The game changing, rock star car is here – will Tesla’s model 3 make history as promised?

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Tesla Motors announced this week that its mass-market (sort of) Model 3 has received all regulatory clearances and is set to begin production on schedule. The first models will be delivered to customers before the end of the month in a ceremony that will no doubt rival a dozen Chinese New Years for sheer spectacle.

 

Given all the hoopla surrounding the car and the general media frenzy around electric vehicles (EVs), is this event a turning point in the battle against petroleum-based transportation?

 

One would think so, based on media coverage alone. It takes a medium sized war to attract the same attention as Tesla. The Model 3’s success, far in advance of anyone actually sitting in one, has given a huge boost to the widely held opinion that electric car domination is on its way. The Model 3 intro was like a new iPhone launch, with people lined up a year in advance just to put down deposits. There clearly is pent up demand for this cool machine.

 

But is the demand because it’s a breakthrough EV, or just because it’s cool?

 

Some circumstances point to the cool factor, such as the fact that thousands of people lined up to put down deposits without having seen an example, let alone been allowed to drive one. No one had even seen the interior – in fact even today, days from the first sale, no official pictures of the interior are yet available.

 

Few people buy cars without sitting in them, checking for comfort, fit, etc. The indications therefore are that the cool factor was more at work here than actual demand for electric vehicles. A perfectly good example exists right now – Nissan’s Leaf – and few people are interested in it. In 2016, Nissan sold only 14,000 in the US.

 

Is the Model 3 so superior that 400,000 people will plunk down deposits, compared to less than 5 percent of that number that actually bought the nearest competitor? No one knows, because no one’s driven one. No one knows if the seats are comfortable, or if the dash glares wildly in the sunlight, or if road noise is unacceptable, or if the materials are built to a price and quality that is the equivalent of a Yugo or an Audi. So it’s quite likely that the car is an exciting novelty, from which it’s hard to draw mega-conclusions.
It is safe to say that there is a lot riding on its release. Its success would convince other manufacturers to leap in, and at the same time would force some large seismic shifts in infrastructure – hundreds of thousands of EVs will change the dynamics of electrical sources and uses significantly. Its failure would cast significant doubt on the ability of a mainstream EV to make a significant dent in the market, and by extension to do much to change fossil fuel consumption.

 

It may well be a game changer though, as the Model S was. That car stood the auto world on its ear for its general all-round brilliance, in addition to being an EV. If the 3 does all that’s promised, then maybe it will ignite a fire under the general population that is, frankly, pretty apathetic thus far. I for one hope it succeeds; it might be a catalyst towards new ways of thinking. Cheap fossil fuels won’t last forever and we need a better plan B than we seem to have now.

 

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