Tesla supporters, one might assume, root for electric cars in the way that Bronx denizens root for the Yankees. Inspiring Americans to embrace EV’s was supposed to be Tesla’s end game, a victory in the ongoing battle against climate change.
So why do many Tesla fans spend so much time ripping on competing EV’s, and the companies that make them? The Chevrolet Bolt, BMW i3, Audi E-Tron, Jaguar I-Pace, or Ford’s upcoming electric F-150 pickup — all cars that might be considered rolling olive branches, proof that automakers are heeding Elon Musk’s advice and joining the electric revolution. Instead, they’ve all been savaged by Tesla’s off-my-lawn types. These killjoys seem determined to remind us all that Tesla, and only Tesla, has any clue about operating in the electric space. Other automakers must be phonies, incompetents, carpetbaggers, or all three.
The latest target of toxic Tesla fandom, as Jennifer Sensiba astutely notes at Cleantechnica.com, is the 2020 Porsche Taycan. Tesla fans aren’t the only ones inciting schoolyard battles that don’t really exist. A wave of media clickbait proclaims the Taycan as the latest “Tesla-killer,” as though Porsche assassins — in stylish black leather, of course — were cutting the brake lines on every Model S in Silicon Valley. But that kind of lazy, reductive take misses the point.
I’ve been saying for years that EV’s aren’t a zero-sum game, where a win (or sale) for one brand is a defeat for another. When the Bolt arrived in 2016, I predicted, correctly, that Chevy’s EV would struggle to win buyers; not because of its driving range, tech or performance, which were all commendable, but for other reasons:
The Bolt’s cool factor, frankly, hovers right around zero. Electric tech aside, there’s no sense of gotta-have, from the kitchen-appliance exterior to a cheapskate cabin that screams “Middle America” like Jim Harbaugh’s WalMart khakis.
GM’s Mark Reuss introduced the Bolt at the North American International Auto Show in 2016. Can’t you smell the hipness? (Photo: Chevrolet)
Ouch. Guess I was in a cranky mood in 2016. But even then, I was troubled by the horse-race mentality surrounding the Bolt vs. Tesla’s Model 3. The fact that the Bolt wasn’t “better” than the Tesla in certain areas, seemed no reason to dismiss the car out-of-hand. The bigger picture was that GM — the Detroit automaker that had been pushing fuel-slurping Hummers not so long ago — had delivered a squeaky-clean, affordable and solid-performing EV. An EV whose 238-mile driving range spurred other mainstream automakers to ante up with their own longer-range electric cars. I said as much:
Surely, the battle between the Bolt and Tesla’s price-competitive Model 3 doesn’t demand a death match. Such a take speaks to the immaturity of the EV segment. If EVs do become truly mainstream, there’s room for everyone, with a rising tide lifting all electric boats.
Three years later, the EV segment must remain as immature as certain Tesla proponents — because Taycan-vs.-Tesla Model S finds us right back in the cage, or a Highlander duel: Apparently, there can be only one. Instead, EV fans should applaud any automaker that enters the ring, and save the venom for companies like, oh, FiatChrysler, that stand on the sideline and mouth excuses.
I’m set to drive the Taycan for the first time in Denmark and Germany next week. And I’m excited to see how Porsche has applied its engineering brilliance to its first all-electric car. On paper, the Porsche seems to hold an edge in some areas — exterior styling, interior luxury, 350-kilowatt fast-charging capability, and likely overall performance and precision handling. Hey, it’s a Porsche, a company that has dominated the 24 Hours of Lemans and other endurance racing for decades, versus a Tesla that’s never “raced” anywhere beyond pointless stoplight runs on YouTube. The Model S will fire back with longer driving range, decisively more cargo space, the unmatched Tesla Supercharger network, its excellent (if misleadingly named) Autopilot system, and more.
The Taycan fights the battle of the screens on its high-tech dash. (Photo: Porsche)
Nuts, bolts and batteries aside, Tesla holds another competitive edge, a brand name and built-in audience that no EV newcomer can touch. Unlike legacy automakers, the company makes electric cars and nothing else. For a huge chunk of the company’s fanbase, it’s a Tesla or nothing. So for all the Taycan’s promise, its success is by no means assured. Porsche claims it has 30,000 reservations for the Taycan, but I’m not fully convinced. Porsche purists are still wringing hands over the demise of their beloved air-cooled gasoline engines, an esoteric change that took place more than 20 years ago. Are these gas-in-their-veins types really that eager to trade Porsche’s famous engines for the futuristic hum of electric motors?
For an auto critic like myself, such comparisons come with the territory. For any car lover, healthy debate is a good thing, no different from supporting the home team in sports. Yet in key ways, the Taycan and Model S aren’t even fighting over the same fans or prospects. For one, the Taycan is aimed more at the richest luxury suites: It will start from $150,900, and a heady $185,000 for the Turbo S version, with a more-affordable version still in the works. The most affordable Model S starts from just under $80,000.
Now, the antipathy of certain Tesla loyalists is in some ways understandable. Musk encouraged an us-against-them mentality from the beginning, including the idea that Tesla would drive the dinosaurs of Detroit to extinction. Too many media outlets bought into that juicy narrative, and gave us a morality play: Tesla good, other automakers bad.
A Tesla fan displays current fashion sense in a showroom. (Photo: Getty Images)
And that’s where healthy debate turns sickly, distracting us from the real enemies, including climate change and a dead-end reliance on fossil fuels. Despite robust sales in California, only 2 percent of new cars in America were electrified in 2018, and that includes plug-in hybrids. Tesla’s long-term viability still requires a major expansion of that market, one that benefits all players. There is zero chance that Tesla, or other start-ups, can sustain a profitable EV market and keep it for themselves. The idea that Tesla was going to bankrupt global giants like Toyota, Volkswagen and GM is finally being seen for the delusion it was.
Bottom line, Tesla owners should put their mouth where their money is. That rising electric tide will lift Tesla’s boat; trying to scuttle rivals can only help sink it.