The Tesla Moment: Tony Stark plays Al Gore

April 16, 2016

“Every living being is an engine geared to the wheelwork of the universe. Though seemingly affected only by its immediate surrounding, the sphere of external influence extends to infinite distance.”
– Nikola Tesla: Serbian American inventor

Elon Musk arrives, above, a minute in, and stages a stunning Tony Stark-as-Al Gore moment – at one of the most resoundlingly disruptive product launches ever.


General Motors GM -0.52% is getting the first real taste of what its Chevy Bolt is up against: the Tesla brand.

After confirming 325,000 preorders for the $35,000, 215-mile-range Model 3 in a blog post last week (“The Week that Electric Vehicles Went Mainstream“), a Tesla Motors TSLA +1.04% executive this week is saying that number is now “approaching 400,000 people.” (Via electrek.)


Tesla vice president Diarmuid O’Connell, speaking in Amsterdam at the AVERE E-mobility Conference, said that the Model 3 is “the car the company was really set up to build.” He went on: “It has exceeded all of our expectations as far as the rate at which we received reservations. Something approaching 400,000 people have already put down up to $1,000 dollars to reserve this car,” he said (at the 5:00 minute mark, courtesy of Vincent Everts). “This is great for Tesla Motors. It gives us the confidence to make the investments we need to make in order to build this car,” he said.

Below, why the Tesla could be the new model T.

Greentech Media:

Elon Musk, Tesla Motors’ CEO and pitchman, planned to call Tesla’s first affordable electric vehicle the Model E. You know, alongside the Model S and Model X. And the Model Y was to come later. But Ford ruined this adolescent fun by suing Tesla over the use of the Model E name, so the name was changed to the rather unsexy “Model 3.”

But while the name may not be particularly sexy anymore, the car itself, revealed on March 31 for the first time, is indeed a sexy car. And it is sexy not only because of its curvaceous lines, but also because of its likely impact on the world and our environment.

This article will explore the implications of the Model 3 and how it fits in with national and international goals to reduce carbon emissions and wean ourselves from fossil fuels. The one-line conclusion: The Model 3 will likely go down in history as a product as important or even more important than Ford’s Model T, first offered in 1908.

Ford’s Model T was the first affordable automobile. It was a vehicle that came in just one color for most of its 20-year production run (black), and it had a top speed of about 45 miles per hour. But as unflashy as the Model T was by today’s standards, it was incredibly flashy in terms of its impact on our how we move people and goods, and on our culture more generally. It made cars ubiquitous, ending the age of horse-drawn carts and other premotorized forms of transportation, and at its sales height, it made up half of the car market in the U.S.

Musk’s Model 3 is not even in production yet, but it holds the realistic promise of becoming far and away the biggest-selling pure EV to date. The Model 3 already has over 325,000 preorders, requiring a $1,000 refundable deposit (I’m one of them; can’t wait to get my mitts on that spaceship steering wheel).

It seems very likely, considering that over 325,000 preorders occurred in the first week of the announcement, that preorders will break the 500,000 mark before production of the vehicle starts in late 2017 — and perhaps far more. Even at the current number of preorders, this will, if a reasonable number convert into sales, be the biggest product launch in history in terms of dollar value.

At 325,000 preorders, and an average cost of $42,000 per vehicle (Musk’s estimate for the average option level over the base $35,000 price), Tesla has the potential for sales exceeding $13.5 billion in just meeting preorders. At 500,000, this figure rises to $21 billion, which is about two-thirds of the current market capitalization for Tesla.

U.S. EV and PHEV sales in 2015 reached the key point of about 1 percent of total car sales. As I’ve described in recent columns, however, this is halfway to ubiquity in terms of the required doublings, under Kurzweil’s law of exponential returns. The law is mathematically true, but there’s nothing inevitable about the annual growth rates at issue and thus the time periods required for each doubling. EV and hybrid sales in the U.S. actually slowed in 2015, showing a negative rate of growth, which has alarmed me and many other EV advocates. Globally, however, EV sales have continued to grow.




24 Responses to “The Tesla Moment: Tony Stark plays Al Gore”

  1. Jim Housman Says:

    Step back a minute and think. Today for about $35k you can buy a Chevy Volt. It will go 53 miles on a charge. That’s about as far as most people travel in a day. In addition it has a small gasoline engine in case you get too optomistic or want to take the occasional long trip.

