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Tesla Won (… Sort Of)

I’ve had this article in mind for many months, eventually set the draft up on March 17, and put it on my schedule last week to finally write it on Saturday. Then, on Friday evening, Elon Musk basically made my point in a couple of tweets and “stole my thunder.” Alas, it’s actually his thunder anyway, and my words are just echoes, but still … not cool, dude.

The good news is there’s far more to say than can be said in a couple of tweets.

To kick things off properly, though, let’s get to the core point so that you know what the heck I’m writing about: Tesla’s mission — believe it or not — wasn’t to rule the world. It wasn’t even to rule Mars. Elon Musk presumed that there was a 90% chance Tesla would not survive past a baby stage. Actually, it did almost die … a few times. The company nearly went bankrupt back in 2008, for example, and was dramatically saved by a “pour all my money into it” approach from Elon, which also boosted the faith of other key investors in the company’s vision and potential. Now, any sane person new to this story might be wondering, “Why start a company if you think it’s going to fail?” Elon has presented two key reasons several times: 1) to stimulate quicker and more compelling electric vehicle progress among major automakers, and 2) because the purpose was so important that it was worth trying even if the chance of success was slim.

Without a doubt, Tesla has dramatically increased EV progress from large automakers and directly stimulated the development of some of the top electric cars on the market. Bob Lutz long ago explained how the Tesla Roadster led to the Chevy Volt, as one early and well known example, but the wild success of the Tesla Model S, Tesla Model X, and Tesla Model 3 (even before its release) have stimulated more serious and quicker EV development plans from probably every major automaker.

The full threat of the Model 3 is without a doubt a big part of that. Several of these companies could lose a boatload of market share and even go bankrupt if they don’t catch up to the coolest kid on the block. (We’re looking at you, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, and Acura.)

But some automaker execs woke up before the Model 3’s threat really hit. Some of them must have been stimulated to move when they discovered how much a compelling, exciting, insanely ludicrously quick electric landboat could thrill humans around the world, and even steal the “Large Luxury Car” gold medal from Mercedes. These automakers/execs may not have a great deal to show for it yet, but their behind-the-scenes planning has certainly shifted to electric drivetrain R&D.

I was in a meeting recently where I met an executive from a drivetrain designer who works with several major automakers. After talking for a while, he revealed that there has been a notable shift in the industry at this stage of vehicle development. His company has been putting more and more time and attention into drivetrains that include a plug since this has become the main drivetrain of interest for major automakers — as in, it’s now more than half of their requested work. He made it clear that the shift to a world full of plug-in cars is underway. And note that he and his company don’t come from an EV background — they’ve been developing systems for internal combustion engines for years.

Beyond vehicle design and production, automakers seem to have woken up to the charging network element (after a long delay/denial period). The Tesla Supercharger network has shown that you need a holistic ecosystem approach to the electric transport transition if you are really going to succeed. After delaying, delaying, and delaying, big automakers have finally come to accept this and are moving forward with their own potential solutions. (However, it seems they still aren’t doing so nearly as fast as Tesla.) I doubt Daimler, Ford, BMW, and Volkswagen would have announced a move toward a superfast-charging network by now if Tesla hadn’t all but forced them to do so in order to be able to sell electric cars in decent volumes.
Read full article at CleanTechnica