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How Tesla Challenges Other Car Makers

Tesla challenges other car makers to build better cars says Diarmuid O’Connell, Telsa’s vice president of business development at an industry conference.

Tesla Motor service center. (Source: Tesla Motors)

Tesla Motor service center. (Source: Tesla Motors)

Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s VP of business development, had harsh words for competitors last week at the CAR management briefing seminars in Michigan. He told the group that Tesla challenges other car makers to build better cars.

“You can split the market of EVs into two programs,” he said. “Many are compliance programs. Exceptions are Nissan, ourselves and BMW. Most are focused on minimum compliance, lowest common denominator behavior, and the vehicles reflect that. In some respect, they are appliances, in terms of the way they look.”

CARB And The EPA

His remarks come at a time when two important regulatory programs are up for review. The California Air Resources Board is taking a look at its zero emissions vehicle policies and the Environmental Protection Agency is considering changes to its CAFE standards.

Traditional car makers are trying to get both agencies to relax those standards, but O’Connell says they should stop trying to “slow walk” the rate of progress toward a emissions free future and get busy building better cars. He says his company wants California and the EPA to raise their standards, not relax them.

“From an empirical standpoint, the [regulations] are very weak, eminently achievable and the only thing missing is the will to put compelling products on the road,” he said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

This week, Mary Nichols, CARB chairwoman since 2007, announced that she isn’t satisfied with having just a few electric cars on California roads. The current standard calls for 2.7% of all cars sold in California to be electric. Nichols wants to set the bar higher. In fact, she would like it if all the cars sold in California were electric by 2030.

For its part, the automotive industry is busy telling the EPA that the current CAFE standards are too high. Any further tightening would be bad for business. “We need consumers to buy them in high volumes to meet the steep climb in fuel economy standards ahead,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry lobbying group, told the conference. The implication is that higher standards will kill the automotive business, cause massive layoffs, and have a negative impact on the economy.

This is precisely the same argument the automobile industry made about safety related changes in the ’50’s, seat belts in the 60’s, exhaust emission in the 70’s, airbags in the 90’s and better crash test performance at the beginning of the 21st century. Its complaints today are just more of the same.

CAFE Olay

The furor over EPA standards is actually a tempest in a teapot. On the surface of it, the 54.5 mpg requirement by 2025 seems like a huge increase above present day performance. But in reality, that standard is based on the old EPA mileage testing protocol, which was amended several years ago because it resulted in numbers that were wildly optimistic.

When the EPA adopted a new standard designed to better reflect real world expectations, it did not apply the new standard to the computation of the 2025 goal. If it did, that 54.5 mpg number would convert to around 37 mpg — which many of today’s cars are already capable of achieving.

To suggest that car companies cannot achieve a CAFE of 37 mpg using the current EPA protocol is patently absurd. In fact, a representative of Johnson Controls, one of the largest suppliers of components to the automobile manufacturing , said last year that car makers can easily meet the new standard and, in fact, many are already doing so today with internal combustion cars.

Charging Technology

One area where other manufacturers need to step up involves recharging technology for EVs and plug-in cars. At present, the best any of those other cars can handle is 50 kW. Tesla already has Superchargers with more than double that capacity. It’s new liquid cooled charging cables indicate the company has even higher power chargers in mind for the future.

O’Connell told the conference that drivers of competitors’ cars would be welcome to use the Supercharger network if only their cars were capable of handling the higher current. Tesla made its Supercharger patents public last year, but no other manufacturer has expressed any interest in them. Instead, the industry seems content to live with 50 kW “fast chargers” that really aren’t all that fast.

The Week In Review

Tesla has had a rough week. The stock market was disappointed with what Elon Musk had to say during the 2nd quarter conference call and punished the company’s stock, which closed down nearly 9% for the week.

The real question on people’s minds is whether Tesla will bring electric cars to the masses the way the Model T put the world on wheels almost a century ago, or whether it is a company that caters only to the wealthy and will flame out the way the Concorde SST did? If you are reading this, chances are we know how you would answer that question.

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