features such as its iPad-style infotainment system, this is now becoming the norm, with Volvo’s XC90 and many more to come showcasing advanced tech for the masses. It's the same story with battery technology; Mercedes relied on Tesla to provide cells for its B-Class EV, but the updated model is rumoured to use batteries developed without the help of Tesla.
With the Model S and Model X, Tesla has essentially been running a one-horse race. But with the Model 3, the route to victory is soon to be crowded with competitors. It's set to be the sternest test that Tesla has faced yet – and a real glimpse into just how well this company will fare against some of the biggest brands in the world.