    This car should be worth two Tesla Model 3s yet no one is lining up to wait two years to buy one. My local Chevy dealer has nineteen in stock. No waiting.

    I’m sorry but it makes no sense to me. Instead of going for pie in the sky you could have 90% of the electric car value with absolutely no downside.

    I can’t help but think there is more fad chasing here than a real concern for the environment. I wish I could afford one.

    • pendantry Says:

      Wealthy trend-setters go for sexy, not staid. But even they have to be persuaded that they’re not making a mistake.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      I don’t think people are chasing a “fad” when they have to plunk down 1 cool G for the privilege. They are telling the world that this car is important to them, and they are putting their money where their mouth is.

      Tesla has a much more compelling vision and mission than Chevy for the future of the world, and people are responding to that; and the same goes for the Tesla 3 vs the Chevy Volt. The Volt is a compromise which still uses an ICE. It still puts CO2 into the air from an exhaust pipe.

      Don’t get me wrong – I think the Volt is a terrific car. But it also, in a way, represents a very dangerous argument – the argument of delay. That it is proper to have an unspecified transition period between a fossil fuel world and a RE world.

      ~ 400,000 people have just signed, with $1000.00 of their own blood, a political statement which rejects the philosophy and policy of non-urgency with respect to AGW.

      • kap55 Says:

        Tesla’s current factory can produce 50,000 cars per year, and they have 300,000 pre-orders for Model S alone. And it won’t be available until starting at the end of 2017. That’s a lot of delay right there.

      • Jim Housman Says:

        The simple fact is that if you bought a Volt today you would be the transition, not part of a delaying tactic. If you remembered to plug it in every day you would reduce your fossil fuel consumption right now, not 3 years in the future.

        I suspect that $1000 is not a big deal to any of the people plunking down the money. Heck, it’s refundable and you don’t get any interest in a bank anyway. It sure isn’t “blood”.

        • Have been driving a Nissan Leaf for two years now. “Fuel costs” is at least 1/5 of what I would have paid if I had a simlilar class ICE. Naturally here in Norway EV’s have a lot of other benefits too (low tax, no road toll, drive in public transit lane, free charging and in some cases free parking) so its really a no-brainer over here and indeed 1/3 of all cars sold in Norway are now EV’s. Many I know have pre-ordered the Tesla Model 3 as well as it solves two problems: long enough range and low enough price. While the Leaf was cheap enough, the range put off many since we have also experienced the classical suburban lifestyle change. People often choose to live 25+ km away from work (where in fact a Leaf would still work) and with all their trekking for one day it seems many feel the Leaf had too low range. The Model 3 is changing all that, basically removing the last obstacle in spite of being a tad more expensive than the Leaf.

  2. There are signs that we are witnessing the breaking point of a disruptive change in energy and transportation with the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Both are mentioned in this presentation:

    An interesting one is that of energy, solar will soon be cheaper than the cost of maintaining the transmission of electricity. That is a game changer. Utility companies would never be able to compete with that even if the energy came from newly discovered fusion energy. An angle I hadn’t really thought about.

    But the really interesting one is that we can get by with far fewer cars simply because you dont need to own one anymore. Think about all the parking lots that can become parks and other things to improve cities.

    • pendantry Says:

      Think about all the parking lots that can become parks and other things to improve cities.

      I’ve been thinking of that for years. The only surprise to me is with how few the concept resonates.

      I have a dream. It might even become a reality, if we can avoid killing ourselves.

      • Jim Housman Says:

        When I lived in Los Angeles in the early 1960’s, even then, over 50% of the land area of the city was given over to cars; roads, parking lots, gas stations, dealerships, parts stores. It is hard tocalculate, or even imagine, the actual social cost of that investment in travel convenience.

        • pendantry Says:

          Ah, the irony of ‘convenience’…

          I remember one time I was in LA, I parked up by a restaurant to eat, then afterwards wanted to go to a shop across the road. The shop was maybe just a hundred yards away, but there was no way to safely walk across the road. So I had to get into my car and drive to the shop.

          Totally insane.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      “, solar will soon be cheaper than the cost of maintaining the transmission of electricity. That is a game changer.”

      A game changer? Why? We are still going to need our grid, aren’t we?

      • addledlady Says:

        It’s a game changer because power companies in many places haven’t paid much attention to this. Where I live we pay two separate charges, one for the supply/connection/grid regardless of how much we use (in the same way as we do for water and sewerage provision) and a separate charge for power supplied through that provision. I’m surprised that this isn’t universal.

