For years, Tesla was synonymous with everything cool, high tech, and futuristic. But is it still today?
“Teslas used to look cool and now they don’t,” said Jessica Resler, a Brooklyn resident recently shopping for an EV who eventually settled on a BMW i4. “And they’ve become the Uber car of the city.”
In case it wasn’t clear, no one wants to be known as “the Uber car of the city.” Previous designees include various Toyotas — Prius, RAV4, etc. — a brand that’s more synonymous with terms like “functional” and “within my budget” than “cool.”
But maybe it’s a good thing, a sign of forward progress, that Tesla is shedding its cool persona and becoming more of a car for the masses. After all, the goal is to get more people into EVs, not cater strictly to the too-cool-for-school sect.
In episode 3 of Land of the Giants: The Tesla Shock Wave, we take a hard look at the legacy auto industry’s recent efforts to catch up with Tesla in the EV race. For years, Tesla was the only EV game in town, notwithstanding compliance cars or EVs with dorky designs, like the Nissan Leaf. Now, every automaker under the sun has a fully fleshed-out EV strategy, and new models are being released every day.
“Teslas used to look cool and now they don’t.”
Suddenly, Tesla finds itself in a crowded market, going up against some of the most storied names in automotive history, all while struggling with its own aging lineup of similar-looking vehicles. The Cybertruck’s multiyear delays have only exacerbated the problem.
In this episode, our hosts interview car shoppers, Tesla owners, and a range of experts (including yours truly) to examine how Tesla stacks up to the competition in several key categories, including price, performance, quality, ease of charging, design, and the overall vibe of the brand.
That last category is especially interesting given the inseparability of Tesla’s brand from that of its CEO, Elon Musk (which we also discussed at great length in episode 2).
“It’s an unbelievable brand,” said Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at NYU Stern School of Business and co-host of Vox Media’s tech podcast Pivot. “Huge depth of associations, personification to Elon Musk, his mastery of new mediums to get attention without paying for traditional branding.”
But there are drawbacks as well. “It also says that you’re an Elon fan,” Galloway says of the brand. “There’s a lot of people who are no longer Elon fans.”
Tesla’s future may hinge on whether it can successfully disentangle itself from Musk’s polarizing persona — or, barring that, at least distance itself from it. The company’s 80 percent share of the EV market has dwindled down to 60 percent thanks to the rising competition — and some experts predict that with the industry-wide shift to EVs, Tesla’s dominance could wither within a few years.
If that happens, it’ll be lucky to still have the Uber drivers.
Listen to the latest episode of Land of the Giants: The Tesla Shock Wave, a co-production between The Verge and the Vox Media Podcast Network. You can catch new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.