Tesla Model S: The Real American Luxury Car
Deep within my subconscious, a shocking idea has been steadily growing, developing from a couple of bits of information to a terabyte of invasive ideas . You see, for a long time now I’ve been thinking that some carmakers are not connected with what people really want. It’s why the Chevy Impala isn’t selling in the millions any more, why 16YOs don’t like Mustangs, why Saab went under and why the Chinese like the American dream more than… Americans. And it’s a Silicon Valley-type company that showed us what people really want: iPhones on wheels.
During the first quarter of 2013, Tesla managed to do something I thought was going to take at least another decade. They delivered 4,750 Model S electric sedans, not only more than the much less expensive Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf EVs, but also more than all the flagship models from from established luxury brands.
We’re talking about Mercedes, who sold 3,077 S-Class examples during Q1, Lexus who managed 2,860 LS sedans, followed by BMW with 2,338 7 Series and Audi 1,462 cars during the same three months in the US. Maybe the Model S is cheaper, and maybe tax rebates have something to do with it, but these cars are benchmarks, hugely expensive to develop and very well marketed, not to mention their names have been famous for decades.
When I found that out, I immediately went “Really? How is that possible?”. But then I learned the Nissan Leaf is being showcased in the SimCity video game. That’s it! People have accepted electric cars, and there’s no turning back now!
Consider this. The automobile has been around for over 100 years. Designers will try to make it look different, engineers will make it more efficient and marketing people will wrap it all up in video footage and clever words. But the fact of the mater is transportation isn’t that cool any more, not when you consider Google Eye, smartphones and the billions of apps to go with them.
Tesla should be a new brand fighting for survival and recognition, considering it targets two difficult segments – luxury and electric vehicles. They should be struggling, but instead they’re already playing in the big leagues and everybody knows their achievements.
Speaking of achievements, we have to mention two of them: performance and infotainment. Firstly, the top Signature Performance version of the EV has over 400 horsepower going to the rear wheels. It gets to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and has been known to shame some sportscars at the drag strip. This makes it a sort of people’s champion, exuding a character way beyond the real-world performance.
Secondly, the Model S is hugely entertaining, like a gigantic gaming console you sit inside rater than next to. You sit smack bang in front of a huge digital display that shows you your speed and range, and the center console is dominated by a 17-inch color display that controls everything from the boot opening to the temperature inside the car. Tesla are the very first to do things like this, and since the Model S arrived, Cadillac and Lincoln followed them with semi-buttonless systems of their own.
I never like the idea of not being able to click anything without taking our eyes of the road. After all, not even an Xbox controller works without buttons. Every Mercedes and Audi I get into has beautifully weighted buttons, all built with the uniform texture and resistance, like miniature piano keys. But not everybody these days gets that and this sort of fingertip craftsmanship might already be obsolete.
You see, your typical Audi buyer who earned six figures a decade ago could have been a building architect, a business consultant or construction business developer. But in 2013, he could just as well be an app architect, software consultant or website developer. For these buyers at least, being seen in an S-Class is like playing on an actual Monopoly board or with a real yoyo.
I’m no saying the S-Class is obsolete, just that the Tesla Model S is the real star of the American auto scene, an electric guitar to our acoustic ears, a PS4 to our old-school building blocks. Maybe it’s time to pay attention to everything Tesla does!
By Mihnea Radu