        That seems (to me at least) why some utilities are coming up with daft “penalties” or other disincentives for rooftop solar. When people on a single combined tariff reduce their power use, the supplier also loses out on contributions to grid maintenance. Separating the charges means that people with rooftop solar will continue to pay for their grid connection. It also means that such companies can take advantage of domestic and business self-generation because of the local load (and therefore grid) reduction/spreading, making it easier to avoid the need to upgrade transformer stations and other network facilities. In some places, supply companies are supporting distributed generation for exactly that reason.

        • Indeed, here in Norway we also have two different prices for energy transport and another for the actual energy. Now here, the price is so low on the energy production from hydro electric that transport is a large portion of a typical electrical bill.

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          When we get to the place where the cost of electricity production is nominal and grid upkeep is significant, then it is time to stop sending out bills.

          Nationalize the system so upkeep is paid through general taxes. Give the electricity to homeowners and renters for free.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            More Bernie Sanders type talk from GB in Maple Syrup land. Like the “chicken in every pot” of Herbert Hoover and the “free everything” of Bernie, it’s not going to work. “General taxes” is easy to say but hard to implement, especially when the Repugnants want to eliminate taxes and even the agency that collects them.

            By the way, since Vermont is kind of down on wind power right now and doesn’t have much, it must be hard for you and Sancho to find windmills to tilt at.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            ” it’s not going to work. ”

            Oh – I didn’t realize.

            I guess I had forgotten that we do not have a single example of Federally- or State- or County- or Municipally-funded services to use as a model. Services that are funded not with a strict per use model, but as a core function of government payed entirely or chiefly through general revenues.

            I guess these examples do not exist:

            * Health care in every civilized country save one
            * Schools, including college level, in many places
            * The Military
            * Coast Guard
            * Fire departments
            * Police departments
            * Street departments
            * Parks departments
            * The Mint
            * The Federal Reserve
            * Libraries
            * Airports
            * Assessors
            * FDIC
            * Jails and prisons

            * Literally hundreds ( of Federal agencies, Bureaus, departments

            My mistake.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Nobody’s perfect, GB, so we’ll forgive you your mistake.

            The fact that we do NOT have what you propose, but DO have all those other things (and have for many years) should give you a clue that it’s not going to work (at least anytime soon).

            You can pin wings on a pig or a turtle and it’s not going to fly either, in spite of the evidence that there are lots of critters that CAN fly, including birds, mammals, and even a few reptiles and fish.

            Now find Sancho, get back on your horse, and go find some windmills that don’t fall down around your ears because they’re made of straw.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            “The fact that we do NOT have what you propose, but DO have all those other things (and have for many years) should give you a clue that it’s not going to work (at least anytime soon).”

            We didn’t have any of things until we had them.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            And just as “we didn’t have any of (those) things until we had them”, we won’t have your pie-in-the-sky until we have it, and I will repeat—-it won’t happen any time soon. It would disrupt too many of the plutocracy’s “business models”.

          • Yes that is what the presentation I linked clearly shows. Most technology adoption follows an S-curve and its hard to know exactly when it takes off and completely replaces previous technologies. So if anything a change in motoring habits will happen because EV’s are so much better than ICE’s and hence people choose to upgrade their “transportation gadget” – not neccessarily because its good for the environment but because it is a better and more economical drive.

            I also recommend this very good blog by Tim Urban about Elon Musk and his mission “to save the world”. Its both funny and to the point, and definitely a worthy read:


          • dumboldguy Says:

            Yes, “” is a terrific site—-it’s more than a “worthy read”. Lots of good thinking and excellent info and graphics. (And Musk’s “mission to save the world” is still a distraction from the real problem).

  3. dumboldguy Says:

    Housman and kap get it—GB doesn’t. The Tesla advance sale “tsunami” is indeed a “fad”, and the dance party video clip is a perfect example of the mindless group mentality that feeds it. People could buy any number of satisfactory EV’s right NOW but they are waiting for the “name” and the cachet that comes with Tesla. I would bet that half or more of them take the refund, especially when Tesla likely won’t deliver many cars until 2019 or 2020 (if then).

    Total BS, speaking of which, there are WAY more than 400,000 people on this planet that consider themselves lucky to have a four-legged beast for “transport” and burn its dung for cooking and heating.

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