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Taking Tesla head-on as a car maker these days certainly appears to be a formidable task, but perhaps it’s not sacrilege to applaud the various efforts along the way. Elon Musk has mentioned how the California brand can’t achieve its sustainability mission alone on several occasions, as most Tesla fans are aware, but the big picture is not just about pure numbers of electric vehicle (EV) players. It’s also about consumer taste and finances.
For one, big cars are pretty popular in Tesla’s home market, the United States. Sure, Tesla has the Model X for anyone looking for an SUV. But in some parts of the US, it’s on par with the price of a home mortgage and out of financial reach for many (most?) larger families. I actually tried promoting the idea of a Tesla to my best friend who happens to be a lawyer and whose partner has a well-paying IT job; they sounded like the ideal income bracket for the brand’s larger offering to me. Her immediate response was, “Ha! We could never afford a Tesla!” We spoke about the Model 3 and upcoming Model Y, but with 3 kids in day care (and all with large car seats), she couldn’t take on ‘another mortgage’ just to drive them from place to place regardless of the other advantages.
By the way, I’m sure Tesla will address this consumer gap eventually, but for now I’m making a point about their competitors finding a market niche that could be a boon for Tesla in the long run.
Audi could potentially have another all-electric option for someone like my friend in the e-tron. The $70,000+ price tag doesn’t quite compare to the $30,000 or so she paid for her Honda Pilot, but if you lined up gas and maintenance costs AND presented the e-tron 50, my bargain-loving bestie might bite. Audi recently launched this 71 kWh, shorter-range version of the larger e-tron SUV in Norway, and it runs about $55,000 with somewhere around 150 miles of range. As her kids get older (and car seats become smaller boosters), she might get used to the whole ‘just plug your car in at night’ perk and be open to something a little more entertaining a la Tesla.
Then there’s the Jaguar I-PACE. Despite its troubles with range estimates and charge point access, this all-electric luxury brand crossover does have one advantage over Tesla to some consumers: It’s not a Tesla. Now, I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I’m more so saying that there are plenty of consumers that are used to admiring the style of certain brands and grew up dreaming of owning one some day. My co-worker’s husband comes to mind, actually.
While he thinks Tesla has some amazing performance stats, he’s a ‘hot hatch’ kind of guy. He simply likes the style of the I-PACE a bit more than a Tesla right now, and would also prefer his first EV to come from a brand whose other models have caught his attention for decades. If he were to take up his old pastime of hobby racing using the I-PACE though, which would certainly be tempting after experiencing the immediate torque and horsepower from an EV, he’d probably see the light surrounding Tesla ownership after being smoked by a few Model 3 Performances.
Finally, there are the budget buyers (myself included) who see the $35,000-ish Model 3, but then also see the $15,000 used Nissan LEAF. Since I have a few kids, this purchase would be purely an ‘errand runner’ as my main car needs to be larger and not cost more than my future land and farmhouse combined. If the price of a used Tesla comes down to that sort of bargain, which is unlikely given the Tesla Network plans for the Model 3, I would certainly bite. But the LEAF does something useful: It gets people like me into an electric car that I can afford, which is part of the big picture isn’t it? And kids do grow up and buy their own cars eventually, meaning I can one day trade in my mini van for something a little more…Tesla.