Tesla has been head and shoulders above competitors in the electric vehicle field for some time due to its maturity as a company and expertise in EV engineering. The fact that very few companies can say they have been developing electric vehicles for as long as Tesla has is where the company’s true advantage lies.
In fact, CEO Elon Musk believes that whoever is in second place, even though he “doesn’t really know who would even be a distant second,” is so far away, you can’t even see them “with a telescope:”
“We still don’t even know really who would even be a distant second. So yes, it really seems like we’re — I mean, right now, I don’t think you could see a second place with a telescope, at least we can’t. So that won’t last forever.”
In the past, Musk has stated Volkswagen was Tesla’s closest competition. But since former group CEO Herbert Diess left late last year, that may have changed.
Tesla is not only a leader in EV tech, but it also has been extremely resilient through the past few years. As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted supply chain regularity in 2020, Tesla undoubtedly felt the pressure. Its order log lengthened in nearly every market, while supply continued to dwindle. Even to this day, Tesla executives are notorious for stating the company has a supply problem, and not a demand one.
While companies like Rivian, Polestar, and Lucid, and automotive mainstays like Ford and General Motors, have offered comparable EV options to consumers, some of which performed extremely well in 2022 with sales. But despite this, Musk still maintains that Tesla’s biggest competitors do not lie within the United States. Instead, a foe that was mentioned in previous earnings events was mentioned: the Chinese.
“The Chinese are scary, we always say that,” Lars Moravy, VP of Vehicle Engineering, said.
“I think we have a lot of respect for the car companies in China,” Musk added. “They are the most competitive in the world.”
Complementing their work ethic and drive, Musk also knows the Chinese automotive market is the most competitive, and the largest, on Earth. Tesla still led the Chinese market in 2022 in pure EV sales, but BYD was the country’s largest seller of plug-in vehicles, including plug-in hybrid EVs. However, most EV enthusiasts would consider PHEVs irrelevant.
What will it take for companies to catch up to Tesla? The answer likely depends on who you ask. Musk believes nobody is close in terms of solving real-world AI, but there are undoubtedly companies out there that have arguments about that. Mercedes-Benz launched the first Level 3 system in Germany last year, and while it is only operational on the Autobahn, it technically trumps Tesla’s Level 2 system, which is determined by the Society of Automotive Engineers’ guidelines for autonomy.
And, if you ask Consumer Reports, Tesla Autopilot is the seventh-best Advanced Driver Assistance System you can get currently.
Others might state Waymo, Cruise, and others, who have operational driverless ride-sharing services set up are technically ahead of Tesla. However, these companies are confined to certain areas through geofencing, and they undoubtedly have problems themselves. No suite is close to perfect.
Where Tesla’s true advantage lies is within its infrastructure, as it is the only company to establish a worldwide network of Superchargers that may or may not enable other companies to utilize for their own charging needs soon. Currently, and especially in the United States, you must have a Tesla to utilize this. Fifteen countries in Europe are outliers, as they are a part of Tesla’s Supercharger Pilot Program.
It may take a few years for a clear-cut competitor to emerge that will push Tesla to the brink of relinquishing its crown of “EV leader.”
“So in five years, I don’t know, probably somebody has figured it out. I don’t think it’s any of the car companies that we’re aware of,” Musk said.
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